New York sends mask squad to enforce coronavirus rules in lax counties

The state Health Department has put out an urgent appeal for staffers to go to Rockland and Orange counties to perform COVID-19 community outreach and enforce mask and social distancing safety protocols amid fears of a second wave of the virus.

“The DOH is responsible for community outreach and enforcement of Executive Orders and regulations related to the use of face-coverings/masks and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the department said in a Monday email to employees in its office of health insurance programs.

“Staff is needed for immediate URGENT deployment to Orange and Rockland counties to assist with this critical public health and community enforcement effort,” the recruitment pitch to staffers in the agency’s office of health insurance programs obtained by the Post said.

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The request asked staffers to volunteer for shifts in Orange and Rockland that run from Saturday, Dec. 5 through Friday, Dec. 11 and consequent weeks through New Year’s Day.

Workers who volunteer for the Orange-Rockland mask squad will be eligible for overtime pay.

Both counties, which have large ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities where some have defied safety protocols, have among the highest coronavirus infection rates in the state.

The Middletown area of Orange had an alarming 8.16% COVID-19 infection rate as of Saturday.

The city of Newburgh in Orange had a 7.78% infection rate, while the Orange-Monroe County border towns posted a 7.8% positivity rate.

Rockland County’s infection rate was 5.8%.

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Asking volunteers to redeploy to help address the pandemic is not uncommon, said Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes.

“It’s all hands on deck,” Holmes said.

“We’re active in all counties where are there are increasing infection rates. These aren’t the only ones,” he said of Orange and Rockland.

Holmes said DOH employees have also been redeployed to help staff drive-through testing sites and enforce COVID-19 safety protocols at the airports.

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus welcomed state health cavalry.

“We’re on it. We got it. But you can never say it enough and the repercussions of these numbers continuing to climb warrant a strong message of awareness and enforcement,” Neuhaus told The Post.

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He noted the state police are also involved in educating residents and enforcing the safety protocols.

“I met with the state police last week. They’re going to supermarkets, department stores. They’re saying, `hey wear a mask, here’s a free mask.”

He said a second wave of the pandemic in his county is worrisome.

“It’s definitely a concerning increase…we’re starting to see coming from the Thanksgiving gathering. We had a number of deaths over the weekend,” Neuhaus said.

“Our hospitalizations are going up. I haven’t agreed with Governor Cuomo all this time throughout this crisis, but he’s right on the hospital capacity.

“We’re not there — we’re about 40 or 50% being occupied. That is the number to watch. It’s how many people are filling my hospitals.

“I’m bracing for an uptick now, so do I think it’s going to be astronomical and is it going to be crippling? I hope it’s not but we’re preparing for it. That’s why we’re on the phone with the hospital every week.

“It’s hard to find staff right now. That’s why we’re constantly talking.”

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Meanwhile, Cuomo warned Monday he will order the shutdown of indoor dining in New York City restaurants if the COVID-19 infection rate and hospitalization rates don’t stabilize.