Cuomo Warns Drastic Measures May Come as Infection Rate Soars in 10 New York ZIP Codes

New York City has identified nine ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens as cause for urgent action; another four are on the city's watchlist while Gov. Cuomo says Orange and Rockland counties are showing troubling numbers, too

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What to Know

  • The COVID-19 clusters identified in Brooklyn and Queens have grown 3.7x times the citywide average over the past 14 days; the problem ZIP codes make up 25% of new cases, but just 7 percent of NYC's population
  • Officials had set a Monday evening deadline for progress, but the situation has only worsened; four more ZIP codes were added to the watchlist; new restrictions could be in place as soon as Tuesday in the affected areas
  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York state's infection rate ticked up to 1.5 percent Monday; he described Brooklyn as a "major contributor" to the increase while Orange/Rockland counties also are experiencing upticks

BREAKING UPDATE: Cuomo to Local Gov'ts as New York Clusters Worsen: 'Either You Do the Job or People Will Die'

Alarmed by soaring infection rates in nearly a dozen New York ZIP codes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo felt compelled to hold a second conference call in two hours Monday to discuss the clusters and warned drastic measures may come next.

Of 1,769 ZIP codes in the state, Cuomo said 10 are averaging an infection rate of about 15 percent compared with the overall statewide infection rate of 1.5 percent as of Monday. Those 10 ZIP codes account for 25 percent of the state's new daily cases despite representing just 2.9 percent of the state's population.

Cuomo stressed the state would immediately launch targeted outreach to those communities, as he did in his first call earlier Monday, and said his administration would make 200 rapid testing machines immediately available. He also called on local governments in the affected areas to reach out to the state for assistance.

Without improvement, he warned more "drastic alternatives" may be required to curb the spread, echoing recent warnings from New York City officials.

"The key with these clusters is to jump on them quickly, attack them from all sides," Cuomo said, referring to mask compliance, hand sanitizer distribution and acute enforcement of compliance as it relates to businesses and private schools. "This Brooklyn cluster, we have to get to the bottom of it. Data is key, and we have to act on the data."

The governor rattled off positivity rates for more than a half-dozen of the 10 hotspot ZIP codes, four of which were in Brooklyn. One was in Queens, while three were in Rockland County and one was in Orange County, which Cuomo also said earlier Monday were experiencing problems along with parts of New York City.

New York City officials have been talking about their problematic ZIP codes for more than a week now. Cases continue to grow at a disturbing rate in at least eight of them, outpacing the citywide average by 3.7 times over 14 days, despite health officials' warning that the spikes may warrant new shutdowns for the first time in months. Businesses in those areas may find themselves closed again.

The newly termed "Ocean Parkway Cluster" is a group of four neighborhoods that has seen coronavirus rates triple during that seven-week period. NBC New York's Tracie Strahan reports.

Mayor Bill de Blasio did not hold his regular briefing Monday in observance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, but has made his position on the city's clusters clear: New restrictions are on the table as early as Tuesday without improvement.

The city's Department of Health had set a Monday evening deadline to see progress in the positivity rates, as its top doctor, Dave Chokshi said, "This may be the most precarious moment that we're facing since we emerged from lockdown."

Data is starting to show an uptick in the number of hospitalized patients in two hospitals in Brooklyn and Queens; hospitalizations tend to lag new cases and deaths lag hospitalizations, meaning the city that has lost at least 21,000 people to COVID already -- and likely more than that -- may lose even more lives. New York state's daily toll hit 11 Monday, much lower than the 800 a day in April but significantly higher than the single-digit numbers most common as of late.

There have been four main clusters in the New York City area and what the city is doing to respond, Andrew Siff reports.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci made that point Monday on the national front, warning the United States "is not in a good place" as colder months loom and daily COVID cases continue to grow.

The nine New York City ZIP codes identified by the city as seeing extensive COVID growth over the last two weeks account for more than 25 percent of new cases citywide despite representing just under 7 percent of the city's overall population. And those numbers are continuing to increase on a daily basis.

According to the city's Department of Health, the most worrisome ZIP codes include the Gravesend/Homecrest area, where the positivity rate hit 6.72 percent Monday. Other problems areas include Midwood (5.53 percent), Kew Gardens (3.61 percent), Edgemere/Far Rockaway (3.98 percent), Borough Park (5.26 percent), Bensonhurst/Mapleton (5.15 percent), Sheepshead Bay (4.05 percent), Flatlands/Midwood (4.08 percent) and Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok (3.04 percent).

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 addition to those nine ZIP codes, health officials identified three others they say are emerging points of concern: Rego Park (2.49 percent positivity rate), Kensington/Windsor Terrace (2.5 percent) and Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach/Sheepshead Bay (2.63 percent). Williamsburg (1.84 percent) remains an area the department is continuing to observe, even though its positivity rate is below 2 percent.

