New York sees coronavirus clusters pop up in Orthodox Jewish communities, Gov. Cuomo says

Governor Andrew Cuomo makes an announcement and holds media briefing on COVID-19 response at New Settlement Community Center, Bronx.

Lev Radin | Pacific Press | LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Tuesday of growing coronavirus clusters in large Orthodox Jewish communities around New York City that he worries could spread uncontrollably if they aren’t quickly contained. 

State health officials are investigating 20 of the state’s ZIP codes where Covid-19 hot spots appear to be growing. The percentage of total tests returning positive, or the “positivity rate,” in some of those ZIP codes has reached above 10%, far beyond the roughly 1% infection rate New York has reported for weeks. 

“The activity in the cluster is very different than what’s going on in the rest of the state,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in New York City. The state’s Covid-19 positivity rate is 1.1% while the average for the 20 ZIP codes with the highest rates is more than 5%, he said, adding that at least one ZIP code  has a positivity rate of about 20%.

The coronavirus clusters are coming from Brooklyn as well as Orange and Rockland counties, he said. “These hot spots are five times that number,” he said of the positivity rate. Many of the reported clusters are in ZIP codes that “overlap” with large Orthodox Jewish communities, he said. 

The Democratic governor said he plans to meet with religious leaders from the Orthodox Jewish community and warned that health measures he ordered to curb the spread of the coronavirus “apply to every religion.” 

“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. “A cluster today can be community spread tomorrow.” 

Cuomo’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 in early October. 

The New York governor’s concern is similar to New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy who said last week that coronavirus cases could surge after Yom Kippur events. Ocean County and Lakewood Township more specifically reported growing Covid-19 cases that Murphy said were likely due to Rosh Hashana, Politico reported Friday. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio previously issued warnings to the Orthodox Jewish community in early April, calling a funeral for a rabbi that drew thousands of mourners in Brooklyn “absolutely unacceptable.” 

The increase in Covid-19 cases is a troubling sign for the state as it prepares to reopen restaurants for indoor dining and schools for in-person learning in its most populous city. Earlier on Tuesday, de Blasio said that the city reported a local positivity rate over 3% — the highest that figure has been in months.  

Cuomo has repeatedly implored local leaders, specifically in the New York City area, to take more stringent action against people and businesses who disobey the state’s public heath requirements.

The governor delayed reopening indoor dining in the Big Apple for more than two months as cases surged in other parts of the country and local authorities failed to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing rules. Cuomo eventually gave the city’s restaurants the green light to reopen indoor dining sections at 25% occupancy beginning Thursday. 

“We’ve shared all this data with the local governments. They’re the first line of defense. They must respond,” Cuomo said Tuesday, reiterating that “mask wearing is a law” regardless of someone’s personal view of them. 

“Local governments are supposed to be enforcing the law and they haven’t been, many of them. And then we’re shocked when there’s a cluster,” he said. 

— CNBC’s Will Feuer contributed to this report.

Correction: At least one New York ZIP code has a positivity rate of about 20%. An earlier version misstated the location.

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