New York to impose new shutdowns in coronavirus hot spots

Set to take effect no later than Friday, the new rules will affect parts of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, sections of Orange and Rockland counties in the Hudson Valley, and an area within Binghamton in the Southern Tier.

The planned restrictions include school and business shutdowns in some areas; others will see limitations on gatherings and even the number of diners per restaurant table.

The plan marks a sizeable step back after a cautious reopening this spring and summer in New York, an early U.S. hot spot of the pandemic and the deadliest. While the daily toll dropped dramatically after a surge in March and early April, more than 33,000 New Yorkers in all have died of COVID-19, more than in any other state, according to figures collected by Johns Hopkins University.

“This is about protecting people and saving lives,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said at a news conference in Albany.

In the hearts of the hot spots — color-coded as red zones — schools will close to in-person learning, only essential businesses could remain open, houses of worship could convene no more than 10 people at once, and restaurants could offer only takeout.

Those areas are surrounded by “orange” or yellow” zones, according to maps the state released later Friday.

In orange zones, schools also will be remote-only, and nonessential enterprises considered high risk — such as gyms and personal-care businesses — will be closed. Religious institutions are to be restricted to 25 people, and restaurants can offer limited outdoor dining, with a maximum of four guests per table.

In yellow zones, businesses and schools can stay open, with mandatory weekly testing of a yet-to-be-determined percentage of students and teachers. Religious institutions there will be able to welcome the faithful at half capacity, and restaurants may seat parties of as many as four indoors and out.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day said he backed the governor’s plan and would do what he could to help implement it.

“The restrictions he announced are measured and clearly focused on the areas where this disease is spreading,” said Day, a Republican, urging residents to embrace their “civic duty to do what is right, not only for ourselves but for our entire community.”

In Broome County, where part of Binghamton’s west side will be subject to “yellow” zone rules, County Executive Jason Garnar said the restrictions could benefit an area that went from about 60 active cases 10 days ago to 458 on Tuesday.

“A lot of what we’ve seen is spread through the restaurants and the bars,” said Garnar, a Democrat. He added: “Just as quick as we got into this, we can get out of this.”

New York City will engage with communities affected by the new rules, with implementation likely to begin Thursday, according to a tweet from Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

A message seeking comment was left with officials in Orange County.

After beating back the virus’s harrowing spike in spring, New York boasted a steady and relatively low transmission rate over the summer. But officials have been anxiously watching infections rise as clusters sprouted in recent weeks.

In New York City, about 11,600 people have tested positive since Sept. 1, compared with less than 7,400 in August.

Still, the caseload is far lower than in early April, when 5,000 to 6,000 people or more tested positive each day, even though a shortage of tests left most of those infected unable to get tested then. The city has been averaging around four deaths from COVID-19 per day since Sept. 1, compared with nearly 550 daily in April.

The new restrictions came a day after Cuomo ordered the closing of schools in nine Brooklyn and Queens ZIP codes that have accounted for more than 25% of all new infections in the city over the past two weeks while representing just 7% of the population.

De Blasio had also proposed to close nonessential businesses in those areas, but Cuomo suggested that the boundaries needed to be drawn more broadly to be effective.

“We are at a crucial moment in our fight against the coronavirus,” the Democratic mayor said at a virtual news briefing before Cuomo’s announcement. “We have to bring everything we can to bear. We have to be tough about it.”

He and Cuomo have often been at odds over the pandemic response and previous issues.

The affected areas in the city are largely Orthodox Jewish strongholds, and some community members have complained of being singled out for enforcement.

North of the city, Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman ordered school closures for at least two weeks in Kiryas Joel, an Orthodox Jewish community where schools are already closed this week because of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

An average of nearly 28% of coronavirus tests have come back positive over the last three days in the village, also known as the Town of Palm Tree. Statewide, the daily average has been around 1% in recent days.

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Peltz reported from New York. Associated Press writer Michael Hill in Albany contributed to this report.

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