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Yellow, orange and red: How New York's COVID-19 microclusters work

Women wearing masks, as recommended to help prevent

Women wearing masks, as recommended to help prevent spread of the coronavirus, walk earlier this month past stores along N. Franklin Street in Hempstead. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

New York State uses a color-coded microcluster strategy in an effort to detect and stop small outbreaks of COVID-19 before they spread to wider areas. These are some common questions and answers.

What is a microcluster?

A microcluster is a geographic area with a "concerning increase" of COVID-19 spread, according to state officials. It is not defined by neighborhood or ZIP code boundaries but by metrics including the rate of positive test results, the number of new cases per population and hospitalizations.

What do the color-coded zones mean?

The colors designate different concentrations of COVID-19 in the zones, each with varied restrictions being used in an effort to stop that spread. Yellow marks a lower level of restrictions and red the highest. The metrics are specific to four tiers in the state, based on population and density. New York City and Long Island are in Tier 1.

How are the yellow, orange and red zones defined?

In Tier 1, an area is designated a yellow zone if the seven-day rolling average for the positivity rate is above 2.5% for 10 consecutive days; an orange zone if the seven-day rolling positivity rate is above 3% for 10 days and a red zone if the seven-day rolling positivity rate is above 4% for 10 days.

Those percentages are higher, ranging from 3% to 6%, in other less densely-populated regions of the state.

In all cases for Tier 1, the geographic area must have 10 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average. Other factors include whether the spread is limited to a congregate setting and hospitalizations.

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What are the restrictions in a yellow zone?

Businesses in a yellow zone are allowed to remain open. The capacity limit for houses of worship is unchanged at 50%. Mass gatherings are limited to 25 people — indoor and outdoor. Restaurants can offer indoor- and outdoor-dining with a limit of four people per table. Schools do not close but must test 20% of students, teachers and staff weekly.

What are the restrictions in an orange zone?

High-risk, nonessential businesses such as gyms and personal care salons are closed. Capacity at houses of worship is reduced to 33% with 25 people maximum. All mass gatherings are capped at 10 people. Restaurants can only allow outdoor dining with a maximum of four people per table. School are closed with students switching to remote instruction. They can remain open with the "test-out" option, which requires testing of students and cleaning of the schools.

What are the restrictions in a red zone?

Only essential businesses are allowed to operate in red zones. Houses of worship can hold activities at 25% capacity, or a 10-people maximum. Mass gatherings are prohibited. Restaurants are closed to indoor dining but can offer takeout and delivery. Schools are closed, switching to remote instruction. They can open with the "test-out" option, which requires testing of students and cleaning of the schools.

When is a microcluster removed from a zone?

In general, a microcluster must show a decrease in the seven-day average positivity rate over a 10-day period, keeping the numbers down for at least three consecutive days following a ten-day period.

SOURCE: New York State Governor’s Office

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