Cuomo to close schools in COVID-19 hotspots

covid-19 hotspots
Dozens of contact tracers from the NYC Health Department were in Borough Park on Oct. 1, giving out masks, hand sanitizer, and information. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the effort to distribute resources hasn’t stemmed the tide of the outbreak.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Schools must close starting Tuesday in six Brooklyn neighborhoods where COVID-19 cases have surged, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced.

“The state is going to take over the enforcement oversight in all the hotspot clusters,” said Cuomo. “Local government will need to provide us with personnel.”

The decision comes one day after Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed closing businesses and schools in the ZIP codes with the highest rates of positive COVID-19 tests. De Blasio had pushed for the closures to begin Wednesday, but Cuomo — who has the power to mandate the closures — moved the school closures to Tuesday, and said he will hold off on shuttering businesses until he receives more precise data about the exact locations of the outbreaks. 

Affected neighborhoods

The six Brooklyn ZIP codes where schools will close are clustered mostly in southern Brooklyn: Borough Park (11219), Gravesend/Homecrest (11223), Midwood (11230), Bensonhurst/Mapleton (11204), Flatlands/Midwood (11210) and Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay (11229). Combined, the neighborhoods are home to more than half a million New Yorkers.

Each of the ZIP codes has seen a daily COVID-19 positivity rate above 3 percent for at least seven consecutive days — a threshold that requires the city to act quickly to prevent the clusters from growing into another widespread outbreak, de Blasio said Sunday.

“It will be very difficult for those who live in these ZIP codes in all these communities,” the mayor said on Sunday. “But it is necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus in these communities and beyond. We have to keep the overall low positivity level in the rest of the city.”

Borough Park has the highest COVID-19 rates in the city, with an average of 8.31 percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive every day for the last two weeks. Gravesend and Homecrest are experiencing the second largest surge with 7.59 percent of tests are coming back positive, and Midwood third, with a 6.98 percent positivity rate, according to city data

Three areas of Queens experiencing COVID-19 upticks and will also see their schools close: Far Rockaway/Edgere (11691) Kew Gardens (11415) and Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok (11367).

The path forward

All public schools in the affected areas will revert completely to remote learning from the blended model, and daycare centers must close. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the Department of Education is ready to make the quick change. 

“A lot of the logistics were already in the works,” Carranza said. “The good news is that we’ve already done this before, and our planning has always included the eventuality that we would one day need to pivot toward remote learning. We’re very much ready to go.”

If Cuomo eventually approves of de Blasio’s business closure plan, restaurants — which were permitted to resume limited indoor dining just last week — will be required to halt all dining services except for delivery or take-out.

The Brooklyn Public Library branches in the affected areas will also temporarily shutter their grab-and-go services, library officials announced on Monday.

The state will only lift the restrictions when the affected ZIP codes see a less than 3-percent daily positivity rate averaged over more than two weeks, as well as several consecutive days with a positivity rate less under 3-percent positivity, de Blasio said.

The renewed ‘PAUSE’ order for the nine ZIP codes would not prevent residents from traveling to other parts of the city. The mayor, however, expressed confidence that the order would encourage people to “double down all over the city” to ensure the spread stops.

‘Watch list’ restrictions

The city is keeping an eye on 11 other Brooklyn and Queens ZIP codes where COVID-19 cases are trending upward. 

Those ZIP codes include Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant/Clinton Hill/Fort Greene (11205), East Williamsburg/Williamsburg (11211/11249), Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach/Sheepshead Bay (11235), Bergen Beach/Flatlands/Marine Park/Mill Basin (11234), Crown Heights East (11213) and Windsor Terrace/Kensington (11218). These neighborhood is experiencing a positivity rate of between one and three percent. 

The Queens communities on the watchlist are Rego Park (11374), Fresh Meadows/Hillcrest (11366), Hillcrest/Jamaica Estates/Jamaica Hills (11432) and Auburndale/Fresh Meadows/Pomonok/Utopia (11365).

This article first appeared on AMNY.com.