Growth of COVID-19 cases in one Queens neighborhood still a mystery: Cuomo

A doctor speaks on his phone outside the Emergency entrance to Maimonides Medical Center in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York
A doctor speaks on his phone outside the Emergency entrance to Maimonides Medical Center, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, U.S., October 14, 2020.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

With most every recent COVID-19 outbreak in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo reminded Thursday, there has always been some commonality among the patients — such as sharing the same workspace or attending the same house party or religious service.

But after a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Queens’ Ozone Park, up to this point, state officials aren’t sure what caused the increase. 

Ozone Park was added to the central Queens “yellow zone” on Wednesday after experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 infections. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker noted during Cuomo’s Thursday conference call with reporters that the area had been adjacent to the yellow zone previously (it extended as far south as Woodhaven/Richmond Hill), and that contact tracers are looking to find out if there’s “something specific” connecting the Ozone Park cases to each other.

Gareth Rhodes, a member of the governor’s COVID-19 Task Force, explained that Ozone Park was added to the yellow zone after officials noticed “an uptick in positivity in that area over the last week or two.”

“The Ozone Park area would have independently qualified to fall into one of our yellow zone areas,” Rhodes said. But in noticing the uptick, state officials and contact tracers “couldn’t link it back to any one facility or specific event.” 

Over the past four weeks, according to the city Health Department, the positivity rate in the 11416 ZIP code covering Ozone Park was 4.81%. The statewide positivity rate, as of Oct. 21, is 1.2%, with 986 New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID-19.

Contact tracers are continuing to investigate the Ozone Park increase, the governor noted. These investigators are critical toward containing COVID-19 into clusters and preventing a more widespread outbreak through community transmission — something which led to the massive epidemic in March and April in New York.

Also during the conference call, Cuomo slammed the Trump administration again after it was reported that Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is considering dismissing Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration. 

“The White House has been unhappy with the FDA because they’ve been unwilling to accelerate the approval of the vaccine, because they want it done for Election Day,” Cuomo surmised. He urged Hahn to “save your soul” and to continue the proper, scientific progress on approving vaccines rather than expediting approval of a vaccine that may or may not work.

Cuomo also asserted that the state would take the lead in managing the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine once it is ready and deemed fit for public use. His remarks came a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his administration’s own plan for providing the vaccine to New York City residents.

“There is no local role in managing the vaccine process in the state,” Cuomo said. “The state will have a statewide plan. The localities will be responsible for fulfilling their role pursuant to the state plan. They won’t have a separate plan or vaccine approval process.”