Health experts in New York City thought that coronavirus cases would be rising again by now. Their models predicted it. They were wrong.
New York State has managed not only to control its outbreak since the devastation of the early spring, but also to contain it for far longer than even top officials expected.
Now, as other places struggle to beat back a resurgence and cases climb in former success-story states like California and Rhode Island, New York’s leaders are consumed by the likelihood that, any day now, their numbers will begin rising.
The current levels of infection are so remarkable that they have surprised state and city officials: Around 1 percent of the roughly 30,000 tests each day in the city are positive for the virus. In Los Angeles, it’s 7 percent, while it’s 13 percent in Miami-Dade County and around 15 percent in Houston.
The virus is simply no longer as present in New York as it once was, epidemiologists and public health officials said.
“New York is like our South Korea now,” said Dr. Thomas Tsai of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
But nothing is static about the viral outbreak, experts cautioned. The question now is whether the state, where 32,000 people have died of the virus, can keep from being overwhelmed by another wave, as threats loom from arriving travelers, struggles with contact tracing and rising cases just over the Hudson River in New Jersey.
In more than a dozen interviews, epidemiologists, public health officials and infectious disease specialists said New York owed its current success in large part to how New Yorkers reacted to the viciousness with which the virus attacked the state in April.
State officials shut down schools and businesses, sacrificing jobs and weakening the economy to save lives. Adherence to mask wearing has been strong. Many vulnerable New Yorkers are still sheltering in their apartments. Others decamped to second homes.
And, critically, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio reopened cautiously, deciding in late June against allowing indoor dining and bars after seeing those activities connected to outbreaks in other states.
“People in New York have taken matters much more seriously than in other places,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a historian of epidemics at the University of Michigan. “And all they’re doing is reducing the risk. They’re not extinguishing the virus.”
Still a resurgence is all but inevitable, public health experts said.
Local beaches have filled on hot weekend days. Diners flock to outdoor restaurants with plywood patios. More than 1.2 million people took the subway on a recent Tuesday, down dramatically compared to a year ago, but more than double what it was on a Tuesday in May.
The same models that predicted an increase in New York City for the summer now see a rise coming in the early fall. Life can be lived outside for now, but will move indoors as the weather cools — just as the flu season is ramping up. Schools are set to open in September.
And confidence in the good numbers themselves could breed complacency about masks and distancing. Already, the city has seen a number of large illicit dance parties and a worrisome spike in cases in…
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