New York COVID-19 restrictions from Cuomo spark Orthodox protests


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered a new crackdown on COVID hotspots across New York City as virus cases spike. (Oct. 6)

AP Domestic

NEW YORK — Protesters gathered for a second night in New York on Wednesday in defiance of new shutdown orders in some of the city’s neighborhoods that have seen concerning spikes in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

Orthodox Jewish protesters gathered en masse in Brooklyn, some with masks and others without, decrying new restrictions from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would close nonessential businesses and schools and limit the size of religious gatherings.

The new lockdown orders were issued for parts of Queens, Brooklyn and the city’s suburbs that have disproportionately contributed to new virus cases in recent weeks, and some of those areas are home to large populations of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The new measures also come amid the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, contributing the anger from some of those in the Orthodox community.

Photos and videos of the Wednesday night protest showed crowds dancing in the street and waving campaign flags for President Donald Trump.

However, a reporter, Jacob Kornbluh of Jewish Insider, said he was “brutally assaulted” after being targeted in the protest by a vocal critical of the lockdown orders.

Kornbluh said he was “hit in the head, and kicked at by an angry crowd of hundreds of community members.” Kornbluh, who is Jewish, said he was also called “Nazi” and “Hitler.”

New York Police Department said in an email to USA TODAY that no arrests were made or summonses issued for violations of COVID-19 restrictions.

Crowds also gathered Tuesday to protest the new restrictions. Fires were lit to burn masks and at least two people were injured, according to local news outlet Gothamist.

Addressing concerns that the lockdown restrictions were singling out the Orthodox community, Cuomo said earlier Wednesday that the cluster boundaries were driven entirely by data. However, he acknowledged that some were critical of his decision.


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“To the extent there are communities that are upset, that’s because they haven’t been following the original rules and that’s why the infection spread, because they weren’t following the rules and they weren’t being enforced,” he said. “That’s why we are where we are, make no mistake.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had proposed new shutdowns to the state on Sunday based on ZIP codes, defended the governor’s plan to limit gatherings in houses of worship.

“We know that we’ve got to get out of this and we’ve got to get out of it quickly. No one wants to see a full resurgence, a second wave in New York City. If we get a second wave, then a lot more will be shut down for a lot longer,” de Blasio told reporters Wednesday.

Nine ZIP codes have seen test positivity levels rise above 3% on a seven day average, de Blasio said. The city is also watching a dozen other ZIP codes that are nearing that number, too. The mayor proposed shutdowns based on those ZIP codes, but Cuomo instead issued the orders on a tiered cluster system. The closer to the center of the cluster, the tougher the restrictions. 

In “red” zones, the areas with the highest levels of the virus, houses of worship will be limited to 25% capacity or 10 people maximum; mass gatherings prohibited; no non-essential businesses; dining can be takeout only; schools would be online only.

Members of the Orthodox community speak with NYPD officers, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Photo: John Minchillo, AP)

Those new restrictions will apply to five COVID-19 clusters across the state, including two in Queens and one each in Brooklyn, Rockland County and Orange County.

In response to Cuomo’s order, four Orthodox lawmakers from Brooklyn — state Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and New York City Council Members Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger — wrote a letter Tuesday to the governor accusing him of a “duplicitous bait and switch” by clamping down harder on houses of worship than they said they anticipated.

“It is disgraceful that Governor Cuomo would impose these restrictions targeting our community in the midst of our Jewish holidays,” the lawmakers said. “Because of his unilateral and irresponsible acts, our community is rightfully shocked, angered and highly frustrated.”

Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization called Agudath Israel of America, told the Associated Press that the limits “would basically wipe out the entirety of the spirit of the holiday.”

The restrictions mark the first rollback in the reopening of New York City, once the epicenter of the virus and later heralded for its response in stamping it out. The new measures also come after the city had just reached two major milestones in reopening: the return of indoor dining and the start of a new school year with students present for in-person classes several days a week.

At the height of the pandemic in New York City, some 5,000 new cases were added each day with more than 500 deaths a day. But the city had seen a steady decline in cases and deaths since mid-April, and by the end of the summer, fewer than 250 new cases a day were being added on average.

The hotspot clusters, however, have sparked worries of a second wave that will spread to other neighborhoods. Those areas account for less than 8% of the city’s population but have made up a quarter of its new cases citywide over the past two weeks, according to the city’s health department.

Communities across the country have also seen anti-lockdown protests this year, many denouncing mask mandates and restrictions on gatherings. 

Contributing: Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell, New York State Team


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