Lax COVID Practices Has Orange County Singling Out Local Yeshivas for Extended Closures

    Illustrative: Boys stand outside a school on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, in Kiryas Joel, N.Y.(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    PALM TREE (VINnews/Sandy Eller) – While Kiryas Joel’s public schools have been cleared to reopen for in person instruction at the county level after the expiration of a two week closure announced on October 5th, classrooms will officially stay dark in the village’s private schools according to a new announcement by the Orange County commissioner of health.

    The Times Herald Record ( reported that Dr. Irina Gelman cited several reasons for the extended closure, saying that Kiryas Joel’s private schools haven’t lived up to their obligation to report staff and student coronavirus numbers and had reopened illegally, with inspectors observing students without masks and a lack of social distancing. Gelman, who offered no indication of when she might allow the schools which serve 15,000 to resume operations, said that local doctors have also refused to share statistics with the state on how many symptomatic patients they see each day who decline COVID testing.

    “The data is only valid when it is accurately reported and if people are being tested,” observed Gelman.

    Gelman’s announcement came just hours after Governor Andrew Cuomo shared the latest COVID statistics, with just 1.04 percent of tests in Orange County coming back positive as of Saturday, a significant drop from the 24.64 percent rate reported two weeks ago. Cuomo has said that he will shrink down some of the state’s red zones on Wednesday, as reported by CBS News (, but declined to say which micro-clusters would be affected, mentioning only that numbers have been trending lower in Queens.

    Gelman’s announcement that Kiryas Joel’s public schools can reopen based on COVID test results may be premature, with New York State Department of Health spokesperson Jill Montag saying that that decision can only be made at the state level, a sentiment that has been echoed by the governor.

    “Well, Rockland County thinks it should be this number, Orange County thinks it should be this number, New York City said it should be this number,” said Cuomo. “That’s nice, it’s also wholly irrelevant.”

    How the state determines the borders of its color-coded micro-clusters and potential benchmarks that could change their status is not immediately clear. The governor has shed little light on the matter, emphatically saying that the numbers that guided openings in the spring are no longer relevant, with issues such as communal cooperation also factoring into the equation.

    “I get everybody has an opinion, but it causes confusion and they have no legal authority, so it doesn’t really matter what their opinion is,” said Cuomo. “Nobody has legal authority besides the state.”

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