ALBANY — Local governments in areas with coronavirus clusters will lose state funding unless they enforce rules meant to slow the spread of the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday.
The state is sending notifications of the possible funding loss to the governments of New York City, Orange County, Rockland County, the town of Ramapo and the village of Spring Valley, Cuomo said during a conference call.
Schools in virus hot spots that are supposed to be closed will also lose funding if they remain open, Cuomo said.
“I don’t like to do that,” Cuomo said of withholding funding. “Budgets are tough all across the board. I don’t know how else to get them to actually do the enforcement they need to do. ... Hopefully that will motivate them.”
The state has been tracking several clusters of the virus in Downstate plus one in Broome County. Those areas were hit last week with new restrictions on businesses, schools, gatherings, religious events and other activities.
Many of the Downstate clusters are located in areas with large Orthodox Jewish populations. The state has received reports that some religious schools in those locations have stayed open in violation of shutdown orders, Cuomo said.
Schools that have already been documented as open when they should be closed are having their funding pulled immediately until the situation is resolved, Cuomo added.
Cuomo noted that while some Orthodox groups have flouted coronavirus rules, others have been cooperative and helpful. He has also said repeatedly that the rules apply equally to all faiths.
The state is not targeting neighborhoods with new limits based on religion, but rather on where cases are actually occurring, he added.
“The way of the world going forward is going to be that the virus will constantly flare up in certain locations,” Cuomo said. “The trick, the art form is going to be identifying these small sites where it flares up and be able to stop it before it spreads.”
Cuomo has been calling for stronger enforcement of virus rules from local governments across the state for months. He has said enforcement has been uneven, with some areas doing good work and others not.
State Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt of North Tonawanda called Cuomo’s move more evidence of his “unbridled, unchecked powers” regarding the pandemic.
“State aid to localities helps businesses, schools and residents across the state — all struggling to survive,” Ortt said in a statement. “Withholding local funding will only further raise taxes and is further evidence that it’s time to rescind the governors broad emergency powers.”
Ortt said New Yorkers understand the need to take precautions due to coronavirus, but the state’s infection rate stands at 1.1%.
He cited a call with Jewish leaders in which Cuomo admitted that his hotspot restrictions are “a fear-driven response. ... And his tactics of fear, made possible by one party rule, need to end.”
In so-called red zone areas in the state, the positivity rate for test results reported Tuesday was 6.29%, up from the 4.13% the day before, the governor said. Red zone areas are home to 2.8% of state’s population, yet had 15.6% of all positive cases reported Tuesday.
Non-red zone areas in New York reported 0.95% positivity, while the state’s overall positivity rate was 1.10% with the focus areas included.
Western New York’s positivity rate fell to 1% Tuesday, down from 1.5% on Monday. The Southern Tier also was 1%, Central New York was 1.2% and the Finger Lakes was 0.7%.
There were seven deaths Tuesday due to COVID-19, bringing the total to 25,605.