New York Governor: We Must Attack COVID-19 Clusters in Orthodox Jewish Communities

NEW YORK, NY – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday, like his counterpart Phil Murphy of New Jersey addressed the growing concern over rapidly growing COVID-19 clusters in Orthodox Jewish communities around the state.  Cuomo talked in length on Thursday about the growing issue.

Here’s a transcript from his speech:

Today is day 214. We did 97,000 tests yesterday. We’re dealing with the cluster situation. We’ve had clusters in the past as we’ve discussed, factories, churches, bars, restaurants, weddings. Remember we started with New Rochelle, first hotspot in the United States which came from a religious gathering and then attending a wedding and that was the first super spreader event so we’re quite familiar with this. So when there’s a cluster we are very aggressive on it and we’re oversampling in this cluster. We’ve deployed rapid testing machines, etcetera, so you have two infections really that you want to pay attention to – the statewide numbers and then the cluster numbers, okay, because we’re analyzing the clusters separately.

The cluster is about 20 hotspot zip codes. Again, 20 zip codes, that’s out of a universe of 1,740 zip codes, just to put the size of it in perspective. The 20 zip codes are the same ones we were looking at yesterday, Rockland, Kings, Orange primarily and a little bit in Nassau. Rockland, the number one zip code in Rockland was 10952. It was a 17 percent positivity. Second one was 10977 and that was a 14 percent positivity. You then go to Kings, Brooklyn 11230, 8 percent; Brooklyn 11204, 6 percent; Brooklyn 11219, 5 percent; Brooklyn 11223, 4 percent; Brooklyn 11229, 4 percent, Brooklyn 11210, 4 percent; Brooklyn 11234, 4 percent.

The overall positivity rate in all 20 is 5.5 percent. That’s about 5 times the infection rate statewide. The infection rate in the state outside of the hotspot zip codes is .82 which is very good. If you include the oversample in those hot spot zip codes in the overall state number which be definition is going to skew it because you’ve oversampled the zip codes that have average of 5 percent it’s 1.02 but it’s those hotspots that we have to watch because if you don’t, if you don’t control a cluster, a cluster becomes community spread. If we didn’t control the New Rochelle hotspot early on, it would’ve become community spread. If you remember, we created a containment zone around New Rochelle, which was actually an unfortunate use of words. “Containment zone” scared people. It made it sound like we were containing people in the zone. We didn’t do that. It was a containment zone meant to describe containing the virus. People were afraid to come and go, but I called it a containment zone, which was not the best choice of words when people are anxious. But drew a circle around New Rochelle and then we did a lot of testing, etc. So, we’re going to be just as aggressive with this cluster.

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These 20 hotspot zip codes have 23 percent of all the positive cases reported in the state, but they’re only 6 percent of the population. Just to give you an idea of how different these zip codes are. Nine New Yorkers passed away yesterday; they’re in our thoughts and prayers. 605 were hospitalized; 144 were in ICU; 67 were intubated. If you look across the state — Capital District: .5, great. Central New York: .4, great. Finger Lakes: .3, great. Long Island: 1.3, not great. New York City: 1.2, not great. Hudson Valley: 2.4. Really not great, but that’s going to be Orange and Rockland. Mohawk Valley: .3; North Country: .2; Southern Tier: .6; Western New York: 1.1, not great.

Rockland: 6.5.; Orange: 1.9; Brooklyn: 1.8. And what’s driving Orange, Rockland, Brooklyn are the hotspot zip codes. Now, I spoke to the leaders of the Orthodox community this morning and we had a good conversation. I have worked closely with the Orthodox community for many years on many unique issues. The Orthodox community in Orange, Rockland, Brooklyn has presented in the past unique issues in terms of housing, in terms of education. We’ve had community issues, especially in New York City with the surrounding community, so I’ve worked with them on a number of issues. I explained the situation frankly and candidly and we had a good exchange. The — I think it’s fair to say that the leaders of the community understand and they’re going to take action and we’re going to come up with an action plan. There will be a second discussion at 3 o’clock this afternoon with the Health Commissioner Dr. Zucker, who’s on the phone to come up with an action plan.

