Cuomo announces return of restrictions for areas with coronavirus flare-ups

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday a new plan to attack COVID-19 hot spots that pop up across the state.

Rather than focus on ZIP codes or some other geographically defined metric, the governor unveiled a color-coded cluster system that looks to contain the virus and keep it from spreading beyond that area.

“All of these areas, you can look at them exactly by the cases,” he told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “It’s not by ZIP code. It’s not by census tract. It’s not by any political metric. It’s only by the number of cases.”

The red zone is where the cluster of cases currently exist. Cuomo did not give specifics but noted the zone may be a mile in diameter. Outside of that is an “orange warning” zone that’s about a mile-and-a-half, with a yellow “precautionary” zone that’s two miles in diameter. Mapping software has helped identify where the cluster is in each jurisdiction.

Currently, the state’s seeing clusters appear in Binghamton, Brooklyn and Queens as well as Orange and Rockland counties.

“We are going to be providing the local governments with the maps that we did in their areas,” he said. “We’ll be consulting with them.”

New York is taking this action as the statewide positivity rate remains relatively low – it was at 1.2 percent Tuesday, Cuomo said – compared to the national 4.7 percent average according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Research Center. However, the rate in New York’s top 20 ZIP codes was 5.5 percent on Tuesday.

Both Cuomo and Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, both described the cluster policy as a “last stand” approach and that they’re being more aggressive than other states across the country.

“We’ve been talking to the local governments,” DeRosa said. “We’ve been talking to the religious community for the last week and a half, and they kept insisting on the fact that they could get this under control. They would step up enforcement.”

She noted that New York City officials only issued 26 citations over a three-day period even as images of large gatherings appeared across social media.

Under the cluster plan, schools, businesses, places of worship and mass gatherings will be regulated by the zone in which they’re located.

Schools located within the red and orange zones must close in-person education and use only remote learning, while those in yellow area can stay open provided they adhere to weekly testing starting next week.

Places of worship will be limited to 25 percent capacity or no more than 10 people in red areas, 33 percent or no more than 25 people in orange and half capacity in yellow.

Other mass gatherings, both indoor and outdoor, are prohibited in red zones, limited to 10 people in orange and 25 in yellow areas. Those who sponsor unlawful mass gatherings could face fines of up to $15,000.

Dining establishments are limited to takeout only in red zones and outdoor dining only with a cap of four people per table in the orange areas. Restaurants in yellow zones can offer both indoor and outdoor seating but also must abide by the four-person restriction.

Only businesses deemed essential can stay open in red zones, while high risk establishments like gyms and salons must close in orange zones. All businesses can stay open in yellow areas.

Cuomo said the rules will stay in effect for 14 days. He said they can start tomorrow but has given affected communities until this Friday to fully enact them, as leaders there have asked for more time to identify and notify affected establishments.

Local personnel, typically local health department officials, will enforce the regulations under state supervision. In New York City, that means the de Blasio administration must provide 400 workers.

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