Hoping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in certain New York City, Broome County and lower Hudson Valley hot spots, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced an initiative that implements zones. The color-coded system essentially amounts to containment zones with new rules and restrictions in each. The Orange and Rockland county executives say they fully support the new effort.
Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, announced a so-called cluster action initiative to address COVID-19 hot spots. Red, orange and yellow zones will carry differing rules, with red being the most stringent and in the heart of the cluster. He says the new rules will be in effect for a minimum of two weeks.
“Orange County, we have an intense cluster and then what we call a precautionary zone around that cluster,” says Cuomo. “Rockland County, same thing. We have an intense cluster, and then we’re establishing a precautionary zone around that cluster.”
The clusters in Orange and Rockland Counties are predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities. Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day took to Facebook Tuesday evening to update the public.
“Today, I think was a watershed event, in many ways, as relates to the battle against COVID. So, I have a good feeling about this,” says Day. “And we will do our part here in Rockland. I know our towns and our villages will do the same as will our school systems, our religious leaders of all faiths because many could be affected, not just from one faith.”
In an issue that has also come up in New York City, Day had pushed back on defining clusters as zip codes, saying this unfairly lumped in sections of the zip code that were not negatively impacted.
“The governor was very adamant that he said that he does not want to do the zip-code approach,” Day says. “He actually said the zip-code approach is stupid. He attributed it to another politician, but I won’t embarrass him by saying who it was, but they’re using the actual data.”
Day outlines the red zone in Rockland.
“I will tell you the red zones right now are within the Town of Ramapo, predominantly in the zip codes of 10952, 10977, exactly where you see on the dashboard now is basically where the red zone and accompanying orange and yellow zones will be, with fine tuning,” Day says.
Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus also updated residents on Facebook late Tuesday. The Town of Palm Tree, and the Village of Kiryas Joel within, are hot spots within a Monroe zip code. Neuhaus also opposed lumping all communities in a cluster via zip code.
“But, in particular, I had a lot of businesses in the Town of Monroe, restaurants and stores, that just didn’t want to get penalized for being in the 10950. So, I have to say I had a great conversation with the governor today,” Neuhaus says. “He understood what we were talking about and he has now changed his philosophy, or has actually agreed with us on this, that the Town of Palm Tree will be in the red zone because of the numbers, and some areas outside of it will be in the yellow zone, like North Main as well as Schunnemunk Road.”
The red zone contains the cluster itself and carries the most stringent rules. House of worship are limited to 25 percent capacity, 10 people maximum. Mass gatherings are prohibited. Only essential businesses are open; dining is takeout only and schools are on remote learning. The rules loosen a bit in an orange, or warning, zone and even more in a yellow, or precautionary, zone. Day addresses enforcement.
“Again, what we have here is we have here a logical approach right now and, frankly, it’s a necessary approach right now. So, for those of you who’ve been asking repeatedly what is going to be done to enforce this, the enforcement is now here, okay,” says Day says. “The state police will be overseeing the enforcement at the governor’s direction.”
Neuhaus called the cluster action initiative a good step.
“I think it’s a good thing. It’s what I think we’ve all been fighting for for the last five days, and working together is obviously the best solution in this case. In addition to that, I talked to the mayor of New York City, Mayor de Blasio, he’s got a similar situation; the county of Rockland, Town of Ramapo, similar situation. I was on the call today with Ed Day as well, so all of us are working together, which is a good sign, in my opinion,” says Neuhaus. “I want everybody to take a deep breath. Don’t… I got a lot of calls from around the county, am I going to get shut down, are we going to go back to the phases? No. I think we all know where the issue is right now. As long as we all do our part, we will be in good shape. So, again, deep breath.”
Days says he has been reaching out to the county sheriff and Ramapo police. And he addresses concerns about prosecution of fines and summonses.
“The governor directly assured me that he will speak to the district attorneys to make sure they understand that it is their job to enforce these laws,” says Day. “And, if there’s any issues with those orders, the governor made it very clear to me he will deal with it directly and make sure that that matter is corrected.”
Cuomo says he spoke with Orthodox Jewish community leaders Tuesday and asked for their cooperation in following the new rules. He said this was positively received.
“I said to them that I’m doing this for a very simple reason, because I have such respect and love for the Orthodox community,” Cuomo says. “I have been friends with them all my life, and my father before me, by the way. We go way back. And it’s out of respect and it’s out of love, and it’s because I want to protect them.”
But there was some backlash from the Orthodox Jewish community, both in public statements and demonstrations in New York City.
Cuomo says enforcement of the zones will go into effect by Friday. Cuomo also announced that fines for the sponsors of mass gatherings in violation of state public health rules will be increased to $15,000.