After a night of protest in Brooklyn, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday addressed one in Borough Park in which members of the Orthodox Jewish community openly flaunted mask and social distancing requirements in hotspot zones that impact their ability to worship in large numbers.
During a brief conference call with reporters, Cuomo expressed little surprise by the outrage as the cluster action plan he outlined Tuesday severely curtails gatherings at houses of worship. Borough Park is one of the red areas of a map of the Southern Brooklyn COVID-19 cluster, and according to the cluster action plan, gatherings will be limited to no more than 10.
“These are difficult rules, this is a dramatic shift for society, it always has been,” Cuomo said. “None of this is easy, but there are also facts at the end of the day. These clusters are all done by case data, there’s nothing arbitrary about this… It’s actual case data by address of the case and then you put them all on a map and you see a cluster. But it’s only for 14 days and it saves lives.”
But the governor said he was not greatly unsettled by the outrage that Orthodox Jewish residents expressed during Tuesday night’s demonstration in Borough Park.
“There’s always been opposition, but most New Yorkers are smart and have common sense and the only way we got the infection rate down is because most New Yorkers are smart,” Cuomo said. “Yeah, there’s people who oppose and we see that across the country… Most New Yorkers were smarter than that; not every New Yorker.”
State Senator Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Councilmen Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger blasted Cuomo’s restrictions in a joint statement Tuesday night.
“The governor informed Jewish community leaders in a conference call that synagogues in “red zones” would be permitted to operate at 50%, and he requested community cooperation (which he was assured would happen). Outrageously, just hours later, Governor Cuomo announced a draconian return to restrictions that would shutter thousands of New York businesses and limit houses of worship to a maximum capacity of 10 (no matter the maximum capacity of the building),” the statement read. “Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous. His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State. This implication is not born out by the state’s own data.”
At his Tuesday press conference, Cuomo attempted to mitigate complaints that his new program to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Brooklyn and Queens clusters applied to all houses of worship, but spoke specifically of enforcing these restrictions on Jewish institutions.