In reaction to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the orthodox Jewish community of Borough Park, Brooklyn, the city put dozens of contact tracers on the streets in recent days — giving out masks, hand sanitizer and literature to encourage residents to take extra measures to stop the spread of the contagion.
Tracers from the city’s Test and Trace Corps fanned out along busy 13th Avenue, crowded with shoppers gathering well before the next Jewish holiday of Succoth, in which members of the community and families gather for meals in small huts, as was done in ancient times to commemorate the wandering through the desert.
Last week, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported that recent COVID upticks in nine neighborhoods with positivity rates of above 3% in the boroughs were contributing to about a quarter of all new cases citywide. On Thursday, city officials updated infection rates based on 14-day positivity rates with Borough Park now reporting upwards of 6.51% positivity.
The Health Department set up a command post at the Borough Park Library on 43rd Street where they disbursed boxes of masks, bottles of sanitizers and literature to help inform the Orthodox community of the dangers of the virus. Many took the literature and masks, many shaking their heads in favor of protection as many lost elderly family members to the virus early on.
“It certainly couldn’t hurt and I don’t want my family getting sick,” said David Herschel, a resident of Borough Park. “Many people are using the masks now – they hear more people are getting the virus.”
Another resident who asked not to be identified said, “I just don’t know how real this is anymore. I don’t see a lot of people getting sick right now, but I guess better to not take too many chances.”
Orthodox Jewish residents could be seen crowding the sidewalks of busy 13th Avenue, wearing their masks given to them by contact tracers.
“They’ve been very receptive to the masks,” said Mary Cody, a contact tracer distributing masks on 44th Street. “They want to have the masks and hand sanitizer. We just finished and have to get more supplies already. They are coming to us and getting the pamphlets and we have it in Yiddish. They really like it, because they are coming to us.”
“It’s wonderful, they have been receptive, they are wonderful, lovely community,” said another tracer who added, “not a single one turned it away.”
“We are handing out masks, sanitizers and we are excited to get everyone involved in stopping the virus,” said Hannah Simpson, one of the leaders from Health and Hospitals. “We are here to get everyone on board to get the city back to the normal we love and cherish.”
In addition to the outreach and mask distribution, the city’s Test and Trace Corps set up pop-up testing sites, deployed a dozen sound trucks and flooded worrisome zip codes with robocalls urging New Yorker’s to get tested, wear masks and maintain social distance.
Nearly 1,000 city personnel have been conducting outreach, inspecting businesses for COVID health compliance and educating residents on how to prevent the spread of the virus since the upticks began over a week ago, according to City Hall.
Only the Gravesend/Homecrest communities saw a higher increase with 6.9% positivity test rates. Both communities lost hundreds of people to the virus during the height of the crisis in March and April, officials said. Other parts of the city were also being eyed for possible spikes in cases. Both Brooklyn and Queens were the focus of much of that attention.
Despite the outbreaks, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a press conference Thursday that the citywide positivity rate continues to remain low. The number of New Yorkers testing positive for the virus based on the city’s seven-day average is 1.52% with the daily rate hitting 1.59%.