What it’s like living in 9 parts of New York facing a new lockdown
By Michael Gold
For as long as the coronavirus pandemic has stalked New York City, Tatsiana Vazgryna has been looking for work near her home in southern Brooklyn.
After a halting search, the last week brought some hope. With her 9-year-old daughter returning to in-person public school, Vazgryna thought she would have time to prioritize her job search over child care.
Then, on Sunday, Vazgryna learned that Mayor Bill de Blasio, worried about an uptick of cases in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, planned to close schools in nine ZIP codes. Her daughter’s elementary school in Bensonhurst would be among those shut, giving Vazgryna less time to visit stores and restaurants for work.
“You can’t do that with school,” she said.
As positive test rates rose in a number of city neighborhoods, residents of the affected areas faced growing fear over another wave of the virus and uncertainty over officials’ plans to address it.
On Sunday, de Blasio announced a plan to close all schools and nonessential businesses in nine ZIP codes in Brooklyn and Queens where there had been an uptick, essentially rolling back the city’s cautious reopening.
Then on Monday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo effectively preempted the mayor’s plan, saying he would keep businesses open in those areas but allow schools to be closed. An hour later, de Blasio said the matter was unsettled and city officials were still planning to close businesses “until we hear otherwise.”
The back and forth between the governor and the mayor, only the latest instance of a rocky relationship that has marked their tenures, left residents of the neighborhoods in limbo over how exactly their lives may be altered in the coming days.
But even without clarity, those residents were still staggering from a potential shutdown that threatened to reverse the progress that New York City has made in the months since it was a global epicenter of the pandemic.
“Just when we thought we had a little life again, we’re going back to a living hell,” said Shonna Hawes, an event designer who lives in Kew Gardens, Queens.
Across Brooklyn and Queens, people expressed frustration at the disconnect between the governor and the mayor, and at how their lives could be upended.
“Nothing has been consistent,” Susan Chan, 42, said. Hours after the governor’s announcement, she had to rush to her son’s school in Bensonhurst to pick up his books for remote learning.
“I was hoping my kids would get at least two weeks in the building,” she added.
For weeks, New York City’s Health Department has warned that COVID-19 was spreading more quickly in several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens with large populations of Orthodox Jews where city officials have struggled to persuade people to adhere to public health guidelines.
Some residents complained that for months they had seen their ultra-Orthodox neighbors without face coverings.
“You don’t want to be vindictive, you don’t want to call the police, but what am I to do?” Hawes said. “It’s very upsetting, because now people are freaking out.”
The announcement that schools would be closing marked the first major setback in officials’ efforts to stem the pandemic in New York, which had seen months of declining or flat transmission rates after a devastating and deadly spring.
With leaders encouraged by weeks of low rates of positive test results, the city took further steps toward reopening last month, finally allowing indoor dining for the first time after months of delay and becoming the first major school district in the United States to bring children back into public schools.
The mayor’s plan, if fully implemented, would ultimately impose new restrictions in 21 of the city’s 146 ZIP codes, beginning Wednesday.
In nine of them, where positivity rates have been higher than 3%, all public and private schools will be required to close as of Tuesday, Cuomo said.
Those nine ZIP codes include portions of Far Rockaway and Kew Gardens in Queens, and Borough Park, Midwood, Gravesend, Bensonhurst and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.
De Blasio is also seeking to close all nonessential businesses in those areas and to forbid indoor and outdoor dining. In 12 other ZIP codes, de Blasio is seeking to allow schools to remain open but ban indoor dining and close gyms.
Those ZIP codes include parts of Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Manhattan Beach, Bergen Beach, Kensington and Crown Heights in Brooklyn; and Rego Park, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates and Forest Hills in Queens.
The state has not yet approved those parts of the mayor’s plan.
In Orthodox communities in the affected ZIP codes, public health officials have said that efforts to boost mask wearing and social distancing have been met with skepticism and defiance.
Many of the areas covered under the mayor’s plans have considerable numbers of residents who are not Jewish, and new restrictions could increase tensions between them and Orthodox Jews.
Mark Carter, 60, a maintenance man who lives in Far Rockaway, said there was already some friction between parts of the neighborhood where people were wearing masks and other sections where the majority did not.
De Blasio has largely avoided singling out the Jewish community in his statements. In a television interview Monday, he refuted the idea that the rise in cases was being driven by Jewish yeshivas more than other gathering places.
“It is a bigger issue across these nine ZIP codes that really have a wide range, diverse range of New Yorkers in them,” de Blasio said on CNN.