In March, New York City was one of America’s first major urban areas to impose extensive city-wide lockdowns, foreshadowing a wave of closures that would crash on the country in the following weeks. Now as fears grow over a second COVID-19 wave and with New York coronavirus cases rising slightly, city and state officials are at odds over whether to close the city’s coronavirus hotspots.
On Oct. 4, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed an extensive plan calling for the closure of all schools and nonessential businesses in nine zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens.
But as of Oct. 6, the complete plan remained on hold as it awaited approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who suggested the defined zip codes were not precise enough to be indicators for what should or should not close.
“A zip code is not the best basis to make these decisions,” Cuomo said. “A zip code is designed for postal service. It has no relevance to stopping a health pandemic. We have better data. We have data that goes down to the address level. You can find out exactly where people live who tested positive and draw the geographic template around that area.”
Cuomo agreed that all schools in the nine zip codes should close but not all nonessential businesses. He moved the school closures up a day and planned to meet with religious leaders to discuss controversial large-scale gatherings.
“I’m going to say to them, ‘Unless you agree to follow the rules, we will close religious institutions,’” the governor said.
Close to 100 schools will be impacted by the closure order. De Blasio said the closure will last between two weeks and a month until New York City officials regain control over the coronavirus outbreak.
“Even though the schools are doing quite well, we just want to reduce the amount of overall activity for a few weeks and really stop the spread quickly,” he said. “We must attack the clusters.”
Recent statistics have New York city’s daily positivity rate at 1.9% and its seven-day average positivity at 1.65%. The numbers fall under the city’s threshold of 5% but the nine defined zip codes have a positivity rate above 3%. Borough Park in Brooklyn remains the biggest hotspot as it tallied an 8.5% positivity rate on Oct. 4.
Cuomo believes nonessential businesses in these areas will eventually have to close, but he won’t order them to do so until the state comes up with something more geographically specific than zip codes for plans to follow. That template hasn’t yet come. Until it does, de Blasio remains adamant that he will move forward with his plan.
“And if the state wants to modify that in some way, obviously that’s the state’s ultimate decision, but unless they come back with a specific modification, we’re preparing to act as early as [Oct. 7], we need some plan ready to go and that’s the plan we have,” de Blasio said.