Rising COVID-19 Cases In New York State and City Present Renewed Challenges


David Leung

The lines of customers that used to wait outside Wo Hop Restaurant at 17 Mott Street in New York City’s Chinatown have disappeared since the Coronavirus pandemic struck.

After several months of maintaining a low COVID-19 infection rate, New York State and New York City are currently seeing an alarming surge in coronavirus infections. As of November 18th, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo updated the public with the news that the state’s overall test positivity rate is now at 3.43%. However, the test positivity rate for focus zones— areas that showed a significant increase in these rates— is at a concerning 4.73%. As we get closer to the winter, there is a high possibility that these percentages will continue to increase. This resurgence could not have come at a worse time. 

Luckily, only Brooklyn and Queens have seen an unusual uptick in test positivity rates in September and October 2020. However, recent findings have shifted the public’s attention to Staten Island, the next predicted coronavirus hot spot. Some areas in these boroughs were categorized into Red, Orange, or Yellow Zones. These zones were defined by their positivity rates and daily caseloads: ‘Red Zones’ designate covid micro-clusters where there is a considerable increase in positivity rates, ‘Orange Zones’ serve as warning zones where the positivity rates are less alarming, and ‘Yellow Zones’ serve as precautionary areas with smaller increases in cases. As of right now, no ‘Red Zones’ can be found in New York City. Most of the focus zones in the above three boroughs are Yellow Zones. Fortunately, the government has recently released a new tool called the “Find Your Zone” map, through which New Yorkers are able to determine whether they are located in a COVID-19 cluster zone.  

Because of the resurgence in cases, many schools in the Red Zones were forced to close,  just as they were reopening for students who chose to do blended learning. These closures created issues for parents worried about the disruption in their child’s education and the challenges posed by online learning. Furthermore, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently warned that if the overall positivity rate of New York reaches 3%, all city school buildings will be forced to close. Mayor de Blasio went on to say it was not a matter of if but when. This announcement had parents stressed from the uncertainty of just how long it will be before schools close down. Sure enough, as of Thursday, November 19th, 2020, this 3% positivity rate was reached, causing an automatic shutdown of all New York City public schools, which have now moved to 100% remote learning, until such time as the positivity rate decreases to such an extent that schools can reopen. Many parents depended on sending their children to school in order for them to be able to go to work. With schools closed, some working parents will now have the challenge of finding child care.

Mona Varcoe is one of thousands of parents worried about what a full school closure will now mean for her child and her work schedule. She decided to have her five-year-old daughter do hybrid learning for kindergarten, only to discover just a week later that her child’s school had closed due to its location within a Red Zone. Mrs.Varcoe and her husband made many preparations to send their daughter to kindergarten at a new school located thirty five minutes away from their home. Their daughter Payton was extremely excited to meet her classmates given she had only seen them through Zoom. Since Payton is an only child and the pandemic is preventing her from making friends at nearby parks, her parents worry that the lack of interaction with others her age will negatively affect her social skills. “Remote learning is definitely challenging. Thankfully, I am able to get help from my nanny, or I don’t know if I would be able to juggle it all, between work, school, homework, Zoom meetings, emails, etc. Now that her in-person days are also remote, the school has decided to keep the same schedule that she would have had at school, which is double the classes compared to her regular remote days and even more challenging. It has not been an easy transition,” said Varcoe.  

This concern is echoed among the New York City public school students themselves, who have faced drawbacks in other ways that have had an impact upon their education. Like many juniors and seniors at Bronx Science, Kelvin Thar ’22 had been waiting to take the SAT. His test had been cancelled three times. The continuous cancelling of college admissions tests can significantly affect how well a student scores on the test. Many students pay thousands of dollars for tutoring or prep classes. With standardized tests being pushed back to later dates, students are forced to keep reviewing everything that they have learned from those prep classes. As the time between the classes and the actual test increases, the more likely it is that the students forget what they have learned. The students waste both their money and time if the information taught in the prep classes is forgotten for the real test. “Now that my SAT has been cancelled so many times, however, I’m worried about how my grades and final SAT score will turn out. Already, my Zoom classes at Bronx Science require a lot of work, and I’m not sure how I will study for both my classes and the SAT,” said Thar. Luckily, as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, many colleges are not requiring members of the Class of 2021 to submit Standardized Test Scores as part of their application for admission. 

As we move further along into the unprecedented 2020-2021 academic year, students also find themselves involved more deeply with their remote courses and projects, with less time overall to study for the SATs and ACTs on their own. Current seniors already have a lot on their plate. They worry about completing their college applications while also juggling their school work and adjusting to the new world of remote learning. Even though juniors do not have to worry about completing their college applications just yet, they are also adjusting to the new world of remote learning. Along with keeping up with their remote school work, juniors are unsure of what colleges are expecting from them by 2022. There are many possible changes that could occur within two years, given how the trajectory of the Coronavirus pandemic plays out. “The Coronavirus pandemic has definitely made studying and doing work more difficult than it normally would have been pre-pandemic. I feel more unsure about my academic goals than I used to be. And the plans that I had before feel like they’re no longer going to work out,” said Thar.

The resurgence of the Coronavirus in New York City is also impacting families economically . Nonessential businesses in ‘Red Zones’ throughout the city were forced to close for at least fourteen days. Businesses can lose significant revenue from closing for two weeks, especially small businesses whose customer bases are essential to their survival. As of November 13th, 2020, Governor Cuomo announced that all restaurants and bars within the state must close their indoor and outdoor dining by 10 p.m. every day. Before this announcement, these restaurants were allowed to close their outdoor dining and their indoor dining by 11 p.m. and 12 a.m., respectively. This new restriction hurts the restaurants’ profits by reducing the number of hours that they are able to serve customers daily (8 p.m. is now the last seating in order to ensure that patrons leave the premises by 10 p.m.). New York City restaurants are already feeling the financial pain because they currently are only able to serve indoors at 25 percent of their capacity; business owners can only hope that the rebound of Coronavirus cases do not result in additional restrictions in the future. 

Moreover, the impact that the Coronavirus will have on restaurants during the fall and winter 2020-2021 seasons will be much more significant than during the spring and summer seasons. As we experience a drop in temperatures during the winter months, fewer people will want to eat outdoors rather than indoors. Although indoor dining has been permitted by Governor Cuomo under certain conditions, eating indoors will be more dangerous, especially with the rise in COVID-19 cases. Restaurant owners, such as David Leung, co-owner of Chinatown’s Wo Hop 17 and Wo Hop Next Door, are anxious to see how business will be over the next couple of months. “Outdoor dining for us has been a big help, so as the weather gets colder, we fear losing half of our business, unless indoor restrictions are relaxed even more than 25% of capacity,” said Leung.

 According to The New York Times, as of last week, the United States hit a record 1 million new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in just one week, with 11 million cases diagnosed. Once the epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic, New York must now proceed to strictly follow the health and safety protocols issued by the state in order to survive this second wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. As the virus continues to devastate the nation, we should expect new challenges to arise as long as a vaccine is unavailable.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has definitely made studying and doing work more difficult than it normally would have been pre-pandemic. I feel more unsure about my academic goals than I used to be. And the plans that I had before feel like they’re no longer going to work out,” said Kelvin Thar ’22.