Cuomo Lifts Some Lockdown Rules in N.Y.C. Hot Spots as Rates Drop

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that some localized lockdowns in New York City neighborhoods with rising coronavirus cases would be reduced, allowing the reopening of schools and businesses that had been shuttered.

But other neighborhoods at the heart of the outbreaks in two areas, in Brooklyn and in Rockland and Orange County, remained under the most stringent lockdowns, and another, Ozone Park in Queens, was added to the list of neighborhoods that face limitations on activity, which include attendance restrictions at houses of worship.

It was an acknowledgment that while progress had been made over two weeks of lockdowns, restrictions remained necessary in large swaths of New York City in order to keep an outbreak in some areas from engulfing the city.

The changes could add more confusion over the tiered, three-color system of zoned restrictions, but the governor insisted that the plan was effective.

“It is working,” Mr. Cuomo said. “Celebrate, don’t fear.”

The governor, in his news conference at the Capitol, also introduced new metrics that the state will use to determine changes to the boundaries and restrictions of the areas. If a neighborhood’s positivity rate remained under 3 percent after 10 days, the most serious restrictions — where schools were closed, all but essential businesses were shuttered, restaurants were barred from everything but takeout and houses of worship were limited to a maximum of 10 people — could be lifted.

Less populous areas would have slightly more relaxed standards for lifting the most serious restrictions: under 4 percent over 10 days.

At the same time, Mr. Cuomo underscored that the statewide numbers remained low, with an average positivity rate of 1.2 percent over the last week, far below most other parts of the country. Even neighboring states of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, which had largely been containing the virus, have seen recent upticks.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Cuomo ordered the closure of schools and most businesses, and placed restrictions on houses of worship in areas where coronavirus rates had been increasing and the percentage of positive tests had reached a worrisome level.

The closures, which were ordered on Oct. 6 and affected neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens and in Rockland and Orange Counties, were set to last at least 14 days.

The state drew its three-tiered system of zones — red, orange and yellow — centered around the neighborhoods, most of which have a large population of Orthodox Jewish residents.

Some public health experts have warned that attempting to head off outbreaks using targeted shutdowns at the neighborhood level would be difficult in a densely interconnected city like New York.

The focus on the hot spots, where some had flouted limits on gatherings and others have doubted the efficacy of public health measures, sparked an immediate backlash, with protesters setting fires, burning masks and accusing Mr. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had also called for closures in those areas, of anti-Semitism.

Mr. Cuomo had ordered enforcement by local governments against businesses and others that violated the new rules, and Mayor de Blasio has said that fines had been handed out in New York City. The city and state also increased the number of tests conducted in the neighborhoods and attempted to improve their outreach to Orthodox Jewish residents, some of whom complained that little had been done to engage them in helping to control the outbreak.

“I am sorry that they are disrupted. Their religious ceremonies are disrupted,” Mr. Cuomo said to the religious community in the state. “I’m sorry that the state had to impose disruptions on your life.”

Many business owners complained about the new closures and the dividing lines, which cut through neighborhoods, in some cases shuttering businesses on one side of a street while leaving them open on another.

Mr. Cuomo announced that Far Rockaway and Forest Hills, neighborhoods in Queens, would no longer be in the red zone. They instead would be considered in the yellow zone, a level of less concern in which schools are allowed to open, indoor dining can resume and houses of worship could have up to a 50 percent capacity.

In Brooklyn, Mr. Cuomo preserved the red zone but said that the orange zone — where schools were also closed — would now become a yellow zone. Apart from adding Ozone Park, the governor did not appear to alter the outer edges of the boundaries in Queens or Brooklyn.

Mr. Cuomo said that he believed that more zones could be created around the state if numbers rise locally. “I think you’re going to see more micro clusters in New York,” he said. “If you are good at finding it when it is small and before it spreads, then you can control it.”

If clusters could not be contained, he said, regional closures could follow.

J. David Goodman reported from New York.

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