Cuomo blasts ‘irrational’ unrest in Borough Park over COVID-19 rules

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Thousands of Orthodox Jewish residents filled the streets of Borough Park on Oct. 7 to protest new COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Gov. Andrew Cuomo fumed Thursday over another night of “irrational, illogical, ugly” unrest in Borough Park and condemned those who attacked a reporter covering the incident.

For the second straight night, members of the Orthodox Jewish community took to the neighborhood’s streets on Wednesday to protest new restrictions imposed to curb a recent spike in COVID-19 cases — specifically capacity restrictions at local houses of worship. At one point, an angry group — spurred on by a local rabble-rouser — chased and assaulted reporter Jacob Kornbluh of the Jewish Insider.

Cuomo condemned the attack on Kornbluh and the unrest as “disgusting behavior,” suggesting that those protesting the regulations were doing more harm than good to their community because of the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“You can see the increase in hospitalization is coming from those communities, and you are a citizen of the state, and you do have an obligation of one to the other,” Cuomo said. 

The governor again opined that the opposition to the new COVID-19 regulations is tied to a lack of enforcement of previous rules within the community. The original orders enacted in March and April at the start of the pandemic called for all houses of worship to be closed, Cuomo said; the new regulations implemented allow them to remain open, though capacity in the “red zones” (areas with the highest infection rates) such as Borough Park is limited to 25 percent total capacity or a maximum of 10 people.

But the new rules seem harsh, Cuomo claimed, because the old rules were “never followed, and because they were never enforced” by the NYPD. In recent press conferences, the governor has made a point of criticizing “local governments” for failing to enforce the mask-wearing executive order and various capacity and social distancing rules imposed during the pandemic.

“Facts, common sense, self-preservation all makes the argument to follow the rules,” Cuomo said. “They are now inarguable, and a large part of the community is following the rules, but obviously, there’s some opposition. There’s always been some opposition. But the rules have been proven over time to work.”

The governor compared the situation to the measles outbreak of 2018-19 that primarily affected the Orthodox Jewish community. More than 650 cases occurred in Brooklyn and Queens, and the city worked together with local religious leaders and activists to vaccinate more than 15,000 people, provide public outreach and help stop the spread.

Cuomo called for a similar spirit of cooperation in battling COVID-19 within Orthodox Jewish communities. 

“How do you stop community spread? By forging community when one person protects the other,” the governor said. “The states that didn’t do it, that followed the doctrine of denial, those are the states that have the increasing rate. This is a matter of fact.”

As for responding to the unrest in Borough Park, Cuomo said, the state would do “what we should’ve done in the first place”: enforce the law.

This story first appeared on AMNY.com.