The de Blasio administration faced pushback Friday as it urged the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to join the Health Department in helping to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"I don't have to let nobody speak,” yelled Heshy Tischler, a talk radio host who heckled officials during a press conference broadcast by NY1. He claimed the city was exaggerating the outbreak and scapegoating the Jewish community.
But officials said the spike of coronavirus cases in Orthodox neighborhoods posed a major health threat.
Friday evening, the city announced emergency inspections of Jewish day schools in eight Brooklyn and Queens communities, warning that schools not complying with health guidelines could be fined and closed. The mayor also ordered the NYPD and the Sheriff’s Office to enforce public health guidelines in the neighborhoods.
This comes as Jews prepare to observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
"This may be the most precarious moment that we're facing since we have emerged from lockdown,” said Dr. Dave Chokshi, the commissioner of the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.
“We will move as swiftly as the situation warrants,” he added.
As an example, officials say Borough Park, Brooklyn, has seen a three-fold increase in positive coronavirus cases. They stressed the need for community cooperation in their Test & Trace program and for everyone to wear face coverings. City health official said they have reached out to local leaders, doctors, and synagogues to help get the community to do their part in helping slow the spread.
But some local elected officials criticized the city's approach.
"You need to work with communities, you need to be able to build trust within communities, not label, attack them and not label them and say the Jewish community isnt doing what needs to be done,” said Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, who represents parts of Queens, “Where have they been all summer? Why havent we heard from you.”
Across the city, synagogues are moving their Yom Kippur services Sunday night and Monday outside, to tents erected on sidewalks and in streets, to block the spread of the coronavirus. But officials say masks should still be worn and social distance rules observed.
"We today are distributing masks, more than 200,000, to more than 300 synagauges,” said Dr. Ted Long, the executive director of NYC Test & Trace Corps
Officials say if infection rates do not improve by Monday, they could reinstate some restrictions, which could include:
- Barring gatherings of more than 10 people
- Fines for people who refuse to wear a mask
- The immediate closure of all nonessential businesses
- The closure of private schools and child care centers that fail to meet Department of Education standards
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