ALBANY — New York’s coronavirus infection rate is not increasing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, as medical experts continue to battle a smattering of rising COVID-19 cases statewide.
The state reported 1,836 New Yorkers with new COVID-19 infections Thursday, or 1.26% positive of 145,811 tests conducted the day before. The top 20 hot spot ZIP codes, mainly concentrated in Rockland and Orange counties in the Mid-Hudson region, and neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, have primarily originated from large religious gatherings in the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities.
Hundreds of virus infections have also appeared in the city of Binghamton and several surrounding towns in Broome County, Western New York and various colleges and university campuses across upstate.
It is critical people do not confuse the increasing coronavirus infection rate to mean New York’s COVID-19 rate is on the rise overall, Cuomo said Thursday, as thousands of rapid and diagnostic tests were targeted to the state hot spots over the last two weeks, inflating statewide numbers.
“Some have reported that the state’s infection rate is going up — that is not a fact,” Cuomo said during a conference call with reporters. “That is incorrect. The clusters are what we are watching. ... The statewide infection rate is actually lower than it has been.”
New York hot spots had 5.8% positive coronavirus infections Thursday, and represent roughly 6% of the state’s population of about 19.5 million people.
The state had a 1.01% positivity rate excluding hot spot ZIP codes Thursday, down from 1.05% Wednesday.
“I don’t think there’s any other state that does enough testing to even know what 6% of the population is doing,” the governor added. “The 1.01% is down from the past several weeks, so don’t confuse 6% of the population and say it’s representative of the state, because it wouldn’t be a fact. You can say whatever you want to say, but it’s just not a fact.”
COVID-19 infections throughout the rest of New York’s 10 regions remains low, with a 0.5% positive rate in the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley on Thursday, 0.7% positive in the North Country and 1% positive in Central New York and on Long Island. Officials reported 1.4% positive in Western New York.
The Mid-Hudson region, which includes Rockland and Orange counties, was up to 2.2%. New York City had 1.2% new infections, but its overall positives are skewed lower because of the larger population.
“The 6% of the population in these clusters, we know exactly where they are,” Cuomo said. Hot spots appeared after Orthodox religious leaders did not enforce the governor’s coronavirus mandates that have been in effect since March and April, requiring New Yorkers to remain 6 feet from others and wear face masks in public.
Protests in southern Brooklyn, home to many of New York City’s Orthodox Jewish New Yorkers, turned violent Tuesday and Wednesday after the governor announced stricter social distancing, maximum capacity and mass gathering rules, including limiting houses of worship to 10 people in the 2.5-mile geographic radius surrounding COVID clusters.
Dozens of protesters set fire to heaps of masks piled on 13th Avenue in Brooklyn on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Jacob Kornbluh, a prominent political reporter for Jewish Insider and a member of the ultra-Orthodox community, was assaulted Wednesday night while covering city demonstrations. Cuomo spoke to Kornbluh on the phone Thursday morning.
“There is no excuse for violence — especially against a reporter,” the governor said. “This is a person who was doing his job. There is no excuse. It was disgusting behavior, frankly, and it’s unintelligent because we’re talking about saving lives of their community.”
Cuomo spoke with Orthodox leaders statewide multiple times last week and this week who admitted they did not follow the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, including closing areas of worship, limiting the number of parishioners or requiring them to wear face masks.
All houses of worship, including churches, synagogues, mosques and others, were closed to the public at the height of the pandemic in the state this spring.
“Closing down is more dramatic than the current rule,” Cuomo argued. “Why are they so upset about the current rule when there was a previous rule that was more dramatic? Because the previous rules were never enforced.
“The longer you don’t follow the rule, the higher the infection rate spread and the more obvious it becomes,” Cuomo said. “It only evidences the fact you don’t follow the first rule.”
The state’s rules were never enforced in these communities, Cuomo said of ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects and neighborhoods, where people have continued to gather in crowds for religious gatherings or celebrations and not wear facial coverings.
“This is, again, the outrage, because the laws were never enforced, and now you want to enforce laws that weren’t enforced six months ago when they were first put in place,” he said.
The governor compared the stalemate with the religious community to immunization pushback during the 2018-19 measles outbreak that plagued New York City and outside metro areas in New Jersey.
“We had a laboratory called the laboratory of New York state,” Cuomo said. “We proved these facts. This is irrational, illogical, ugly, illegal conduct and it shouldn’t be tolerated and it’s an affront to the Jewish community, the Orthdox community, the ultra-Orthodox community. It’s against everyone’s best interests.
“...I protect you. You protect me. That’s the whole point since this started.”
The hot spots and surging cases would not have happened if local governments and clergy initially enforced the virus mandates, the governor said.
“What we should have done in the first place — enforce the law,” Cuomo said. “If we had enforced the law we wouldn’t be here. If we had enforced the law, it would not be outrageous that we are now enforcing the law.”
The state reported 754 COVID-19 patients in New York hospitals Thursday — a slow, continuing increase over the last two weeks.
Ten New Yorkers died from the virus Wednesday, up from eight Tuesday.