Virus Outbreak New York

Members of the Jewish Orthodox community wait for school buses to collect them Oct. 8, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York.

(The Center Square) – Demonstrations taking place in Brooklyn against New York’s plan to control the spread of COVID-19 are the result of lax enforcement of previous guidelines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

After Cuomo announced on Tuesday his plan, which includes limiting places of worship depending on their location to limit indoor gatherings to as few as 10 people, members of the Orthodox Jewish community have taken to the streets and gathered at Borough Park the last two nights.

The demonstrations have led to some destruction, with fires being set in the park. Early Thursday morning, state Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, D-Brooklyn, issued a statement decrying the steps Cuomo took as “draconian” and urging his constituents to protest peacefully.

“Let’s continue to use our voices in demanding what no one can take away from us,” Eichenstein said. “Our ability to gather in prayer.”

On Thursday, the governor noted the new rules are less harsh than ones previously implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous rules included complete shutdowns of places of worship.

“Why are they so upset about the current rule when there was a previous rule that was more dramatic?” Cuomo asked, rhetorically. “Because the previous rules were never enforced, that's why.”

The governor noted this isn’t a new conversation, either. Just last year, the Orthodox community was responsible for a substantial number of measles cases reported statewide.

Cuomo also said he was troubled by reports that New York City Police Department officers were also not following COVID-19 guidelines, like wearing a mask in public. He said city health department workers should fine them for those violations.

“When you don't follow the law, don't expect people to follow you when you say, ‘I'm going to force the law,’” he added. “It's an act of hypocrisy.”

Under the governor’s plan, which is supposed to take effect by Friday, hot spot clusters will see significant restrictions or closures in schools, businesses and gatherings. Areas immediately surrounding those clusters also will see some closures or restrictions.

The rules will be in place for at least 14 days.

Besides Brooklyn, clusters have been identified in Binghamton and Queens as well as Rockland and Orange counties. The population in those areas represent about six percent of the state.

On Thursday, Cuomo announced the state received the results on 145,811 COVID-19 tests, a one-day record. About 7,350 of those tests were conducted on people living in cluster zones. The clusters reported a 5.8 percent positivity rate, compared to just over 1 percent elsewhere in the state.