New York City is showing progress in tamping down coronavirus outbreaks in the worst affected parts of South Brooklyn, although test positivities in those neighborhoods remain well above the citywide average in many ZIP codes, according to a Gothamist analysis of the latest New York City Health Department data.
In the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Gravesend (11223), Midwood (11230), Borough Park (11219), and Flatlands (11210), the average weekly number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents declined in each ZIP code between the weeks ending October 3rd and October 17th.
The four Brooklyn ZIP codes have experienced the strictest shutdown measures after being designated as "red zones" by the state more than two weeks ago. The restrictions include the closure of non-essential businesses and schools, and the limiting of houses of worship to 10 congregants. On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo eased restrictions in some neighborhoods, but left the red zones in Brooklyn unchanged.
In Gravesend, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods, the weekly case rate has shown the steepest decline during a recent three week period, from 241 to 90, a drop of more than 63%.
But the share of people testing positive for coronavirus in these four ZIP codes over the last month has remained high, ranging between around 7.5% in Gravesend and Borough Park to around 6.5% for Midwood and Flatlands. (On Friday, the state, which uses its own reporting methods, reported that the average seven-day positivity in the entire Brooklyn red zone was 4.57%.)
In contrast, the average citywide positivity during the same time has been 1.74%.
In addition to the downward trend of case rates in South Brooklyn, the latest statistics also indicate where cases have been climbing the fastest. The state on Wednesday added the Queens neighborhood of Ozone Park to its list of "yellow zone" or precautionary areas. Average weekly cases per 100,000 the 11416 ZIP code of Ozone Park more than doubled between the weeks ending October 10th and October 17th, from 60 to 139, according to the city's data.
Over the last month, the positivity rate in the 11416 ZIP code of Ozone Park has been 4.8%.
In the wake of the outbreaks and the threat of a second wave, there have been mounting calls by elected officials for Mayor Bill de Blasio to release testing data on a more frequent basis. Data on virus cases by ZIP code is currently updated every Thursday on the city's Department of Health coronavirus data website but it provides weekly averages as opposed to daily numbers, and contains a one-week lag.
Late last month, health officials began issuing daily public alerts about the cluster outbreaks in Brooklyn and Queens. In the beginning, the press releases noted the latest positivity rates of the affected neighborhoods by ZIP codes as well as case growth by week. Later versions focused on seven and 14-day rates, which experts consider to be better indicators.
The last DOH alert on the cluster neighborhoods was sent on October 6th. De Blasio has said that continuing to release the most current data by ZIP code might be confusing when the state has carved out zones.
Mark Levine, a Manhattan City Councilmember who chairs the council's health committee, has urged the mayor to give the public more information.
"The stakes are higher now because the city has made it very clear that there will be shutdowns where there are localized spikes," he told Gothamist. "Those who live in already designated hot zones want to know."
During a City Council health committee hearing held last Friday, Dr. Jay Varma, the mayor's senior public health adviser, said he had been in discussions with health officials on a plan to provide up-to-date ZIP code data on the city's coronavirus data website.
He said his hope was that it would be addressed imminently.
But as of Friday, the website's ZIP code section remains essentially the same, based on weekly as opposed to daily case data, and incorporating a one-week lag.
A City Hall spokesperson did not respond to questions about Varma's statement or whether the city intended to provide more data.
Levine said many New Yorkers have a real thirst for information when it comes to the virus and caseloads at the neighborhood level. He cited calls he has received from anxious constituents who assume that City Councilmembers have access to better data on the neighborhood level.
Data on virus cases is subject to wild fluctuations, both at a weekly and daily level. On its data website, the Department of Health cautions readers, "A high case rate for a neighborhood over the last four weeks may be due to an increase in testing."
While Levine acknowledged that some city officials may be concerned about more information stoking undue panic, he argued, "I really believe the public can be trusted with this information, and that in fact, it can be a motivator and reminder that this pandemic is not over.