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Cuomo: New York restricting worship, businesses, schools in virus 'hot spots'

People walk Tuesday past a sign for a

People walk Tuesday past a sign for a COVID-19 testing site in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The city added South Williamsburg to its "ZIP codes of concern" for increased cases. Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Justin Lane

This story was reported by Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Anthony M. DeStefano and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

Houses of worship will be limited to a maximum of 10 people attending services, mass gatherings will be prohibited, schools will be closed and only essential businesses will be allowed to open in coronavirus "hot spots" under a 14-day plan announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The plan must be implemented by Friday at the latest in some 20 hot spots, or clusters, that the state has identified in New York City and Orange and Rockland counties. The governor previously had mentioned one location in Nassau County, partially centered in the Five Towns area, though he did not name it among those under the new mandate.

Cuomo said he is making the move to try to get under control rising levels of COVID-19 cases in those areas, which threaten to spread to other locations and undermine the state's progress in going from a global epicenter of the pandemic to tracking a positivity rate hovering for weeks around 1%.

He said the hot spots include large Orthodox Jewish communities, and that the mandate — while painful for houses of worship and businesses — is, in the words of his top aide Melissa De Rosa, a "last resort."

"I do believe it’s the best thing for the Orthodox community, and I do believe it’s the best thing for the Catholic community, and for the Protestant community, and for every school, and for every child, because we are saving lives," Cuomo said at a news briefing in Albany.

Cuomo said he met Tuesday morning with leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community, who agreed to the plan.

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De Rosa said the plan came together after state officials spent the last week and a half talking to government and religious officials in the affected areas, without significant change in preventing spread.

"They kept insisting on the fact that they could get this under control … they would step up enforcement," De Rosa said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for instance, said he would send out 1,000 people to enforce state laws on social distancing and mask-wearing to the clusters, De Rosa said. "What did he yield? Twenty-six violations."

Meanwhile, photos have been circulating on social media of "thousands" of people at religious gatherings, De Rosa said.

The new plan includes — beyond a "red" zone identifying the center of each cluster — an "orange" zone for immediately surrounding areas and then a "yellow" zone for outlying communities where there also will be restrictions, though not as severe.

The new measures will depend on the level of spread measured in recent testing results for COVID-19.

The state is using confirmed test data and mapping software to delineate the red, orange and yellow zones for new infections in "geographically circumscribed" areas.

"A mass gathering causes infections, infections cause a cluster, a cluster causes community spread. That is the natural evolution of things, unless we intervene and we stop the cycle," Cuomo said. " … When you see a cluster, you have to stop it at that point."

The new restrictions can go into effect as soon as Wednesday, but no later than Friday, Cuomo said.

Restrictions in concentric levels

In red zones, where the new virus cases are concentrated, schools will be closed as the most drastic of several steps to reduce risk.

In those red areas, houses of worship will be limited to 25% capacity and a maximum of 10 people, while all other mass gatherings will be prohibited. Only essential businesses are to remain open in those hot spots, and food establishments will be allowed to open for takeout only.

In orange zones, for the areas immediately surrounding hot spots, houses of worships will be limited to 33% capacity or a maximum of 25 people, and other gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

In those orange neighborhoods, the state is ordering the closing of nonessential businesses considered high risk, and outdoor dining will be permitted with a maximum of four people per table. Schools in orange zones also will close for remote-only instruction.

For outlying communities, in yellow zones near those clusters, schools will not close and houses of worship will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity, while other gatherings will be limited to 25 people. All businesses in those areas will remain open, and indoor and outdoor dining allowed, but limited to four people per table.

In yellow zones, though, the state is imposing a minimum yet to be determined of mandatory weekly testing of students, teachers and staff working in schools.

The cluster areas identified by the governor are in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City as well as in the upstate city of Binghamton and Orange and Rockland counties. Though Cuomo complained about a concert taking place in the Hamptons, and attracting a crowd, he did not zero in on any Long Island areas during the briefing.

Cuomo said he told the Orthodox leaders "I need their cooperation, I need their partnerships … I asked for them to work with me to follow these guidelines. And that was positively received."

Cuomo said he was making the move because "I have such respect and love for the Orthodox community," noting he has been friends with them "all my life."

De Blasio had other plans

Earlier Tuesday, de Blasio said the city government was ready to implement its plan to close nonessential businesses in nine coronavirus hot spots in Queens and Brooklyn, but the plan needed a decision from Cuomo "quickly and decisively."

DeBlasio's plan apparently became moot after Cuomo's announcement.

De Blasio had said he wanted those changes to go into effect beginning Wednesday, but Cuomo said the mayor and other local government officials do not have the authority to put in place such measures.

In the spring, Cuomo signed an executive order removing local control, and vesting in himself near total power, for imposing or lifting coronavirus restrictions.

