By Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The 6-year-old son of Jodi Cook, a Brooklyn mother of two, had just resumed in-person classes at his local elementary — only to face the closure of his school again as coronavirus cases spiked nearby. Cook said she was disappointed.
Last week, public elementary schools in New York City welcomed back students to the classroom as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s blended learning plan after a months-long hiatus.
But this week New York officials began imposing fresh restrictions to curb a worrying rise in infections in several ‘hot spots.’
“I’m disappointed because I don’t think that the location of our school really puts us in jeopardy,” Cook, a real estate broker, said on Thursday. “The neighborhood and parents are scrambling.”
The school, in the Windsor Terrace-Kensington area of Brooklyn, is located in a so-called ‘orange zone.’ Schools in those zones have been ordered shut as part of new rules imposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to try to stamp out the virus in several parts of the state, including neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens.
A group of parents and their children gathered outside the school on Thursday morning to protest, flanked by two local politicians.
Its postal code was “not a Covid hotspot & the schools do not meet any of the agreed upon metrics for closing,” New York State Assembly Member Robert Carroll, who attended the protest, wrote in a Twitter post.
De Blasio told reporters on Thursday that 169 schools had closed in the city under the governor’s rules, 61 more than under a plan he had put forward on Sunday that delineated the neighborhoods where closures would be enforced using ZIP codes.
The mayor’s plan drew scorn from Cuomo, a fellow Democrat with whom he has often feuded. The governor on Tuesday released new color-coded maps delineating closures, sowing confusion among residents.
New York is one of about 30 out of 50 U.S. states where cases have risen over the past two weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Nationally, both cases and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are rising, hitting record levels in the upper Midwest and West.
In New York, the rapid spread of new infections in so-called ‘clusters’ has alarmed health officials who fear the city, once the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, could see a second wave.
As well as school closures, new restrictions aimed at damping down transmission in the clusters’ ‘red zones’ include capping religious gatherings at 10 people. Many of the clusters are areas that include Orthodox Jewish communities.
That has led to a backlash among some members of the community, who say they have been singled out without sufficient consultation. Brooklyn’s Borough Park saw angry protests on Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday evening, Jacob Kornbluh, a well-known journalist working for Jewish Insider, said he was assaulted and beaten by protesters after they recognized him.
Police did not respond to a request for comment, but the attack drew the condemnation of the World Jewish Congress, which represents Jewish communities worldwide, as well as both city and state officials.
“There’s no excuse for violence, especially against a reporter,” Cuomo said. “It was disgusting behavior, frankly.”
Other Jewish community leaders have come out in support of the steps taken by authorities to try and contain the outbreaks.
“We support the governor’s and mayor’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 by using a data-driven, geographically-based approach,” said Matt Nosanchuk, the president of the New York Jewish Agenda, in a statement released on Thursday.
Legal challenges have already begun in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, arguing Cuomo’s zones are unconstitutional.
In one lawsuit, a Brooklyn law firm in a red zone said the governor’s “arbitrary” line-drawing forced it to shut down though it has had no infections and did nothing wrong, depriving it of due process.
Another lawsuit from three Orthodox Jewish synagogues in Brooklyn and Queens said limiting the size of gatherings violated their religious rights.
In response, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, released a statement. “We’ve been sued virtually every day for every action taken. We’re concentrating on reducing the virus in these hot spots and saving lives, period,” it said.
(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen in New York, Additional reporting by Brendan McDermid and Jonathan Stempel, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)