Cuomo's yellow zone expands across Westchester communities
Major chunks of Westchester County were designated by the state as yellow zones Thursday as the reemergence of COVID-19 continues statewide.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that parts of Yonkers, New Rochelle, Peekskill, Ossining and Tarrytown will face yellow-zone restrictions on businesses, schools and houses of worship. Yellow is the least restrictive of the three micro-cluster zones set up by the state to limit the spread of the virus in areas with high rates of infection.
New Rochelle saw the first COVID-19 outbreak in the state in March.
"To the people of New Rochelle," Cuomo said, "I'm not saying there's a problem in Essex, I'm not saying there's a problem in Suffolk. I'm saying there's a problem in your backyard in New Rochelle, so I hope that gets your attention because it's your community, it's your block and this is personal to you."
Businesses can remain open in the yellow zone, but indoor and outdoor dining is limited to four people per table. Mass gatherings are limited to 25 people inside or outside. Houses of worship can only allow 50% capacity.
Schools impacted need to work with local health care agencies to test 20% of students and staff within two weeks of getting the designation and, depending on the results, may have to do weekly testing for schools to remain open. Officials in several school districts have warned that schools may have to return to all-remote instruction if they can't satisfy the state's requirements.
During a briefing following Cuomo's announcement, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said the following zip codes are affected by the new yellow zones, although the entire zip code may not be included:
- Yonkers: 10703, 10705
- New Rochelle: 10801
- Peekskill: 10566
- Tarrytown: 10591
- Ossining: 10562
Port Chester was placed in an orange zone last week as its caseload skyrocketed. Parts of the Village of Rye Brook and City of Rye that border Port Chester were placed in yellow zones.
Latimer said the county is working with the municipalities in the yellow zones to reduce the spread of the virus. He noted part of Sleepy Hollow was affected by the yellow zone, which neighbors Tarrytown.
The county recorded 337 new daily cases Wednesday, the state tracker reported Thursday. The test positivity rate was 3.45%, a drop from the day before.
The county has 4,130 active cases within the two-week incubation period. Since March, 45,672 residents have been infected.
Latimer said 135 residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, a 34-person increase from a week ago.
Another death occurred in the county, bringing the total up to 1,494.
Active cases in the municipalities hit by the yellow zone, according to county data, which slightly lags behind cases confirmed by the state, are:
- New Rochelle: 372
- Yonkers: 568
- Peekskill: 145
- Ossining: 158
- Tarrytown: 32
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said a yellow zone covers half of the 10801 zip code and a portion of the 10805 zip code. The brunt of the zone is the city's downtown.
The yellow zone placement should be a "significant warning" to all residents that COVID-19 rates are rising fast and further restrictions will be necessary if the city does not get the virus under control, Bramson said.
New Rochelle was one of the first COVID-19 hot spots in the nation in March leading to a one-mile containment zone. Bramson said the rapid reappearance of the virus is "frustrating, but not surprising."
The New Rochelle school system is moving to all-virtual classes, except for certain special education classes, due to the rapid rise in cases, interim Superintendent Alex Marrero said in a letter to the community Thursday. All schools would be remote until at least Dec. 3.
Marrero said the district was working with Montefiore to provide testing to 20% of the special education population weekly.
"While we remain in the yellow zone, additional testing is unlikely without the logistical and financial support of the state and local partners," Marrero stated.
The Peekskill school system announced all schools would be remote Friday.
"The District has been planning in the event of this designation, and we are continuing to plan our next steps," Superintendent David Mauricio said in a letter to the community.
Peekskill City Manager Andy Stewart said the yellow zone follows the city’s boundaries. He said the city will send an announcement to residents and businesses about the yellow zone designation.
In Ossining, the yellow zone includes most of the village and a small corner of the town, according to a message sent out to residents. Mayor Victoria Gearity said in an email that with Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaching, the designation stresses the importance of preventing "living room spread."
"We are all experiencing COVID-fatigue, but we must maintain vigilance in wearing masks, social distancing and washing our hands," Gearity stated. "The Governor's action is a cautionary measure, and we are actively working with county and state officials to bring additional resources to Ossining that will help us contain the virus with additional testing and PPE."
Ossining schools Superintendent Ray Sanchez said, as of two hours after the announcement, that he was still deciding whether the district would be remote on Friday and what its path would be moving forward.
Schools in yellow zones have two weeks to test 20% of students and staff. If the positivity rate is lower than the 7-day positivity rate in the whole zone, it’s considered “sufficient demonstration” that the school is not driving the local spread. But if a school’s positivity rate is higher than in the zone, the school must partner with a community-based health agency to do bi-weekly random testing of 20% of students and staff.
“We have some preliminary plans but are working through logistics around testing and what that might mean for us," Sanchez said.
The Ossining district already works with Open Door Family Medical Center, and has been in communication with them about a testing partnership. Sanchez said the priority is to work with the community to reduce the number of cases and prevent a more severe designation.
Like in other districts, Sanchez said the schools' case numbers have been low compared to the surrounding community, and most cases have been traced to spread outside the schools. He was hopeful that testing will confirm that the school is not a significant source of spread.
The Tarrytowns school district will be all remote Friday, and everything after is to be determined, said Superintendent Christopher Borsari. The state's free testing is difficult to get, and one round of private testing could cost $50,000.
Borsari said he doesn’t know what positivity rate the district needs to be exempt from future testing, since he can't get data for their entire yellow zone. It may be difficult to keep district schools open, he said.
Many school districts in Westchester have only been accepting PCR tests from students and staff, which take a few days to process. But the state Department of Health makes clear that rapid tests are acceptable for fulfilling the testing requirements.
The state is still providing rapid test kits to local health departments and some health care providers, and encourages schools to reach out to them to arrange for access to those tests. County health department officials have said they cannot assist every district with testing.
Two weeks ago, Port Chester became Westchester’s first school district to find itself in a yellow zone and is now the county’s only district inside an orange zone. Superintendent Edward Kliszus said during Thursday’s Board of Education meeting that the district will not attempt to reopen until January, in part because the district does not have the ability or money to test 1,000 people a week.
“The resources aren't there, and the state has not provided resources,” Kliszus said. “They haven't provided funding, so we don't have the means right now to do that testing. Maybe in January, if the numbers fall back in the yellow zone. I'm hoping...the resources will be coming our way.”
Nancy Cutler contributed to this report.
David Propper covers New Rochelle and the shore towns. Reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: dg_props. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.