“Micro-clusters” of Covid cases are now the focus in New York City’s battle against the pandemic. After a devastating spring in which COVID-19 took over 20,000 lives across its five boroughs, city public health officials and legislators have taken the fight against the virus to the streets. The health department now monitors micro-clusters as they pop up in city neighborhoods. As zip code areas are too imprecise in a metropolis of nearly 8.4 million people, officials track micro-clusters block by block and shut down hotspots to choke off the virus before it has a chance to set the city on fire again. Using a “focus zone” system, the city enforces aggressive lock-down restrictions on gatherings and businesses in hotspot red zones, and when a red zone is densely populated, more moderate restrictions are imposed in adjacent orange or yellow “buffer zone” areas to isolate the hotspots and prevent the virus from spreading to nearby neighborhoods.
Governor Cuomo’s micro-cluster tracking strategy allows for flexible, rapid responses to sudden outbreaks. As Thomas Tsai, a health policy expert at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explained to Stat News: “Social distancing policy is not an on/off switch — this is a dial that needs to be calibrated to the temperature.” In the same article, Ana Bento, a disease ecologist at Indiana University elaborated, “The idea is to… from what we know, create more efficient and evidence-based types of lockdowns. In different cities and in different states, these lockdowns may look very different from each other.”