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Leaders Respond To COVID Clusters In Orange And Rockland Counties

Masks to help protect from COVID-19
Courtesy of the Town of Ramapo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he spoke with Orthodox Jewish leaders Wednesday morning to come up with an action plan to contain the spread of COVID-19 clusters. A second discussion to set the outreach plan in motion was slated for 3 Wednesday afternoon. Cuomo says 20 zip codes in the state have high infection rates. Among the highest are three locations in Orange and Rockland Counties.

Democratic Governor Cuomo says it’s important to attack the clusters, including in Brooklyn, Orange and Rockland Counties.

“If you look at those clusters and you look at those zip codes, you will see there’s an overlap with large Orthodox Jewish communities, and that is a fact,” says Cuomo.

Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day says there were 672 active COVID-19 cases in his county as of Monday, up from 352 active cases last week. The two hot-spot zip codes in Rockland are in Monsey and Spring Valley, in the Town of Ramapo. Day says these two zip codes contain 477 of the positive cases, amounting to 71 percent of the county’s total positive cases.

“I’ve been long urging the governor to directly engage with the Orthodox Jewish community in this situation with whom he has a relationship with,” says Day.

During a COVID briefing Tuesday, Day said he was glad to hear the governor would meet with these leaders. Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht also welcomed the news.

“I think the governor, by doing that, will make it clear to everybody that this is not to be taken lightly,” says Specht. “A large part of the Orthodox community doesn’t watch TV, they don’t see the governor’s press conferences, they may hear about it secondhand. So for the leadership to meet with the governor take that message back I think is very important.”

Again, Cuomo:

“What happened in these clusters?” says Cuomo. “There wasn’t compliance, and the city [New York] didn’t enforce it and Orange County didn’t enforce it and Rockland County didn’t enforce it.”

Cuomo addressed local governments.

“They’re the first line of defense. They must respond,” Cuomo says. “They have been very uneven across the state, as you know, and I’ve expressed my frustration with candor as the moment requires. They have to respond and they have to respond directly.”

Rockland County Executive Day:

“The local government responsible for this type of enforcement and compliance here is either a town or a village, not a county,” says Day. “I would like to hope the governor would be a little better at defining things instead of causing a number of issues here locally, and exactly what is and exactly what is not.”

Day underscored the need for local governments to comply with Cuomo’s call for compliance with his executive order, such as mask wearing and social distancing

“My expectation, to be very clear, is that appropriate enforcement action will be taken as necessary. That could come in the form of a building or fire code violations, come in the form of summonses for violating the governor’s orders. Those summonses, again, can only be issued by the local police,” Day says. “I cannot make that any more clear Health department inspectors do not have the authority nor the power to do that.”

Ramapo Supervisor Specht says he’s been concentrating on outreach and education.

“We sent out thousands of flyers into the community in the 10952 and the 10977 zip codes where we see the clusters,” Specht says. “We’ve gone door-to-door and handed out flyers. We’ve distributed them in the major stores.”

He says town officials have been impressing upon store managers that there will be enforcement measures if they don’t comply.

“I went to several of the major stores yesterday and met with the managers and gave out notices that if there was not voluntary compliance, there would be enforcement by the town. I was very pleased to see that in each of the stores I went to, the staff and the customers were wearing masks. The stores had employees giving masks out at the entry and making sure customers wore them as they came in and throughout the store. So we’re seeing a lot of cooperation there,” says Specht. “We have been doing robocalls. We have had cars going out to the community playing in both English and Yiddish messages about social distancing and masking. The main goal has been to let the people know that the virus has not gone away, that it’s still here and it’s coming back. If we don’t further steps to isolate it, it could be much worse.”

Specht says, from what he’s seeing, the message is getting through. Again, Rockland’s Day:

“We have met with and talked to a number of community leaders and also a number of religious leaders. They are on board, and the problem they are having, to be frank, is with what they call certain outliers in certain areas where they just are not getting it. And it takes a lot of work for everybody to be on the same page here," says Day. "So I just want to be clear with that. We’re not running into obstacles when it comes to religious leaders in Ramapo. They are working with us here. It’s a matter of getting them all to work with us, and that is a challenge.”

In Orange County, the cluster is in a Monroe zip code that contains the Town of Palm Tree and within, the Village of Kiryas Joel. On Monday, Cuomo said the state will deploy rapid testing machines to the hot spots. Rapid testing turns around results in 15 minutes. Cuomo says rapid testing equipment is being made available to all public and private schools as well as local governments in the zip codes.

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