Gov. Andrew Cuomo told Jewish religious leaders that limiting houses of worship to 50 percent capacity was sufficient to beat back the coronavirus surge — only to announce tighter restrictions just hours later.
The governor spoke around 9 a.m. Tuesday with honchos from Orthodox Jewish communities across New York, seeking their commitment to help contain new outbreaks in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a handful of upstate communities.
“I’m asking you, out of friendship, for your help,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript of the phone call obtained by The Post. “It’s in your community’s best interest on many levels. It’s in their health interest. It’s [in] their relationship with the surrounding communities interest. And I know if you inform your community, they will listen to you.”
Many sites of the latest outbreaks are in communities with sizable Orthodox populations.
Cuomo told the leaders that a strict limit on the number of people in synagogues and other houses of worship was necessary, but indicated that it would be set at 50 percent.
“We have to follow the 50 percent in the synagogues … otherwise, I’m telling you, we’re gonna have to wind up going back to close down,” he said, according to the transcript. “We’re going to enforce the rules but the 50 percent is OK.”
Cuomo seemed to paint himself as backed into a corner by local leaders, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — even though he was the one who on Monday raised the possibility of restrictions on houses of worship after a weekend proposal by de Blasio made no mention of the institutions.
Hizzoner, by contrast, has been accused by Cuomo of taking a kid-glove approach on religious Jewish communities, including non-existent enforcement on mask usage.
“Some of the local governments are going to start jumping out there sooner rather than later, saying, ‘Close down because there’s no compliance,’” said Cuomo. “The next step in New York City will be for them to say, ‘Close down the synagogues,’ as opposed to the 50 percent.
“If I can’t demonstrate that we can comply, they’re going to start advocating for [a] total close-down.”
But in a 3 p.m. Tuesday press briefing, Cuomo unveiled a new, color-coded system of restrictions set to take effect no later than Friday — including capacity limits on religious institutions well below 50 percent.
In “intense cluster” zones, houses of worship are restricted to 25-percent capacity or a maximum of 10 people.
In less severe orange-colored zones, the limits are 33-percent capacity or up to 25 congregants.
Only in yellow zones, the least restricted of the three tiers, is the cap on houses of worship set at 50 percent.
A Cuomo administration official said in a statement that at the time the governor told the religious leaders that 50 percent capacity was acceptable, they were still in talks with medical professionals who ultimately called for tighter restrictions.
“We were still in discussions with the epidemiologists at the time and they made clear that preventing large social gatherings is the key to breaking up these clusters,” the statement read.
The Hasidic Jewish community in Borough Park, Brooklyn did not take kindly to the blindside announcement, launching a fiery and largely-unmasked protest late Tuesday into early Wednesday that saw two photographers beaten — and no NYPD intervention.
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