According to plans rolled out by the governor, parts of Forest Hills fall under “red zone” restrictions, meaning all public and private schools, as well as non-essential businesses have been shuttered. Restaurants in these areas are limited to takeout orders only.
Other sections of the neighborhood have been deemed “orange zones,” leading to the closure of schools and high-risk businesses such as gyms and hair salons, in addition to the suspension of indoor dining.
Prior to the rollout of Cuomo’s Cluster Action Initiative on Thursday, Forest Hills and Rego Park were listed on the city’s watchlist for uptick zip codes, while neighboring Kew Gardens was considered a hotspot.
Up until last Tuesday, residents were under the impression they would only face minimal regulations, as neither neighborhood had reached the city’s threshold for reversals on reopening. Queens Community Board 6 chair Alexa Weitzman was “furious” over the last minute shift, which left constituents scrambling to keep up.
“This is absurd,” Weitzman said in a tweet. “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.”
A group of frustrated parents protested local school closures in front of P.S. 196 on 113th Street last Wednesday, questioning the logic behind relegating students to remote learning in a neighborhood where COVID positivity rates had not yet surpassed 2 percent.
In response to a listener of The Brian Lehrer Show who echoed similar concerns over what appeared to be arbitrary in-person school bans in Forest Hills, Mayor Bill de Blasio maintained that the closures follow the recommendations of the city’s top health officials.
“They all came to the same conclusion that we saw a very troubling uptick in a number of communities, that it was starting to spread to the surrounding communities, that we needed to reduce the amount of activities,” he explained. “And that meant schools, that meant businesses.
“If we all do this right, we're talking about a pause of two weeks,” he said, “worst case in three or four weeks. Then, school is back and we go through the whole rest of the school year.”
Both de Blasio and Cuomo have indicated coronavirus compliance violations among the city’s Orthodox Jewish populations as a factor in the need for stricter enforcement and regulations, particularly those placed on houses of worship in uptick zones.
Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens, is concerned that officials are mistakenly blaming COVID-19 transmission on one community, a move that could lead to blanket discrimination that has become all too familiar during the pandemic.
“I’ve experienced how one community can be singled out and unjustly blamed for COVID-19,” Meng explained in a statement. “Bigotry and violence have been directed toward the Asian-American community, and we need to prevent that hate from continuing to spread toward my constituents in the Jewish community in Queens.”
Instead, she says in the face of a global health crisis that has wreaked havoc on the city, all New Yorkers should remain vigilant and follow safety guidelines in order to keep infection rates down.