New York City will begin enforcing mask-wearing with a $1,000 fine in nine zip codes seeing a COVID-19 spike, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.
The affected zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens – 11223, 11230, 11415, 11691, 11219, 11204, 11229, 11210, and 11367 – are all seeing rates of positive COVID tests higher than the city’s 3% target threshold; some are significantly higher, with 11223 the highest at 6.72 percent.
The citywide daily positivity rate since the beginning of August had never been higher than 2.2 percent; however, de Blasio said at a press conference Tuesday that, due to the outbreak in these zip codes, the daily rate yesterday was over 3 percent for the first time since early June.
The average for the entire city over the past seven days is 1.38 percent.
At his daily press conference Tuesday, de Blasio said that people in these zip codes who are seen without masks will be told they must wear one or risk a fine, and offered a free mask; if they refuse to wear it, they will be fined.
The mayor did not say the amount of the fine. A City Hall spokesperson told Hamodia Tuesday evening that those who refuse to wear a mask will receive a civil summons, and that fines carry a penalty of $1,000 if the violation is upheld following a hearing.
Under an April executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, people over the age of two are required to wear a mask when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance. The City Hall spokesperson said the city’s mask enforcement “will align with” the governor’s executive order.
De Blasio also said that the city is ordering the closure of private schools and childcare centers if they don’t follow the Health Commissioner’s Order on health safeguards. The order, said Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi at the press conference, “requires nonpublic schools to: maintain at least six feet of distance between individuals, unless it creates a safety hazard, and, based on community feedback, if barriers have been erected between people; to wear face coverings in school buildings at all times, except in cases of medical exemption; to coordinate with the Health Department and the Test & Trace Corps. on investigations, namely to identify, isolate, and prevent the spread of COVID-19; and follow the protocols established by the Department for opening and closing of classrooms and schools, if a student or staff member is confirmed with COVID-19, following all the guidance for exclusions, and close contacts.”
Last Thursday, the Health Department said that if it did not see an improvement in the infection numbers in those zip codes, it could begin imposing drastic restrictions on those areas beginning Tuesday, including a ban on gatherings over 10 people and a closure of all nonessential businesses.
The city did not in fact impose the more-serious restrictions Tuesday, partly because of “how much improvement there was in mask-wearing in the affected communities over the weekend,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, President & CEO of NYC health + Hospitals, the city’s public-hospital network, “that I really felt that we had turned the tide.”
The mayor said the city is also adding testing capacity in these areas, and sending hundreds of Test and Trace Corps. members and community-engagement specialists to encourage testing, “getting people good information and pushing back against misinformation,” making robocalls, and sending seven soundtrucks to drive around the area blaring safety messages.
While the city has for now held off on more drastic actions due to the improvement in mask-wearing over the weekend, officials warn that more serious measures may still be enacted.
“This is an inflection point,” said de Blasio, “and we will be escalating with each day depending on what we see happening on the ground and the test results we’re getting.”
Updated Wednesday, September 30, 2020 at 2:51 am .