Williamsburg residents look on as protesters pass through the Brooklyn neighborhood June 12, 2020. (Avi Kaye)

(JTA) – After days of warnings about increasing COVID cases in New York City’s Orthodox neighborhoods, the health department threatened drastic enforcement measures in the neighborhoods starting as early as Tuesday, the day after Yom Kippur, and announced greater scrutiny of private schools in those areas.

Number of positive COVID tests by Zip code since March. See the interactive map and more data at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data.page

In an email to reporters Thursday evening, Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the 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 to close if they do not meet Department of Education standards, and shutting down all nonessential businesses immediately.

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, Kew Gardens, and Far Rockaway – as well as two other neighborhoods, Gravesend/Homecrest and Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay.

“The Sheriff and NYPD continue to monitor mask compliance in these neighborhoods, which have been overwhelmingly low compared to other areas of the city,” Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Health, wrote in an email to reporters.

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

Gallahue said there was an increased presence of New York Police Department officers and community affairs liaisons as well as representatives of other city agencies Wednesday and Thursday to distribute information and masks in neighborhoods with increasing COVID cases. The department is also deploying mobile testing units to Midwood, Williamsburg, Borough Park, Kew Gardens, and Far Rockaway.

The department will also send robocall announcements, send sound trucks and ambulances out to play messages about testing in English and Yiddish, send direct mail notices and place advertisements in local newspapers.

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