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Cuomo Closes Schools In NYC COVID-19 Hot Spots

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking April 23, 2020.

Schools in New York City coronavirus hot spots will shut down Tuesday under an order from Governor Andrew Cuomo. The governor also threatened to close down religious gatherings in the infected areas and says the state will take over enforcement of rules including mask wearing and social distancing. 

Cuomo says he’s taking the steps because he does not want the hot spots to spread to the rest of the state, comparing them to embers in dry grass.

“The only course is to run to those embers and stamp them out immediately and dramatically,” Cuomo said.

The hot spots bring the average rate of the virus in New York to over 1.2%. When the virus clusters in 20 zip codes are not counted, the average rate of COVID-19 in the state is around 1%, where it’s remained for several weeks.

Cuomo’s order overrides a plan by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who proposed closing the schools in the hot spots beginning Wednesday.

While the schools in cluster zones spots in New York City will be shuttered, schools in portions of Orange and Rockland counties, where the rate of transmission is even higher will stay open for now.

Cuomo also addressed incidents of recent large religious gatherings in Orthodox Jewish communities in the hot spots, where hundreds of people, mostly mask-less, were gathered.

The governor says religious gatherings can continue, but under two conditions. Community leaders have to agree to limit the number of people at the gatherings, and agree to strictly enforce the safety rules. If that doesn’t happen Cuomo says the synagogues will be shut down.

The governor has already met with Orthodox Jewish leaders, but says he will meet with them again on Tuesday.

“I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, ‘If you’re not willing to live with these rules then I’m going to close the synagogues.’ I have had a 30-year relationship with the Orthodox community, it goes back to my father,” Cuomo said. “I have a very close personal relationship with them. This is the last thing I want to do. Forget the politics, I don’t care about that anymore. Personally, I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s a difficult conversation. And you’re right on the line of government intrusion on religion. So it’s hard.”

Religious groups have already successfully sued Cuomo over the issue of limits on mass gatherings, but the governor says he believes he has the legal authority to do it.

Cuomo, who has frequently feuded with de Blasio, criticized the mayor’s administration and other local governments for not adequately enforcing the disease prevention rules. The governor says, as a result, the state will take over all enforcement.

“Local governments will need to provide us with personnel but the state will take over the enforcement,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo credits the State Liquor Authority’s takeover of bar and restaurant violation enforcement for an end to illegal mass gatherings at bars. Hundreds of establishments saw their liquor license suspended.

Mayor de Blasio has called for non-essential businesses in the virus clusters to also close, but Cuomo says they can remain open for the time being, saying they have not been shown to be spreaders of the disease. But the governor did not rule out curtailing indoor dining, as well as outdoor dining in those zones. New York City just resumed indoor dining at a 25% capacity on September 30th.

The governor says he knows the actions will create resentments. But he says he’d rather have people alive, even if they are angry with him.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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