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State making progress in 'hot spots,' Cuomo says, but upstate a problem

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said "... New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said "... New York will always support and protect those targeted for crimes based on who they are or what they believe." Credit: Sipa USA via AP / Michael Brochstein

New York State is making progress in COVID-19 "hot spots" and will downgrade restrictions in some of them, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, but other potential red zones are popping up in areas upstate.

Far Rockaway will be removed as a designated "micro-cluster" since its positivity levels for the virus have dropped, while the size of the red zone and the yellow zone in Brooklyn will be reduced by 50%, he said.

Rockland County will be downgraded from red to orange, and Orange County will be downgraded from orange to yellow.

The levels on Long Island, he added, are "good news."

But Cuomo also said Port Chester in Westchester County had become a yellow zone, and that officials were likely to designate a number of areas upstate as "micro-clusters" because of their increasing levels of positive cases of COVID-19.

"Western New York is a problem," Cuomo said.

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The red zones have the most restrictions, including shutting down schools and nonessential businesses, and limiting houses of worship to no more than 10 people. The other zones, orange and then yellow, form concentric circles around the red zones and have fewer restrictions.

The state will put out a map later Friday showing the new parameters of the zones, Cuomo said. On Monday, officials will announce the new designated hot spots upstate.

The micro-cluster in Kew Gardens, Queens, remains unchanged.

Cuomo also said with the holiday season coming, he would increase law enforcement at airports to enforce new laws requiring travelers coming here to provide proof they had a test taken within the previous three days showing they were negative for the virus.

Cuomo said he would station National Guard members at the airports, and would ask Mayor Bill de Blasio to send more NYPD officers there as well.

"I want people to know we are serious," he said.

At Long Island MacArthur Airport, all passengers are checked, because foot traffic from all gates funnel through a single exit, said Shelley LaRose-Arken, the airport’s commissioner. State Department of Health employees had verified that passengers filled out forms, until National Guard soldiers took over that responsibility Oct. 19, she said.

Tens of thousands of passengers have arrived from out of state since screening began in early July, she said.

Airlines pass out the forms or provide a QR code that allows passengers to fill out forms online, presenting those verifying the forms with a green check mark upon exiting, she said.

LaRose-Arken said a state health department employee was at a LaGuardia gate when she arrived there in August, but others who arrived at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports told her that not all gates had someone checking forms.

The state health department said that, as of Monday, 1.3 million traveler forms had been collected in person or online — drivers could complete them online — but did not respond to a question as to how many of the travelers had arrived by car, bus or train, and how many by air.

"Compliance with the travel advisory has been very good," the health department said in a statement.

Students to remain home after Thanksgiving

The governor said all SUNY students would be tested for the virus before they went home for the Thanksgiving break. He also said all SUNY students would remain home for the rest of the semester, attending class online.

He said it did not make sense to send the students home all over the state, and then bring them back for a few weeks — something that could spread the virus. Cuomo also said he was asking private colleges for their plans after Thanksgiving, and indicated that if they did not adopt a plan similar to SUNY’s, he may order it.

Cuomo noted that despite the apparent emergence of new hot spots, New York State as a whole continued to have among the lowest levels of COVID-19 infection in the nation.

And that comes as the number of cases throughout the United States and the world see surges "that are dramatic" as colder weather forces people inside more, he said. "That’s the new reality of COVID."

The positivity level in the hot spots throughout the state was 3.16% in testing completed Thursday. It was 1.8% statewide excluding the hot spots, and 1.9% including the hot spots, which are oversampled.

"Relative to the nation, we are doing extraordinarily well," he said.

Ironically downstate, including New York City, which originally was the epicenter of the pandemic, is now doing better than upstate, Cuomo said.

"It’s a total reversal," he said.

The level of positivity in test results from Thursday was 1.9% on both Long Island and in New York City. The number of new confirmed cases was 246 in Nassau County, 177 in Suffolk County and 1,203 in New York City.

Eighteen people died of COVID-19-related causes in the state on Thursday. Some 1,321 people were hospitalized with the virus, an increase of 44 from the previous day.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said the positivity level in Nassau was 2.1%, and 88 people were hospitalized with the virus.

"Nassau is not immune to the unprecedented surge in cases we’re seeing nationwide," she said in a statement. "Although we’ve all been glued to Election news this week, these numbers are a sober reminder that the pandemic isn’t over — and it could still get worse."

De Blasio worried about second wave

New York City is "now really threatened with a second wave" of the coronavirus pandemic, as infections continue to rise among residents, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

According to the latest figures, 702 residents tested positive for the coronavirus — "not good," de Blasio said — with a daily infection rate of 1.81% and seven-day average rate of 1.96%.

"That’s a problem — that says that we are now really threatened with a second wave in New York City if we don’t quickly get a handle on this. And that says that we really need to emphasize the mask wearing, the social distancing, avoiding gatherings, and sadly, avoiding travel and large family gatherings for the holidays, because you just cannot allow a second wave here. It’s just so dangerous on so many levels," he said.

With Matthew Chayes and David Olson

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