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Cuomo threatens to fine de Blasio over COVID-19 enforcement as outbreak worsens

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to fine New York City and other municipalities over failure to enforce state coronavirus restrictions Friday as COVID-19 outbreaks in Brooklyn and Queens continued to worsen.

At just $10,000 a day, the fine that Cuomo is threatening to levy against City Hall is comparatively tiny, but it provides another marked example of the three-term governor’s mounting frustration with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s management of the crisis.

“These hotspot ZIP codes, the numbers are continuing to go up in many of the zip codes,” Cuomo told reporters via a telephone press briefing.

“That means by definition compliance is not where it needs to be,” he added. “That’s how the virus spreads, they need to enforce the law.”

Currently, health officials are tracking four large outbreaks locally. They are most worried about the two Brooklyn clusters, which when combined, stretch across almost the entire length of the borough.

Much of northern Brooklyn is now included in the Williamsburg cluster, including ZIP codes that cover Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, South Williamsburg and western portions of Bedford-Stuyvesant, according to a map published by the Health Department late Thursday.

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The “Southern Brooklyn” cluster stretches from Brighton Beach all the way to eastern Crown Heights, which is far further north than any traditional definition of “southern” Brooklyn.

But that didn’t stop de Blasio from continuing to downplay the severity of the outbreak during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, arguing that the outbreak is still largely contained to 11 zip codes.

“The city of New York, right now, outside of those 11 neighborhoods — 1.08 percent [positive test rate],” Hizzoner said, “just exactly where we have been and very, very favorable; the kind of low level positivity that any place else in the country would want.”

When pressed if the outbreak would force the closure of public schools in the city, de Blasio again downplayed the threat.

“If you look at the vast majority of the city right now, most neighborhoods are at 1 percent or less, so what we need to do is really focus on these 11 ZIP codes with everything we got,” he responded.

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His own health officials used far starker language describing the outbreaks and the risk to the city when they briefed local elected lawmakers from the two hard-hit boroughs late Thursday night, attendees told The Post.

“This isn’t just a couple of zip codes in southern Brooklyn anymore. It’s the entire borough,” one person familiar said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de BlasioRobert Miller

The head of the city’s test and trace program, Dr. Ted Long, told the meeting — according to the attendee — that “this is a very serious situation and I don’t want to go back to March.”

On Lehrer’s show, De Blasio also again promised that city agencies would boost enforcement of the social distancing and mask rules in the cluster neighborhoods, which also include Central Queens and Far Rockaway.

“In these neighborhoods, we’re doing more and more intense enforcement,” the mayor claimed. “I don’t want to see a shutdown in these neighborhoods, but we’ve been very clear now for many days and community leaders heard it and they know it that that is a live possibility if we don’t see a turn around in these numbers soon.

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His health commissioner issued a new order late Thursday night that clarified and codified the new health regulations and which agencies would have the power to shut down businesses that are repeatedly found flouting the rules.

The outbreaks in Brooklyn and Queens have been largely centered in neighborhoods with large and often insular Orthodox Jewish communities, where officials acknowledge they have long struggled to conduct outreach and enforcement during the coronavirus crisis.

For instance, Long’s COVID-19 tracing corps has fewer than half-a-dozen Yiddish speakers on staff, officials acknowledged this week. And, Gothamist reported that anonymous robocalls and messages posted in WhatsApp group chats are discouraging Orthodox New Yorkers from getting tested for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, despite claims of crackdowns, The Post and other news organizations have repeatedly published stories about shops and religious events in the neighborhoods that flouted the rules. And photos and videos of social distancing violations are routinely posted on social media.

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