Cuomo Tells Jewish Leaders He Will Close Businesses in COVID Hotspots

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo at a press briefing Monday. (Office of Gov. Cuomo)

New York State will order the closure of nonessential businesses in the New York City areas that have seen drastic spikes in COVID positivity rates, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Jewish community leaders on a conference call Tuesday.

Cuomo said, “We have to close the schools, we have to, in New York City, its going to be the businesses in those communities — nonessential businesses.”

But the governor also said religious gatherings were a potential larger cause of virus spread, and the purpose of the call was to urge leaders to encourage compliance with COVID guidelines. The previous day, Cuomo had warned he would close synagogues if leaders did not agree to enforce guidelines of maintaining only 50% capacity.

On the call, Cuomo frankly admitted that businesses were not driving the rise in cases, but rather unmasked gatherings. He did not explain why he was closing businesses or schools even while he admitted they were not the primary concerns for coronavirus spread.

Following Cuomo’s comments, a source on the call said, participants could press a key to indicate they wanted to ask the governor. There were three questions, one of which pressed Cuomo on why schools kept opening and closing, based on changing guidelines. The others consisted of what the caller described as “softballs.”

“I pressed the key,” the source said. “The governor took three questions – mostly fluff. Then he said, ‘No more questions, operator?’ The operator said, ‘No more questions.’ It was a lie because I had clicked.

“Later on I spoke with one of the questioners and asked why his question was fluff. He said he had to pre-submit the question beforehand for screening.”

The source questioned the motives behind the governor’s call, indicating his opinion that he felt Cuomo was not forthcoming.

Later Tuesday afternoon, the governor convened a press conference in which he announced that he would impose stronger restrictions on the areas in question, including limiting houses of worship to a maximum of 10 worshipers, unlike his previous calls to enforce the 50% capacity limit.

The governor’s drastic measures caught community leaders by surprise, and his decisions were roundly condemned by Agudas Yisrael and by the elected officials who represent the communities.

Additional reporting by Sara Marcus

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