NEW YORK • Coronavirus infection rates have increased at "an alarming rate" in several New York neighbourhoods, particularly among the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, city health authorities warned on Sunday, threatening to sanction certain schools if they fail to comply with anti-virus regulations.
Although the Big Apple has touted that it kept its infection rate under 1 per cent for more than a month, six neighbourhoods in Brooklyn and two in Queens have seen their rates spike, surpassing 5 to 6 per cent in Midwood and Gravesend. The increase coincides with the Jewish High Holidays, the most holy days in the Jewish calendar, that culminated yesterday with Yom Kippur.
"These areas account for over 23 per cent of new cases citywide... despite representing just under 7 per cent of the city's overall population," New York city health services said, adding that the data showed an increase in hospitalised patients in two Brooklyn hospitals, and at least one hospital in Queens.
The increase has raised fears of a second wave in New York, which reported a record 23,800 Covid-19 fatalities when the epidemic peaked in the spring.
Last Friday, the health authorities organised a press conference in one of the most affected Brooklyn neighbourhoods, Borough Park.
"This may be the most precarious position with Covid-19 we have experienced in months," said health commissioner Dave Chokshi, urging people to wear face masks and respect social distancing measures.
But he and his colleagues were booed by at least two people in the crowd, including Orthodox Jewish radio host Heshy Tischler who is known for his anti-mask stance, video from NBC showed.
"There are people who refuse to believe the truth, this is a deadly virus and we have easy ways to avoid it," Dr Mitchell Katz, the chief of New York's municipal healthcare system, told the news station.
The health authorities announced a series of educational activities for neighbourhood residents in the coming days.
With the reopening of public schools scheduled for Thursday, the authorities also warned they would conduct inspections in non-public schools - including many yeshivas, or religion-focused Jewish schools - and would close facilities and impose fines if necessary.
But the restart of in-person learning has been a touchy subject and has already been postponed twice, as more parents of New York's some 1.1 million public school students opt instead for remote classes.
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) has called for management of the school system - traditionally the mayor's responsibility in the US - to be transferred to the New York state educational services during the pandemic.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently promised to hire some 4,500 additional teachers to facilitate both in-person and online learning.
But according to the CSA, a union that claims to represent about 6,400 officials for the city's 1,800 public schools, he and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza failed to hire enough teachers.
It is unclear whether schools will reopen on Thursday as planned. Mr de Blasio and the State Department of Education have not responded to the CSA's statement.
The United States reported at least 267 new coronavirus deaths and 37,332 new cases on Sunday, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, there was an average of 43,111 daily cases, a 23 per cent increase from a fortnight ago. The country has recorded more than 7.1 million Covid-19 infections and over 204,000 deaths in all.