Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned religious institutions and local municipalities Monday that they must adhere to and enforce COVID-19 safety protocols if New York State is going to stave off a serious outbreak this fall and winter.
Cuomo pointed to coronavirus clusters that have emerged in Rockland and Orange counties and Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, many a result of recent religious gatherings.
He said he was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Orthodox Jewish leaders in those communities along with religious leaders in other faiths where flouting of the COVID-19 safety guidelines has been documented.
There had been multiple reports of mass gatherings in heavily populated Jewish communities during the recently concluded High Holy Days. The governor also blasted municipalities, particularly New York City, for failing to enforce the guidelines for bars and restaurants in some areas.
Cuomo said the last thing he wants to do is crack down on the Orthodox Jewish community or any other religious group, but everyone is going to have to do their part to avoid large infection spikes as the weather gets colder and more people spend greater amounts of time indoors.
“This cannot happen again. If you do not agree to enforce the rules, then we’ll close the institution down. I am prepared to do that,” Cuomo said.
The strong words from the governor come as Rockland County’s infection rate on Sunday stood at 6.2 percent, while Orange County was at 4.7 percent. Rockland County’s seven-day rolling average registered 6.1 percent on Sunday, but has seen one-day rates of 12.8 percent on Sept. 27 and 8.6 percent on Sept. 30.
Despite the clusters in those two counties, areas of New York City, an outbreak in Broome County linked to a restaurant and bar and a spike in Western New York, the daily statewide average has remained between 1 and 1.6 percent over the past two weeks, according to the New York State website New York Forward, which tracks daily data from every county and region. On Sunday, it was 1.22 percent statewide.
While there has been an increase in the number of cases in Westchester, the percentage of positive results has remained in a fairly narrow range despite the reopening of many schools, gyms and other facilities, County Executive George Latimer said Monday. On Saturday, there were 44 positive cases reported from 5,443 test results and 40 positives from 4,438 tests administered on Sunday, for percentages of 0.8 and 0.9 percent, respectively.
Hospitalizations as of last weekend were at 26 and there was one death on Saturday, the only COVID-19 fatality in Westchester over a 10-day period, Latimer said.
The flip side is as of last Saturday, there were 636 active cases in the county, an increase from a low of 420 during the middle of the summer.
“I don’t want to minimize even a single death, but if we’re looking for trends, are we spiking up? That’s the biggest question I hear. What is happening in Westchester? Are we spiking up?” Latimer said. “The answer is no because we have low hospitalization numbers, we have low infection numbers as it relates to a percentage of all people tested, and we have a low number of fatalities.”
The highest infection rate in Westchester since the end of the summer was the four-day period from Sept. 27 to Sept. 30, where the daily positivity rate ranged from 1.2 to 1.4 percent, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. The seven-day rolling average stood at 1.1 percent through Sunday.
Latimer said he is in regular contact with Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus to discuss virus-related issues in hopes of warding off an outbreak locally.
Meanwhile, Putnam County’s numbers remain in check as well. On Sunday, there were only two positives from 396 tests, although Putnam’s seven-day rolling average is 1.6 percent.
Cuomo said that schools in the 20 zip codes with the highest infection rates in the state would close to in-person learning Tuesday.
He said local governments must remain vigilant and enforce protocols. The state is now in charge of oversight of restaurants and bars while assisted by local authorities, Cuomo said.
“Enforcement is kind,” he said. “You know why? Because enforcement saves lives. That’s what enforcement does. Lack of enforcement is not kind.”
Westchester Airport Resuming Limited Flights
Later reported Monday that Westchester County Airport restarted limited commercial flights to Florida last Thursday and will resume flights to North Carolina on Wednesday. American Airlines and JetBlue are the two carriers that are operating, he said.
There will be nowhere near regular service, probably just a couple of flights a day, Latimer said.
“This is a sign that things are better today than they were,” the county executive said. “It’s not a sign that we’ve finally come out of all of this.”
The airport had not had any commercial air traffic since March.