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Cuomo Issues New Restrictions In WNY, NYC Closing Schools

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking Nov. 18, 2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking Nov. 18, 2020

Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared more regions as micro-cluster hot zones, as the rate of COVID-19 continues to climb in New York. The new designations come as New York City’s mayor closed the city’s schools, effective Thursday, as the positive test rate there reached 3%.Cuomo is upgrading some yellow zones in Western New York to orange zones. Effective Friday, there will be new restrictions on religious gatherings and some business closures, including gyms, hair salons and tattoo parlors. Indoor dining is banned.  Schools in the orange zone, which include most of the City of Buffalo and many of its suburbs, will close for four days, and can reopen only with more intensive testing of students and teachers.    

The Buffalo region overall is at a 5.1% positivity rate for the virus, which the governor says is the “worst situation” in the state. 

The Rochester0Finger Lakes region has the second highest rate of COVID-19 in the state, followed by Central New York. Portions of those regions remain designated as yellow zones. All three regions that are now spiking did not see high rates of the virus in the spring, compared to downstate areas. 

The governor frequently has disagreements with New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, and on Wednesday, there was another one.

Cuomo says the rate of the virus in New York City is nearing the level where it will be reclassified from a yellow zone to an orange zone, which would mandate school closures there. While Cuomo says the state’s data shows the rate of the disease at 2.5% in New York City, the mayor said the city’s numbers shows the rate of infection is at 3%, and that schools will shut down beginning Thursday for at least a week.

Mayor de Blasio, who like Cuomo is a Democrat, says there will need to be new testing protocols put in place for students and teachers before the schools can re-open.

“Certainly through Thanksgiving, school will be closed,” de Blasio said. "We're going to see with the state how quickly we can finalize those standards and then what we'll have to do to meet those standards." 

The difference between the state’s and the city’s numbers means that while schools in New York City will be closed, for the time being indoor dining and other business activities will still be permitted, though the mayor says he expects the city to be declared an orange zone by Cuomo very soon. 

The governor also warned New Yorkers not to hold large gatherings on Thanksgiving, saying his gut feeling is that there will be a “tremendous spike” of the virus after the holiday.

Cuomo has set a limit of 10 or fewer people at in-home gatherings. But some county sheriffs in the state have said they don’t plan to enforce those rules, saying it’s a violation of people’s privacy. The governor condemned the sheriffs’ comments, saying they can’t pick and choose which laws they enforce and that it’s a violation of their constitutional duties.

“There’s a law, and you have to enforce the law,” Cuomo said. “Or don’t call yourself a law enforcement officer.”

The governor admits there are practical issues with sheriff’s deputies enforcing the law, but he says that’s different than refusing to carry out the law.

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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