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On Monday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered public and private schools in specific New York City neighborhoods closed within a day in an attempt to halt flare-ups of the coronavirus. These areas have seen seven straight days with a three percent-plus positivity rate.
According to Cuomo, City leaders, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, comptroller, city council speaker and the head of the city's teachers union had agreed to the plan during a phone call shortly before the news conference.
Cuomo, long frustrated with what he perceives to be lacking enforcement by local governments that produced the clusters in the first place, said Monday that the state would assume responsibility for compliance in the hotspot areas.
The mayor's plan would close about 100 public schools and 200 private schools including religious schools. The restrictions apply only to hotspot ZIP codes in Southern Brooklyn, Far Rockaway and Central Queens.
Most of the neighborhoods targeted by the restrictions are home to part of the city's Orthodox Jewish community, where many religious schools resumed in-person instruction in September. There have been sporadic large gatherings that have continued to occur in those communities, especially given the recent holidays.
Cuomo warned that he will shut down synagogues, churches and other religious institutions, if compliance with social distancing rules doesn't improve. Most Orthodox Jewish schools have been closed since last week in observance of Jewish holidays. The question remains if they will be allowed to re-open. Most synagogues have been adhering to social distancing guidelines with many tri-state area synagogues even splitting up congregants to smaller sizes in multiple locations to keep in compliance.
Sunday, while Orthodox Jews were celebrating the holiday of Sukkot, and not using phones, computers or television to follow news, de Blasio announced he would move to close schools, pending Cuomo's approval.
The nine ZIP codes singled out for restrictions have been responsible for more than 20 percent of all new infections in the city over the past four weeks, though they represent only seven percent of the population.
The new lockdown measures, which de Blasio has called a "rewind," are planned for a minimum of two weeks but could continue for four weeks if test positivity continues to remain high, de Blasio said. Most Jewish schools in affected communities are set to resume classes Oct. 12.
According to de Blasio, as many as 500,000 people live in the ZIP codes affected by the shutdown. A timetable for which remains uncertain at this point. The mayor initially proposed either a two-week shutdown or a four-week shutdown, though Cuomo said the criteria for reopening is still being determined.
Once feared to be "super spreaders" most medical experts including the CDC agree that children should be returning to school and have almost no risk of hospitalization or death from the virus and that continuing remote learning could be detrimental to children's progress, social behavior emotional and psychological well being. In teens addiction, depression and suicide have skyrocketed since the closures began.
Twelve other ZIP codes in the Queens and Brooklyn are on the brink of the same closures; they have seen heightened case growth but have not yet hit the threshold of seven straight days with a three percent-plus positivity rate.
However, the Governor did not discuss the riots and ongoing protests in the city despite COVID guidelines limiting the number of people at gatherings at large events. Mayor de Blasio has even encouraged the large protests while targeting the Jewish community for punitive action.