Bad Coronavirus Optics Embroil New York Officials

Pedestrians stroll the Coney Island boardwalk in Brooklyn, New York, on April 12. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

MANHATTAN (CN) — First the mayor railed broadly against Jews for gathering en masse during the coronavirus pandemic. Then the governor unveiled a tapestry of cloth face masks stuck to a wall with what look like thumbtacks. 

New York has a Jewish population of more than 1 million, but Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments came on the heels of a funeral in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is home to one of the state’s more visible Hasidic communities.

After pictures emerged of police breaking up a crowd of hundreds of mourners, de Blasio took to Twitter on Tuesday night.

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” he wrote. “I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”

As backlash over the message mounted, the mayor released a more formal statement Wednesday, saying he felt “anger and frustration” that such a gathering would be held in defiance of social-distancing rules. 

Meanwhile Gothamist has quoted Hasidic community leaders as saying that Tuesday’s funeral, held in honor of a beloved rabbi who died of Covid-19, was coordinated with and sanctioned by the New York City Police Department.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that the gathering had grown larger than expected,with de Blasio showing up in person to oversee the dispersal

Orthodox Jewish communities are particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, which erupted shortly after a worldwide surge of the previously eradicated measles disease killed 140,000 around the globe, striking with particular force in tightly knit orthodox communities where disinformation on vaccine science had taken hold.

There is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, as there is for measles, but New York City and the surrounding metropolitan areas have seen multiple deadly anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes in recent months. 

“I have to say, again, I understand that when people are going through mourning they’re in real pain, but we have to understand what it means to hold a large gathering in New York City today,” de Blasio said Wednesday morning during the question-and-answer section of his daily press conference. 

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea noted at the presser that no arrests were made but that 12 summonses were issued for a “variety” of offenses, including breaking physical-distancing rules and refusing to disperse.

Critics have noted that many New Yorkers flouted physical-distancing rules earlier that same day to catch a glimpse of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flyover. Gatherings of any size are currently banned in a state that has nearly 300,000 confirmed infections and more than 18,000 deaths as of this morning. The city is home to more than half of all infections and 12,287 confirmed deaths, or two-thirds of the total.

“Make no mistake — large gatherings such as this are putting members of my department at risk,” Shea said Wednesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, April 29, unveiled a wall of cloth face masks mailed to his state by Good Samaritans across the country. He called it “a self-portrait of America.”

New York’s antibody study showed 10.5% of the NYPD had been exposed to the virus, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at a separate press conference Wednesday in Albany. As of Sunday, more than 4,800 members of the force had tested positive, according to New York Post reporting

Cuomo’s remarks took a back seat, however, to his unveiling of what he called a “self-portrait of America,” comprising dozens of cloth face masks that appeared to be pinned to a large board with thumbtacks.

Noting that the masks had been homemade and shipped to hard-hit New York by concerned civilians across the country, Cuomo described some of the touching notes that came in tow, “just saying, ‘thinking about you, we care, we love you, we want to help you.’” 

It’s not clear why the masks had not been distributed for wearing, whether they were ever usable, or whether they will be usable now with pin holes in them. Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for more information, but the governor later tweeted, “And for those wondering, yes, we will find good homes for the masks.”

The mask wall followed a report by the Queens Daily Eagle that state-issued hand sanitizer was dropped off at New York City public housing residences in industrial-sized jugs, forcing tenant leaders to go door-to-door and squirt it into tenants’ takeout containers or empty plastic bags or bottles. 

Leading up to the mask unveiling, the governor focused his remarks Wednesday on putting politics aside for the greater good. 

“If there was ever a time that one could reasonably believe you could put aside partisan politics … If there was ever going to be one moment to hit the pause button, the moment would be now,” he said. 

Cuomo also announced that the state is averaging about 30,000 Covid-19 diagnostic tests per day, up from 20,000. “But we have more to do,” he said. Previously he has said he’s aiming for 40,000 per day. 

On Tuesday, the virus killed 330 New Yorkers, Cuomo said, repeating his mantra that the number, while decreasing, is still devastatingly high. 

He also ordered the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the New York City subway, to come up with a plan to disinfect trains every night.

On Tuesday, Cuomo spoke critically of the fact that those experiencing homelessness have sought shelter in subway cars, saying the images he has seen of this trend are “disgusting.”

“The trains are filled with homeless people, and you’re not doing the homeless any favors,” he added Wednesday. “You’re not helping the homeless. Letting them endanger their own life and endanger the lives of others, you’re not helping anyone.”

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