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Cuomo: Schools closing Tuesday in New York City's COVID-19 'hot spot' areas

On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is moving ahead with his plan to close down schools and businesses on Wednesday morning, adding the restrictions could last 2 to 4 weeks. Credit: NY Mayor's Office

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that New York City schools in nine coronavirus hot spots will shut down Tuesday and warned he will close religious institutions that violate mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

Cuomo also said the state will put some teeth in its COVID-19 enforcement efforts — issuing summonses instead of giving warnings for violators of coronavirus safeguards.

"The state is going to take over the enforcement oversight in all the hot spot clusters," said Cuomo. "Local governments will need to provide us with personnel but the state will take over the enforcement with the local personnel. I do not have enough state personnel to supplement every local police department in the state."

The moves come after spiking infection numbers in some 20 ZIP codes, particularly in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, but also in Orange and Rockland counties and "a little bit in Nassau," Cuomo said Monday.

The closure of schools, both public and private, will take place in neighborhoods including Far Rockaway and Kew Gardens in Queens and in Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn — which recorded more than 3% coronavirus positivity rates for seven consecutive days, officials said.

"I would not send my child to a school in a cluster that has not been tested," Cuomo said during a Monday news conference. "I am not going to recommend or allow any New York City family to send a child to a school that I would not send my child. We are going to close the schools in those areas tomorrow, and that’s that."

Cuomo said a lack of testing at schools has exacerbated the issue, preventing an accurate figure of the rate of infections in those ZIP codes.

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The governor said he decided to close the schools after having a "collaborative" conference call with NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council President Corey Johnson and Michael Mulgrew, president of the city’s teachers union.

The mayor on Sunday first proposed shutting down schools and nonessential businesses in certain zips codes in Brooklyn and Queens with rising infection rates. While Cuomo agreed to the school closures, he rejected the mayor’s plan to close nonessential businesses in those areas, saying he didn’t think ZIP codes were the ideal guideline, calling them "imperfect" and "arbitrary." But Cuomo didn’t rule out closing nonessential businesses and said his administration was reviewing the plan.

The mayor said he would continue with the plans, saying he expected to ultimately receive state approval to close those businesses following Cuomo’s remarks.

"The data is telling us very clearly, very loudly that it’s time to act … I fully expect the state to act quickly," de Blasio said at his own news briefing.

Cuomo said a state task force would lead the new enforcement effort, adding that local officials would assist the state police and state health department.

But de Blasio, who has prescribed an education campaign as the most effective way to increase compliance, said: "That is not how it works legally. The city personnel work for the city. But we’ll be working in close coordination with the state."

Meanwhile Cuomo, who has been calling for stronger enforcement in recent weeks, said Monday: "Warnings are not enforcement. Put a mask on or I will ticket you’ is not enforcement … We are past that. Everybody knows the rules."

The top-20 ZIP codes for spread were seeing a positivity rate of 5.5% for the virus on Sunday, according to the latest state figures. The rest of the state has a positivity rate of 1.01%, which goes up to 1.22% with those areas included. Eight people in the state died of coronavirus-related causes on Sunday and 636 remained hospitalized, the state said.

According to numbers released Monday, the city had a 1.83% test-positive rate, 490 new cases, and 67 patients hospitalized.

Cuomo called "mass gatherings" a significant risk factor and showed images of religious gatherings in Orthodox Jewish communities, saying those violations of current restrictions need to stop. He cited a requirement to keep occupancy at those gatherings at 50% capacity.

Those gatherings, he said, have been happening despite repeated calls for compliance with limits to the size of those crowds to keep physical distancing requirements: " … We all have seen pictures like these for weeks. What did you think was going to happen? What did you think was going to happen?"

One featured photo was from a funeral that took place more than a decade earlier, causing Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi to tweet an explanation, calling the mistake a "staff error."

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