New York City is ‘on the edge of a precipice’ as coronavirus cases grow, former CDC director says

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A health worker takes a swab sample from a man to test for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York, September 25, 2020.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Coronavirus infection rates in the New York City area continue to soar far above other parts of the state just days after it reopened indoor dining spaces and returned more students to classrooms for in-person learning. 

New York is responding to growing clusters of coronavirus cases in 20 “hotspot” ZIP codes that are reporting positivity rates, or the number of tests coming back positive, as high as 18%, based on a weekly average, according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Saturday. 

More than half of the hotspot ZIP codes are from Kings and Queens counties, which are located in New York City’s Brooklyn and Queens boroughs. Two other counties slightly north of New York City — Rockland and Orange — make up the remaining hotspot areas. 

Although the top 20 ZIP codes are home to 6.7% of the state’s population, they represented 26% of Friday’s new Covid-19 cases, Cuomo said. The average positivity rate among them is 5.2% — well above the 1% rate for the remainder of the state. 

“So my message to New Yorkers is please stay vigilant and my message to local governments is do the enforcement. We can beat this thing if we work together and stay New York Tough,” Cuomo said in the statement.

Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Barack Obama, warned on Twitter Saturday that New York City is “on the edge of a precipice” and is at “a high risk of Covid resurgence.” 

New York state reported a record 134,267 Covid-19 tests on Friday and health officials will increase their testing efforts in the hotspot ZIP codes, the statement said. 

The increase in Covid-19 cases is a troubling sign for the state only days after indoor dining resumed in the Big Apple on Wednesday and the city’s public schools returned its final group of students to the classroom for in-person learning on Thursday. 

Cuomo said on Tuesday that many of the reported clusters are in ZIP codes that “overlap” with large Orthodox Jewish communities. The governor’s caution for the religious community comes amid the Jewish High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which began in mid-September, and just before Sukkot, another celebrated Jewish holiday that began Friday. 

“This is a concern for their community, public health concern for their community. It’s also a public health concern for surrounding communities,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. ”A cluster today can be community spread tomorrow.” 

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