Counties already have tools to enforce the New York’s ban on gatherings during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration insisted Sunday, despite Rockland County Executive Ed Day’s insistence that they needed “firm guidance” from the state.
Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said she spoke with Day on Saturday about his call for a “containment area” in the Spring Valley and Monsey portions of Rockland. These locations have been at the epicenter of the coronavirus spread in Rockland County.
The March 27 executive order grants local governments the ability to levy building code violations if the location violates the state’s order, DeRosa said.
“They do have teeth behind these executive orders, and I’m not sure that they understood the full weight of the force that they had behind them,” she said.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped 112% in Rockland over the last week, from 2,511 on March 30 to 5,326 on Sunday. Over the same time period, the statewide total jumped 84% from 66,497 to 122,031, according to state data.
Day posited that the Rockland sheriff’s office was looking to enforce social distancing mandates, arguing that the state’s current orders didn’t give local officials the ability to appropriately enforce penalties in many cases.
Day, a Republican, said the governor’s administration was being “disingenuous,” citing guidelines issued by the state District Attorneys Association that suggested the state’s ban on large gatherings may not be enforceable. Those guidelines, however, were issued four days before the order that DeRosa cited, which seems to back the claim of the Governor’s office.
Rich Azzopardi, Gov. Cuomo’s senior adviser and spokesman, noted the NYPD has been breaking up gatherings and issuing fines “when they deem it necessary.” He accused Day of playing politics.
“The enforcement mechanisms in this order are clear and they should be followed,” Azzopardi said.
Day’s containment proposal would have included areas in Rockland that are predominantly Orthodox Jewish, which drew outrage from Jewish leaders who felt they were being unfairly targeted.
Rockland officials pointed to Orthodox Jewish burials in recent days that had drawn a crowd, including the burial of Yohosef Neumann, a Rockland man who died Sunday due to injuries he suffered in a Chanukah machete attack in December. A few dozen members of the Orthodox Jewish community were photographed in close proximity to one another at Neumann’s burial.
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker held a conference call with Rabbis and representatives of the Jewish communities in Monsey, urging their members to avoid gathering together and maintain six feet of social distance when with other people.
“I spoke with the community and explained the need to abide by the six-foot distance and also the issues of social distance and also to stay at home and reiterate all the points that the governor has made across the course of all these press conferences with everyone there,” Zucker said.
Members of the community have been maintaining social distance during burials aside from the time it takes to lower a casket in the ground and cover it with dirt, Yosef Gestetner, a community activist said.