Mayor: NYPD won’t break up small groups, police masks

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department, criticized over instances of harsh social distancing enforcement, will no longer be involved in breaking up small clusters of people or confronting citizens about failing to wear a mask, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday.

The police will continue to disperse large gatherings that are most likely to present a risk of spreading the coronavirus, de Blasio said. “But we’re not going to have the NYPD focus on, you know, two people together or three people together,” he said. “We’re going to focus on when it starts to be more than a handful of people. And we’re not going to be having the NYPD enforcing on face coverings.”

The change was made after videos circulated on social media showing confrontations between officers and members of the public, including one where a woman with a young child was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed as police removed her from a subway station for not wearing a face covering.

De Blasio said police officers will offer masks to people whose faces are uncovered. “We want to make this a positive approach,” he said.

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Police Benevolent Association head Patrick Lynch said the revised social distancing policy “will create more problems than it solves.” He said in a statement, “The new policy should be a single sentence: police officers are not responsible for enforcing social distancing or other public health directives.”

Some political leaders in the city had urged the mayor to leave most social distancing enforcement to other city departments, saying sending police officers to do the work would lead to confrontations.

Other coronavirus developments in New York state:

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BACK TO THE BEACH

After two months of strict limits on business and social distancing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo welcomed the first loosening of restrictions in many parts of the state Friday and announced that beaches would be allowed to open in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

State and municipal beaches throughout the state will be allowed to open the Friday before the holiday, but with limits, the Democrat said.

Capacity will be restricted to no more than 50 percent of normal, with parking limited to trim crowds. Group activities will not be allowed. Picnic areas and playgrounds will stay closed. Employees need to wear masks.

It will be up to local governments, Cuomo said, to decide whether to allow municipal beaches to reopen. If they do, they must follow the state’s rules.

“If there is a problem, and the locals do not enforce those regulations, we will close those beaches,” Cuomo said.

In New York City, no plans have been announced to open city beaches or public pools to swimmers, but people can stroll on the Coney Island boardwalk and on the sand as long as they don’t go in the water, which is barred when lifeguards are not on duty.

De Blasio said “we’re just not ready” to open beaches, but mayoral spokeswoman Jane Meyer said in an email that city beaches could possibly open at some point this summer.

The state’s move comes after New Jersey announced Thursday it was opening beaches for Memorial Day.

“If New York did not open beaches, you would see an influx of people to the Jersey Shore, Connecticut, etc,” Cuomo said.

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BUSINESSES REOPENING

Starting Friday, construction and manufacturing businesses reopened in many rural parts of New York and some upstate cities. Retail businesses can open, too, but only for goods to be picked up quickly, not for in-store shopping.

New York has extended its shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses for the rest of the state, including New York City and Long Island, through May 28.

Cuomo cautioned, though, that employers need to protect workers by supplying masks and limiting congregation of workers. And he said the limited steps the state is taking to reopen would be reversed immediately if infection rates start to rise.

“Watch what happens to the infection rate, testing rate, hospitalization rate,” he said. “If those numbers start to move, slow down on the activity level.”

The coronavirus killed 132 New Yorkers on Thursday, Cuomo said.

While the number of patients admitted to hospitals with the virus has been gradually declining, it has increased slightly in recent days an average of 431 per day.

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HOT SUMMER

New York City will spend $55 million to provide 74,000 free air conditioners to low-income older adults who may be cooped up inside their apartments all summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, de Blasio said Friday.

“Knowing that low-income seniors are the most vulnerable, we’re going to start an initiative right away to get them air conditioners,” de Blasio said.

Other measures aimed at helping New Yorkers survive summer in the era of social distancing will include setting up air-conditioned cooling centers in facilities such as gyms and libraries and opening fire hydrants safely.

“This is all about protecting New Yorkers and helping them through the summer,” de Blasio said.

While parts of upstate New York began a partial reopening on Friday, Cuomo has said that New York City will not begin reopening until mid-June at the earliest.

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