COVID CORNER | Despite citywide surge, Bronx is without virus hot spots

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As case virus counts in NYC continue to skyrocket, lines for COVID-19 testing wrap around Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx.
Photo Adrian Childress

While the recent surge in COVID-19 in New York City has been record-setting — the state broke a record for cases over a 24-hour period on two separate occasions over the weekend — the severity and scope of the spread has not reached peak levels of transmission when the city was the epicenter of the virus in early 2020.

On Dec. 18, the Bronx had 1,365 confirmed COVID-19 cases — the highest single-day case increase since Feb. 13, a month before the first expansion of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in New York — and it has also seen its positivity rate spike from 1.2%-5.6% over the course of four weeks.

However, the northernmost borough is devoid of COVID-19 hot spots — ZIP codes that surpass the city’s seven-day median spread of 50.8 cases per 100,000 entering Monday — with only the Port Morris 10454 ZIP code having more than 50 cases per 100,000 within that seven-day span. Around the city, some ZIP codes like Tribeca and the Greenwich Village section that have case totals of 206 and 199 cases per 100,000, respectively, are dwarfing the Bronx in terms of transmission rates.

In response to case totals in the thousands and the prevalence of two strains of the virus, delta and omicron, NYC leaders have expanded mask and vaccine mandates. NYC’s vaccine mandate applies to non-public school staff as of Monday, while the sweeping private-sector expansion comes Dec. 27.

Additionally, outgoing Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio has also discussed adding COVID booster doses to the vaccine mandates amid the omicron wave. Preliminary data shows the omicron variant may be more vaccine-resistant but is responsive to boosters.

In response to the state’s record-setting positive case totals on Friday and Saturday, de Blasio said that the surge could be contained if all New Yorkers get fully vaccinated — including booster shots.

Vaccinations are minimizing the worst-case scenario of the virus, according to health experts. Roughly 77% of Bronxites have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and in sections like Parkchester, Riverdale and Morris Park, vaccination rates are above 80%.

Despite the surge in cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the Bronx are nowhere near peak pandemic levels. The Bronx is averaging 2.5 deaths in a seven-day stretch, a far cry from death totals of 140-plus in March 2020.

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), cases among the unvaccinated per 100,000 is 114.9, compared to 13.8 cases per 100,000 of vaccinated New Yorkers. Additionally, the borough has reported that 80% of their adult ICU beds are full, although just 27 of 361 beds are occupied by virus carriers.

Across the city, the current hospitalization rate is 30% lower than a year ago, and deaths are under the nationwide seven-day total of 12 virus-related deaths per week, according to the DOHMH.

Recently, New Yorkers frantically looking to get tested during the busy holiday rush, are finding pop-up, brick-and-mortar COVID testing sites in short demand after the city closed 20 testing centers before the latest spread.

However, eight additional fixed-location testing centers — including one at Walton Education School in Kingsbridge Heights — are expected to be up and running by Tuesday, pushing the number to “over 30,” with 93 mobile sites, according to Dr. Ted Long, head of the city’s Test and Trace operation.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at rsequeira@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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