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Cuomo: Mass Protests Could Lead To New Coronavirus Outbreak

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Kevin Hagen
/
AP
Activists march to the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday in New York. Demonstrators took to the streets of New York City to protest the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after he was pinned at the neck by a Minneapolis police officer.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says the mass protests in New York City and in upstate cites over the past few nights have been “counterproductive” to the cause of racial justice, and may even reignite the spread of the coronavirus. Cuomo says he’s talking with the mayor of New York City about imposing a curfew, saying the looting, acts of violence and alleged misconduct by the police in some instances is “unacceptable.”

Cuomo says New York enacted policies beginning in early March that included the statewide shutdown that succeeded in bringing the rate of deaths from the virus down from nearly 800 a day in April to 54 on May 31.

The majority of New Yorkers backed the closures and complied by staying home. But the governor says the past several days of mass protests could reignite the spread of the virus and cause a new outbreak. 

“People lost their jobs, people wiped out their savings, and now, mass gatherings with thousands of people in close proximity?” Cuomo asked “What sense does this make?”

The demonstrators have largely been younger people, most of them wearing masks, in outdoor spaces, and the rate of infection in New York is down significantly. The governor says of 50,000 COVID-19 tests conducted Sunday, fewer than 1,000 were positive. State health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says we might not know the consequences of the mass gatherings for weeks, as the virus can have a long incubation period while an asymptomatic person spreads the disease.

“I’m concerned about it and we are going to track those numbers,” Zucker said.

Cuomo said he” stands with” the majority of the protesters, who are peaceful, but he condemned the looting that has taken place, including the destruction and damage to dozens of retail stores around the state.

He blames the criminality on “infiltrators” trying to exploit the situation, and he says it plays into the hands of opponents of the social justice cause.

“This is not advancing a reform agenda,” Cuomo said. “This is not persuading government officials to change.”

The governor says he continues to be concerned about videos showing alleged police misconduct, including an NYPD cruiser driving into a crowd of protesters, an officer pulling down the mask of an African American demonstrator to pepper spray him in the face, and the alleged assault of a female protester, which led to her having a seizure. Cuomo has asked the state’s Attorney General to look into the instances.

Cuomo says a curfew could help defuse the situation.

“I know something has to be done,” said Cuomo, saying the past two nights are “not acceptable, on any level.”

Several upstate cities have already imposed evening curfews.  

Cuomo stopped short, though, of saying there should not be protests, saying, people have the right to demonstrate, but they need to “be smart” about it and do it safely.

Meanwhile, the state continues its phased in reopening. Western New York was to begin Phase Two on Monday, meaning that retail stores, hair dressers and professional offices can reopen, with density limitations and other safety provisions. The Capital Region is on track to begin Phase Two on Wednesday. And, despite the past few days’ demonstrations, Cuomo says New York City is still scheduled to begin Phase One of reopening on June 8.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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