New York City’s average test positivity rate for COVID-19 has risen above 2%, the highest it has been in more than four months, according to the latest Health Department data. The metric meets the threshold at which Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would “reassess” indoor dining.
As of Saturday, the city’s coronavirus milestone data website was reporting a seven-day average positivity of 2.12%. The daily share of people testing positive for COVID-19 was 2.05%. Experts consider an average positivity the most reliable indicator of how much the virus has spread.
The latest data marks the second day in a row that the average positivity stands above 2%. The last time the city’s positivity hit 2% was on June 16th.
Since the end of the summer, city health officials have been bracing for a second coronavirus wave, something which is increasingly looking inevitable. For weeks, the number of new cases has been climbing. There are now between 600 to 700 new coronavirus cases a day. During the summer, that number had fallen under 200 on many days.
Also, after localized outbreaks in parts of Brooklyn and Queens that resulted in shutdown orders from the state, there are clear signs that the virus is spreading in other parts of the city. Last week, the mayor announced outbreaks in two ZIP codes in Staten Island.
Hospitalizations are also increasing, albeit at a gradual pace that has yet to alarm doctors and health officials. Improved treatments as well as strategies to handle patient flow have made hospitals better prepared to handle COVID-19 patients.
But on Friday, during his weekly appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, de Blasio for the first time expressed a heightened concern about the trends.
“That’s a problem,” he said, referring to the indicators. “That says that we are now really threatened with a second wave in New York City if we don’t quickly get a handle on this, and that says that we really need to emphasize the mask wearing, the social distancing, avoiding gatherings and sadly avoiding travel and large family gatherings for the holidays, because we just cannot allow a second wave here.”
“It’s just so dangerous on so many levels,” he added.
Reached for comment on Saturday, a spokesperson for the mayor referred back to his comment on The Brian Lehrer Show and referred to questions about indoor dining to the state.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mark Levine, the Manhattan City Councilmember who chairs the council’s health committee, told Gothamist he believed such a decision would have to be based on the pace of growth in cases and the extent to which health officials believe transmission is happening inside restaurants.
“[That’s] something we unfortunately lack data on right now,” he added.
City health officials have said they do not know a specific cause for the outbreaks, but noted that many New Yorkers may be experiencing pandemic fatigue and are becoming lax in following health precautions.
In September, followingCuomo’s announcement that indoor dining could resume in New York City at 25% capacity, de Blasio issued a statement saying that if the city met a 2% positivity rate, officials would “immediately reassess” the decision. (In another critical and closely watched threshold, the mayor has also said that all public schools would close if the seven-day average positivity rate reached 3%.)
That same month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study that found adults who contracted COVID-19 were about twice as likely to say they had eaten at a restaurant in the 14 days before getting sick.
Since the pandemic, restaurants have been struggling to stay afloat. Those in the industry had been hoping that indoor dining in the city could be expanded to 50% as it has been in the rest of the state. Although unseasonably warm temperatures have allowed many to keep operating outdoors, several owners have said that outdoor dining will not be enough to save restaurants.