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Cuomo: New York's infection level among lowest, but 'small gatherings' a concern

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday that a hot spot in upstate Orange County will be changed from red zone, the designation for areas with the highest levels of infection. Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Craig Schneider, Bart Jones, David Olson, David Reich-Hale and John Valenti. It was written by Valenti and Jones.

New York State has the second-lowest level of COVID-19 infection in the nation, higher only than Maine's, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday, even though small gatherings like birthday parties are a growing source of infection spread.

Meanwhile, more districts on Long Island announced temporary school closures after confirmed cases of the coronavirus surfaced this week, with Long Beach shutting schools for two weeks.

The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19, excluding "hot spots" where cases are higher, was 1.3% in testing completed Tuesday, rising to 1.5% including oversampling in the hot spots, Cuomo said.

Suffolk County officials on Wednesday announced fines against a Cutchogue venue that allegedly hosted an Oct. 17 wedding with 91 people, above the state limit of 50, and against a Farmingville resident who allegedly hosted a private party with more than 200 people. More than 20 people tested positive after an Oct. 17 Bellport birthday party, Suffolk officials also said.

These types of get-togethers and celebrations are increasingly the source of COVID-19 spread, since the state has cracked down on businesses, Cuomo told reporters. "It’s these small gatherings that are creating issues."

The level of positivity in hot spots in Brooklyn, Queens, Orange and Rockland counties for testing completed Tuesday was 3.8%, up from 2.58% during the weekend, Cuomo said.

He noted that New York's levels are the second best in the nation, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking cases worldwide.

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He announced that a hot spot in upstate Orange County will be changed from red zone, the designation for areas with the highest levels of infection, into the less-restrictive orange zone because infection levels have dropped from about 12% three weeks ago to about 2%.

He called it "dramatic progress."

Cuomo also announced he is authorizing county executives statewide to mandate the wearing of masks by students in schools in their counties. He said he made the decision after a request from Westchester County Executive George Latimer.

The level of positivity for COVID-19 in testing completed Tuesday was 1.9% on Long Island and 1.6% in New York City. Testing confirmed 167 new cases in Nassau County, 169 in Suffolk and 837 in New York City.

Fifteen people died of causes related to the virus on Tuesday. Hospitalizations remained relatively flat at 1,085, an increase of two, according to state data.

Northwell Health, the largest health system in the state, said Wednesday it had 113 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates. That was up from 104 on Oct. 1, but far lower than the peak of more than 3,400 on April 7.

School closings continue

Several districts closed school buildings and moved from in-person to remote instruction due to COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

In Long Beach, public schools will be closed for two weeks due to additional COVID-19 cases, officials said Wednesday. The cases, particularly in the transportation department, have "significantly affected our district's ability to operate," Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher said.

East Meadow High School will close Thursday and Friday, after a student tested positive, said a letter to the community from East Meadow Schools Superintendent Kenneth Card.

Hempstead High School closed for this entire week after a staffer tested positive, as did the Jackson Annex Elementary School after two students tested positive, Interim Superintendent Regina Armstrong said.

The Lindenhurst Academy closed Tuesday after a student tested positive for the virus, and it was not clear when it would reopen, Superintendent Daniel Giordano said.

Long Island public and private schools have reported a total of 886 coronavirus positives since Sept. 8, an increase of 40 cases from the previous day, according to the state’s COVID-19 Report Card. Of those, 655 were students and 231 were teachers and staff members. The statewide tally is 2,776 students and 1,452 teachers and staff members, for a total of 4,228 who tested positive in that period.

Port Authority issues mask warning

Wear a mask or pay the fine.

That's the warning issued this week by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which announced that starting Monday travelers and riders who use Port Authority facilities and services could be subject to a $50 fine for not wearing a mask.

The policy includes airport terminals, PATH stations and trains, AirTrain stations and trains, the Midtown bus terminal, the George Washington Bridge bus station, and the Oculus at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, officials said.

The Authority will "continue to put primary emphasis" on voluntary compliance.

Cuomo on April 15 became the first governor to mandate wearing masks, his top aide, Melissa De Rosa, told ABC's "Good Morning America."

"New York was ground zero of this fight going back in March and in April, and we were at a point early on in this where we were losing 8 [hundred], 900 deaths a day, and those aren't numbers. Those are mothers and fathers, those were nurses and doctors," DeRosa said.

"And early on the science was a little bit fuzzy. We weren't sure what we could do to fight back," she added. "And I know as New Yorkers, who are neurotic, type A, we're always looking for a control factor. And at the beginning of April, the science clearly showed that mask usage could cut down on deaths across this country. And so we leaned in very heavily."

In New York City on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said retailers will be allowed to start selling goods on sidewalks in front of their stores, a program to help businesses ailing from declining sales during the pandemic.

The program starts Friday and is slated to end Dec. 31. It is modeled on the city’s Open Restaurants program that allows eateries to use adjacent sidewalks and parking spots for seating space. The retail program, however, doesn’t apply to parking spots, unless the entire street is otherwise closed to car traffic.

"Let’s liberate the outdoor space," de Blasio said of the Open Storefronts Program, which he estimates will reach 40,000 small businesses.

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