New York — Coronavirus infection rates have increased at “an alarming rate” in several New York neighborhoods, particularly among the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, city health authorities warned Sunday. The officials threatened to sanction certain schools if they fail to comply with anti-virus regulations, just as city school leaders express no confidence in the mayor for his handling of reopening classrooms and call for control of schools to be handed over to the state.
Although the Big Apple has touted that it kept its infection rate under one percent for more than a month, six neighborhoods in Brooklyn and two in Queens have seen their rates spike, surpassing five to six percent in Midwood and Gravesend. The increase coincides with the Jewish High Holidays, the most holy days in the Jewish calendar, which culminate Monday with Yom Kippur.
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“These areas account for over 23 percent of new cases citywide… despite representing just under seven percent of the city’s overall population,” New York City health services said in a press release.
They added that the data showed an increase in hospitalized patients in two Brooklyn hospitals, and at least one hospital in Queens.
The increase has raised fears of a second wave in New York, which reported a record 23,800 Covid-19 fatalities when the epidemic peaked in the spring. On Friday, health authorities organized a press conference in one of the most affected Brooklyn neighborhoods, Borough Park.
“This may be the most precarious position with Covid-19 we have experienced in months,” said health commissioner Dave Chokshi, urging people to wear face masks and respect social distancing measures.
But he and his colleagues were booed by at least two people in the crowd, including an Orthodox Jewish radio host known for his anti-mask stance, Heshy Tischler, local news video showed.
“There are people who refuse to believe the truth, this is a deadly virus and we have easy ways to avoid it,” Mitchell Katz, the chief of New York’s municipal healthcare system, told the news station.
Battle over schools
With the reopening of public schools scheduled for October 1, authorities also warned they would conduct inspections in non-public schools — including many yeshivas, or religion-focused Jewish schools — and would close facilities and impose fines if necessary.
The restart of in-person learning has been a touchy subject and has already been postponed twice, as more parents of New York’s roughly 1.1 million public school students opt instead for remote classes.
The Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA) has now called for management of the school system — traditionally the responsibility of mayors in the U.S. — to be transferred to the state during the pandemic.
On Sunday morning, the union unanimously passed a vote of no-confidence in de Blasio, CBS New York reported, demanding the mayor cede control of all city schools to the state Department of Education. The CSA said, however, that its members and teachers were planning to be in schools to welcome students back this week.
The principals’ union president, Mark Cannizzaro, said members were fed up with last-minute changes in school start dates and teaching policies. As CBS New York reported, the return to in-person learning has already been delayed twice due to teacher shortages.
On Friday the Department of Education changed its policy, allowing teachers to give lessons remotely from home, but the change was made without notifying the principals’ union.
De Blasio recently promised to hire some 4,500 additional teachers to facilitate both in-person and online learning. But according to the CSA, a union that claims to represent about 6,400 officials for the city’s 1,800 public schools, he and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza failed to hire enough teachers.
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