New York is seeing troubling clusters of increasing coronavirus cases in the borough of Brooklyn and Orange and Rockland counties with infection rates as high as 30% in one ZIP code, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday, as he announced efforts to get them under control.
He called on local schools and governments to step up actions to curb the spikes and offered the immediate use of 200 rapid-testing machines that can churn out a test every 15 minutes.
Ten ZIP codes have 3% of the state's population but accounted for 27% of the state's confirmed positives for COVID-19 in recent testing, he said. The top 20 ZIP codes accounted for 37% of cases but have only 6% of the state's population.
The levels in two Rockland County ZIP codes were 30% and 25% respectively, even though the statewide rate has hovered around 1% or lower for weeks. One Orange County ZIP code had an infection rate of 22%, while another in Brooklyn had a rate of 17%.
"The public schools, the private schools that are in those ZIP codes, I strongly encourage to request a rapid-testing machine and have them start testing their students," Cuomo said, adding that the machines and state employees to operate them are available immediately.
Cuomo did not specify the potential cause of the outbreaks. In response to a question about statements from a New York City official last week that some of the cluster areas have large Orthodox Jewish communities, Cuomo did not directly say whether that is the case.
Speaking on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the Jewish faithful, he said the state regulations apply to people of all religions. A Roman Catholic, he noted that he canceled the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City — generally seen as a Catholic celebration — because of worries about spreading the virus.
Cuomo warned that if the clusters are not brought under control, those areas could see a reversal of the reopenings of businesses, schools and other institutions.
The New York City Department of Health released lists of some of the areas with high infection levels, including Gravesend/Homecrest, with 6.72%; Midwood, 5.53%; Kew Gardens, 3.61%; Edgemere/Far Rockaway, 3.98%; Borough Park, 5.26%; Bensonhurst/Mapleton, 5.15%; Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay, 4.05%; and Flatlands/Midwood, 4.08%.
Statewide increase to 1.5%
The slight increase to 1.5% of people testing positive statewide in results completed Sunday also comes amid COVID-19 spikes in parts of the United States and in global hot spots, Cuomo said, but he added that the high number of tests is helping the state to identify problem areas.
The uptick, Cuomo said, is also a reminder of concerns about a potential second wave affecting the New York Metro area.
"We are coming into the fall and all the health experts said we had to be careful about the fall," Cuomo said, during a telephone news briefing with reporters. "The point of the tests is just this, it’s to be able to pinpoint, identify the clusters."
The latest testing results on Sunday showed Brooklyn with a 2.6% positivity rate, the Mid-Hudson region with 3.1% and the Southern Tier with 3.6%, state figures showed.
While Cuomo did not lay out a possible cause of the increases, last week Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and chief executive of NYC Health + Hospitals, said neighborhoods such as Midwood, Borough Park, Williamsburg, Edgemere/Far Rockaway, Kew Gardens and Bensonhurst, some of which have large Orthodox Jewish populations, accounted for 20% of all city cases as of Sept. 19.
He warned of the potential to end up "in a lockdown-type situation" if the spread continued, while the New York/New Jersey Anti-Defamation League cautioned against "stereotyping" of that community.
Some Orthodox Jewish leaders on Long Island, such as the head of the Chabad movement, say they have energetically encouraged the faithful to adhere to mask and social distancing mandates.
Cuomo said Monday that New York State health officials will be meeting with local officials in Brooklyn, Rockland and Orange counties to discuss the results of the state inquiries into the sources of the uptick.
In response to the federal government decreasing its COVID-19 screening at airports, Cuomo also said he is issuing an executive order to alert travelers from many countries "with significant community spread" of the virus that they are ordered quarantined upon arrival in New York, saying that "all but 31 countries" around the globe are under such restrictions.
"The CDC ended enhanced screening at the airport for some international travel, but we are seeing alarming increases around the world … so we are going to increase our presence," Cuomo said.
New York State processed test results for 52,936 people on Sunday and found 834 new cases of coronavirus, Cuomo said. He said 11 state residents died on Sunday from coronavirus-related causes.
The number of new confirmed cases was 68 in Nassau County, 41 in Suffolk County and 379 in New York City. The level of positive tests was 1.2% on Long Island and 1.6% in New York City.
State Liquor Authority agents and State Police inspected 988 establishments on Sunday and issued summonses to five, including three in Suffolk, for violating state mandates aimed at curbing spread of the virus.
Schools react to positive test results
On Long Island, the Rosemary Kennedy School and the Center for Community Adjustment in Wantagh were closed to in-person learning again Monday after officials said three staff members at the Kennedy Center tested positive last week for COVID-19. The building was closed Friday and will reopen Tuesday, officials said.
There have been other recent school closures across Long Island because of coronavirus cases among students and staff. In the Northport-East Northport School District, Northport High School, which closed last week due to a positive COVID-19 test result from a student, was set to reopen Tuesday, said District Clerk Beth Nystrom.
On Sunday, the East Meadow School District was notified that a student at Clarke Middle School and another at Clarke High School tested positive for COVID-19, but the schools will not close, district officials said. The students and others who came in contact with them without safety measures in place will quarantine.
With John Valenti and Olivia Winslow
NY ALERT TO INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS
In response to the federal government decreasing its COVID-19 screening at airports, Cuomo also said he is issuing an executive order to alert travelers from many countries that they are to quarantine upon arrival in New York, with "all but 31 countries" around the globe under such restrictions. Travelers are asked to fill out traveler health forms with local health departments for contact tracing purposes, according to state orders.
The quarantine applies to any person arriving from an area with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average, or an area with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average, the governor's office said.
All but 31 countries in the world fall under those requirements.
International travelers from the following places are not subject to the requirements as of Monday: American Samoa, Anguilla, Bonaire, Brunei, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Guernsey, Greenland, Grenada, Isle of Man, Laos, Macao SAR, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Montserrat, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Saba, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Sint Eustatius, Taiwan, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
SOURCE: New York Governor's Office.