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New Coronavirus Clusters Appear In New York City

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Coronavirus cases are on the rise across the country, and that includes in New York City. Until recently, New York had relatively few COVID-19 cases despite being hit so hard early in this pandemic. But several clusters have now begun to emerge, particularly in Orthodox Jewish communities, and now some leaders are considering slowing down the reopening of businesses and schools.

We have Fred Mogul from member station WNYC with us this morning. Hi, Fred.

FRED MOGUL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So the mayor, Bill de Blasio, was saying yesterday more than 3% of tests are now coming back positive. That is a jump back to the numbers New York was seeing back in the early summer. What do you see happening here?

MOGUL: Well, right. To be clear, the state and even much of the city are holding steady with some of the lowest rates in the country, around 1%. In several neighborhoods, though, since August, early September, numbers have been rising, creeping up to four, five, 6%. These percentages, I mean, they're triple what they were a few weeks ago - still in the single digits, still the envy of a lot of the country. Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, they say the common denominator here is that these are these heavily ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations. They're Haredi groups. Many of them are Hasidic. Many of them are not. You know, people in these communities, they say - they, frankly, they believe they have herd immunity. So many people got it in their communities in the spring, were infected with coronavirus. They say they're being unfairly targeted.

However, there's kind of dissidents within the community that we also speak with. They say that there is something to it, that many people have been ignoring regulations around wearing masks, around limiting the size of gatherings. You know, you can see them packing into synagogues for the High Holy Days recently, onto buses heading to their yeshivas, to their religious schools. And you see lots of social media posts with large weddings, other life cycle commemorations - hundreds and hundreds of people.

GREENE: So what are the mayor and governor trying to do about this?

MOGUL: Well, you know, they're talking to the rabbis, the physicians, community leaders, politicians in these communities. They're making tons of robocalls. They're handing out tens of thousands of face masks. The mayor has threatened to close all nonessential spaces, to limit gatherings to 10 people, to give fines if people don't wear masks. And he says there has been some traction, he believes. There's been some progress since this threat was issued last week. We've gone into the neighborhoods. You still see a lot of people without masks, a lot of evidence to the contrary. You see on social media, actually, people telling their fellow ultra-Orthodox members to not get tested so that they won't show up positive. They won't drive the rates up, and that won't lead to new restrictions.

GREENE: Oh, wow. Well, looking at the city broadly, I mean, it looked like a lot of people were out, you know, eating at restaurants outdoors; public schools, some in-person classes happening. I mean, is all that going to potentially have to stop if these numbers go up more?

MOGUL: Well, today, actually - this very day was to be the first time you'll have indoor dining at 25% capacity. They've postponed it, and they've attributed a lot of the low rates to keeping it down that (ph). They say they could close it back up, go back to exclusively outdoor dining if the rates creep above 2%. And if they creep above 3% and stay there, they could be school closures, initially individual schools and perhaps even the whole district.

GREENE: All right. That's the situation in New York City. Fred Mogul from member station WNYC.

Thank you so much, Fred.

MOGUL: Thank you. Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.