Governor Andrew Cuomo and state health officials are imposing unprecedented restrictions in New Rochelle in Westchester County, in an attempt to contain what is currently New York’s epicenter of the coronavirus.
Governor Cuomo, speaking Tuesday at a briefing on the spread of the virus, says the two-week closure of schools, a temple and all other places within the designated zone where there are large gatherings of people will help contain the illness from spreading any further.
“This will be a period of disruption for the local community, I understand that,” Cuomo said. “This can’t be a political decision, this is a public health decision.”
The closures will begin on March 12 and continue through March 25. Cuomo is deploying the National Guard to assist with distributing food to those who are quarantined, and for the 52% of children who are dependent on the schools for the free or reduced lunch program. The Guard will also help with transportation and cleaning services.
Residents, other than those already quarantined because they have the virus, will not be confined to their homes. They will be allowed to travel for work and other purposes.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who represents the district, was caught off guard by the new limitations. Paulin, who says she received a short briefing from Cuomo administration officials just moments before the public announcement, was scrambling to comprehend what the restrictions will mean.
“We all want to be sure that this is the right public health approach, and if it is we’re all going to do it,” Paulin said. “Not happily, but we’re all going to do it.”
Paulin says the restricted zone includes a municipal recreation center, and the path of a planned St. Patrick’s Day parade. She says a lot of decisions need to be made and she and other community leaders have a lot of questions.
“I don’t know what this is yet,” Paulin said. "Are we closing all the businesses? Are we closing just the large facilities?"
She predicts many small businesses in the one-mile radius, including restaurants, will likely close up for the two week period.
Cuomo says it’s too early to say whether the closures will serve as a model for other parts of the state. He says right now, the situation in New Rochelle is unique, and is the largest cluster of infected people in the nation.
The City of Boston cancelled its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade out of concerns over the virus. Cuomo says he’s not recommending that cities in New York cancel their St. Patrick’s celebrations. He says currently there are not large clusters of infected people in most regions of the state.
“You have to calibrate it to the place,” said Cuomo. “This is such a different situation in different parts of the state.”
The pro-school funding group, Alliance for Quality Education, which is backed by the teachers’ union, slammed the governor’s decision to close the schools, calling it “irresponsible and tone deaf." The group says no one in the schools are currently sick with the virus, and it will harm disadvantaged children who depend on the school for services.
Cuomo and state health officials also released the latest numbers of the spread of the diseases in the state.