‘Urgent Action' Needed to Contain Sprawling New NYC Cluster; Mayor Vows ‘Whatever It Takes'

The Health Department has dubbed the four-neighborhood outbreak as the Ocean Parkway Cluster. Right now, Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city is focusing on outreach and enforcement, though will do "whatever it takes"

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What to Know

  • New York City health officials say there's "significant concern" in an uptick of COVID-19 cases in six neighborhoods; The city is lumping the biggest surge together into one group called the "Ocean Parkway Cluster"
  • "At this point in time, these increases could potentially evolve into more widespread community transmission and spread to other neighborhoods unless action is taken," the Health Department said
  • Separately, de Blasio said he was extending his previously announced City Hall furloughs to managerial and unrepresented employees at city agencies, requiring 9,000+ people to take five unpaid days off by March

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that "urgent action" is needed to try to contain a significant uptick in COVID-19 cases, which he says is affecting "multiple neighborhoods simultaneously" and could spiral to others.

Six neighborhoods are experiencing COVID case increases, though four have accounted for one in five new ones citywide since the weekend -- and those have been lumped into one group called the Ocean Parkway Cluster. That area had 122 coronavirus cases as of Aug. 1, but that doubled to 241 by Sept. 5. The numbers have only gotten worse since then, with 381 cases as of this past weekend.

At this point, it appears any "urgent action," at least initially, will focus on education, outreach and enforcement. The mayor didn't indicate any potential rollbacks of reopenings at this time, but he didn't rule anything out either.

Team coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked later how far he would go to contain the outbreak, de Blasio said, "Whatever it takes," noting the increase in numbers over the last week has been dramatic. He said the city would undertake an extensive effort to "stop this trend," but that he believes the tide can be turned if community compliance improves.

Separately, de Blasio said he was extending his previously announced City Hall furloughs to managerial and unrepresented employees at city agencies, requiring a total of more than 9,000 people to take five unpaid days off by March. The furloughs will save the city a much needed $21 million amid severe budget woes.

The increase in positive COVID cases came in Williamsburg (where the positivity rate was listed at 2 percent), Kew Gardens (2.24 percent positivity), Edgemere-Far Rockaway (3.69 percent positivity), and a section of Brooklyn that includes Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst — an area where the positivity rate has climbed to 4.71 percent, according to the NYC Health Department.

New York City officials are on alert as six neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens are experiencing a significant spikes in COVID-19 cases — just as leaders around the world are beginning to see signs of a potential second wave. NBC New York's John Chandler reports.

The spike occurred between Aug. 1 and Sept. 19, the department said. The newly termed "Ocean Parkway Cluster" is a group of four neighborhoods that has seen coronavirus rates triple during that seven-week period. Those four areas have produced 20 percent of all COVID cases citywide since Saturday.

"At this point in time, these increases could potentially evolve into more widespread community transmission and spread to other neighborhoods unless action is taken," the Health Department said in a statement. "We are monitoring the situation for the need to take further steps in these areas."

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


In the meantime, the Health Department reminded New Yorkers of core means to slow and stop the spread: Avoid large gatherings, wear face coverings, socially distance, get tested and don't rely on antibody test results to determine whether you should go back to work or school. In particular, health officials and contact tracers said that large indoor gatherings like weddings and bar mitzvahs in the area have contributed to the recent dramatic increases.

Overall, New York City's infection rate is low, with just 1.1 percent of more than 26,000 tests conducted Tuesday coming back positive, according to the latest data released Wednesday. By borough, the highest overall positivity rate is in Brooklyn (1.6 percent), which saw an 0.2 percent positivity uptick from the day before. Mayor de Blasio has warned looming reopenings like indoor dining may be reevaluated if the citywide infection rate hits 2 percent -- and if it hits 3 percent, that could immediately justify school closures.

Statewide, the infection rate also remains low. It has been at 1 percent or below for more than a month. But there are clear signs for concern.

"The virus' spread across the country—new cases have increased more than 15 percent in the last 10 days—makes it all the more urgent that we stay vigilant here at home," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday.

Asked whether he thought the new upticks in New York City were part of a potential second wave already hitting some countries around the world, de Blasio was reticent to sound the full-on alarm. He said some of those countries have much laxer restrictions around indoor dining, bars and nightclubs "that really hurt them," along with issues from young people gathering. While he acknowledged "we have some of that in New York City," the mayor said it was to a lesser degree.

NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci says as we do more indoor things in the Fall, we are likely to see an uptick in COVID-19.

"There's obviously been a really devoted approach to quarantine here, and a lot of messaging about that I think has had an impact," de Blasio said. "I really think we're in a different situation, but that being said, we are watching carefully because when we see this many neighborhoods with a problem, it's causing us a lot of concern for sure."

The city's new health commissioner, Dave Chokshi, agreed with the mayor and added a key point on masks. He said one of the common threads to the increases in cases both globally and nationally has been large, unmasked indoor gatherings.

"It makes it crucially important for us to focus on those things, because we know what has worked in New York City over the last few months but we can't get complacent about those things," Choksi said.

Five more states were added to the tri-state quarantine list this week amid the latest national increases; that list is part of a joint effort from the governors to curb travel-related COVID spread. Compliance is the key weapon at home.

In-person school reopenings were a point of contention and concern for months in the city; school has only been open to pre-K and special education students for two days, so any potential spikes from schools may not emerge until late next week, after the rest of in-person students return to the classroom. So far, the positivity rate among nearly 19,400 teachers is just 0.34 percent (65 positives).

Nationally, nearly 7 million U.S. COVID-19 cases have been confirmed and at least 200,000 people have died from the virus, according to NBC News. New York state alone has confirmed nearly a half-million cases and more than 25,000 confirmed deaths, though officials agree thousands more are probably virus-linked.

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