New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo
© Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference at the State Capitol on Tuesday, announcing the shutdown of houses of worship in COVID-19 hotspots.
Hamodia has exclusively obtained a full recording of a conference call New York Gov. Andrew Cumo had with Jewish leaders last Tuesday, in which he said he would limit houses of worship to 50% occupancy in areas seeing a COVID-19 uptick, just hours before a public press conference in which he limited it to 10 attendees.

"The current rule ... in any indoor gathering ... it's 50% of capacity," the governor said. "That's the current law. We have to follow that law. If we don't follow that law then the infection rate gets worse. Then we're gonna have to go back to close down. And nobody wants to do that. But I need your help in getting the rate down, and the rate will come down, if we follow the rules on the mask and the social distancing and the 50%."

But just a few hours later, Cuomo announced restrictions on houses of worship to as few as 10 people. Jewish leaders said they felt "stabbed in the back" by what they deemed Cuomo's duplicity.

Hamodia has exclusively obtained a recording of the full call here.

"The governor came to us, supposedly to work with us as a friend," said the participant who shared the recording with Hamodia. "And we would have been happy to work with him on the 50% maximum. But then he just stabbed us in the back with this 10-person edict."

The participant said he also believes the 10-person limit to be illogical.

"There are so many shuls (synagogues) in the community that have a maximum occupancy of hundreds of people," he said. "How does it make any sense to impose the 10-person maximum on them just the same as a small shul?"

"We feel that the governor is not interested in working with us at all."

In response to Hamodia's request for comment as to why the governor indicated on the call that he would stick to a 50% limit but then enacted a 10-attendee limit, a Cuomo spokesperson said last week, "We were still in discussions with the epidemiologists at the time and they made clear that preventing large social gatherings is the key to breaking up these clusters."

Cuomo also conceded that the restrictions may be harsher than necessary to slow the COVID spread.

In response to a question posed on the call by Harav Yaakov Bender, Rosh Hayeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, about why schools must be shuttered completely, rather than taking a more nuanced approach, Cuomo responded,
"I'm a hundred percent frank and candid. This is not a highly nuanced, sophisticated response. This is a fear-driven response, you know. This is not a policy being written by a scalpel; this is a policy being cut by a hatchet. It's just very blunt. I didn't propose this, you know; it was proposed by the Mayor [Bill de Blasio] in the City. I'm trying to sharpen it and make it better. But it's out of fear. People see the numbers going up - 'Close everything! Close everything!' It's not the best way to do it, but it is a fear-driven response. The virus scares people. Hopefully, we get the numbers down in the zip codes, the anxiety comes down, and then we can have a smarter, more-tailored approach.

"Your point is right: why close every school? Why don't you test the schools and close the ones that have a problem? I know, but, first, I don't know that we have the resources to do that now. But I can tell you honestly, the fear is too high to do anything other than, 'Let's do everything we can to get the infection rate down now, close the doors, close the windows.' That's where we are."

Comment: Nice bit of buck-passing there. He could have leaned on De Blasio a little. Plus Trump had made sure NY had all the resources it needed when asked, so that doesn't fly either.


Cuomo went on to say,
"I'm sorry, rabbi, that you're going through it. You're right. This is a difficult period. A lot of it, you could say there's a better way to do this. I know. But we're dealing with emotion and fear as much as anything. And I'll tell you, its New York City, we have a real problem with fear and anxiety, and people losing confidence in the city, and who's moving out, and who's afraid. So it is a blunt policy, I agree with you, but at this point I don't think that we can do anything more sophisticated. Hopefully, we get it under control, it's a few weeks, people take a deep breath, and then we can have a more intelligent, sophisticated policy."