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While state virus cases stay low, New York City has concerns about compliance

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday there are areas of concern in Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst, as small clusters of COVID-19 cases have popped up.  Credit: NY Mayor's Office

New York's positivity rate for COVID-19 continues to remain under 1%, but the head of New York City’s public hospital system warned Wednesday of renewed lockdowns and business closures if preventive measures, such as wearing masks and ending large, indoor gatherings are not taken in communities with high rates of infection.

State officials said 70,930 coronavirus tests were reported Tuesday, with 665, or 0.94%, coming back positive. Statewide, hospitalizations grew by 20 to 490, while intensive care patients ticked up by eight to 141.

There were five deaths from the virus, all in the five boroughs or Westchester County, bringing the state's total to 25,437, officials said.

"New York's most powerful tools in the fight against COVID-19 are the actions each of us take to slow the spread," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. "When you wear a mask, socially distance and wash your hands, you're protecting other New Yorkers, not just yourself. Local governments have critical roles to play enforcing state guidance, and I urge them to keep doing so."

Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and chief executive of NYC Health + Hospitals, the largest municipal health system in the nation, said Wednesday that 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.

"In the absence of our doing the right thing, we will need to be in a lockdown-type situation as occurred in Israel because they haven’t been able to control the spread of the virus," Katz said at Mayor Bill de Blasio's daily news conference.

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Two yeshivas have been ordered closed by the city Health Department over coronavirus concerns, including one with 2,000 students in the Rockaways — and more could be closed if necessary, de Blasio said.

"We’re obviously going to do whatever it takes," he said.

Scott Richman, regional director of the New York/New Jersey Anti-Defamation League, said he's concerned about statements that could lead to "stereotyping" of the Jewish community. He said more data is needed on the proportion of Orthodox Jews tested for the virus compared to the larger population.

"We hope that future calls for a lockdown do not appear to place blame on one specific community, but rather on those individuals who are not in compliance with the rules," Richman said.

Earlier this month, 138 Jewish doctors in Nassau's Five Towns community raised concerns over an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Orthodox community and a relaxing of precautions to combat the virus. Many new infection clusters have arisen from large gatherings, such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvah and concerts, the doctors wrote.

"COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger," the doctors wrote in an open letter to the community. "After a quiet summer, cases are now on the rise, specifically in our community. COVID-19 is not a political issue, nor is it old news. If our goal is to keep shuls and schools open and our neighborhood stores in business, we need to recognize that the uptick demands that we take it seriously and follow appropriate precautions."

Long Island has a 1% positivity rate, but Nassau's infection rate inched to 1.4% with 63 new cases.

The county has hovered between the 1% and 1.5% positivity level since schools began reopening, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

"The weather getting colder poses new challenges to our pandemic battle," said Curran, who held a news conference in Carle Place encouraging residents to get their flu shots. "It’s never been more important for us to keep wearing our masks, especially as more activities are moved inside."

Suffolk's infection rate Tuesday was 0.6%, with 32 of 5,254 results coming back positive, according to county statistics.

Meanwhile, the State Liquor Authority and State Police Task Force visited 1,077 businesses in the city and Long Island on Tuesday and observed five establishments — four in Suffolk and one in Manhattan — not in compliance with state COVID-19 requirements, according to the governor's office. The identity of those businesses will be released in the coming days, state officials said.

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