By Mario Villar
New York, Oct 2 (efe-epa).- New York City managed to control the spread of the coronavirus with a particularly cautious reopening policy that exacted a severe economic toll.
Even so, like many other cities in the United States, it faces a very real threat of a second Covid-19 wave with the arrival of autumn.
The Big Apple took another step toward relative normality this week by reopening all of its public schools on Thursday and authorizing bars and restaurants to serve customers inside their establishments, albeit with strict capacity restrictions.
The number of coronavirus cases in New York City, meanwhile, is causing renewed concern among health authorities even though the situation for now is much better there than in other parts of the US and regions of Europe that are already experiencing a second wave.
Last weekend, the state of New York (home to nearly 20 million inhabitants) reported more than 1,000 cases in a day for the first time since June. And on Thursday it said the rate of positive tests statewide stood at 1.27 percent, the highest level since May.
That percentage is somewhat higher in New York City, which is the most densely populated area of the state and was the global Covid-19 epicenter in the spring. The main concern now in the Big Apple is to get a handle on so-called “hotspot” zip codes in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and prevent a second mass spreading of the virus.
New York’s strategy has been based on carrying out a high number of tests (currently around 100,000 per day statewide), achieving this level by facilitating people’s access to free-of-charge testing sites and redoubling those efforts when a small hotspot has been detected.
The gradual resumption of economic activity has been guided by test results, along with other indicators such as hospitalizations and occupation of intensive beds, with previously established parameters guiding the movement from one reopening phase to another.
But data results also could automatically trigger the re-imposition of drastic measures. For example, all public schools in New York city will close if the rate of positive tests averages 3 percent over a period of seven days.
Around 500,000 students of all ages will have returned to their classrooms by next week under a hybrid model that combines in-person instruction and distance learning.
But around a half-million other students are continuing their studies online, with the level of caution being shown by New York City families even exceeding that of local authorities.
That reality also is reflected in the corporate world, as just 10 percent of office employees in Manhattan had returned to their workplaces by mid-September, according to figures from American commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group.
The city’s population, which in March and April became accustomed to the constant wail of ambulances and to the sight of improvised morgues outside hospitals, remains wary about the danger posed by the virus and people continue to take measures to protect themselves and their loved ones.
One step has been to move most social activities outdoors. Parks have been packed every day for months and restaurants were able to overcome a ban on indoor dining (lifted this week) by setting up tables and chairs on sidewalks and even streets.
The so-called Open Restaurants program, which had been scheduled to end on Oct. 31, has been so successful that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that it will be made permanent.
Even so, many restaurants are struggling to stay afloat, leading to street protests being held to demand an easing of the strict measures.
Indoor service at bars and restaurants had been prohibited until this week and even now is only allowed to operate at 25 percent capacity, a regimen that is not financially sustainable for many business owners.
According to an audit released Thursday by the state comptroller, as many as half of all New York City bars and restaurants are in danger of permanently closing over the next six months.
The city’s enormous tourism and entertainment industry, meanwhile, has practically ground to a halt, with hotels only half occupied, Broadway theaters closed and the Metropolitan Opera having canceled all performances until at least September 2021.