December 1, 2020

Cuomo Rejects N.Y.C.’s Shutdown Plan for Virus Spike, but May Offer Own

ALBANY, N.Y. — On Sunday afternoon, faced with a new wave of infections in his virus-battered city, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a sobering decision to ask the state to roll back openings of businesses in virus hot spots in Brooklyn and Queens, pending approval from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

But on Monday, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio’s longtime foil, refused to give it.

Mr. Cuomo said he would not yet allow the city to close the nonessential businesses, suggesting that the ZIP codes that were being used to identify hot spots were too imprecise to guide shutdowns, and that he was considering other geographic boundaries. The more pressing problem, he said, lay in schools and houses of worship, including many that cater to Orthodox Jews, rather than businesses that “are not large spreaders.”

The conflicting messages from the state’s two most prominent politicians created confusion for residents, business owners and parents in the affected areas and drew scrutiny to the conflict between the city and state over how to tackle early signs of a second wave of the virus in its one-time epicenter.

Cuomo administration officials later suggested that the boundaries for business closures could even exceed the ZIP codes where the increases are now occurring.

The governor also announced that the state would take over supervision of enforcement of mask and social-distancing rules in the hot spot clusters. “Local government will need to provide us with personnel,” he said.

But the mixed messages continued, even after the governor’s decision, which he said was made in consultation with the mayor, as well as the head of the city’s teachers’ union and several other city officials. Indeed, shortly after the governor spoke, Mr. de Blasio reiterated that he believed the city would still plan on closing nonessential businesses on Wednesday.

“Until there is a different plan, we are preparing to implement this plan,” the mayor said, while acknowledging that the city would ultimately back off from executing the shutdown if the state didn’t authorize it.

The governor also noted that the city’s proposal “does not close religious institutions,” something he said he would consider if religious leaders did not obey rules prohibiting mass gatherings.

At the same time, however, Mr. Cuomo said he would not order schools closed in areas in Orange and Rockland Counties, suburban areas north of the city that have both had serious outbreaks in recent weeks, with some areas seeing positive rates of 10 percent or more — higher than any city hot spot.

State statistics from Monday, in fact, show that three ZIP codes in Orange and Rockland have the highest three-day averages in New York. But Mr. Cuomo insisted that those areas do not “have the same level of problem” and suggested there might be disparities in the infection rates in those counties. He added that his team would “drill down on the data.”

On Monday, however, Mr. de Blasio described those clusters as a regional problem, saying there could be “a connective tissue” between the infections in New York City and Orange and Rockland Counties.

“Everything interconnects,” he said. “It should be dealt with as a whole.”

The governor said he would meet with religious leaders in the hot spots on Tuesday.

“I’m going to say to them, ‘Unless you agree to follow the rules, we will close religious institutions,’” the governor said.

The outbreaks in New York City and its northern suburbs have affected several large communities of Orthodox Jews, a politically potent force in city and, to a lesser degree, state politics, because of their tendency to vote in a bloc. Many in those communities have been stubbornly resistant to outside mandates to wear masks and avoid congregating in large groups, particularly during Jewish holidays.

On Monday, the conflicting statements from the governor and the mayor created more confusion and anguish.

“It has been chaos from all the way to the beginning in March,” said Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, which is based in Brooklyn and is one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world. “There have been a lot of mixed messages and a lack of real engagement on a deep level with these communities.”

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