A group of Orthodox Jewish men gathered Tuesday evening in Brooklyn, burning masks to protest the newest iteration of New York’s pandemic lockdown. Their anger is reasonable, because the newest lockdown—which disproportionately affects the city’s Jewish community and explicitly targets religious gatherings—is not. It is deeply stupid and unfair, exactly the sort of easily avoidable government overreach that makes even well-intended people doing their best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 understandably skeptical of public health directives.
At issue is New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Cluster Action Initiative,” implemented at the request of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and announced several hours before the fire. The program identifies infection clusters—areas with positive test rates above 3 percent for seven consecutive days—and imposes a graduated system of restrictions until the rate drops.
In the strictest rule set, the “red zone,” schools along with businesses deemed nonessential are closed. In-person dining is banned. Houses of worship are limited to gatherings of 25 percent capacity or 10 people, whichever is smaller, with $15,000 fines for violations. In fact, as Cuomo said Tuesday in a line sure to appear in forthcoming First Amendment litigation, religious gatherings are the main target: “The new rules are most impactful on houses of worship,” he declared. “This virus is not coming from nonessential business.” (Then why, one wonders, are those businesses required to close?)