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Village hit hard by virus ramps up social distancing enforcement

Hempstead Village has the highest number of coronavirus

Hempstead Village has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Nassau County. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Village of Hempstead is ramping up efforts to disperse public gatherings as officials there grapple with a mushrooming number of cases of the new coronavirus.

The community of 55,000 has been hit hard by the outbreak, with now the highest number of COVID-19 cases of any place in Nassau County. More than 760 people in Hempstead had come down with the virus by Tuesday, county data show.

Village Mayor Don Ryan says Hempstead's density — with more than three times the population per square mile than Nassau County as a whole — helps explain the high infection number. But a disregard for orders to keep at least 6 feet from others while in public may also be to blame, he said.

"We're not doing everything we need to do when it comes to social distancing," Ryan said at a news conference on Monday. "We're encouraging the residents of the village" to "please follow some simple rules," he said.

The persistent gatherings despite statewide stay-at-home orders has irked elected leaders across New York in recent weeks, as nicer weather has continued to draw a cooped-up populace out to public parks and plazas.

"Now is not the time to be playing Frisbee with your friends in the park. It's just not," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday at his daily news briefing in Albany. He announced he would increase the fine for violations from $500 to $1,000 and commanded local authorities to carry out the regulations.

In Hempstead, that means having officers in the village police's mobile command unit patrolling the streets in search of socializers.

"There are pockets of areas where we are concerned that there's too much social gathering," Village Trustee Waylyn Hobbs Jr. said at Hempstead's news conference. In an interview, he cited Main Street, Terrace Avenue, South Franklin Street, village parks and outside the bus terminal as places of continued congregation.

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Hobbs said Tuesday the village had not yet issued any fines.

Some who live and work in Hempstead said they haven't noticed any large gatherings lately, but they praised the increased enforcement steps nonetheless.

"That would be nice," said Nicolas Makrides, the manager of 175 Fulton Diner on Fulton Avenue.

Makrides said he hasn't seen any groups of people in recent weeks passing by the restaurant, which is only serving takeout and delivery meals.

"It's very quiet around here," he said.

The same is true outside of African Caribbean Market on West Columbia Street, according to owner Charles Amponsah.

"We see it on the TV, we hear it, but we don't see it on the streets," Amponsah said.

"Whatever authorities can do to make this thing go down, it's always better, we appreciate it," he said.

Reginal Lucas, president of Duncan Estates Civic Association in Hempstead, also welcomed the news of the amped-up crackdown and called for such measures to be applied more broadly.

"It shouldn't only be the village, it should be everywhere," he said.

Most COVID-19 cases in Nassau County by Tuesday:

  • Hempstead: 766
  • Elmont: 461
  • Freeport: 418
  • East Meadow: 407
  • Uniondale: 400

Source: Nassau County

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