N.Y. Governor Blasts Orthodox Jewish Community for Flouting COVID Restrictions

Andrew Cuomo criticizes Mayor de Blasio’s plan to curb infection rates, saying that targeting hot spots by zip codes is inefficient and that the state will take over enforcement in all coronavirus clusters

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York
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An Orthodox teenager walks outside of Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park in New York City, September 28, 2020.
An Orthodox teenager walks outside of Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park in New York City, September 28, 2020. Credit: SPENCER PLATT / AFP
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo slammed on Monday the Orthodox Jewish community for holding mass religious gatherings in coronavirus hot spots, but added he would only give his partial consent to the city’s plan to reinstate previous lockdown restrictions in nine affected zip codes. 

During his Monday press briefing, Cuomo said that “We know religious institutions have been a problem, we know mass gatherings are the super spreader events."

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“We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks and I don’t mean little violations,” Cuomo added.

On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to “rewind” the reopening in nine zip codes considered COVID-19 hot spots in Brooklyn and Queens.

Among the neighborhoods of concern are areas with large Orthodox Jewish populations, including Borough Park and Midwood in Brooklyn. According to the city, the coronavirus infection rate in these areas has exceeded three percent for seven or more consecutive days. In Borough Park, 8.31 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive – the highest of any neighborhood.

But Cuomo criticized de Blasio’s plan, saying that targeting hot spots by zip codes is inefficient. The governor announced that the state will take over the enforcement oversight in all the hot spot clusters.

“Local governments will need to provide us with personnel,” he said. “I do not have enough state personnel to supplement every local police department in the State.”

In addition, schools in the affected areas will shut down on Tuesday, a day ahead of when the mayor wanted, and non-essential businesses, which Cuomo said were not significant virus-spreading locations, will remain open.

Cuomo doubled down on his criticism of the Orthodox Jewish community during the briefing showing pictures of what he said were recent mass gatherings of Orthodox Jews in neighborhoods where infection rates are high.

“These are just emblematic,” he said. “You’ve all seen pictures like this for weeks, what did you think was going to happen?” According to the governor, “these have been going on for weeks”. 

But shortly after the briefing, some on social media pointed out that at least one of the pictures was from over a decade ago.

“Interesting he & de Blasio never go after non Jewish people like this,” one Twitter user replied. “Remember when the weather got nice and all the yuppies were allowed to congregate in the parks without social distancing during the height of the lockdown?"

“If only the Jewish community would learn to refer to their gatherings as ‘protests,’ then such gatherings would be problem free,” another user added.

But some users backed Cuomo’s criticism. “Who cares about the photo?” attorney Risa A. Levine tweeted. “It's the spreading of disease that is so disturbing.”

“As a N.Y.C. Jew, I find the Hasidic community’s conduct to be inconsistent with Jewish values,” another user said. “Really shameful behavior which threatens the health of the entire city. Did they learn nothing over the past half year?”

Cuomo said he is scheduled to meet with Orthodox Jewish leaders on Tuesday to discuss the issue. “The community must agree to the rules, and they have to agree that they will follow the rules,” he said. 

If leaders of religious institutions do not abide by social distancing laws, Cuomo – who slammed local governments for not properly enforcing them –  said he will have to shut these institutions down as well. 

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