This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Thursday, October 1st, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.
New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. A look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
Here's the latest:
1:06 p.m.: During a call with reporters on Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the smartphone app, COVID Alert New York, to help track new cases of the coronavirus. The free app tells a user if they have spent 10 minutes or more near a person who has recently tested positive for the virus (both parties must have downloaded the app prior to their meeting). According to the Governor's Office, the app does not track the user's movements with GPS, and no personal data is collected by the state—the app uses Bluetooth to pair with others who have downloaded it.
"No names, no private information, it's voluntary," Cuomo said. "No one has access to any data besides the location of the cell phone."
Larry Schwartz, who is heading up contact tracing for the Governor's Office (and is also one of Cuomo's appointees to the MTA board), said the open-sourced app has been tested and vetted by various experts, and cost around $700,000 to develop, paid for by a combination of federal money and Michael Bloomberg's philanthropy. Eventually, the app will track cases in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut.
"If I test positive, and I was within six feet for at least ten minutes with Governor Cuomo—which would be my pleasure—I would get a notification," Schwartz explained.
The app's launch comes as the positivity rate in 20 zip codes across the state that have been deemed hotspots climbed to 6.5% from 5.5% the previous day. Those zip codes are in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and in Orange and Rockland Counties.
Those 20 hot spots out of 1,740 zip codes in the whole state represent 6% of New York's population, but 26% of all its coronavirus cases.
"I've spoken to the Orthodox communities with the hot spot zip codes, they're going to take community action," Cuomo said. "We're gonna be handing out flyers and mailings and that's a good step, but the community also says the government is in charge of enforcement...and I told them it's going to be stepped up and they understand that."
Without those 20 zip codes, the state's positivity rate was .98%, and the total rate for the whole state is 1.2%. 11 New Yorkers died of COVID-19 yesterday, and 612 were hospitalized.
CDC Extends "No Sail Order" For Cruise Ships Through October Amid Reports Of White House Interference
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday extended its "no sail" order for cruise ships through the end of October, a time frame that was reportedly shorter than agency officials sought.
Hours before the announcement, Axios and the New York Times published stories with unnamed sources saying that CDC Director Robert Redfield had originally planned to extend the no-sail order until February 2021, but was blocked by the Trump administration.
Early during the crisis, cruises were likened to floating petri dishes for the virus. There were nearly 3,000 cruise-related cases of COVID-19 or COVID-like illness, and 34 deaths, between March 1st and July 10th, in waters subject to the C.D.C.’s jurisdiction, according to the agency. In its original order in July, the CDC said that its staffers spent at least 38,000 hours managing the crisis on cruises.
As the Times's story noted, the cruise industry is politically powerful and especially important to the economy of Florida, a swing state in the upcoming presidential election.
The White House denied that politics played a role in the decision.
“The president, the vice president and the task force follow the science and data to implement policies that protect the public health and also facilitate the safe reopening of our country,” Brian Morgenstern, the White House deputy press secretary, told the Times.
The latest development follows multiple reports of interference by the Trump administration on the CDC, which public health experts say has lost credibility and failed in its job of managing the country's response to the pandemic. Last month, the agency published a warning about the dangers of breathing in aerosols in the transmission of coronavirus, only to abruptly remove the guidance shortly afterwards. The CDC said that the update had been "posted in error."
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, United Kingdom's version of the CDC acknowledged the role that aerosol transmission plays in the spread of COVID-19.