De Blasio warns of fines for not wearing masks as COVID-19 clusters pop up in NYC

Three men wear protective masks as they look at an etrog fruit in Borough Park, Brooklyn on Sept. 29, 2020. The community has seen a significant surge in COVID-19 cases over the past week. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

New Yorkers could now be fined up to $1,000 if caught without a face mask in public, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday. 

The new measure comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city. Mayor de Blasio reported that the city’s coronavirus positivity rate has broken the 3% threshold for the first time since late May. De Blasio blamed COVID clusters in nine ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens for the citywide uptick.

“This is an inflection point and we will be taking more action at this point and more serious action and we will be escalating with each day depending on what we see happening on the ground and the test results we are getting,” de Blasio told reporters. 

On Tuesday, the city Department of Mental Health and Hygiene issued updated data on positive rates in borough hotspots:

  • Gravesend/Homecrest [11223] (6.92%)
  • Midwood [11230] (5.64%)
  • Kew Gardens [11415] (3.31%)
  • Edgemere/Far Rockaway [11691] (4.91%)
  • Borough Park [11219] (6.23%)
  • Bensonhurst/Mapleton [11204] (6.05%)
  • Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay [11229] (4.05%)
  • Flatlands/Midwood [11210] (4.73%)
  • Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok [11357] (3.60%)

The city’s also monitoring upticks in Rego Park, Queens [11374] at 2.64%; Kensington/Windsor Terrace [11218] at 2.72%; and Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach/Sheepshead Bay [11235] at 2.85%.

The worrisome announcement comes as thousands of New York City public school children return to school for in-person learning. City Hall estimates that roughly 500,000 students returned to class at k-5 and k-8 schools on Tuesday as the city continues to phase-in hybrid learning students.

De Blasio said that the city’s seven-day COVID positivity average was at 1.38% and below the threshold for closing down schools. 

The mayor urged New Yorkers, particularly those living in the cluster neighborhoods, to get tested for the virus, wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from others while outdoors. Members of the city’s Test and Trace Corps have worked to educate residents in the “areas of concern” through sound trucks and robocalls.

The city is also working to create more pop up testing centers in neighborhoods experiencing upticks.

Eleven mobile testing sites have already been deployed to the neighborhoods, and the Health Department is increasing rapid testing capacity at two COVID Express Testing sites in Crown Heights and Fort Greene, Brooklyn and increasing testing capacity at three out of the four Health and Hospital locations in Brooklyn and Queens.  

About 350 Test and Trace Corps members will be on the ground conducting outreach in the cluster zip codes on Tuesday, according to CEO of NYC Health and Hospitals Dr. Mitchell Katz, and the city will deploy an additional seven sound trucks in cluster sites. 

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has also ordered all non-public schools and childcare centers to close if they do not follow state COVID health guidelines such as maintaining six feet of distance between individuals unless it creates a safety hazard and wear face coverings in buildings at all times.