How do we educate the public? How do we use the media? How do we use the newspapers that circulate in the community, the radio stations in the community? How do we have community meetings? How do we get the word out? We have another religious holiday coming up this Friday and how do we make sure that we have a different sense of behavior? And they have said that they are committed to taking a more aggressive stance. We talked through the myth of herd immunity. The President has spread misinformation about herd immunity. We’re nowhere near herd immunity. Senator Rand Paul went through this with Dr. Fauci, and Rand Paul was just wrong on all the facts that New York has herd immunity. New York City: we have about 18, 19 percent infection rate. Herd immunity: you need about a 50 to 60 percent infection rate. To get from 18 to 50 or 60 percent- a lot of people have to die to get to that percentage. And all that means is that the majority has been infected; the remainder, if they get infected, they have a possibility to die. And with this disease now we’re learning people can get infected a second time. The scientists were wrong. “If you’re infected once, you have the antibodies and you can’t get reinfected.” Now we’re finding out that you can. Sweden tried herd immunity and it was a debacle extraordinaire and they then reversed themselves. That’s the only place that really tried it.

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The local governments must do compliance. I’ve said that a number of times. It is a State law and the localities must enforce it. The localities – and we’re talking about Orange, Rockland, New York City, Nassau that has a couple of communities affected – they have to enforce the state law. And they’re not doing it with enough diligence. Period. It is not up to them to say, “Well we’re not going to enforce the mask ordinance, we’re going to offer a mask.” It’s too late in the game to do that. We have done all the public information on masks that you can. We have done dozens of mask public service announcements. Dozens of celebrities. We’ve spent millions of dollars doing television ads on masks. The cable news is filled with reports on masks. It is not a function for the local government to say to someone, “It would be nice if you wore a mask. Can I give you a mask?” We’re passed that point. That’s not compliance. That is public education. We’re past public education. We’ve been doing this since February. It’s not about public education. Enforce the law. The local governments failure to enforce the law has exacerbated this problem. They’ve made it worse, not better. It’s not that people don’t know there’s a mask ordinance, they know there’s a mask law, they’re defying the law and that’s when you need to enforce the law.

I understand the sensitivities of this political environment and no one wants to enforce a law because then you make the other person unhappy and nobody wants anyone unhappy. You know what makes people really unhappy? Dying makes people really unhappy. Loss of a loved one makes people really unhappy. Their child going to school and getting COVID makes people really unhappy. The infection rate going up and then having to close businesses makes people really unhappy. So local governments, enforce the law. If you are unwilling to enforce the law, I will enforce the law. The State Police – I don’t have the numbers to do statewide enforcement. I have about 5,000 State Troopers. New York City has 35,000 NYPD. If they don’t want to enforce the law, I will enforce the law. I would need the local governments to assign a number of their police to the State Police for a task force and then I will enforce it with a task force. And I will ticket people who don’t wear masks, because that will save lives at this point. We know how to keep the infection rate down, we’re just not doing it in these clusters and that’s a failure of the local government. We’ve seen this with bars, restaurants. I put together a State task force and the compliance went way up. Why? Because people didn’t want to be ticketed, and they didn’t want to lose their licenses. So, we know that compliance works; we know it. And we know the bars and restaurant situation was much worse until I did a task force that did bars and restaurant compliance because the local governments wouldn’t, and the situation got markedly better. Bars and restaurants are a relatively small universe because they’re licensed by the State. Mask compliance among the general population is a massive undertaking. They’re not doing it, and they have no discretion to change the state law, and when a local government says, “I’ve warned people. I offered them a mask.” No, it’s you’re breaking State law, local government. Those initial publication efforts are over. So, you are complicit in this situation. You don’t want to do it politically. I don’t have the personnel. Assign a number of your police to a task force. I will do it in my name and you can blame me. I have no problem with it. I put my head on the pillow knowing I saved lives. That’s how I sleep at night and I know we have. I know this type of activity, the incompetent ineffective government will cost lives. We’ve seen it from Trump. He has cost lives. Why does this nation lose more people than any nation on the globe? Because we have an incompetent federal government.

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I’m not going to let that happen in the State of New York and I’m not going to let it happen because we have incompetent local government. It’s that simple. It’s not about politics. It’s not about personal – we’re well beyond that. It’s a matter of life and death. Either you do the job or people die. It has that clarity of situation. It’s like in war. Either the troops execute the plan and they win the war and they have as few casualties as possible or they fail to execute the plan and more people die than necessary. Slightly dramatic, but not that dramatic. When you talk about 200,000 people dying. You’re talking about 1,000 people dying a day. It is deadly serious. That’s where we are.

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