This story was reported by Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Jones.
New York State is fining a group $20,000 for organizing an outdoor summer concert in Southampton that violated state laws aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, and is taking away the Town of Southampton’s ability to permit similar events unless it gets state approval, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.
The July 25 Chainsmokers concert at Nova's Ark Project in Water Mill attracted more than 2,150 people in the Town of Southampton, Cuomo said. The limit was 50 for nonessential gatherings under Phase 4 of the state's reopening, which Long Island entered on July 8, a Cuomo spokesman said.
The Southampton town supervisor, however, said Wednesday it was event organizers who didn't adhere to permit rules and that state requirements are not clear.
Cuomo said the promoter's Special Events Application omitted reference to a designated "friends and family" section where concertgoers could freely congregate and where mask-wearing was not enforced.
"It was an egregious violation of the critical public health measures we have had in place since the beginning of this pandemic to protect New Yorkers from COVID-19," he said. "I’ve spent time talking to the people in the Town of Southampton. Frankly, I don’t know what they were thinking."
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said: "Ever since The Chainsmokers event, we have been referring every single special event permit to the state for their review. … We haven’t seen anything from the state. We’re waiting to receive results of their investigation."
He added, "I need to see what the findings are to respond."
States/regions in red are included on New York's travel advisory list as of Oct. 27, 2020. Guam and Puerto Rico, not pictured, are also on the list.
He said the town’s investigation found the concert promoters "didn’t adhere to the permit" on social distancing and mask-wearing, for example. He said if they had complied with it, the permit would have met the state guidelines.
And he said the state’s guidelines were "confusing."
Among issues in contention is how many people are allowed at outdoor events, Schneiderman said, adding that state rules stipulate maximums based on size of the venues, not how many people are allowed. He said the town has a 30-acre pumpkin field, where 4,000 people would be allowed by the town's estimates. He said The Chainsmokers' concert was at a 100-acre field.
"We ask the state questions. We try to stay in conformance," Schneiderman said. "It sounds like the state feels like the permit we issued didn’t conform, but they haven’t yet provided me any place where it didn’t conform. … We want to work with the state. We see ourselves as partners in keeping people safe."
The concert promoters, In the Know Experiences and Invisible Noise, declined to comment, a spokesman for the groups said Wednesday.
Cuomo also hailed Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone for fining The Miller Place Inn $12,000 for hosting a Sweet 16 party that led to at least 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and left at least 270 people under quarantine orders.
"Suffolk County, Steve Bellone, kudos to him … They had a Sweet 16 party, how sweet. Yeah, it wasn’t that sweet," Cuomo quipped. "Dozens of people from the Sweet 16 party got sick. It just shows you how one event can generate so many cases. But he took enforcement action, so good for him."
NY withholding funds over compliance
Cuomo said the state is stepping up enforcement actions in about 20 "hot spots" in New York City and upstate by withholding state funding to local governments that fail to enforce the antivirus mandates, and will also withhold funds from schools that fail to shut down in the "red zones."
Overall, the state reported a positivity rate of 0.95% from Tuesday, excluding the hot spots identified in Brooklyn, Queens and Rockland and Orange counties. Those "micro-clusters" together had a 6.29% positivity level for COVID-19 and would bring the total percentage for the state to 1.1%, though Cuomo said that figure would be misleading because it includes an oversampling of problem areas.
Seven people died of COVID-19-related causes on Tuesday statewide.
The state will send notifications to local governments that have failed in gaining compliance with coronavirus orders, telling them they must enforce public health laws. The governments that will receive the warning notices from the state are New York City, Orange County, Rockland County, the Town of Ramapo and the Village of Spring Valley, Cuomo said.
Last week, Cuomo issued new restrictions in the hot spots, including a shutdown of schools and nonessential businesses, and a limit of 10 people in houses of worship. The rules are in effect for two weeks, but Cuomo said Wednesday they could be intensified or loosened in areas depending on whether their COVID-19 cases go up or down.
State Liquor Authority agents and State Police inspected 634 businesses on Tuesday, and issued summonses to two of them — both in Nassau County — for violating face covering and social distancing laws.
The infection level in testing completed Tuesday was 1% on Long Island and 1.2% in New York City. The number of new confirmed cases was 85 in Nassau, 69 in Suffolk and 464 in New York City.
School closing in Massapequa
On Long Island, a staff member at Berner Middle School in Massapequa tested positive for the virus, resulting in a temporary school closure Wednesday, according to the Massapequa school district website.
There also were two more positive cases of students at Fairfield Elementary School in Massapequa reported this week, marking three positives among students there in the last week, Superintendent Lucille Iconis said in an email to families.
The building will be closed to students and instructional staff on Thursday and Friday, and students will follow a distance learning model.
In Rocky Point, a high school student who was last in school on Oct. 6 tested positive for the virus, Superintendent Scott O’Brien said Wednesday afternoon.
O’Brien said virtual learning was suspended for the remainder of Wednesday for middle and high school students, to allow for staff members in the buildings to be dismissed.
Sachem High School North in Lake Ronkonkoma reopened Wednesday after the building had been closed since Oct. 1 due to an outbreak of positive cases that stemmed from the Sweet 16 party, officials said.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he expects families to opt their children back into in-person education once word spreads about the success of the schools’ reopening; about half the students are doing remote learning full time at their families' request. He pointed to the low infection rate and how only two schools out of 1,600 had been closed, since the reopening, due to coronavirus infections.