COVID-19 clusters in parts of New York City and Orange and Rockland Counties are raising alarm. After announcing some schools in clusters in Brooklyn and Queens would close starting tomorrow, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says schools in the Orange and Rockland hotspots are under consideration for closure.
On Sunday, state officials added two hotspots to the three in Orange and Rockland announced last week. The additional zip code in Orange County is for Newburgh. That’s on top of a cluster in a Monroe zip code that contains the Town of Palm Tree and within, the Village of Kiryas Joel. Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhuas weighed in on possible closures in his county shortly after Cuomo’s briefing Monday afternoon.
“Look, we, 100 percent, need to shut this down before it gets back to March and April numbers. We are seeing an increase, obviously, over the last two weeks not only from the Town of Palm Tree, but other municipalities, and it is something that needs to be addressed,” Neuhaus says. “And what we are asking from the state is… Their rule of thumb is 9 percent infection rate to close schools; we’re seeing some of those numbers over 10 percent in the Town of Palm Tree, so we’re asking that they be shut down for at least a few weeks till we get those numbers back down.”
A request for comment from Kiryas Joel officials through a spokesperson was met with information that KJ public and private schools are closed until October13 in observance of Sukkot. They have been closed since before Rosh Hashanah. Cuomo, a Democrat, responded during his Monday briefing to a reporter question about closing schools in the Orange and Rockland clusters.
“We may close those schools,” says Cuomo. “We don’t have the same level of problem, but I’m going to be speaking to those community leaders also tomorrow.”
In an interview on WAMC later Monday, Cuomo reiterated that answer. You can hear the entire interview here.
Neuhaus says county officials had been asking the state to shut down certain schools in the clusters weeks ago.
“So what our health department was sending to Albany was, hey, we need to shut down schools in KJ, all of them, even day cares, as much as we can. And, in addition to that, what has changed is that, we, our, and what the governor’s been talking about, we got calls from his office last night, was to shut down municipalities in these zip codes,” says Neuhaus. “We want it to be a little bit more surgical because in 10950, which is Monroe, we have Palm Tree, we have Monroe, we have parts of Blooming Grove, we have parts of that municipality that has no impact at all. So what we’d like to see, and I think what the governor’s asked, is to also shut down businesses, so places where people would gather, supermarkets or stores that are not deemed essential would also be closed within those areas, in addition to schools.”
Cuomo on Monday said zip codes classification is imperfect.
“The zip code as a template is rough justice, but only rough justice, and we can refine that,” Cuomo says, “It takes some review and analysis, but look at the actual cases that you have, again, by address, and make sure you’re including the relevant zone.”
Last Wednesday, Cuomo said he spoke with Orthodox Jewish leaders about an action plan to contain the spread of COVID-19 clusters. Neuhaus believes that will bring results as he and other county officials have been met with a mixed bag of responses locally.
“The leadership has been great and has been putting out message of wearing masks, adhere to social distancing. Some of them have said, call our lawyer. So we get a mixed bag,” says Neuhaus. “I do think that now that the governor has engaged them last week, that, and he has a very strong rapport with them, that I think that you’ll have a better compliance.”
Cuomo also blames some of the COVID clusters on religious gatherings above the legal limit. In Rockland County, the clusters mentioned last week were in two zip codes covering Monsey and Spring Valley in the Town of Ramapo. On Sunday, the state added a Suffern zip code to the hot spot list. Cuomo says the state had success when it stepped in to close down bars and restaurants that were flouting the COVID-19 rules of mask wearing, capacity limits and social distancing, and now it’s time to do the same in other sectors.