Assume Virus Exposure, Cuomo Warns NY Protesters

Protesters kneel in front of New York City Police Department officers beside the iconic Plaza Hotel on 59th Street before being arrested Wednesday for violating curfew. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

BOSTON (CN) — The combination of civil unrest and the coronavirus has created “as dangerous a time as I have ever experienced,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday as he repeated what epidemiologists have long warned: that the protests will cause Covid-19 cases to spike at the same time that the state is trying to reopen businesses safely.

“If you were at one of those protests, I would, out of an abundance of caution, assume that you have been exposed,” Cuomo said at his daily press conference.

“There’s no social distancing; you look at the encounters with the police, they’re right in their face,” he added.

The governor promised to make coronavirus testing available to anyone who attended a protest and said protesters had a “civic duty” to get tested.

Continuing his disagreements with the New York City authorities, Cuomo also attacked city district attorneys who are not requiring bail before releasing suspected looters.

“It would be nonsensical if the police were arresting looters, and they were returned to the street the next day to loot again,” he said. “These people should be charged for the crime they are committing and bail set.”

Screenshot of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo from his daily press briefing on the novel coronavirus Thursday, June 4.

Cuomo told the prosecutors: “Don’t feel like there’s a political environment where I don’t want to charge because it’s not political to hold people accountable for crimes. The law is the law. We have to be careful at times of high political pressure that we enforce the law as the law.”

He added that some protesters “have treated police officers with such disrespect in New York City that I am stunned,” saying such behavior was “unconscionable.”

The city has an 8 p.m. curfew through Sunday night, and police began more strictly enforcing it Wednesday, leading to 180 arrests and an incident on the Upper East Side where officers used batons and pepper spray to disperse what was described as a peaceful protest.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is second in line to the mayor, tweeted video of the incident. “I can’t believe what I just witnessed & experienced. The force used on nonviolent protestors was disgusting,” Williams tweeted.

Local news outlet NY1 quoted Williams as saying: “Right now we have the wrong president, the wrong governor, and the wrong mayor. What happened to the mayor? What happened to the man who ran on the blood and tears of black lives?”

At his own press conference Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio called attention to an altercation Wednesday night where a police officer in Brooklyn was stabbed in the neck. During the ensuing melee, the assailant shot and two other officers suffered gunshot injuries to their hands.

“These have been tough, tough days, painful days, confusing days,” de Blasio said.

Screenshot of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio from his daily press briefing on the novel coronavirus Thursday, June 4.

The mayor sympathized with the vast majority of New Yorkers who were peaceful and observed the curfew, but said there were only a “very few who aim to do violence … based on an ideology I cannot follow or even begin to understand.”

“When people are instructed by the NYPD, especially after curfew, they must follow those instructions,” he said. “People need to listen to that, it’s not an unfair action to say … ‘enough is enough,’ … ‘it’s time to go home.’”

Some $500,000 in grants will be made available from the Mayor’s Fund to businesses affected by looting, de Blasio announced. Cuomo said the state was asking insurance companies to help by expediting claims, providing free mediation, and accepting photos as proof rather than waiting for police reports.   

Despite the protests, de Blasio said the city would continue its plan to start reopening Monday with increased bus and subway schedules.

“Phase 1 continues on pace, period,” he said, adding that Phase 2, which could see outdoor seating at restaurants, could happen as early as the beginning of July.

The mayor promised a “massive expansion of curbside seating and an expansion of open streets,” and said the city will help with planning and be available to via hotlines to businesses and employees.

“We’re not just going to say, ‘you figure it out,’” he said.

De Blasio called the virus and the protests “interconnected,” but “we have to move forward,” he said.

The mayor noted that one of the criteria for beginning the reopening was citywide testing showing fewer than 15% infections, and the latest tests showed only 3%.

Cuomo bragged that the city’s testing figures were down from 26% six weeks ago. But he also warned that the protests, or opening up too quickly, could reverse those gains.

“As fast as these numbers came down is as fast as they can go up,” he said. “You look at the states that opened fast, without guardrails, it’s a boomerang.”

Some 52 people died of Covid-19 in New York state Wednesday, bringing the overall total to 24,079. Two-thirds of the victims were over age 70. Some 85% were over 60 and only 5% were under 50.

In New York City there have been 16,933 confirmed deaths and another 4,755 “probable” deaths from Covid-19. The state’s figures do not include probable but unconfirmed cases.

New York state now allows outdoor dining in seven regions. Outdoor tables must be spaced six feet apart, staff must wear face coverings, and customers must wear face coverings when not seated.

Since last Thursday, the NYPD has made about 2,000 protest-related arrests, including 500 burglary arrests, and is pursuing vandals and thieves with the help of surveillance video.

Some leading bike and motorized scooter rental companies shut down their service last night, which may have limited the rioting. Officials say a number of looters were using the vehicles to transport supplies and scout police movements.

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