New York State health officials have taken extraordinary steps to close an ultra-Orthodox wedding scheduled for Monday that could have brought up to 10,000 guests to Brooklyn near one of New York City’s coronavirus hotspots.
The state health commissioner personally intervened to get the sheriff’s deputies to hand over the order to the Hasidic synagogue on Friday, warning that it should follow health protocols, including limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
On Sunday, the synagogue, the congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar, accused government officials of “unjustified attacks”
The wedding continues, the synagogue said, but will be limited to a smaller group of family members. “It is sad that no one confirmed our plans before they attacked us,” said Chaim Jacobowitz, the ward secretary, in a statement.
The State Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, took the rare step of personally issuing what is known as a § 16 order, which can carry a daily fine of $ 10,000 if violated. The state has issued dozens of section 16 orders during the pandemic.
Dr. Zucker moved quickly to issue it because of concerns that the state’s normal first course of action, which involves a termination and waiver letter and a hearing, would have been too late to prevent the big wedding, according to a person familiar with the actions of the state. State officials received an invitation to the wedding late last week, confirming that some guests would travel from there from hot spots in the state.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that a large wedding was too risky and could have resulted in a so-called super-spreading event. State officials said they determined the wedding, which was scheduled to take place in Williamsburg, could have had up to 10,000 people in attendance.
“My suggestion: Have a little wedding this year,” Cuomo said at a news conference Sunday. “Next year you are going to have a big wedding. Invite me and I will come. ”
The episode highlighted the brewing tensions between the governor and the Hasidic community as state health officials try to control rising coronavirus cases in some neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens and in counties north of New York City.
Some Orthodox voices, including a growing faction of furious young men, have accused the government of targeting them because of their faith and religious life. Earlier this month, the governor ordered new closure restrictions in areas where cases were pending.
Orthodox Jewish leaders announced a major community prayer scheduled for Tuesday in response to the closure of the wedding and the broader restrictions. The event, which takes place over the phone, is not a protest, leaders said.
Sir. Cuomo said Sunday that the state’s efforts to control eruptions had been successful in reducing the degree of positivity in the targeted neighborhoods he had divided into zones. As of Saturday, the state’s overall infection rate was 1.08 percent, the governor said, significantly lower than other states. But the rate is 3.19 percent in the areas with the highest infection rates, or “red zones,” which include neighborhoods near Williamsburg. The synagogue itself is not a hot spot.
“We are so aggressive every time we see the virus appear – we drive and hit it,” the governor said of the state’s strategy to control outbreaks. “It’s exhausting, but it’s effective.”
A number of factors – including distrust of scientific knowledge and secular authority, a dedication to the common life and close living conditions – have fueled the rise of the ultra-Orthodox community in the city.
While the state of New York has one of the lowest numbers of new cases, health officials are concerned about a new rise in the colder months, when people largely stay indoors and can more easily spread the virus in cramped spaces. Sir. Cuomo noted Sunday that even relatively small events, such as a Sweet 16 party held on Long Island last month, could trigger an infectious outbreak.
The birthday party had more than 80 guests – over a maximum of 50 people – and led to at least 37 cases and many more people forced into quarantine.
Officials on Sunday reported seven more coronavirus-related deaths across the state, bringing the total to more than 26,440 people.
“We had the worst problem on the planet at some point,” Cuomo said. “The numbers are all moving in the right direction.”
Liam Stack contributed with reporting.