“The concert that happened in the Town of Southampton was just a gross violation of not only the public health rules, it was a gross violation of common sense,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday morning. “It was grossly disrespectful to fellow New Yorkers. . .”
In a conference call with members of the press, the governor reiterated that the State Department of Health is conducting a full investigation into how a concert with thousands of people was held during the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically why Southampton Town issued a permit for what was billed as a drive-in charity concert, featuring the Chainsmokers. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker is awaiting response to a written letter he sent Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman about the concert.
Schneiderman, who performed with his band as the opening act, said Monday that the concert organizers did not adhere to the permitted plan, which was for guests to listen to the performances from their socially distanced parking spots only. Instead, organizers, he said, opened a VIP section directly in front of the stage, where videos show a crowd of people gathered together in pre-pandemic fashion.
The supervisor, who answered media questions outside of Town Hall on Tuesday afternoon, said he believes that crowd was made up of people from behind the stage. “It wasn’t that the crowd rushed the stage. People from back stage moved into this area that had some level of credential. That’s why I have asked the organizer to identify all those individuals to make sure no one is COVID positive.”
He estimates that about 200 people were in that area.
According to the supervisor, he brought it to the attention of private security, but did not know what, if anything, was done as he left the property. Organizers said they took precautions.
Southampton Town police and code enforcement officers were in attendance. Cuomo said he wants to know “why the local law enforcement didn’t do anything when they saw they had an event that was out of control.”
Schneiderman contends police did take action, shutting down the event at 10:30 p.m. The organizers are facing a citation.
He said that he believed the organizers were given a permit for 500 cars with an estimate of four people per car. The permit, vetted by town police, code enforcement and the fire marshal’s office, states 2,000 people in 600 cars were allowed, plus 150 staff members, for a maximum of 2,150 people.
“We have reason to believe that it may be up to 3,000 people and that may also be a violation of the permit and that’s something we’re looking into,” the supervisor said. “Had I had any sense that they would violate the conditions of the permit, I never would have lent my name to support this.”
Drive-in concerts are currently permitted as long as patrons remain in their vehicle during the performance, except to use rest room facilities, according to the Governor’s office. The venue must also follow guidelines in regards to disinfecting and social distancing.
“You’re in your car, you go, you drive in, you stay in your car and watch the concert,” Cuomo said. “That’s not what the concert was in the Hamptons.”
Both Cuomo and Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor, issued a warning, when asked about similar concerts being planned around the state. “It’s not just the concert in the Hamptons. I want local governments to understand that we take this very seriously. The Town of Southampton is going to have a problem. I don’t know how they approved that permit,” Cuomo said.
Violations of public health law have civil fines and potential for criminal liability, he said.
Meanwhile, Cuomo said that the state has received reports “about behavior in the Village of Southampton that has been ongoing and reoccurring that also violates the public health regulations.”
Both village and town leadership officials will be involved in the state’s inquiries.
Mayor Jesse Warren said late Monday that he has reached out to one specific restaurant where people continue to congregate and that the village will be sending letters to restaurants and bars reminding them of the governor’s executive orders.
“We have also met with the Chief of Police and asked him to have SVPD step up enforcement, not just for the governor’s mandates but also for littering,” Warren said. “We will be issuing citations for anyone who is caught littering in our business district or on our beaches. We are currently in the process of hiring additional staff to help pick up trash on weekends and think that this will help given the influx of residents we have this summer.”
With Reporting By Jessica Mackin-Cipro