Virus Uptick In Jewish Community Prompts NYC Hospital Head To Warn About 2nd Lockdown

FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, a woman passes a fence outside Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery adorned with tributes to victims of COVID-19 in New York. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, Sept. 22, a figure unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation with its sparkling laboratories, top-flight scientists and towering stockpiles of medicines and emergency supplies. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

BROOKLYN (VINnews) – A second lockdown is starting to emerge as a real possibility in several areas of Brooklyn and Queens, where the number of confirmed COVID cases has been rising steadily in recent weeks.

Speaking today at a press conference alongside Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City’s Health + Hospitals CEO and president Dr. Mitchell Katz discussed the uptick in the “Ocean Parkway Cluster”, which includes Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, Williamsburg and Far Rockaway, where positive rates have tripled over the last six weeks, and Kew Gardens, where COVID cases have doubled over the same time period. Dr. Katz, who grew up and attended a synagogue in the Ocean Parkway area and still has relatives living nearby, urged residents to take the necessary precautions against the virus. He emphasized the importance of avoiding large indoor gatherings and warned of difficult days ahead if people fail to comply.

“In the absence of our doing the right thing, we will need to be in a lockdown-type situation as occurred in Israel because they haven’t been able to control the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Katz who warned that business closures may be a very real possibility if infection rates continue to climb.

Adding an emotional perspective to his words that have many worrying about the upcoming Succos holiday, Dr. Katz shared that his father in law died of COVID in Israel on Monday, his funeral sparsely attended because of Israel’s ongoing lockdown.

“These things are extremely hard, but they’re what’s necessary for us to get through COVID,” explained Dr. Katz adding, “I spoke to my mother in law this morning. She can’t even be with her own other son because of the lockdown.”

The mayor made it clear that his office intends to be closely involved in the effort to control the virus in the affected areas, whose residents account for one of out of every five COVID cases in the city. COVID restrictions, which include limiting religious gatherings to 33 percent of posted occupancy and all others to a maximum of 50 people, will be actively enforced said de Blasio, who offered only that the NYPD and Sheriff’s Office will be involved in that effort.

“The situation, particularly in southern Brooklyn, is causing a lot of concern here,” said de Blasio. “It’s something we have to address with a very aggressive public health effort right away.”

The mayor was careful to frame the uptick as one defined by geographical location, rather than by a particular demographic, and stressed that while people have grown tired of dealing with the pandemic, vigilance is still crucial. He noted that the city has had extra COVID testing and outreach in Borough Park for several weeks, but the focus shifted in recent days to the other affected areas as numbers rose rapidly, a phenomenon that Dr. Katz said was likely related to pre-Rosh Hashana gatherings.

The upcoming colder weather that will be keeping people indoors is likely to exacerbate the problem, making it more important for all New Yorkers to remember that their cooperation is critical to keeping the city, its schools, its institutions and its business open.

“As the mayor has said, the most critical aspects are wearing a mask, social distancing and no large indoor gatherings and our hope was that we could convince people both to protect health and to keep businesses open to follow these rules,” said Dr. Katz. “And as the mayor has said, if that proves impossible then we will have to go to stronger actions of enforcement.”

Dr. Stuart Ditchek, a pediatrician in Midwood, said he had nine patients test positive yesterday out of a total of 31 tests, for a positivity rate of nearly 30%, compared to the citywide average of 1.2%.

Ditchek said he’s seeing an “exponential rise” in daily cases — and growing increasingly concerned that his community may face a second wave of disease like the one that was propelled by communal gatherings for the holiday of Purim in mid-March.

“It feels like Purim to me but worse because by Purim we couldn’t test, so we really didn’t know what we were up against,” he said. “I felt it was coming but now what we’re seeing is sort of a snowball effect every day.”

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