Some Rockland County communities where COVID-19 clusters have cropped up are facing strict sanctions if they don’t step up enforcement efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
Last week, Rockland County saw a spike in COVID-19 infection rates, which peaked over 6 percent, compared to the rest of the state, which has hovered around 1 percent for weeks, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to launch a “cluster action initiative” to attack the hotspots.
Despite the new restrictions - which include the limiting of gatherings, the closure of schools and non-essential businesses - the Town of Ramapo and Village of Spring Valley have failed to comply with the governor’s orders.
In response, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said that members of the county Department of Health are teaming with New York State personnel to take over patrol and enforcement actions within the red and yellow cluster zones, with reinforcements expected to jump into action in the coming days.
“We are committed to the mission of protecting the people of Rockland but increasing our staffing contribution to fill the gaps left by the Town of Ramapo and Village of Spring Valley that flat out refuses to enforce the Governor’s Executive Orders is not our preferred course of action,” Day announced.
“Each staff member we assign from within county government will have a direct impact on the services we provide for all of our residents in each and every town.”
If communities continue to defy Cuomo’s orders, the governor has threatened to withhold state funding there, specifically to schools, with the crackdown taking effect on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Notifications were already sent to schools, local municipalities, and the county governments in Rockland and Orange counties.
Despite the state orders, some schools remain open in Rockland and Orange, with religious gatherings still being in Orthodox Jewish communities.
"I don’t like to do that; budgets are tough all across the board," Cuomo said. "I don’t know how else to get them to actually do the enforcement that they need to do.”
Day said that he welcomes the state’s warning shot, and supports consequences for schools and businesses that don't adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I thank the Governor’s staff for confirming that he and they are not concerned with the actions taken and support provided by Rockland County government,” he said in a statement. “It is also clearly understood that county government does not have the ability to order these other municipalities or their police departments to enforce the governor’s orders.
“Each life lost to COVID-19 is a tragedy and we in Rockland and elsewhere in New York State have already lost too many friends, neighbors, and family members,” he continued. “It is only by all of us working together and ensuring the governor’s orders and restrictions are followed that we can once again bring this pandemic to a halt locally.”
Statewide, there were 111,744 COVID-19 tests administered yesterday, with 1,232 (1.10 percent) testing positive. There are currently 938 people hospitalized with the virus and there were seven new fatalities.
In the “red zones,” which include multiple communities in Rockland, the positivity rate for those tested is 6.2 percent, while the statewide rate outside those 20 zip codes is at 0.95 percent.
"We know that public and private schools in the red zones are supposed to be closed. We know that there were violations where yeshivas were operating. We know there were violations where religious gatherings were happening that exceeded the guidelines. This is especially a problem in Brooklyn and Orange and Rockland Counties," Cuomo said.
"Number one, we are sending a notification to local governments saying they must enforce public health law under Section 16. If the local government does not effectively enforce the law, we will withhold funds," Cuomo continued.
"We're also sending a letter to all schools in the red zones saying to them that they must be closed. If they violate the Section 16 order, we will withhold funding from the schools. This is a last and final warning."
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