New York City, once the national epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, is considering a return to the widespread closures and cumbersome hospitals that New Yorkers had hoped never to see again.
Public health experts and elected officials have been on the alert for the past two months, as they watch the approach of a slow-moving train as the positivity rates in the city rise day by day. New Yorkers were just starting to enjoy the little fun of normality – some kids were returning to school, restaurants partially reopening, and retailing started to boom.
Covid-19 groups in the Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island departments – where compliance with masks is said to be low and some political and community leaders publicly mock the precautions – have prompted targeted lockdowns and an influx of tests, masks and other preventive measures, but the rally is now citywide. Health officials fear that the city has reached a community spread as contract tracking and widespread testing will likely have little effect in avoiding another bout of the pandemic.
“This is the price we pay for being late in organizing our work,” said Irwin Redliner, director of the Colombia Epidemic Resources and Response Initiative who was an informal advisor to the mayor. “As much as we have a happy talk about contact tracing that we can do, a lot of people have given up on contact tracing because the transfer rate is so high.”
Unlike in March and April, when the country looked to New York City in the face of the worst woes of the pandemic, America’s largest city is now one of dozens of hotspots across the country, with case numbers reaching record levels daily. The city has been here before, but a mixture of an exhausted economy and internal politics complicates formal business. Mayor Bill de Blasio faces an unpopular decision to close schools while coordinating with an unfriendly governor to call for more economic unrest by possibly closing restaurants and shops as the city approaches the holiday season.
New York reported 937 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, with a positive seven-day average of 2.57 percent, according to the most recent data – numbers the city has not seen in months. Once the week average reaches 3 percent, this will lead to automatic school closures; More restrictions on retail and dining are likely to follow.
Indoor gatherings are the main driver of a resurgence, according to city health officials. Of the contacts that injured people got in the city, nearly 80 percent were in the same house – which city officials see as a good sign because outside contact is limited.
But this is a measure of the number of residents who responded to city inquiries and it does not include those who have not been tested or ignored contact tracing tools. De Blasio said last week that without serious public health interventions before Thanksgiving, New York City is “dangerously close” to the second wave.
As the 3 percent benchmark approaches, parents, doctors and officials inside and outside city hall are urging the mayor to reconsider school closures.
“I am a parent of a second and fourth graders student in blended learning.” One parent, who gave the name Juno when I called the Mayor’s interview on Friday with Brian Learer of WNYC, said, “I really want schools to remain open.” Please don’t close schools. He closed the bars, closed the gyms, invested in data collection, testing and tracking, set our children’s priorities and then decided whether schools should close.
But de Blasio, who cannot close bars, restaurants or gyms without a governor. Andrew Cuomo agrees, sticking to his plan to close schools at 3 percent, despite a schoolwide positivity rate of 0.16 percent, as of Friday. The move would undo one of the city’s biggest epidemiological successes after just two months of personal guidance.
De Blasio faced multiple questions last week about teachers’ union pressure to close schools, but denied that the union – which had initially threatened to strike if it reopened schools in September – was a factor in his decision.
“This is not accurate,” he said on Friday. “The decision we made was with our leadership in healthcare, not with the unions at all.”
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Union of Teachers, lamented the criticism of the union when it said schools should not be reopened and will now face criticism if schools become distant.
“The last time we fought hard and worked hard to open our school system because we know there is no substitute for personal learning and we are very proud of the fact that we are the only major school system in the country. This is why it is so frustrating that we are now approaching 3 percent. Per cent and it will have an effect. “
Asked whether the federation was pressuring de Blasio to close schools, Mulgrew did not confirm or deny, but praised the mayor’s decision to commit to cutting 3 percent.
He said, “I mean, people like to look at things. We have enough crazy right now, for the least that can be said in this country … New York City has seen that they will follow this plan. It follows the plan that he presented and it was approved. Yes, the mayor is doing what he said he would do. That is the right thing. ”
Redliner suggested that the overall schools decision based on citywide positivity rates was “arbitrary” and that the city should make a more targeted effort to curb prevalence.
“Children are not particularly the sources of large community outbreaks. Schools are not very prevalent, to our knowledge,” he said. “Every day in which education is disrupted, especially children who live in economically fragile situations, who don’t go to great schools at first … I’m really concerned about losing continuity of education for children who are at high risk.”
Despite the challenges, New York City has the benefits of experience.
The city’s Covid-19 positive rate would likely be similar to February’s transmission rates if there was enough testing last winter for comparison, according to public health experts at the De Blasio department.
New Yorkers, unaware of the spread of the virus within the city, took no action to stop the spread until thousands of residents took to New York’s private and public hospitals in large numbers. Now, many are taking precautions such as excessive hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks to prevent transmission at the rate seen in the spring.
And although the positivity rate of 3 percent causes schools to close automatically, the transmission rates in the city are much lower than in most places in the country.
Healthcare workers preparing for a second wave were not satisfied with this warning even as they continued to face the shock of the first wave, when supplies were scarce and communication within and between hospitals was largely uncoordinated.
“I’ve been in trauma for a long time,” said Peggy Desiderio, an emergency room nurse at Mount Sinai Morningside. Ten deaths a week is difficult. Dying on duty is a nightmare. “
The city lost more than 24,000 people to the Coronavirus in its first attack.
One resident who spent her time between NYU Langone Hospitals and NYC Health + Hospital earlier this year said poor communication from hospital leaders exacerbated an already horrific experience.
“I was working in Bellevue’s intensive care unit at its peak,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified while looking for work. “It was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was painful.”
More than a dozen frontline workers, especially nurses in various hospitals, told Politico throughout the pandemic that they did not have adequate protective equipment and often felt unable to provide adequate care to their patients due to various restrictions and lack of knowledge about the emerging coronavirus. .
Now, many of the same workers said their health systems not only provided adequate resources for mental health, but were also quiet about how enterprises prepared for the next boom, including the types of equipment available and the frequency of it. It is distributed.
Representatives of Mount Sinai, NYC Health + Hospitals, and NYU Langone denied the concerns, saying they communicate weekly with workers and provide mental health resources and support groups.
“To say that is totally wrong,” said NYU Langone spokeswoman Lisa Greener. “We have worked tirelessly to ensure that our residents are cared for during this most difficult time in our history, including providing them with many different avenues of support.”
Hospital executives also said They could bring back their hospitals to increase capacity Quickly, it has reserves of PPE for 90 days, even with a burn rate that matches its peak in April.
However, medical professionals continue to express concern about the way they have been treated this year, and they fear it will get worse.
“If we see the same mistakes again, it will lead to more anxiety,” one resident said.
Desiderio said Mount Sinai Morningside recently saw an average of one to three Covid-19 cases per day. She is worried about what will happen to her fellow nurses, some of whom are looking to leave the profession entirely after trying this spring.
“I really don’t think the nurses would go blind as much as they did last time,” Desiderio said.
The city’s retail and restaurant industry – which is crucial to the city’s economy – is preparing for a new potential shutdown as it approaches one of its busiest seasons. Last week, Cuomo announced new restrictions, closing indoor restaurants and bars at 10 p.m., parties for 10 people were set. But if the issues aren’t resolved soon, the country may hold back on indoor and retail dining.
“This situation is very devastating,” said Andrew Reggie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “This was our fear that due to the lowering of the temperature, fewer people are eating outside, which is why we need to increase indoor occupancy, but now with the new limited hours and calls to close indoor and outdoor dining, this exacerbates the crisis that is These companies are already experiencing them in. ”
Regie said that if the government wants to close restaurants and bars, it needs to provide more financial support for companies that are struggling.
“Of course, public health and safety should be of the utmost importance, but the livelihoods of the restaurant owners and our workers must be of the utmost importance as well,” he said.
Randy Pearce, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said the holiday season retail restrictions would be disastrous.
“It is very possible that we will witness a complete collapse,” he said. “If you think of retailers in the brick and mortar community, this is their busiest season, the stock for them is high, and they have demanded a lot of holiday stock, and if they have to close and rely on sidewalk or internet requests it will be a devastating situation that may push them to close.”
Sally Goldenberg contributed to this report.