New York City May Soon Lift Restrictions on Some Covid-19 Hot Spots – The Wall Street Journal

A department store in Queens was closed earlier this month because of rising Covid-19 cases in the area.

Photo: Wang Ying/Xinhua/Zuma Press

Covid-19 hot spots in Queens could have lockdown restrictions loosened later this week as infection rates have declined there, New York City officials said Monday.

Rising cases of Covid-19 in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as in Rockland and Orange counties, had prompted the state to impose new restrictions on those areas earlier this month. In red zones, which have the highest positivity rates for Covid-19, the state ordered the closure of schools and nonessential businesses, and it limited capacity at houses of worship to 25% or 10 people.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference that the infection rate in central Queens has improved substantially and there could be action to change the district’s health regulations in the next few days.

For other red zones, Mr. de Blasio said it is too early to specify when schools and nonessential businesses will be allowed to reopen, but estimated that it may take another couple of weeks.

A Covid-19 testing site in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood.

Photo: Bryan Smith/Zuma Press

“We do continue to see a leveling off in some of the areas of greatest concern,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We can get out of this in just a few weeks if everyone does what they need to do.”

New York City’s rate of positive Covid-19 cases on Monday was 2.17%, and the 7-day rolling average was 1.62%, according to Mr. de Blasio.

“We can stop a second wave. Right now the numbers suggest we are stopping a second wave, but we have to remain vigilant,” the mayor said.

In a Monday conference call, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would announce changes to New York City’s red zones on Wednesday, though he didn’t specify what those changes would entail. However, he said the zones could be adjusted and rules around reopening would be contingent on infection rates and the responses from local communities.

“It’s not just a number. It’s a number and a set of circumstances, if they are actually cooperating and we see the numbers coming down and we know there are plans to get them down further,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The overall positivity rate in red-zone areas was 3.31% on Sunday, according to state figures. In Brooklyn’s red zone, the infection rate was 4.6%, down from about 6% at the beginning of October. In Queens, the infection rate in Kew Gardens and Forest Hills was 1.4% and in Far Rockaway it was 0.93%.

In Rockland County, the positivity rate was 2.68%, and in Orange County the positivity rate was 1.35% on Sunday.

Over the weekend, Mr. Cuomo announced that movie theaters outside of New York City can reopen on Friday at 25% capacity, with no more than 50 people in front of one screen. Ski resorts are also allowed to open at 50% of indoor capacity starting Nov. 6.

Mr. Cuomo said he is working with community leaders in the red zones and will establish new target numbers for infection rates within those areas.

The shutdown of specific areas in New York City has been met with some pushback from local leaders. Several ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are in some of the red zones. Members of these communities say they have been unfairly targeted.

Three rabbis in Rockland County sued Mr. Cuomo in federal court last week over the restrictions. Earlier this month, federal judges rejected requests from Catholic and Jewish groups for an emergency block on the new state regulations.

Mr. Cuomo has defended the measures as a result of rising Covid-19 cases.

“It is a pure function of the numbers,” he said Monday. “This has nothing to do with any particular religion, any particular culture.”

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Appeared in the October 20, 2020, print edition as ‘NYC Eyes Easing Rules in Some Areas.’