Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state health officials imposed unprecedented restrictions in a one-mile radius in the city of New Rochelle in Westchester County in an attempt to contain what is currently New York’s epicenter of the coronavirus.
Cuomo, speaking Tuesday at a briefing on the spread of the virus, said the two-week closure of schools, a temple and all other places within the designated zone where there are large gatherings of people will help contain the illness from further spreading.
“This will be a period of disruption for the local community, I understand that,” Cuomo said. “This can’t be a political decision; this is a public health decision.”
The closures will begin on Thursday and continue through March 25.
Cuomo is deploying the National Guard to assist with distributing food to those who are quarantined, and for the 52% of children who are dependent on the schools for the free or reduced lunch program. The Guard will also help with transportation and cleaning services.
Residents, other than those already quarantined because they have the virus, will not be confined to their homes. They will be allowed to travel for work and other purposes.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who represents the district, was caught off guard by the new limitations.
Paulin, who said she received a short briefing from Cuomo administration officials just moments before the public announcement, was scrambling to comprehend what the restrictions will mean.
“We all want to be sure that this is the right public health approach, and if it is, we’re all going to do it,” Paulin said. “Not happily, but we’re all going to do it.”
Paulin said the restricted zone includes a municipal recreation center and the path of a planned St. Patrick’s Day parade. She said a lot of decisions need to be made, and she and other community leaders have a lot of questions.
“I don’t know what this is yet,” Paulin said.
She predicted that many small businesses in the one-mile radius, including restaurants, will likely close up for the two-week period.
Cuomo said it’s too early to say whether the closures will serve as a model for other parts of the state. He said right now, the situation in New Rochelle is unique and is the largest cluster of infected people in the nation.
The city of Boston canceled its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade out of concerns over the virus. Cuomo said he’s not recommending that cities in New York cancel their St. Patrick’s celebrations, though. He said currently there are not large clusters of infected people in most regions of the state.
“You have to calibrate it to the place,” said Cuomo. “This is such a different situation in different parts of the state.”
Alliance for Quality Education, a pro-school funding group that is backed by the teachers union, slammed the governor’s decision to close the schools, calling it “irresponsible and tone-deaf.”
The group said no one in the schools is currently sick with the virus, and it will harm disadvantaged children who depend on the school for services.
Cuomo and state health officials also released the latest numbers of the spread of the diseases in the state.