As coronavirus cases have surged to records across the country, New York City had hoped to keep the outbreak at bay and press ahead with its slow but steady recovery from the dark days of spring. But now, the forecast is turning more alarming.
The number of new infections is swiftly rising, with more than 1,000 cases identified in the city four days in a row this past week, a level that last occurred in May, according to the state’s Department of Health. Just a month ago, daily cases were typically in the 500 to 700 range.
Hospitalizations and death rates are a small fraction of what they were at the height of the pandemic, and case count comparisons can be tricky, given that much more testing is occurring now. What’s more, the positivity rate in New York City is still well below that in neighboring states.
Still, on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce that the “Covid crisis is entering a new phase,” and he will call on New Yorkers to “double down to stop the spread,” according to his prepared remarks provided by his office.
The city’s contact tracing program has disclosed few details about which trends and patterns are contributing to transmission. But one city health official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share details from internal discussions, said clusters had been traced to workplaces, including construction sites and offices.
City health officials and Mr. de Blasio’s aides have been discussing whether new citywide restrictions should be imposed, including a broader shutdown of nonessential businesses if the citywide, seven-day positivity rate average climbs, and stays, above 3 percent. The seven-day average was 2.21 percent, according to the city’s health department.
But the official cautioned that no new restrictions were imminent, and there were some signs that the mayor was reluctant to impose new ones.
The official said there was discussion about whether the mayor should begin urging New Yorkers to cut back on visiting friends or asking people to resume working from home if they can. That recommendation could especially hinder the return of workers to Midtown Manhattan office buildings that are showing a few tentative signs of life.
Still, it remains to be seen how much a change in tone from the mayor or Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will impact New Yorkers’ behavior. Public health experts have long predicted that it would be more challenging to curb the outbreak in the winter months, when people spend more time indoors.
At stake is much of New York City’s recovery from the pandemic, which had a devastating impact in the early months, killing tens of thousands, sickening many more and severely undermining the local economy. The city has since become a national model for curbing the outbreak, bringing children back to public schools for in-person classes in the fall, allowing limited indoor dining and reopening facilities like gyms.
The city had already been contending with localized spikes in some neighborhoods, including those with many ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents, that had led Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio to adopt new restrictions in those areas.
But given the course of the outbreak nationally, it was not entirely clear whether the broader increases across the city could be traced to those neighborhoods.
In fact, cases are also increasing sharply in Connecticut and New Jersey, where Gov. Philip D. Murphy is expected to announce new restrictions this week after the statewide positivity rate jumped to 6 percent.
In New York City, the numbers are up in all five boroughs, with 1,391 new cases reported on Saturday — a 68 percent increase over the past two weeks.
“This is going to be a really key week,” said City Councilman Mark Levine of Manhattan, who is chairman of the council’s Health Committee. “Are we breaking out of the slow-burn, linear increase in cases of the last couple of months, and is this starting to launch?”
Mr. Levine said he feared that “the window is closing to prevent much more aggressive shutdown measures” and that if the case count kept climbing, the city would likely end up in a lockdown reminiscent of the spring.
He said he thought the mayor should be urging people to work from home if they can and to generally “hunker down” as much as possible.
One epidemiologist, Denis Nash, a professor at the City University of New York School of Public Health, said that while transmission was increasing — and had been for some time — the increase in hospitalizations and deaths was lower than expected.
He said he believed it was too soon to return to lockdowns or mass closures of workplaces or schools.
“We haven’t gotten to that place yet,” he said, though he added that it might make sense to reconsider allowing indoor dining, an activity regarded as relatively high-risk.
Robyn Gershon, an epidemiology professor at the New York University School of Global Public Health, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that New York City would be able to bring transmission down.
She said she believed that Governor Cuomo’s “micro-cluster strategy” of color-coding neighborhoods — with the colors corresponding to restrictions — had proven itself “really brilliant” because it was effective and straightforward.