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.
The upticks 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 the includes Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst — an area where the positivity rate has climbed to 4.71 percent, according to the NYC Health Department.
The spike occurred between Aug. 1 and Sept. 19, the department said. The city is lumping the biggest surge together into one group called the "Ocean Parkway Cluster."
That group of neighborhoods, along with Far Rockaway and Williamsburg, have seen their coronavirus rates triple during that seven-week period, while Kew Gardens has seen the rate double, health officials said. Those areas have produced 20 percent of all COVID cases citywide as of Saturday.
Officials warn that the sudden increases could potentially lead to more community spread into other neighborhoods, unless something is done to halt the trend. The Health Department said that more action will have to be taken if noncompliance with COVID safety precautions is observed.
City Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi repeated the refrain that large indoor gatherings should be avoided, and that face coverings should be worn whenever social distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained — two things that may have become more lax in those areas, as well as certain places around the world that are now experiencing problems.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson annoucned a package of new coronavirus restrictions — which could potentially last another six months. Pubs and restaurants will have to close by 10 p.m., and the number of attendees at weddings and other events will be limited as well. While he said it was "by no means a return to the full lockdown of March," the rapid increase in infections in the UK has scientists and lawmakers deeply worried.
In regards to the Ocean Parkway Cluster and the other neighborhoods experiencing increases, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that his team is "watching the situation carefully" but wasn't ready to sound the alarm as other countries have begun to see more widespread upticks in coronavirus cases.
"We saw, unfortunately, in a lot of those countries very lax guidelines around indoor dining, bars, nightclubs, that really hurt them," the mayor said. "There seems to have been a lot of problems with young people gathering. We've seen some of that in New York City, but nowhere near like what has been seen in so many other countries, there are problems with travel. I don't think the travel dynamics have been the same here."
De Blasio also said that the uptick in cases in those neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens is "causing us a lot of concern." Senior Adviser Dr. Jay Varma said that the Test and Trace response in the impacted areas is paramount in fighting the spread to other communities.
"The hyperlocal response that you're hearing is absolutely so critical, and we are monitoring the data every day to ensure that those efforts are in fact working, because what we've seen from the experience in Europe and Israel and in parts of Asia is that when these second waves occur, they always start as small problems that expanded to big ones," said Dr. Varma. "So our aggressive approaches are absolutely critical to prevent that from happening."
With city schools in their second day back (although many have yet to see the inside of a classroom), another 14 school buildings throughout the five boroughs were found to have a confirmed COVID case reported, with close contacts ordered to quarantine, the city's Department of Education said. At least two had multiple cases and were closed for 24 hours before reopening Tuesday, while another had its second case within a week and remained closed until Wednesday. Seven schools had a confirmed case but the individual had not reported to the building.
The DOE said that out of the nearly 19,400 teachers tested, 65 have been positive yielding an infection rate of 0.34 percent.