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Coronavirus clusters are rising in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, Governor Cuomo says

Governor Andrew Cuomo makes an announcement and holds a press conference on the COVID-19 response at the New Settlement Community Center in the Bronx.

Lev Radin | Pacific Press | LightRocket via Getty Images

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned Tuesday of growing coronavirus clusters in large Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City that he feared they could spread uncontrollably if they weren't quickly contained.

State health officials are investigating 20 state postcodes where Covid-19 hotspots appear to be growing. The overall positive test percentage, or "positivity rate", in some of these zip codes has reached over 10%, well above the approximately 1% infection rate New York has reported for weeks.

"Activities in the cluster are very different from those in the rest of the state," Cuomo said during a press conference in New York City. The state's Covid-19 positivity rate is 1.1%, while the average for the 20 postcodes with the highest rates is more than 5%. At least one postcode has a positivity rate of around 20%.

The coronavirus clusters come from Brooklyn and Orange and Rockland counties, he said. "Those hot spots are five times as high," he said of the positivity rate. Many of the reported clusters are in zip codes that "overlap" with large Orthodox Jewish communities, he said.

The Democratic governor said he plans to meet with religious leaders from the Orthodox Jewish community and warned that health measures he ordered to contain the spread of the coronavirus "apply to any religion".

"This is a concern for their community, a public health concern for their community. It is also a public health concern for the surrounding communities," Cuomo said. "Today's cluster can be disseminated tomorrow by the community."

Cuomo's caution for the religious community comes amid the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which began in mid-September, and just before Sukkot, another celebrated Jewish holiday in early October.

The New York governor's concern is similar to that of New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, who said last week that coronavirus cases could increase after the events of Yom Kippur. Ocean County and Lakewood Township in particular reported growing Covid-19 cases that Murphy said were likely due to Rosh Hashana, Politico reported on Friday.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the Orthodox Jewish community in early April, calling a funeral for a rabbi that drew thousands of mourners in Brooklyn "absolutely unacceptable".

The rise in Covid-19 cases is a worrying sign as the state prepares to reopen indoor eateries and schools for personal learning in its most populous city. Earlier on Tuesday, de Blasio said the city reported a local positivity rate of over 3% – the highest in months.

Cuomo has repeatedly urged local leaders, particularly in the New York City area, to take tougher action against people and businesses that fail to meet the state's public health requirements.

The governor delayed reopening the Big Apple restaurant for more than two months as cases continued to rise in other parts of the country and local authorities failed to enforce social distancing and masking rules. Cuomo finally gave the city's restaurants the green light to reopen the indoor restaurants with a capacity of 25% from Thursday.

"We have shared all of this data with local governments. They are the first line of defense. You need to react," Cuomo said Tuesday, reiterating that "wearing masks is a law" regardless of how anyone sees them in person.

"Local governments are supposed to enforce the law and they weren't, many of them. And then we're shocked when there is a cluster," he said.

– CNBC's Will Feuer contributed to this report.

Correction: At least one New York zip code has a positivity rate of around 20%. In a previous version, the location was incorrectly specified.

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