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As COVID-19 Cases Rise, NYC's Mayor Aims To Rollback Reopening

NOEL KING, HOST:

New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio says he may need to rewind - that's his word - the city's reopening. The rate of positive coronavirus tests has been rising in some of the city's neighborhoods. Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: For months, New York City has been moving cautiously toward reopening. In-person learning and indoor dining just resumed last week. But on Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio reluctantly announced a step back.

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BILL DE BLASIO: Today, unfortunately, is not a day for celebration. Today is a more difficult day.

ROSE: De Blasio says he's asking the state for permission to shut down schools and nonessential businesses in an area that covers nine zip codes, where a higher percentage of coronavirus tests are coming back positive. De Blasio says that's an indication that community spread is growing again.

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DE BLASIO: It pains me to be putting forward this approach that we'll need. But in some parts of our city, in Brooklyn and Queens, we're having an extraordinary problem, something we haven't seen since the spring.

ROSE: Many of the affected neighborhoods have large Orthodox Jewish communities, and some community leaders have criticized the city health department for not giving local leaders a bigger role in the coronavirus response. Avi Greenstein is the CEO of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council in Brooklyn. He spoke to NPR's All Things Considered last week.

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AVI GREENSTEIN: We can definitely see an increase in the number of mask wearing in the Boro Park community - the result of the community organizing, trying to encourage family members of the importance of wearing masks and that wearing masks is better than not wearing masks.

ROSE: City health officials say they've been trying for weeks to hand out more masks and encourage social distancing in these neighborhoods, but positivity rates did not get better. Dr. Jay Varma is with the New York City Health Department.

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JAY VARMA: Once you get to a level where there's widespread transmission, you need to reduce the amount of contact that individuals and households are having with each other.

ROSE: Under the city's plan, about 300 schools would close, the majority of them private schools, including yeshivas. The plan still requires permission from the state. On Sunday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his own warning that the state plans to begin enforcing social distancing rules more vigorously.

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ANDREW CUOMO: The state is going to start direct enforcement in these hot spot zip codes. Local businesses that are in violation of the law will be fined and can be closed.

ROSE: Cuomo says he's most worried about hot spots in New York City and its suburbs.

Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.