NYPD, FDNY disperse Orthodox Jewish groups amid COVID-19 outbreak

Days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio banned gatherings of 50 or more people in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, videos posted on social media platforms purport to show weddings and prayer groups going on as usual in heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

One video posted to Twitter on Wednesday night shows several NYPD and New York City Sheriff vehicles with lights flashing in Crown Heights as a group of dozens of Orthodox men stroll through the street. Storyful reported that this was a prayer group that had gathered outside Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, which was closed.

"Attention, attention—under the authority of the mayor's Executive Order No. 99 and No. 100, you must disperse, you must disperse," the voice of a law enforcement officer over a loudspeaker can be heard saying. "Those who do not follow this order are subject to arrest."

Urgent care clinics in Borough Park and Williamsburg have treated more than 100 people who tested positive for the coronavirus, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. However, when NY1 News asked the mayor if that could be called a "cluster," de Blasio said no.

"There is no cluster in New York City at this moment. We're constantly monitoring. There's a lot of activity out there, obviously. We do see some places where there's more cases popping up and we take that seriously," the mayor told NY1 on Wednesday night. "But in terms of something that would equate to a cluster and, obviously the prime example we have is New Rochelle. The Health Commissioner says there are none at this point in New York City."

The New York Times reported that the FDNY had to disperse a large Hasidic wedding that ignored the city's ban earlier this week. Images posted online show a crowded wedding venue and also men and women outside on the street after authorities broke up the party.

"The city will continue to respond to complaints, educate the public, and enforce the capacity guidelines in place for all events and locations in the interests of public health and safety," FDNY spokesman Jim Long said.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has been issuing messages of guidance on its website amid the growing pandemic. On Wednesday night, the group urged congregations to heed the warnings from health officials to stop the spread of the virus and stay home.

"We cannot repeat this often enough. Stay home. Avoid groups or public interactions of any kind, for any purpose," Orthodox Union posted online. "Leave home only for essential needs and only if you are healthy, have not been exposed to the virus, and are not in a high risk category. Observance of this mandate is critical."

New York City has 2,469 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday morning.


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