The disease arrived especially hard in New York, which has seen 32,000 fatalities and peaked at more than 1,000 deaths per day in early April. Nationwide, about 7.5 million people have been infected, with 210,000 dead.
While most people who contract the coronavirus do not require hospitalization, it can pose significant risks for the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the stricter rules were necessary to contain outbreaks. He said that failure to enforce existing laws had led to the renewed spike. He blamed localities for not enforcing social distancing rules and mask mandates.
"If you do not agree to follow the rules, then we will close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that," he said at an Oct. 6 news conference.
"This is about mass gatherings," he said. "And one of the prime places of mass gatherings are houses of worship."
"A mass gathering causes infections, infections cause a cluster, a cluster causes community spread, Cuomo added. "That is the natural evolution of things unless we intervene and we stop the cycle."
The resumption of restrictions on houses of worship was a surprise to religious leaders, the New York Times reports.
"All of this seems very poorly executed, the decision and the communication, all of it," Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, told the New York Times.
Religious leaders said they were not consulted about the measures, which take effect Oct. 9; at sunset that day the Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret begins.
Recent coronavirus outbreaks have taken place in Brooklyn, Queens, and the northern suburbs of New York City, and some of these areas have large Orthodox Jewish populations.
Cuomo has specifically used photos of packed crowds of Orthodox Jews to argue for the restrictions.
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A group of four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers accused the governor of "irresponsible and pejorative rhetoric," including using a photograph of Jews from more than 10 years ago during his news conference. They accused the governor of lying about the scope of the lockdown measures during a conference call, saying he had engaged in "a duplicitous bait-and-switch."
Hundreds of Hasidic men gathered in protest after midnight early Oct. 7 in the Borough Park neighborhood, the New York Times reports. Most of them rejected masks and set fires along the street. At least one man was swarmed by a mob which accused him of disloyalty to the community.
New York state's first cluster of infections took place in March at a synagogue in New Rochelle, where dozens of members became infected. In recent months some Orthodox synagogues have been venues for large gatherings of people who do not take precautions against the virus.
Father William With, pastor of Resurrection Church in the Gerritsen Beach neighborhood, told The Tablet that sacramental celebrations are "so important" and "it is essential that we stay open." Parishioners are only "just starting to come back," he added.
"We have not fully recovered. They are coming back slowly but surely. It would be a bad sign for our people if we had to close now," Fr. With said.
Schools in parts of Rockland and Orange counties will close under the rules. On Oct. 5 Cuomo ordered schools in nine zip codes of Brooklyn and Queens to close. Although these zip codes represent 7% of New York City's population, they have accounted for more than 20% of new coronavirus infections in the last four weeks.