NYC on Verge of ‘Full-Blown' 2nd Wave as Positivity Rate Nears School Shutdown Mark

If the city's rolling positivity rate hits 3 percent, all schools would switch remote for a period of time; if it keeps climbing, Mayor de Blasio said new restrictions -- from limited hours to full-scale closures -- could come next

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • New York City is seeing its highest daily case averages since late May (it hit 795 Tuesday); the rolling positivity rate is up to 2.31 percent. If it hits 3 percent, public schools would switch all remote
  • In New Jersey, roughly 1 in 500 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 over the last 7 days; new restrictions targeting indoor dining and youth sports take effect Thursday for an unspecified time
  • It comes amid a national surge that has seen the U.S. shatter its own daily case records nine times since Oct. 22, most recently on Thursday; Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the next months will be rough

"This is our last chance."

That was the message Monday from Mayor Bill de Blasio as he delivered yet another sobering report of New York City's latest metrics on the COVID front.

His tone Tuesday didn't waver in urgency as he reviewed the same series of health indicators he does in each briefing. Unlike the summer, when de Blasio would applaud progress, his descriptors have changed to phrases that include "of tremendous concern" and "very worrisome." It's not difficult to grasp why.

For weeks now de Blasio has expressed mounting concern over the city's daily caseload, which topped 600 three days last week for the first time in months and ended last week with a report of more than 700 new cases. On Monday, that shot up to 779, well above the mayor's 550-case threshold. By Tuesday, it was 795.

nyc case average tuesday
The daily case average has been well above the mayor's threshold for more than a week -- and continues to climb.

He described the next metric, the city's daily positivity rate (2.88 percent), as "very worrisome." But it's the seven-day rolling positivity average, which he calls the "most objective measure" of the city's standing in its war against coronavirus, that has drawn the mayor's highest level of concern. That number had held around 1 percent through much of the summer as the city drove its infection rate down.

On Monday, it topped 2 percent (2.21 percent). It hit 2.31 percent Tuesday, a 4.5 percent increase over the previous day. If that positivity rate hits 3 percent, de Blasio has repeatedly said that would signify a full-blown second wave. Public schools across the five boroughs would have to move all-remote for a time again.

"If that goes above 3 percent and continues climbing, the state obviously will make the ultimate decisions but I think there will be real concern about whether we can continue to have businesses open on the same scale they're open now," de Blasio said. "You could see restrictions in certain industries. You could see full-scale closures. You could see limits on hours. All of those things are possible."

"This is our last chance right now to stop a second wave. If we aren't able to stop it, there will clearly be lots of consequences that will remind us too much of where we were before," he added.

Hospital admissions have seen upticks across the five boroughs, but for now remain at a manageable level, de Blasio said. As the city saw in the spring, though, hospitalizations lag increases in cases. Death follows admission spikes.

It's not the numbers alone that city officials find disconcerting. It's the source of new infections: They're becoming more generalized, de Blasio said.

The city's top doctor, Dr. Dave Chokshi backed up the mayor on that front Monday. He said the city is now seeing indications of broader community spread. Yes, travel impacts cases (about 10 percent of new ones are traced back to that); and yes, specific gatherings and events cause some (about 5 to 10 percent). But that leaves, at minimum, 80 percent of new cases with no easily identifiable source.

The city hasn't had any major superspreader events, an indication of the success its had in controlling its rate of infection even as other major cities across the United States find themselves spinning dangerously out of control in that regard. It has had isolated clusters with high positivity rates, but those clusters are being aggressively managed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's micro-cluster approach -- and the numbers have already declined within all of the initial red zones to the point where Cuomo has been able to ease restrictions in every one of them.

In contrast to de Blasio's urgent tone, Cuomo appeared more resigned in a conference call with reporters Monday -- resigned to the fact that this will be the reality for New York in the months to come, as holiday travel and colder weather pose new challenges in the COVID fight and a vaccine remains months away.

He believes the situation nationally will get worse before it gets better and is focusing on what he can do at home. Cuomo established three new precautionary yellow zones upstate Monday to combat rising positivity rates there, and is monitoring data in two high positivity areas of Staten Island, ready to establish another zone if needed. Volunteers from the city spread out there on Tuesday to hand out masks and other PPE — something that some on the island say isn't used as often as it should be by residents. Testing is also being ramped up, and will be included at places like the Staten Island Ferry Terminal.

The governor has also enhanced National Guard presence at New York airports to ensure compliance with his sweeping new COVID entry test policy.

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


Even so, Cuomo says New York's numbers will continue to increase over the rest of fall and winter. The recent shifts have been jarring: New York has averaged nearly 3,000 new infections per day over the past seven days, up 83 percent in two weeks. Total hospitalizations are at their highest level since June 14 (1,548 as of Tuesday) and increasing daily. Upticks in death will likely follow.

On Tuesday, the governor said the positivity rate from the previous day was at 3.09 percent, the third-lowest in the country but still quite elevated from what it was just a few weeks ago. The numbers are worse in the so-called micro-cluster areas, where the positivity rate reached 5.59 percent; the rest of the state sits at 2.56 percent — far better than almost every other part of the country, but still worse than what levels were at the end of the summer.

This is simply the current reality of the situation in the United States, Cuomo says. Some level of increase is inevitable, he says; his goal is to mitigate its height.

"This is going to be the constant for the foreseeable future. People are tired, I get it," the governor said. "But the virus isn't getting tired. And that's all that matters."

NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

Across the river, New Jersey is also experiencing its biggest viral increases in months. Gov. Phil Murphy took action Monday, targeting late-night dine-in at bars and restaurants, bar seating and indoor youth sports with a slate of new COVID restrictions that will take effect across the state on Thursday.

It is a far more contained approach than the total shutdown Murphy ordered in March, he said -- but one necessitated by tripling hospitalizations, soaring positivity rates and daily case numbers that haven't been seen since spring.

"This is not forever and always. We basically have a six-month window to beat the fatigue back and beat the virus into the ground," Murphy said. "This virus hasn’t gone away, and it is posing its greatest threat to us in months."

A slate of new COVID restrictions targeting indoor dining and youth sports in New Jersey is set to go into effect Thursday as the state combats the highest viral increases it has seen in months.

That's an understatement. New Jersey reported nearly 4,000 (3,877) new COVID cases Tuesday, roughly eight times the daily numbers it was seeing at the end of September. That was only six weeks ago. Tuesday's report marked the highest new daily case total since April 20; for perspective, roughly one out of every 500 New Jersey residents has been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last seven days.

Essex County alone reported 675 new cases overnight. Newark, which had implemented local restrictions ahead of Monday's state announcement, said Tuesday it would impose additional measures given its spiraling numbers.

Those include:

  • Mandatory 9 p.m. weekday curfew (10 p.m. weekends) for nonemergency or nonessential work for ZIP codes 07104 (Seventh to Second avenues and from Broadway to Clifton Avenue) 07105 (entire ZIP code); and 07107 (Third Avenue North to Berkley Avenue and North Third Street to 11th Street)
  • All sports of any kind played in the city cease immediately for two weeks; all players, coaches, trainers must test negative for COVID-19 to resume play
  • Any sport team or team member that doesn't follow face-covering protocol may be subject to canceled games, removal from the team or termination
  • Indoor and outdoor gatherings and events are capped at 10 people
  • No visitation permitted at long-term health facilities for two weeks; senior housing buildings residents are allowed one nonessential visitor per unit per day and visitors are subject to temperature checks (must be below 100.4)
  • Religious services attendance is restricted to 25 percent capacity; anyone speaking or singing during services must wear a mask; no one will be allowed inside an institution with a temperate above 100.4 degrees
  • No holiday gatherings or events of 10 or more people at restaurants; reservations for more than 10 people are banned

Mayor Ras Baraka enacted the new protocols Tuesday as Newark's three-day rolling positivity rate (19 percent) soared to more than double the statewide average (7.74 percent), according to the data provided in the news release. The city said it would reassess the situation after Dec. 1 to determine the next steps.

“Newark’s prescription is not the state’s prescription,” Baraka said. “Stricter measures are required in the city’s hotspots in order to contain the virus and limit the spread. I know we are all tired, but the virus is not, therefore we must remain vigilant and do what is necessary to get this under control and save lives.”   

Statewide, the numbers are increasingly alarming. Total hospitalizations are up to mid-June levels and the daily death reports, which increase slower than the other metrics, are steadily rising. Hospitals across the state (and country) have been stocking up on PPE supplies for months since the first wave of the virus started to subside, and now are bracing for potentially having to access those stashes as numbers increase. Hospitalizations in the Hackensack Meridien Health Care system have increased six fold in just two months.

"These numbers are devastating," Murphy tweeted Tuesday. "We are still in the midst of a pandemic. Wear a mask. Social distance. Stay safe."

Strokes, heart attacks and other causes of death are also skyrocketing, as people are once again becoming too scared to being serious ailments to the hospital and risk being exposed to the coronavirus.

Murphy told New Jerseyeans Monday there was some good news -- that a vaccine was on the horizon and he anticipates broad distribution by the spring. He said he has a plan ready should that timeframe hold and urged the people of his state, "Let's get through the remainder of this fall and winter together."

In Connecticut, two more states were added to their quarantine list. Now those traveling in from any state other than New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island must self-quarantine for a 14-day period and complete a health travel form. Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday the state has doubled hospitalizations in the past few weeks, and the statewide positivity rate is now at 6.74 percent, far worse than New York's.

As Cuomo said earlier this week, it's going to be a rough few months.

The U.S. surge has left no state untouched. The country has now topped 10 million cases, by far the highest total of any nation in the world, and reported more than 240,000 deaths, according to NBC News. It took just 10 days to get from nine million to 10 million cases -- and the next milestone likely isn't far off. The U.S. could see 20 million cases of COVID-19 by Christmas if the coronavirus keeps infecting people at the current rate, an NBC News analysis of the latest figures showed Tuesday.

The number of new cases for the three-week period ending Monday nearly doubled to 1.9 million from the previous 21-day tally of 1.07 million, the data showed. By Nov. 30, if this trend continues, the U.S. could have 13.6 million cases and by Dec. 21, that number at the current rate could climb to 19.9 million.

Pandemic fatigue and rising anger over having to wear masks and practice social distancing, coupled with colder weather driving people indoors where the virus is more easily spread have created a “perfect storm” for new infections, epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Tuesday.

The U.S. shattered its single-day case record again Monday, reporting more than 130,000 cases for the first time. It marked the sixth straight day the country posted more than 100,000 daily cases and the ninth new record set since Oct. 22.

Copyright NBC New York
Contact Us