Governor Imposes New Restrictions on COVID Hot Zones In Rockland, Orange Counties, Brooklyn and Upstate

John Jordan | October 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (center) announced the new Cluster Action Initiative at a press conference on Oct. 6.

ALBANY—Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to significant spikes in new COVID-19 cases in sections of Rockland and Orange counties, Brooklyn, Queens and upstate Broome County, imposed restrictions including school and non-essential business closures, as well as limits on gatherings and dining.

The new “Cluster Action Initiative” announced on Oct. 6 classified the Town of Palm Tree in Orange County and the Town of Ramapo, including Monsey, in Rockland County as red zones and therefore subject to the harshest restrictions due to high infection rates in the two Orthodox Jewish communities. A section of southern Brooklyn, which is home to an Orthodox Jewish community as well, has also been designated as a red zone.

The state has also classified areas adjacent to those red zones as yellow and orange zones which are subject to less stringent COVID restrictions.

The cluster zone in Orange County

Governor Cuomo said. “Our strategy is to crush the cluster and stop the spread, and we’re announcing a special initiative to do just that. Step one, you take the most dramatic action within the cluster itself where you have the highest density of cases. Understanding that the people in that cluster interface with the surrounding communities, take additional action in the communities surrounding the cluster. Then as a precautionary measure, take action in the communities that are outlying that area.”

The governor blamed the spike in new COVID cases in the affected areas to illegal mass gatherings.

The state has placed a section of Rockland County (Monsey) as Red and outlying areas as Yellow. Similarly, the Town of Palm Tree (formerly Kiryas Joel) has been designated as Red, with some surrounding areas as Yellow, including sections of North Main Street and Schunnemunk Road in the Town of Monroe. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said the areas of Monroe under Yellow restrictions do not affect any businesses. According to County Executive Neuhaus, the Town of Palm Tree had the highest number of new COVID cases on Oct.5 at 29 and was followed by Middletown with nine and Warwick with five new cases.

The COVID restriction designations in Brooklyn, Queens and Broome County include: Broome County (One Area, Yellow); Brooklyn (One Area, Red, Orange and Yellow) and Queens (Two Areas, Red, Orange and Yellow).

The zone restrictions are:

Red Zone—COVID Cluster

Houses of Worship: 25% capacity, 10 people maximum
Mass Gatherings: Prohibited
Businesses: Only essential businesses open
Dining: Takeout only
Schools: Closed, remote only

Orange Zone — Warning Zone

Houses of Worship: 33% capacity, 25 people maximum
Mass Gatherings: 10 people maximum, indoor and outdoor
Businesses: Closing high-risk non-essential businesses, such as gyms and personal care
Dining: Outdoor dining only, four-person maximum per table
Schools: Closed, remote only

Yellow Zone — Precautionary Zone

Houses of Worship: 50% capacity
Mass Gatherings: 25 people maximum, indoor and outdoor
Businesses: Open
Dining: Indoor and outdoor dining, four-person maximum per table
Schools: Open with mandatory weekly testing of students and teachers/staff for in-person settings. The New York State Department of Health will establish a percentage of teachers and students/staff who need to be tested by Friday.

After some contentious back-and-forth statements from Gov. Cuomo and chief county government officials in Rockland and Orange counties over the spike in COVID cases in the counties last week, both Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Orange County Executive Neuhaus praised the Cluster Action Initiative. Late last week, Gov. Cuomo had criticized local governments for not enforcing the mask mandate in the areas experiencing large increases in COVID cases.

The cluster zone in Rockland County

Rockland County Executive Day said, “I applaud the announcement of the Cluster Action Initiative by the governor this afternoon; he clearly heard the concerns expressed by myself and other county executives during our daily Control Room calls. We in Rockland County government stand ready to support these actions as we are able. The restrictions he announced are measured and clearly focused on the areas where this disease is spreading. These areas will be minimal in size but logical in scope. I have already reached out to local municipalities, police departments and the Sheriff’s Office to ask for their support of these efforts.”

Orange County Executive Neuhaus said that he was pleased that the state’s initiative in Palm Tree and some surrounding areas did not impact any Town of Monroe businesses. In addition, the state will take the lead on the enforcement of the state’s mask law and social distancing measures with support from county and local governments.

“This is a good, good step,” Neuhaus said in a Facebook video address. Referencing last week’s criticism from the governor, he added, “It’s a night and day difference than we were Friday as compared to where we are today.”

The enforcement of the zones may be in effect today (Oct. 7) but will be in force by no later than Friday (Oct. 9). The restrictions will be in place for at least 14 days.

The plan was developed in consultation with national public health experts including Dr. Noam Ross of EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota and former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth