NEW YORK -- As warmer weather tempted New Yorkers to come out of quarantine, police dispatched 1,000 officers this weekend to enforce social distancing and a ban on congregating in public spaces.
“I believe with the warm weather people will come outside,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday. “You can’t stay indoors all the time. People will come outside and that’s great, go for a walk. But respect the social distancing and wear a mask.”
The New York City Police Department has made 60 arrests and issued 343 summonses related to social distancing since March 16.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea issued a stern warning after a series of clashes this week between police officers and members of Orthodox Jewish communities over social distancing.
“We will not tolerate it,” Shea said after community members flooded the streets for funeral processions. “You are putting my cops’ lives at risk and it’s unacceptable.”
Enforcement has its limitations when it comes to social distancing, police concede, leaving it up to New Yorkers to play by the rules to help keep infections on the downturn.
“You've got to get voluntary compliance,” Benjamin Tucker, NYPD's first deputy commissioner,” said last month.
Most people are heeding officers’ warnings to keep their distance in parks and around essential businesses like grocery stores, Shea said.
But a stark example of non-compliance came Thursday when officers interrupted a crowded funeral procession in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood. Video posted to social media showed officers in protective masks chasing a minivan and shouting at dozens of people marching behind the van to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk.
On April 18, officers passed out summonses and made arrests at a Bronx parking lot and garage where they found a makeshift nightclub featuring a pool table and bar offering hard liquor and Corona beer, and at a closed Brooklyn barbershop where more than 50 people gathered for a party featuring loud music and gambling.
Two days later officers broke up a “4/20” marijuana holiday celebration staged in the vacant third floor of a building in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Dozens of people, some drawn by social media hype about the party, were given summonses for trespassing.
Here are other coronavirus developments in New York:
CENTRAL PARK HOSPITAL CLOSING
Mount Sinai Hospital Health System said it’s shutting down the small field hospital it erected in Central Park through a partnership with a charity run by Christian evangelical preacher Franklin Graham.
Only eight patients remained at the makeshift hospital as of Saturday.
It plans to stop admitting new patients to the field hospital as of Monday. Officials said it would take about two weeks to treat these last patients and then decontaminate and remove the tents.
“While this crisis is far from over, this marks a significant turning point in the coronavirus outbreak in New York that gives us assurance that we are returning towards normalcy,” the system said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We are grateful to have fought the coronavirus together alongside the courageous people of New York City.”
Mount Sinai Health System partnered with the Graham's charity Samaritan’s Purse to open the field hospital, treating 315 people infected with the coronavirus since April 1.
The hospital had come under fire from some city officials and activists over Samaritan’s Purse’s practice of having volunteers and staff sign a statement of religious beliefs that included a rejection of same-sex marriage. That practice didn’t apply to the Mt. Sinai doctors staffing the field hospital.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is gay, called Friday for the hospital to be taken down because of its affiliation with Graham.
LATEST CASUALTY FIGURES
The virus killed 299 people in the state Friday, according to Cuomo. That brings the state’s official death toll to more than 18,900, a number that does not include 5,200 additional victims in New York City whose deaths were blamed on the virus on death certificates, but whose infections haven’t been confirmed by a lab test.
Another 831 people were hospitalized with the virus Friday, Cuomo said, a number that has been dropping but which he said remains disturbingly high.
The governor on Saturday toured a Metropolitan Transportation Authority maintenance facility in Queens, seeking to highlight the closure of New York City's subway system from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. so trains and stations can be disinfected.
He described the cleaning as labor intensive, with workers wearing haz-mat suits.
“This has never been done before,” Cuomo said. "You have to go through the whole train with a misting device where they spray disinfectant on every surface.”