The nine city hot spot areas where COVID-19 rates have remained over 3% for at least seven consecutive days encompass the neighborhoods of Bensonhurst/Mapleton, Flatlands/Midwood, Gravesend/Homecrest, Midwood, Borough Park, Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay, Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok, Kew Gardens and Edgemere/Far Rockaway.

The city on Tuesday also added South Williamsburg, or 11206, to its "ZIP codes of concern" where there are troubling signs of increased infection, de Blasio said. There are about a dozen such ZIP codes, on top of the nine hot spots.

The 14-day positivity rate in 11206 is 1.90%, according to a slide at the news conference.

De Blasio's comments came a day after Cuomo ordered private and public schools in the city hot spot neighborhoods to close starting Tuesday.

The state also announced Tuesday that New Mexico has been added to the list of states and territories from which travelers must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival here because of high levels of COVID-19 cases in those areas. No states or territories were dropped from the list, which numbers more than 30 places.

The state issued its own list of 20 hot post ZIP codes for spread ranging from 1.8% to 17.3% of new positives over a seven-day average, including 11 in Brooklyn and four in Queens. None were on Long Island.

The number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed in testing Monday was 90 in Nassau, 89 in Suffolk and 567 in New York City. The level of positives was 1.1% on Long Island and 1.4% in New York City.

Statewide, the level of new positives for test results from Tuesday was tracked at 1.45%, or 1.20% if the hot spot ZIP codes are excluded.

NYPD Commish airs policing concerns

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Tuesday that plans to enforce mask rules in particular communities is a "slippery slope" for the city to go down and risks giving the appearance of singling out groups to penalize.

During an interview on Spectrum News NY1, Shea said the department’s goal was to use education to get people to wear masks, issuing summonses as a last resort.

Shea didn’t mention any particular group or community for attention but was apparently referring to comments by Cuomo and de Blasio in which they singled out the Orthodox Jewish communities.

"Since this pandemic started, we have been committed to keeping New Yorkers safe, and that is all New Yorkers," Shea said. "You start singling certain groups out, I get awfully nervous and it is a slippery slope. I will say that on the record. I think we have to very careful about the words we use and talking about sending the police to certain groups only."

Cuomo has said the state is far beyond the point of educating people about the laws to curtail spread of the coronavirus, and that everyone knows the rules. He said what is needed is enforcement of the laws — something he repeatedly has said local governments and police forces are failing to do sufficiently.

Shea appeared to express exasperation about the back-and-forth going on between Cuomo and de Blasio in dueling news conferences over spikes in cases and enforcement actions.

"I will be honest with you, I stopped watching those press conferences a long time ago," Shea said.

Asked about disciplining cops who don’t wear masks in public, Shea acknowledged there are officers not complying with the rules but said the situation was improving. He preferred to take the tactic of speaking to officers to get compliance, and then get tough if needed with disciplinary action. No officers have been disciplined to date, the NYPD said.

"I don’t think it is politics to this," Shea said about cops not wearing masks. He said he thinks it's "human nature" and officers spending "long hours" on their feet.

A 'rapid increase' in Sachem

Long Island schools continued to respond to positives among students and staff.

Sachem High School North in Lake Ronkonkoma has been closed for in-person instruction since Thursday because of a "rapid increase in case numbers in a short period of time," Sachem Superintendent Christopher Pellettieri wrote in a letter Monday.

Pellettieri said there were 11 confirmed cases at the school, including one staff member. Districtwide, Pellettieri said there were 19 positive cases as of Monday.

The cases at North are believed to be connected to a social event held the weekend of Sept. 25, he said. The district plans to resume in-person instruction at North on Wednesday, Pellettieri said.

The district’s other positive cases — four each at Seneca Middle School in Holbrook and Sachem High School East in Farmingville — did not call for suspending in-person instruction in those buildings, he said.

Two individuals at MacArthur High School in Levittown tested positive this week after attending a party on Oct. 3, district Superintendent Tonie McDonald said in an email Tuesday.

"It is believed that the participants were not wearing masks," McDonald said.

One of the two individuals was in school Tuesday, she wrote in the email. She did not specify if they were staff or students.

The district on Monday notified parents of a positive case at the high school for a person who was last in school on Oct. 1.

In total, three positive cases surfaced at MacArthur this week, according to the district.

It was unclear if the positive case reported Monday was also linked to the party.

McDonald said in-person instruction would be temporarily suspended at MacArthur High School on Wednesday.

In Port Washington, Superintendent Michael Hynes said Monday that there was a second positive case at Manorhaven Elementary School. Students and staff in the class related to the second case were instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days, Hynes said. The district reported the first positive case at that school on Friday.

NEW YORK’S TRAVEL QUARANTINE LIST

Travelers in New York State’s “travel advisory” list, due to community spread of the COVID-19 virus, are required to quarantine for 14 days. The quarantine applies to any person arriving from an area with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a seven-day rolling average, or an area with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average. The following is the updated list of states and other jurisdictions whose travelers face those restrictions in New York as of Oct. 6:

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

SOURCE: New York Governor’s Office

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