Mayor de Blasio speaks at a press briefing at Bronx Collaborative High School – New York, NY – August 26, 2020 (Shutterstock)
By Shant Shahrigian, NY Daily News
Clusters of coronavirus in Brooklyn and Queens have raised the city’s infection rate to an alarming new level, Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday, adding that the city will respond with strict mask enforcement and other steps in COVID hot spots.
Outbreaks in predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and other parts of Brooklyn and Queens pushed the city’s overall infection rate to 3.25%, after months in which the rate had been around 1%.
The uptick was announced as thousands of children began in-person learning at K-5 and K-8 schools on Tuesday.
“For the first time in quite a while, the daily number is over 3% and that is cause for real concern,” de Blasio said at a press conference, noting that clusters in nine ZIP codes account for one in four coronavirus cases for the entire city.
“This is an inflection point,” he continued. “We have to take more action at this point and more serious action and we will be escalating with each day depending on what we see happening on the ground.”
Steps announced Tuesday include fines of up to $1,000 for people who refuse to wear masks in these neighborhoods: Gravesend/Homecrest, Midwood, Kew Gardens, Edgemere/Far Rockaway, Borough Park, Bensonhurst/Mapleton, Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay, and Flatlands/Midwood.
City workers will hand out masks to residents there and if individuals refuse to wear them, they will be fined, de Blasio said.
“That will happen aggressively, clearly,” he added. “We don’t want to fine people. If we have to, we will. That will be starting on a large scale today.”
During the spring, the city had a policy of fining and even arresting people who didn’t wear masks and follow social-distancing rules, but pulled back after it was found the NYPD disproportionately busted people of color.
The mayor’s office didn’t immediately answer an email asking how the policy will be enforced differently this time.
Under another measure de Blasio announced Tuesday, if private schools don’t follow rules such as mask use and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between individuals, they face closure.
Staff from the Health Department, the city’s Test & Trace Corps, and the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement will be responsible for checking on private schools, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi.
Under city policy, in-person learning at public schools will be canceled if the seven-day average of the COVID infection rate is 3% or higher.
While the latest daily positivity rate was 3.25%, the seven-day rolling average was 1.38%, according to the Health Department.
De Blasio indicated he wouldn’t shut down schools in specific neighborhoods where the rolling average is higher than the rest of the city.
Asked about the matter, the mayor reiterated: “3% seven-day rolling average citywide — that’s the standard we’ve held from the beginning and we continue with that.
“We are not seeing an uptick in cases in the schools in those ZIP codes,” he added. “There is not a lot of interconnection with our public schools in these particular areas.”
Last week, the Health Department said non-essential businesses and private schools would be closed in neighborhoods undergoing a COVID surge if the outbreak wasn’t brought under control by the start of this week.
“We have to have all options on the table,” de Blasio said Tuesday.
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