By Maria Caspani
NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City restaurants welcomed patrons back inside for the first time in months on Wednesday as authorities scrambled to contain COVID-19 outbreaks in some neighborhoods and negotiators in Washington wrangled over a coronavirus relief package.
Coronavirus infection rates continued to climb in many of the nine ZIP codes in the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn where new clusters have emerged, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.
The city is deploying 400 police officers as well as other officials to improve compliance with social-distancing rules and a face-covering mandate in the affected neighborhoods.
Residents and visitors will be fined up to $1,000 if they refuse to wear a mask in public, de Blasio said on Tuesday, after the daily positivity rate topped 3% for the first time since June as more students headed back to the classroom.
On Wednesday, the rate ticked back under 1%, he told a news conference, while the seven-day rolling average of infections rose slightly to 1.46%.
Indoor dining made a comeback but at 25% capacity and with many restrictions: Tables have to be six feet apart, staff must take patrons’ temperature before they enter the restaurant and bar tops will remain closed for seating.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday slammed local authorities for failing to strictly enforce coronavirus health and safety rules in the state’s 20 hot spot ZIP codes, and threatened to take action if they did not step up.
“Local governments, enforce the law. If you are unwilling to enforce the law, I will enforce the law,” Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday.
The governor said he had “a good conversation” on Wednesday morning with the leaders of the state’s Jewish Orthodox community, which has experienced a rise in infections, and planned to have a second one in the afternoon.
The areas of concern in the state are in Rockland, Orange and Nassau, in addition to the New York City neighborhoods.
‘THIS MASK IS WORKING’
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said after meeting with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday that they were making progress on COVID-19 relief legislation, though no deal was reached.
The economic cost of the pandemic, which has killed more 206,000 people in the United States and infected more than 7.2 million, has been steep. Walt Disney Co <DIS.N> said it would lay off some 28,000 employees as its flagship California theme park remains closed, in the latest such announcement by a large company.
The United States is reporting 43,000 new infections on average each day, compared with 35,000 two weeks ago, according to a Reuters tally.
Over the past two weeks, coronavirus cases have been rising in 30 out of 50 states, including the former epicenters of Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Texas, compared with 19 states the previous two weeks.
In Alabama, where the positivity rate was near 13% last week, Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, said on Wednesday that she was leaving in place a mask mandate she issued in July after it proved effective in reducing the number of new infections.
“We do believe this mask is working,” Alabama Health Officer Scott Harris told a news conference. “But obviously we don’t want to continue this any longer than we have to do that.”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said he was encouraged by the stability of key coronavirus indicators and announced further loosening of some restrictions as part of a Phase 3 reopening on Friday.
(GRAPHIC: Where coronavirus cases are rising and falling in the United States – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb/index.html)
(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)