Some New York City neighborhoods are experiencing a marked increase in new COVID-19 cases and health officials say low vaccination rates and more transmissible variants like delta are to blame.
Out of 10 areas citywide with the lowest vaccination rates, six of them also have the highest positivity rates, according to the city's health department.
The city’s COVID dashboard points to a troubling uptick in overall positives cases that now has the rolling positivity rate at 1.22 percent after weeks of all-time lows.
Its new daily case average is up 32 percent over the last seven days compared with the seven-day average for the four weeks prior. Hospitalizations are down 24 percent in the same time period, while deaths are in the low single digits, though both are lagging indicators that could see increases after daily case counts do.
Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the case uptick during his COVID briefing on Monday but also pointed to sustained lows in severe outcomes as a reason for optimism. To his point, New York reported a single COVID death (in Queens) on Monday for the second straight day, matching the lowest daily fatality toll the Empire State has seen from the virus since the pandemic started.
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Vaccinations are the reason for that, de Blasio and others have said. The mayor said Monday the city would double down on ongoing community grassroots vaccine pushes like mobile vans and local advocates to encourage the hesitant.
According to the state's statistics, New York City's seven-day positivity average rose from 0.63 percent last Monday, July 5, to 0.91 percent on Sunday. Staten Island’s seven-day rate is 1.42 percent, the highest in the city and the only borough where it is higher than 1 percent. That's compared to Manhattan, where the positivity rate is nearly half that.
Parts of the borough are neighborhoods where vaccination rates are lagging, according to the state's ZIP code tracker.
New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi also referenced Staten Island specifically on Monday, saying unvaccinated communities in that borough were fueling much of the citywide increase in new cases.
"We have to make sure as many people are protected as possible in the next few weeks," Chokshi said. "In Staten Island, the percent positivity and the case numbers have increased in recent days and weeks. And that's because we have unvaccinated individuals, particularly younger people, who remain unvaccinated."
At this point, New York City officials believe current healthcare guidance makes sense. Virtually all new severe cases in the city and U.S. are among unvaccinated people, experts say. If more people get vaccinated, those numbers go down.
Fewer people are getting tested for COVID in the city these days, which may mean those who are haven't yet been vaccinated and are more likely to turn up positive.
"Without more people vaccinated we run this risk of allowing the virus to continue to mutate and change," said Dr. Nicole Berwald, the chair of Emergency Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital.
The state Department of Health says a higher percentage of cases are linked to more contagious variants spreading wildly in low vaccination rate areas. And while the rising numbers on Staten Island the levels are still nowhere near the peak levels of the virus.
The highly transmissible delta COVID variant now ties with alpha as the most dominant strain in New York City, vaulting up to more than a quarter of positive samples tested in the last week, according to new health data out Friday.
It is also the most dominant strain in the United States and fueling a surge in cases in low vaccination rate areas, officials have said. They're making renewed pushes for vaccination to stem the increase.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought to further drill the point home on Monday.
"New Yorkers are continuing to fight COVID-19 throughout the state, and it's critical to remember that getting shots in arms is the key to our ultimate success," Cuomo said in a statement. "I urge all New Yorkers who haven't been vaccinated yet to do so today at any one of the open sites across the state. Millions of New Yorkers have taken the vaccine and done their part to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe—everyone who's able should do the same."
Nationally, nearly 59% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated. Complete immunization numbers are higher among adult New Yorkers (66%). Sixty-four percent of those in New York City can say the same. Rates are also lower in certain boroughs: 43% of Bronx residents and 45.5% of Brooklyn residents are fully vaccinated.
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Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC