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New York's COVID-19 travel quarantine list grows; New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania left out of restrictions

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is joined by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital officials to announce the opening of a drive-through COVID-19 rapid testing facility in the Five Towns area in response to an increase in infections. Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware / Alejandra Villa Loarca

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania now qualify for the list of states from which travelers to New York must quarantine upon arrival here because of high levels of COVID-19 infection, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday he is giving them something of a pass.

He said it would be virtually impossible to enforce the mandate to have those travelers from New York's three neighboring states quarantine for 14 days, with the tristate area too interconnected to severely restrict travel across its boundaries.

Instead, Cuomo will urge people from neighboring states to avoid nonessential travel here, and he was to speak later Tuesday with tristate officials to discuss how they can bring down their confirmed coronavirus cases.

"It would be highly problematic, and it would be really devastating for the economy" if the quarantine order was enforced for those states, he said. "There’s just too many interchanges."

The additions of Arizona and Maryland on Tuesday brought the list of places meeting travel-advisory criteria to 43 states and territories, though 40 face quarantine restrictions — putting New York, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, in the unusual position of being a relative oasis of low viral spread.

Cuomo said it would be difficult to require and enforce the quarantine on people from New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania because so many come here on a daily basis and through hundreds of routes, as opposed to travelers who often fly in from other states.

"There are just too many interchanges, interconnections, and people who live in one place and work in the other," Cuomo said. "It would have a disastrous effect on the economy, and remember while we're fighting this public health pandemic, we're also fighting to open up the economy. However, to the extent travel between the states is not essential, it should be avoided."

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Cuomo sent a joint statement with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who are fellow Democrats, saying the states will continue to work together to combat the pandemic. "We're urging all of our residents to avoid unnecessary or nonessential travel between states at this time, but will not subject residents of our states to a quarantine if coming from a neighboring state," their statement read in part.

States/regions in red are included on New York's travel advisory list as of Oct. 27, 2020. Guam and Puerto Rico, not pictured, are also on the list.

NY 'one of the lowest' infection rates

Cuomo's aides said New Jersey and Connecticut would not qualify for the quarantine order based on their percentages of positivity for COVID-19 testing, which requires a 10% level. New Jersey is at 2.89% and Connecticut at 1.85%.

But the two states would meet a different quarantine threshold of having at least 10 confirmed cases for every 100,000 residents. Connecticut is about 11, and New Jersey is just above 10, Cuomo’s aides said.

New York has gone from having one of the highest infection rates "to, literally, one of the lowest," Cuomo said. "We are now in a situation where 43 states are on our travel advisory. This is really a bizarre outcome."

The statewide positivity level was 1.3% for test results Monday, including the areas considered "red zones" because of a high level of new cases. Without the oversampling in those neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland and Orange counties included, the percent positive was 1.2% statewide.

Long Island's positivity rate was 0.9%, and New York City was at 1.3% for test results from Monday. Twelve state residents died Monday of coronavirus-related causes.

Cuomo said New York’s numbers — and its progress — need to be put in context by comparing its positivity level to other states.: Nevada, 46%; South Dakota, 37%; Idaho, 29%; Florida, 12%.

New York’s 1.17% was the third-best level in the country.

The positivity level in New York State’s "hot spots" for new virus cases was 2.9% in test results completed Monday, Cuomo said. That was down from 3.3% the previous day, and down from 6.9% the week of Sept. 27 through Oct. 3.

Cuomo said even New York’s red zone levels were good compared with most states' statewide levels.

New York imposed new restrictions on its hot spots two weeks ago, including shutting down schools and nonessential businesses, and limiting houses of worship.

Curran: Nassau is 'dealing with it'

Nassau officials Tuesday opened their first drive-through rapid testing site at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence, where clusters of COVID-19 cases are well above the county’s average.

The facility, funded by the county and run by Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, will provide test results in as little as five minutes. The state runs the drive-through testing site at Jones Beach, while Nassau has previously operated walk-in testing facilities.

"When you see numbers like this, you can’t procrastinate and hope it will go away," County Executive Laura Curran said. "We want to make sure we are zeroing in and dealing with it."

Positive coronavirus cases are three to four times the county’s average in Lawrence, Inwood and Cedarhurst, although those numbers have dropped somewhat in recent weeks, Nassau Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said. Cases, meanwhile, have started to spike higher in nearby Woodmere, he said.

The Lawrence Public School district was forced to shut down in-person instruction until at least Oct. 23 because parts of it are within special COVID-19 cluster zones the state is targeting.

While parts of the Five Towns have large Orthodox populations — and similar COVID-19 spikes have been seen in Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens — county and hospital officials advised against assuming causation.

"We’ve seen cases in the Orthodox community that live here but are not going to say it's due to compliance issues," Eisenstein said. "All across the county, we can find gathering, parties and social gatherings. It’s not unique to one community or another."

Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the department of medicine at Mount Sinai, said the disease is like a game of "whack-a-mole" in that mini-clusters will pop up in various communities.

"This is not a disease of any specific ethnic group, religious group or population," said Glatt, who is also a rabbi. "It’s a disease. It doesn’t look at what color you are, what race you are or what religion you are."

A similar rapid testing facility soon will open at the Five Towns Jewish Community Center in Cedarhurst. Once opened, the testing will rotate each week between the two sites.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said the facilities will be a "national example of how to handle what could be a potential outbreak."

School closures in Brentwood and Central Islip

Brentwood High School and Andrew T. Morrow Elementary School in Central Islip switched to remote learning Tuesday after a staff member at each school tested positive for COVID-19, officials in each district said in letters to residents.

Brentwood High will remained closed for in-person instruction through the end of the month. The building will be closed to students and staff through Oct. 30, with in-person learning resuming Nov. 2.

"Over the course of a couple of days many students and staff members may have been in contact with the individual, making it nearly impossible to quarantine just a few staff members and students," read the note dated Monday from Brentwood Schools Superintendent Richard Loeschner.

The state’s COVID-19 Report Card, tracking coronavirus cases in public and private schools across the state, reported 652 positive test results among students, teachers and staff on Long Island since the start of the school year on Sept. 8 and through Monday, with 547 of those in public schools and 105 in private schools. So far, 489 students and 163 teachers and staff members had tested positive in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Statewide, the number of positive test results reported by schools was 2,959 by Monday, with 1,901 students and 1,058 teachers and other staff members included in those results.

In the New York City public schools, 28 students and staff tested positive out of 16,000 coronavirus results from "random" testing, a 0.17% positivity rate, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, although students whose parents didn't return consent forms were not included.

"Let’s take a moment to celebrate what the people of New York City have achieved," de Blasio said.

In other news, Cuomo extended the state's moratorium on coronavirus-related commercial evictions and foreclosures through Jan. 1. He first announced a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions on March 20. The residential moratorium also lasts through Jan. 1.

NEW YORK’S TRAVEL QUARANTINE LIST

Travelers in New York State’s “travel advisory” list, due to community spread of the COVID-19 virus, are required to quarantine for 14 days. The quarantine applies to any person arriving from an area with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or an area with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. The following is the updated list of states and other jurisdictions whose travelers face those restrictions in New York as of Oct. 20:

Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

SOURCE: New York Governor’s Office

RAPID COVID-19 TESTING IN NASSAU

Free testing is available by appointment Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. in the Five Towns area of Nassau County. Appointments can be made by calling 516-390-2888.

SOURCE: Nassau County

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