No significant progress was made in these areas before the city's self-imposed Monday evening deadline for progress. "The immediate scaling back of activities" would apply only to the affected ZIP codes, not citywide, the health department said -- and could include bans of gatherings of 10 or more people, mask fines, private school and child care center closures and shuttering all non-essential businesses again.

A screaming, unmasked heckler interrupted the start -- and later additional parts -- of a briefing by health officials in Brooklyn Friday as they provided an update on emerging COVID clusters there and in Queens that have become so severe they may prompt the first new shutdowns in New York City in months.

New restrictions could be implemented as early as Tuesday, though none had yet been announced. Certain private schools and daycares in the affected ZIP codes have already been put on notice, and the city said it will be reaching out to all non-public schools about new guidelines. The city will be deploying 11 mobile testing units to the areas with the increased COVID rates, with a focus on the areas above while tripling the capacity of the express testing sites in Crown Heights and Fort Greene.

Cuomo didn't have neighborhood comparisons to the city's but identified a number of ZIP codes and positivity rates Monday as experiencing alarming infection rates compared with the state and citywide average: In Rockland County, ZIP code 10977 had a 30 percent positivity rate, 10952 had a 25 percent positivity rate, Orange County's 10950 (22 percent), Brooklyn's 11219 (17 percent), 11210 (11 percent), 11204 (9 percent), 11230 (9 percent) and Queens' 11367 (6 percent).

Marc Santia, Brian Thompson and Ida Siegal have team coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of those areas have neighborhoods with large Hasidic populations -- and the spikes are occurring in the midst of the High Holy Days, when many in those communities congregate closely in indoor settings. Asked recently if the city had enough Yiddish-speaking contact tracers to communicate and connect with communities, de Blasio said there was a "substantial" number.

Cuomo declined to single out any particular group for the spike.

“Whatever the population, the answer’s going to be the same — it’s compliance,” Cuomo told reporters Monday afternoon.

Some neighbors have been upset as well, saying they've seen defiant anti-mask behavior in local stores. At one press conference in Gravesend last week, health officials experienced that firsthand when they were heckled by an unmasked, spitting man who demanded they leave and challenged the validity of test results.

Cuomo acknowledged people are getting sick of wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart, but cautioned, “You’ll offend them even more deeply if you start doing close-downs, and that’s what’s going to happen.”

New York City and the state of New York have held on to low infection rates for months, with daily positivity rates at 1 or below 1 percent, a remarkable turnaround from the 59 percent the city was seeing back in April. But with the looming return of indoor dining this week and hundreds of thousands more public school students scheduled to go back to class, de Blasio said he's watching the situation very carefully. It wasn't clear if he may call for more widespread school delays again --or delay the return of indoor dining if cases continue to rise.

As of Monday, New York City's overall infection rate had ticked up to 1.9 percent, again a comparatively low number nationally and locally from earlier this year. But that marked the first time in weeks it went that high, tightening officials' nerves. Brooklyn tilted the average, reporting a borough-high 2.9 percent positivity rate.

Up in Rockland County, 110 positive test results were reported by the state for a 12.8 percent positivity rate. Chemung, Broome, and Orange County each reported rates between 4 and 6 percent, all slightly higher than that of Kings County.

"We are continuing to work closely with municipal, community and religious leaders throughout Rockland to remind residents of the need to stay at least 6 feet apart from other people in both indoor and outdoor spaces," Rockland County Executive Ed Day said. "It is concerning that the number of cases continues to increase throughout Rockland and significantly increase within two zip codes with the Town of Ramapo."

Asked last week whether he would step in to help curb the clusters' spread, Cuomo said the state only gets involved if the local health department is "impotent or incompetent." That would be needed if the clusters started to elevate the state's overall infection rate. At that point, he said, they're no longer clusters.

Cuomo said New York's slight upticks had to be taken in the context of the overall national and global picture; there have been spikes on both those fronts. But he also acknowledged some of the local clusters generate more cause for concern.

The Health Department said that there will be regular inspections of all non-public schools within the cluster area and adjacent zip codes, and enforcement staff will be increased in order to ensure that mask and social distancing compliance remains in place. NBC New York' Tracie Strahan reports.

On Monday, the statewide infection rate had ticked up to 1.5 percent for the first time in months, Cuomo said. New York reported more than 1,000 new daily COVID cases Saturday for the first time since June, though Cuomo's office stressed that came out of nearly 100,000 tests, almost double the daily June test number.

That number of daily positive tests in a state of more than 19 million people still puts New York in a much better position than many other states. Florida, for instance, reported 2,795 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the same day.

To date, New York has confirmed more than 456,000 COVID cases, about 6.5 percent of the more than 7 million confirmed nationally. The U.S. death toll topped 200,000 earlier this month, far more than any other country in the world. On Monday, the global death toll eclipsed one million people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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