New York State health officials have taken extraordinary steps to end an ultra-Orthodox wedding scheduled for Monday that could have brought up to 10,000 guests to Brooklyn near one of New York’s coronavirus hotspots.
The state health commissioner intervened personally to get the sheriff’s MPs to deliver the order to the Hasidic synagogue on Friday, warning that health protocols must be followed, including limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
On Sunday, the synagogue, the Yetev Congregation Lev D’Satmar, accused state officials of “unjustified attacks” at the wedding at which a grandson of Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the synagogue̵
The wedding will continue, the synagogue said, but will be limited to a smaller group of family members. “It is sad that no one checked our plans before attacking us,” said Chaim Jacobowitz, the community secretary, in a statement.
The State Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, has taken the rare step of issuing a Section 16 order that could result in a daily fine of $ 10,000 for violations. The state issued dozens of Section 16 ordinances during the pandemic.
Dr. Zucker was quick to get it out fearing that the state’s normal first course of action, which includes a cease and desist letter and hearing, would have been too late to prevent the big wedding actions, according to a person familiar with the state. State officials received an invitation to the wedding late last week and confirmed that some guests from hotspots around the state would be traveling there.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that a big wedding was too risky and could have resulted in what is known as a superspreader event. State officials said they determined that up to 10,000 people could be in attendance at the wedding, which was due to be held in Williamsburg.
“My suggestion: have a little wedding this year,” said Mr. Cuomo at a press conference. “A big wedding next year. Invite me and I’ll come. “
As a result, tensions between the governor and the Hasidic community were highlighted as state health officials in some neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as counties north of New York City, attempt to control the rising cases of coronavirus.
Some Orthodox voices, including a growing group of noisy young men, have accused the government of targeting them for their beliefs and religious life. Earlier this month, the governor ordered new shutdown restrictions in areas where cases were rising.
Orthodox Jewish leaders announced a major congregation prayer slated for Tuesday in response to the wedding closure and more general restrictions. The event, which will take place over the phone, is not a protest, the leaders said.
Mr Cuomo said on Sunday that the state’s outbreak control efforts have successfully helped lower the positivity rate in the target neighborhoods he has zoned. As of Saturday, the state’s overall infection rate was 1.08 percent, according to the governor, significantly lower than other states. However, in the areas with the highest infection rates, or “red zones,” which include neighborhoods near Williamsburg, the rate is 3.19 percent. The synagogue itself is not in a hot spot.
“We’re so aggressive every time we see the virus emerge – we run and knock it down,” the governor said of the state’s strategy to combat outbreaks. “It’s exhausting, but it’s effective.”
A number of factors – including distrust of scientific messages and secular authority, commitment to community life, and dense living conditions – have fueled the rise of the ultra-Orthodox community in the city.
While New York State has one of the lowest new cases, health officials are concerned about a further spike in the colder months when people can mostly stay indoors and more easily spread the virus in confined spaces. Mr Cuomo noted on Sunday that even relatively small events, like a Sweet 16 party held on Long Island last month, can trigger a contagious outbreak.
The birthday party drew more than 80 guests – over the maximum of 50 people – and resulted in at least 37 cases and many more people being forced into quarantine.
In a similar episode, the New York City Sheriff’s Office announced that MPs had broken up an illegal group of more than 215 people in a banquet room in Ozone Park, Queens, early Sunday morning. Participants danced and not socially distant or wore masks, authorities said.
On Sunday, officials announced seven more coronavirus-related deaths across the state, bringing the total to more than 26,440 people.
“We once had the worst problem in the world,” said Cuomo. “The numbers are all moving in the right direction.”
Liam Stack contributed to the coverage.