At least three groups of positive coronavirus cases in New York have health officials who carefully monitor the state’s infection rate as states like Florida, Arizona, and Texas struggle to control recent spikes.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the State Department of Health is investigating a possible outbreak related to a high school graduation ceremony in Westchester County. So far, the state believes that a student who attended the outdoor ceremony on June 20 had recently traveled to Florida. Since then, the student and four others have tested positive for COVID-19. The five students isolate themselves, says Cuomo’s office.
Cuomo previously announced that graduations could be held outdoors beginning June 26, but should follow the guidelines for social distancing and limit 150 people.
The health department encouraged students who attended the Horace Greeley High School drive-in graduation ceremony or “Field Night” event until quarantine through July 5.
Chappaqua Superintendent Dr. Christine Ackerman said in a statement that high school graduation was carefully planned according to state health guidelines, but acknowledged that “numerous people did not follow our protocols.”
Florida has seen a huge increase in cases in the past seven days, with more than 38,748 confirmed in that time span. That’s almost 30% of the state’s total account. Florida and seven other states are the focus of a three-state quarantine restriction issued by the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
New York’s contract tracking system is working to identify all students who attended the events on June 20. They are also tasked with tracking down potential virus spreaders from an apple packing plant and an aluminum maker.
According to Cuomo, 82 of 179 employees at an Oswego County apple packing plant tested positive for COVID-19 in June. The governor says many of the employees live in Onondaga and Oneida counties, which may explain the increase in reported positive cases in the central New York and Mohawk Valley regions; both entered the fourth and final phase of Cuomo on Friday.
The investigation led Oswego County and state health officials to a local onion farm where 4 employees, less than 25% of their staff, tested positive.
In Montgomery County, an aluminum manufacturing plant also remains closed after officials discovered that employees tested positive.
“As part of the contract search efforts related to the Oswego County apple packing plant, it was revealed that several employees of the apple packing plant may have contributed to new COVID cases at an aluminum production plant in the Montgomery County, where several cases among employees had been identified, “the governor’s statement said Friday.
Health officials have linked at least 37 positive cases to the Montogmery County group. They planned to evaluate the remaining employees on Friday.
In addition to restrictions on people entering New York for coronavirus hot spots, the governor signed an executive order that makes New Yorkers ineligible for paid sick leave if they voluntarily travel to critical states.
States at the center of the governor’s order have a positive test rate greater than 10 per 100,000 residents, or higher than a positive test rate of 10% on a seven-day moving average.
The staged reopens of New York have not caused significant spikes in infection to date. The state’s COVID hospitalizations fell below 1,000 on Thursday for the first time since mid-March, and fell further on Fridays and Saturdays, Cuomo said, while the number of daily deaths is in the low double digits.
New York now has the lowest seven-day average positivity rate for daily tests in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins. Even the former epicenter of the national crisis, New York City, boasts one of the lowest COVID transmission rates in the two deadliest COVID counties in the United States, Queens and Brooklyn, are seeing daily positivity rates for consistently below 1.5 percent.
New Jersey has also significantly reduced its infection rate, although Murphy has expressed concern about the increasing youth involvement in COVID cases, a trend that reflects what health officials report in many other US states.
On Friday, the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases per day in the US reached a record high. Sudden increases in infections have caused at least one state, Texas, to completely pause its reopening process. (Track the spread of COVID in the US since March 1 here).
“There is now undeniable and irrefutable evidence that the hasty reopening was a mistake. States are now changing course. The debate is over. There is a right path and an incorrect one,” Cuomo said Friday. “We are not past the first wave. This is the entire first wave. Facts matter.”