NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The city's health department is taking action after detecting COVID-19 upticks in a several neighborhoods across Queens and Brooklyn, including communities with large Orthodox Jewish populations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said there's an "Ocean Parkway cluster," which includes Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst.
Cases have tripled there since early August, with the positive test rate approaching 5% in those neighborhoods.
Other concerning upticks have also been reported in Far Rockaway, where the positive text rate is above 3.5%, as well as Kew Gardens and Williamsburg, where the rate is about 2%.
"We're seeing a serious uptick in multiple neighborhoods simultaneously and it's something we have to address with a very aggressive public health effort right away," de Blasio said.
The city has taken immediate steps to prevent the clusters from becoming larger outbreaks.
“We need a lot of cooperation from all the neighborhoods involved, but I want to be very clear this is something that requires urgent action,” de Blasio said.
Dr. Mitch Katz, President and Chief Executive Officer of NYC Health + Hospitals, said they've launched an all-out effort. He says there's been 200,000 robo calls and those soon will be made in English and Yiddish.
"We've talked to 20 synagogues in Borough Park, in Bensonhurst and shared palm cards and 10,000 masks," Katz said.
The mayor noted two yeshivas have already been closed.
"We will look at each and every gathering place, if there is a place that violates the state rules and the city rules, of course that has to be addressed and if someplace some place has to be shut down it will be," de Blasio said.
Katz said officials are keeping a sharp eye out for large banquets which he underscored are a huge problem for COVID transmission.
The mayor noted the Sheriff's Department and the NYPD will be cracking down on large gatherings.
The news comes a day after health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi announced the department is unleashing its hyperlocal approach to address the spike.
"In the days ahead, we'll launch robocalls and WhatsApp messages, communications with houses of worship, core-four palm cards to businesses, distribution of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer," Chokshi said. "We'll place additional ads in community newspapers and we'll offer new point of care testing resources in these six neighborhoods at both urgent care and community provider offices."
Chokshi said sound trucks will also be broadcasting counter-COVID messages in the targeted neighborhoods.
"We are launching a targeted approach that applies more pressure where there is growth in COVID-19 rates, we are doing this to communicate the urgency we feel and that we need everyone to feel about following guidance to prevent the spread of COVID," Chokshi said.
"Let's make sure we do not let this disease back in the door here in this city cause we've come so far and we've fought so well against it," de Blasio said.