New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all public and private schools in so-called hotspot zip codes in Brooklyn closed on Tuesday as COVID infections spike, in a setback to NYC’s reopening efforts.
The news comes as the CEO of the nation’s biggest theater chain publicly blamed the governor for crippling the industry by keeping movie theaters across the state closed. Cuomo’s focus on virus clusters makes it unlikely he’ll address theaters imminently — and, par for the course, they weren’t mentioned at Cuomo’s press briefing Monday.
The governor announced that the state will be taking over enforcement efforts of hotspots, relying in part on local resources. He also threatened to shut Orthodox synagogues if religious leaders don’t follow protocols.
“These clusters have to be attacked,” he said, gesturing to a map. “Picture that map as a map of dried grass, and picture those hotspots as embers within the filed of dried grass,” he said.
Religious institutions and businesses — including restaurants with newly introduced indoor dining — in the affected area got a temporary reprieve. But Cuomo called a number of large events held recently by religious institutions and religious gatherings, like large weddings, potential “super-spreaders” and said the institutions will be shut unless leaders, in this case primarily in the Orthodox Jewish community, agree not to violate state rules on capacity limits, mask wearing and social distancing, and agree to help enforce regulations.
“I don’t like being in a litigious situation with the religious community,” the governor said. But he said he believes the state has the legal authority to enforce guidelines.
The announcement comes after NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announced plans Sunday to close schools in new infection zones on Wednesday, pending state approval. Cuomo moved that deadline up by a day to Tuesday. He said he had just gotten off the phone with De Blasio and while the two officials have often been at odds he called the conversation “constructive” and “collaborative.”
Schools in other New York hotspots, namely in Rockland and Orange Counties and Western New York, are not being closed yet but Cuomo said they’re being monitored closely.
“My number one concern has always been schools,” said Cuomo, saying schools can be “areas of transmission” of the virus and that not all have tested enough.
The state lusters have infection rates of higher than 3%-4% versus just a hair over 1% for the rest of the state.
Cuomo acknowledged that zip codes lines are not the best parameters, calling them “rough justice.” They can unfairly sweep in schools and businesses that aren’t problematic and leave others out — risking being called “arbitrary and capricious.” He said officials are basing decisions on zip codes for now but are working to fine tune their analysis.
Arbitrary and capricious is just how the exhibition industry would term its ongoing, total shutdown in the state.
Earlier today, Mooky Greidinger, the chief of Regal Cinemas’ U.K. parent Cineworld, blamed Cuomo’s “inflexibility” in allowing theaters to reopen for pushing Hollywood studios to shift key release dates. That’s made it hard to draw viewers back to theaters in large enough numbers and resulted in Cineworld decided to temporarily shut down its U.S. and U.K. locations.
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