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Society

New York City Stepping up Distancing Enforcement in 3 Parks

NEW YORK — Some parks will see stepped-up policing to stem the spread of the coronavirus, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday. He also announced that 2,500 members of a “test and trace corps” will be in place by early June to combat the virus.

Details on virus-related developments across New York:

PARK POLICING

Police officers will start limiting access to three New York City parks whose scofflaw visitors have become poster children for bad social distancing, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday.

Users of the parks, two built on Manhattan piers that jut into the Hudson River and one on Brooklyn's East River waterfront, have been shamed on social media in recent weeks after images appeared showing mostly young people, without masks, sprawled on blankets with little regard for rules barring people from getting within 6 feet of anyone they don't live with.

To control overcrowding, de Blasio said, police will start limiting how many people can access the parks at a time and warning people they will be allowed to stay only for a limited amount of time.

“Why are we doing this? Because it saves lives," said de Blasio, a Democrat.

The program will begin at Pier 45 and Pier 46 in Manhattan's Hudson River Park and Domino Park in Brooklyn.

Images of the crowded parks, all frequented predominantly by white people, have been used to argue there's a disparity in enforcement of social distancing rules.

Some people have contrasted the relatively hands-off approach police have taken in those parks to the more aggressive enforcement in gatherings of black people — in addition to the breakup of large public funerals in Brooklyn held by Hasidic Jews.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office released data late Thursday showing that of the 40 people arrested for social distancing violations in that borough since mid-March, 35 were black, 4 were Hispanic and just one was white. All cases were dropped.

CONTACT TRACING

A “test and trace corps” of 2,500 will be in place by early June to identify people who have the virus, isolate them in hotel rooms if needed and determine whom they've had contact with, de Blasio said.

De Blasio said 7,000 people have already applied to join the effort, which will be coordinated with New York state’s contact tracing initiative.

The mayor promised that “you’re going to see the biggest testing and tracing initiative you’ve ever seen in this city, in this country before. It’s going to be fast, it’s going to be intense, it’s going to reach deeply into the city, it’s going to be lifesaving, unquestionably.”

The operation will be headed by Dr. Ted Long, a top official at New York City Health and Hospitals, the city’s public hospital system, rather than by the leadership of the city health department, which is usually in charge of public health initiatives.

The hospital system’s leaders are best suited to implement the contact tracing program because of their experience running a network of 11 hospitals, plus clinics around the city, de Blasio said.

“I am convinced this is the way we’ll get it done,” he said.

Applicants for contact tracing positions will be trained in a Johns Hopkins University program sponsored by former Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Bloomberg Philanthropies, de Blasio said, and tech giant Salesforce will help set up a call center and data management system.

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