Restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus have landed in predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities in parts of the Hudson Valley and Brooklyn -- leading in some cases to heated demonstrations as the state plans to limit large gatherings, or even close houses of worship.
The effort to contain a potential resurgence of the virus by creating geographic clusters comes amid the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Leaders in the effected communities this week blasted the push to close businesses and limit religious gatherings.
In a joint statement released earlier this week, Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, Councilman Kalman Yager and Councilman Chaim Deutsch said they were appalled by the state's containment efforts.
"We will continue to encourage total compliance with mask-wearing and social distance guidelines in our communities. In recent weeks, we have seen a vast increase in compliance throughout our communities," the lawmakers said.
"We have personally organized massive mask distributions in areas that have seen an uptick in positive cases - distributing hundreds of thousands of masks to our constituents," they continued. "Sadly, instead of working alongside our community to build on our work, the governor has instead chosen to respond with threats and aggressive enforcement -- a tactic which has historically failed in all communities throughout New York."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday said the reaction in the community over the restrictions, which came after months of flattened COVID infection rates of less than 1% positive tests during the summer months -- was due to a lack of enforcement.
"To the extent there are communities that are upset, that's because they haven't been following the original rules and that's why the infection spread - because they weren't following the rules and the rules weren't being enforced," Cuomo said.
"The rules weren't being enforced because the communities didn't want to follow them. I understand that but that's why we are where we are - make no mistake," he continued. "And this can't be just we come up with a new rule, because if it's just another rule and the rule isn't enforced, then we'll be right where we were. So a rule is only as good as the enforcement and if we had enforced the first rule we wouldn't be here in the first place, so let's not make the same mistake twice."
The rules being put in place now are meant to limit broader disruptions elsewhere in the state as students and teachers return to school and businesses have opened back up.
Parts of Queens and to a lesser extent Broome County have also seen restrictions put in place, as well as more testing in schools.
"We have been more phased and more calibrated in our response, so when you see the infection rate go up, I have a great graphic that I like - that probably only I like - which shows a valve. You start to close the valve when you see the infection rate going up," Cuomo said. "Infection rate is going up, we're backing off on the valve, reduce the activity, get the infection rate under control."