Masks Burn in Street as Ultra-Orthodox Community Members Protest New COVID Rules

One person was injured "from a physical confrontation with other congregant(s)" but it's unclear what led up to it, according to the NYPD

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Members of the ultra-Orthodox community in New York City gathered on the streets late Tuesday to protest the new restrictions imposed on neighborhoods with alarming numbers of new COVID-19 cases.

Some protesters attempted to block the camera when NBC New York's crew arrived at the scene in 13th Avenue and 50th Street in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, but video shows at least over a hundred people demonstrating against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's latest rules which include limiting capacity at houses of worship to 10 people or 25%.

As the gatherings continued into early Wednesday morning, one person was injured "from a physical confrontation with other congregant(s)" but it's unclear what led up to it, according to the NYPD. A fire was started in the middle of a crosswalk. Protesters were seen throwing cardboard boxes and even masks into the flames.

During his Wednesday coronavirus briefing, Mayor Bill de Blasio said assaults will not be tolerated and "that there will be consequences for those who are found to have perpetrated that act."

Meanwhile during his own teleconference Wednesday, Cuomo said: "These are difficult rules, this is a dramatic shift for society, it always has been," before adding that "there’s always been opposition but most New Yorkers are smart and have common sense.”

The COVID-19 hotspots in New York City are largely Orthodox Jewish strongholds, and some community members are complaining of being singled out for enforcement.

At one point, the protesters became heated and chased away two deputy sheriffs. Police say no arrests or summonses were issued.

"Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio think we're nobodies. Are we nobodies?" Heshy Tischler, a community activist, said to the crowd last night and got a resounding "No" as a response.

In a statement to NBC 4 New York, Sheriff Joseph Fucito said in part: "The Sheriff's Office has to conduct many duties that are highly unpleasant to the recipient such as arrests, evictions, prisoner transports and summons issuance to name of few. We are not surprised or angered by people disliking these functions. They are not only necessary, but as as you indicated, the legitimate exercise of the duties of the office. Adversity is a factor deputy sheriffs deal with daily by being professional and consistent. The Sheriff's Office baseline enforcement strategy has and continues to be education and enforcement when appropriate."

Additionally, Fucito's statement went on to say that "reporters are always welcome to film deputy sheriffs in the field and observe any public interaction as they occur."

Borough Park is among nine neighborhoods in New York City's "red zone" where the current coronavirus positivity rate is above 3% for seven consecutive days. Many of the hotspots have a large Orthodox population, who say they feel they are being scapegoated for the rise in new cases.

An Orthodox Jewish organization called the restrictions “appalling to all people of religion and good faith" and threatened to explore all options to undo it.

Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, criticized what it said was a “surprise” measure and the 10-person limit in red zones, saying religious practices were being targeted.

In response to Cuomo saying earlier that he had productive conversations with community leaders, David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath, said in the statement it “was largely a one-way monologue, and contained no mention of this new plan."

New York City's implementation is likely to begin Thursday, according to a tweet from Bill Neidhardt, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio. Its announcement came a day after Cuomo ordered the closing of schools in Brooklyn and Queens ZIP codes that have accounted for more than 25% of all new infections in the city over the past two weeks while representing just 7% of the population.

“We are at a crucial moment in our fight against the coronavirus," the mayor said Tuesday. “We have to bring everything we can to bear. We have to be tough about it.”

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


Other restrictions in the red zone include: schools shutting down in-person learning, only essential businesses could remain open, and restaurants could offer only takeout.

Those areas are surrounded by “orange” or yellow” zones, according to maps the state released.

In orange zones, schools also will be remote-only, and nonessential enterprises considered high risk — such as gyms and personal-care businesses — will be closed. Religious institutions are to be restricted to 25 people, and restaurants can offer limited outdoor dining, with a maximum of four guests per table.

In yellow zones, businesses and schools can stay open, with mandatory weekly testing of a yet-to-be-determined percentage of students and teachers. Religious institutions can operate at half capacity, and restaurants may seat parties up to four indoors and out.

Sections of Orange and Rockland counties in the Hudson Valley, and an area within Binghamton in the Southern Tier, are also affected by the new restrictions because of their higher number of COVID-19 cases.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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