Edward Helmore has news of a rise in cases in some neighbourhoods of New York City:
Senior members of New York’s Orthodox Jewish community are hitting back after city officials attempted to address a rise in coronavirus cases.
Last week, the New York City Health Department threatened to shutter non-essential businesses in neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities in south Brooklyn that have been identified as leading a surge in Covid-19 cases called the “Ocean Parkway Cluster”.
In recent weeks, 4.71% of tests performed in the neighborhoods of Midwood, Borough Park and Bensonhurst have come back positive for Covid-19. The city’s overall positivity rate has hovered around 1% for more than two months.
On Friday, radio host and community activist Heshy Tischler disrupted a Covid-19 awareness meeting being held by New York city health commissioner David Chokshi, calling officials liars and comparing them to Nazis.
“He’s lying! When a man lies, he has to be interrupted! You are a liar,” Tischler yelled, while refusing to wear a mask or keep six feet away from attendees. “Your reports are lies. You are lying and I won’t allow lies to be given out.”
A day earlier, the city’s health department issued a warning that it would close non-essential businesses if infection rates did not start to fall. Officials have pleaded with members of the Orthodox community to observe social distancing guidelines, and said the city will distribute masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio also noted the increase of cases in those neighborhoods. “It’s something we have to address with a very aggressive public health effort right away,” he said.
The issue is not new. At the start of the pandemic, state officials called on Orthodox Jewish leaders in New York City and suburban neighborhoods, including Spring Valley and Monsey, which is 35% Orthodox, to take the safety measures seriously.
The city does not break cases down by religion, but the area has a significant Orthodox Jewish population. Officials have previously criticized the community for holding funerals and religious events without apparent regard for social distancing measures.
Last month, De Blasio attributed 16 new cases in Borough Park to a large wedding. The mayor, along with other political leaders, has stopped short from explicitly mentioning Orthodox communities after De Blasio singled them out during a large funeral gathering in Williamsburg and received pushback from rabbinical leaders.