‘It’s insensitive, arrogant and self-destructive’: Cuomo slams ignorance of social distancing calls in NYC

An exercise class in Hudson River Park in Manhattan on March 21. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

While touring New York City parks on Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo was stunned to see frolicking in the time of coronavirus.

During a Sunday morning press conference, Cuomo showed a photo of New Yorkers gathering in large groups at a city park on March 21 in contradiction to repeated calls for social distancing to battle the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. 

Saying the city had a density level “that is wholly inappropriate” for the crisis, Cuomo said he called upon Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to come up with an immediately plan toward reducing crowds.

“You would think there was nothing going on in parts of New York City,” a frustrated Cuomo said. “I don’t know what I’m saying that people don’t get. … This is not life as usual. None of this is life as usual.”

For weeks, state, city and federal officials have stressed social distancing as a primary way to fight the spread of coronavirus, which can easily spread from person to person, and among many people in large numbers. 

“We talk about social density, I was in these parks, you would not know that anything is going on,” the governor said, calling the large public gatherings in the parks “a mistake” — and then some.

“It’s insensitive, it’s arrogant, it’s self-destructive, it’s disrespectful and it has to stop now. This is not a joke, and I am not kidding,” Cuomo added.

The governor told de Blasio and Johnson to come up with a plan to reduce crowding on the streets and in public parks within 24 hours. He suggested that the city open up some streets to pedestrians given the dramatic drop in traffic across Manhattan.

A City Hall source told amNewYork Metro that the city is considering opening streets and schoolyards to the public, but that as this is done, there will also be an increased need for officers to enforce social distancing.

“The City has already banned team sports and revoked all permits for large gatherings and has increased the presence of NYPD and Parks Enforcement Patrol officers to enforce social distancing,” said Jane Meyer, deputy press secretary for the Mayor’s office. “We are evaluating these efforts and considering expanded restrictions. The Mayor and the Governor have already discussed these efforts and we will continue to coordinate with the State. We urge every New Yorker to heed these new restrictions immediately.”

In a tweet, Johnson said he supports Cuomo’s call to “reduce density in city parks” and that the City Council “will do all we can to make this happen.”

“As I said last week, we must get creative, including closing streets to maximize pedestrian space,” Johnson added.

Cuomo said every New Yorker, in this time of trial, has a responsibility to “be smart and responsible” about their actions, and to work to protect each other from infection.

“What does a community mean? We’re interdependent. I rely on you, you rely on me. That’s us at our best, the community of New York,” Cuomo said. “That’s the social contract between us. I have a right to expect that from you, especially in dire circumstances. And we’re not there, and we should be there.”

The number of coronavirus cases continues to grow in New York City with expanded testing, Cuomo reported. Through March 21, there were 15,168 positive coronavirus patients, including 9,045 in New York City alone.

Approximately 15,915 people in New York state were tested Saturday, including 6,927 in New York City. There were 2,832 new coronavirus cases detected in New York City on March 21.