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Cuomo: 'red zone' restrictions for state's COVID-19 clusters will 'come and go'

A medical professional administers a COVID-19 swab Wednesday

A medical professional administers a COVID-19 swab Wednesday at a drive-through testing site in Lawrence.  Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

This story was reported by Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones and Carol Polsky. It was written by Jones.

Only one other state has a lower COVID-19 infection rate than New York, while a "micro-clusters" strategy to bring down spread of the virus in "hot spots" around New York is working, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

The infection level in the hot spots in Brooklyn, Queens, Rockland and Orange counties fell to 3.2% in testing completed Wednesday, down from a high of 6.9% the week of Sept. 27-Oct. 3.

Cuomo imposed a series of restrictions on Oct. 6 in the so-called red zones and surrounding areas with high positivity levels for the virus, including shutting schools and nonessential businesses, and limiting the sizes of gatherings at houses of worship.

"We've seen great progress over the past couple of weeks, so it is working," Cuomo told reporters on a telephonic conference call.

The statewide level of infection in testing completed Wednesday was 0.96% without the red zones included, and was 1.2% if the red zones — which are oversampled — are included, he said.

Only largely rural Maine has a lower statewide positivity level, with 0.5%, he said.

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Cuomo on Wednesday reduced some of the restrictions around the red zones in Brooklyn and Queens as the infection levels began to drop.

He lowered the designations from the highest "red zone" limits to "orange zone" in the cluster zones surrounding the Kew Gardens, Forest Hills and Far Rockaway neighborhoods of Queens and changed the middle "orange zone" restrictions to the less-stringent "yellow zone" limits for Brooklyn neighborhoods surrounding a Borough Park cluster.

Ozone Park in Queens was added to the yellow zone designation on Wednesday since its numbers were increasing, probably because it is adjacent to the other affected zones, Cuomo said Thursday.

Restrictions in Brooklyn's red zones are expected to continue for at least another week or two, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

Cuomo said state residents can expect to continue hearing about localized spikes in cases leading to designations of "micro-clusters" and tighter restrictions for school, businesses and gatherings, based on the severity of their virus positivity rates.

"Through the fall, you will see micro-clusters come and go," he said, " … and the numbers are so small they can literally be generated by a couple of events that violated rules … so you will see them rise and you will see them fall" while the state tries to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus.

"We have such granular data that we get that tick up," he said later.

Asked for how long the zone designations will be used, Cuomo said: "They'll be in effect until the data says they are not in effect."

On Thursday, the state gathered results from about 135,000 tests. The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 was 77 in Nassau County, 74 in Suffolk County and 530 in New York City.

The infection level was 1% on Long Island and 1.1% in New York City in testing completed Wednesday.

More school cases and closings reported

Several Long Island schools were closed for in-person learning Thursday, including Grand Avenue Middle School in the Bellmore-Merrick district, after a student tested positive for the virus, Principal Carlo Conte said.

Also Thursday, East Elementary School in Long Beach was closed after a staff member tested positive, Superintendent Jennifer Gallagher said. The Long Beach district on Tuesday reported three confirmed positive cases of students who shared a family connection — two at Lido Elementary School and one at the middle school, Gallagher said, but those schools did not close.

In the Sewanhaka Central High School district, four students tested positive, prompting closures on Thursday and Friday, Superintendent James Grossane said. A student at H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square and three others at New Hyde Park Memorial High School tested positive, Grossane said. New Hyde Park Memorial High already had been closed Tuesday and Wednesday after a staff member tested positive, Grossane said.

In Levittown, MacArthur High School followed a remote learning schedule Thursday and will remain closed Friday after someone tested positive, the district said.

In the Central Islip school district, five staff members at the Andrew T. Morrow Elementary School, in Islandia, tested positive, Superintendent Sharon A. Dungee said Wednesday, adding that the school closed Tuesday and will not reopen for in-person instruction until Nov. 4.

The state’s COVID-19 Report Card, where coronavirus cases in public and private schools have been recorded since Sept. 8, reported 712 positive test results among students, teachers and staff on Long Island as of Wednesday — an increase of 30 cases from the previous day. The numbers include 530 students and 182 teachers and staff members.

New York City has had 1,028 positives from 540 students and 488 teachers and staff members. That was an increase of 59 cases from the previous day.

RED, ORANGE AND YELLOW ZONES

New York State has been designating clusters of high coronavirus cases into red, orange and yellow zones, with different sets of restrictions imposed to avoid further spread in those targeted neighborhoods. The state rules, limiting schools, houses of worship, gatherings and businesses by zones, include:

  • In red zones, where new virus cases are concentrated, schools are closed, houses of worship are limited to 25% capacity and a maximum of 10 people and all other mass gatherings are prohibited. Only essential businesses remain open in those hot spots, and food establishments are allowed to open for takeout only.

  • In orange zones, or those areas surrounding "red" hot spots, houses of worships are limited to 33% capacity or a maximum of 25 people, and other gatherings are limited to 10 people. Orange zones also see the closing of nonessential businesses considered high risk and outdoor dining is permitted with a maximum of four people per table. Schools in orange zones also close for remote-only instruction.

  • Outlying communities in yellow zones don't have to close schools and houses of worship are allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while other gatherings are limited to 25 people. All businesses in those areas remain open, and indoor and outdoor dining is allowed, but limited to four people per table. The state further imposes a minimum of mandatory weekly testing of students, teachers and staff working in schools in yellow zones.

SOURCE: New York Governor's Office.

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