Oct. 8, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Forest Hills residents and community leaders are condemning the mixed messages from the city and state on the COVID-19 outbreak in the area.
The local community board, Queens Community Board 6, which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park, criticized the lack of clarity — and often conflicting messages — from the mayor and governor on the shutdown plans.
The CB6 Board Chair and District Manager wrote in a joint statement Tuesday that there has been no coordination between the two leaders on the plans.
“We are not receiving clear, coordinated information and unfortunately, local families, community members and businesses end up paying the price,” Chair Alexa Weitzman and District Manager Frank Gulluscio wrote on behalf of board members.
“We don’t have all the pertinent information moving into this crucial time to work swiftly to contain the spread,” they continued.
The pair said the board was not briefed as to the restrictions and therefore didn’t know how to support the many businesses, families, seniors and community members of the district.
They wrote the statement before Governor Andrew Cuomo detailed his plan for COVID-19 shutdowns in cluster areas Tuesday evening.
Prior to Cuomo’s plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined his own plan Sunday to close nonessential businesses and schools in nine zip codes experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, including including the Kew Gardens ZIP code of 11415 and the Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok ZIP code of 11367.
De Blasio needed Cuomo’s approval to implement the closures, however, and Cuomo disagreed on the use of ZIP codes to create the shutdown boundaries.
In a last minute switch-up, Cuomo unveiled a new cluster map based on case counts rather than ZIP codes. The new map showed parts of Forest Hills and Rego Park within the “red zone,” at the center of the COVID-19 cluster.
The red zones are where the highest density of COVID-19 cases are located and where nonessential businesses must close, Cuomo said at a press conference Tuesday.
“That’s the highest density of cases, that’s where you have to take the most dramatic action,” he said.
The two neighborhoods, Forest Hills and Rego Park, had been listed only on the city’s “watch list” — not the list of cluster ZIP codes — up until that point and were believed to be spared from the strictest shutdowns.
Weitzman tweeted that she was furious over Cuomo’s new hotspot maps, which she said was a jab at de Blasio.
“@NYGovCuomo is hurting communities (children, businesses, EVERYONE) in these “non zip code red zones” in his effort to act against @NYCMayor‘s leadership,” she said in a tweet. “I’m furious.”
This is absurd. FH isn’t above 3% for even ONE DAY! @NYGovCuomo is hurting communities (children, businesses, EVERYONE) in these “non zip code red zones” in his effort to act against @NYCMayor‘s leadership. I’m furious. https://t.co/aQycJp7iDa
— 🕎Alexa Aliza Meyer Weitzman🕎 (@AlexaWeitzman) October 6, 2020
Many area residents are questioning why parts of Forest Hills are in the state-defined “red zone,” where nonessential businesses and schools must close today if they haven’t already.
They say the 11375 ZIP code encompassing the neighborhood has a positivity rate less than 2 percent, yet a portion of the area is subject to the strictest shutdowns and regulations.
The latest 14-day average infection rate for 11375 was 1.98 percent, according to data from City Hall provided Tuesday.
In my zip code, 11375, the positivity rate is under 2%. We’re not on this list, and yet on your map, we’re in a red zone. I don’t get it.
— Rachel (@rachelisblue) October 7, 2020
Cuomo said that the cluster maps his office created were based on COVID-19 testing data by addresses of people who have tested positive, not ZIP codes.
“You can identify the cluster because we do so much testing and we have so much data,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “We can tell you where there is a cluster by the actual number of cases.”
Still, parents in the neighborhood say schools in Forest Hills are being shuttered despite having minimal to no infection rates. They held a protest in front of P.S. 196 yesterday.
The organizers called the state and city’s decision to shutter the schools “government overreach” and asked rally-goers to wear their masks in an advertisement for the protest.
Schools within the state-defined “orange zones,” about a five-block radius around the red zone clusters, must also close today.
The United Federation of Teachers said an additional 33 public schools in the orange zones closed today and switched to remote learning only.