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3 New York Hasidic Jews die of COVID-19 as cases in Orthodox communities mount

Patients pronounced dead hours after arriving at Borough Park hospital; source familiar with victims laments communal denial that led to spike

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Medical workers deliver a patient to the Maimonides Medical Center on September 14, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Medical workers deliver a patient to the Maimonides Medical Center on September 14, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Three members of the Hasidic Jewish community in New York City have died of the coronavirus over the last four days alone, as several Orthodox communities were flagged as hotspots amid a COVID-19 resurgence.

All three men were severely ill by the time they arrived at Maimonides Medical Center in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park, the New York Post reported. They were pronounced dead hours after they were admitted.

“There’s rampant COVID denialism and misinformation abound in the community,” a person familiar with the matter told the Post. “People are not getting tested and are refusing care even when sick. This is deeply distressing.”

The source said the victims were not all elderly, suggesting that the latest outbreak is not only targeting the most vulnerable.

The Brooklyn hospital did not provide additional information, but released a statement saying, “As has been reported, there has recently been an increase in the number of patients with COVID-19.”

A woman walks out of a pharmacy in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park on September 23, 2020 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Nearby Mount Sinai hospital in Midwood has also seen a spike in COVID-19 patients, with 40 admitted last week — up from 20 to 25, the Post reported

New York City has threatened drastic enforcement measures starting as early as next Tuesday — the day after Yom Kippur — after days of warning about rising COVID-19 cases in Orthodox neighborhoods.

The city was also planning to begin inspecting private schools in areas with high infection rates to check that they are conforming to the city’s rules, which include shutting down when there are two unrelated cases in the same building.

The enforcement measures could include closing businesses and schools, moves that would inflame already strained relations between the communities and the city.

City officials and community leaders alike have expressed growing alarm about the spread of the coronavirus in Orthodox communities, where six neighborhoods contributed a fifth of the city’s new infections as of September 19. Meanwhile, many people in those neighborhoods do not wear masks in public, which the city requires when outdoors and distancing is not possible, and continue to gather in large numbers.

In an email to reporters Thursday evening, Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the city’s health department, said that if progress in slowing the spread of infection was not made by Monday evening, the city would take serious action, including prohibiting all gatherings of more than 10 people, issuing fines for refusal to wear a mask, ordering private schools and childcare centers that do not meet city standards to close and shutting down all nonessential businesses immediately.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks alongside his wife Chirlane McCray during a memorial service for George Floyd at Cadman Plaza Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, June 4, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The department also announced “regular inspections of all non-public schools within these clusters and their adjacent zip codes,” according to the email.

The department pointed to continued increases in positive COVID test results in the six neighborhoods cited on Tuesday — Williamsburg, Borough Park, Midwood, Bensonhurst/Mapleton, Kew Gardens, and Far Rockaway — as well as two other neighborhoods, Gravesend/Homecrest and Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay.

After announcing the uptick in cases Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would increase communication with community leaders and outreach to residents of the neighborhoods themselves.

There is already a push to stop testing in several of the Orthodox communities seeing an uptick, due to the low threshold for positive COVID cases to shut down schools.

A message circulated on Whatsapp Thursday advised parents not to have their children tested for COVID because it could lead to schools being shut down. A flyer circulated on Whatsapp Thursday, signed by leaders of the Williamsburg Hasidic community, also discouraged COVID testing in a message in Yiddish.

New York state on Saturday reported over 1,000 daily coronavirus cases, for the first time since June 5.

JTA contributed to this report.

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