Ayyyeee…What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some tea and it involves the New York City area re-opening after a year of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced on Monday that they were lifting almost all their pandemic restrictions, paving the way for a return to fuller offices and restaurants, a more vibrant nightlife and a richer array of cultural and religious gatherings for the first time in a year.
New York will bring back 24-hour service to the subway on May 17, after a year of overnight closures, a move critical for night-shift workers and a symbolic boost to a city that takes pride in a transit system that had, until the pandemic, never closed for extended periods.
The relaxation of rules will start May 19 . That is a testament to the fact that coronavirus cases are down and vaccination rates are rising, offering a chance to jump start the recovery in a region that became a center of the global pandemic last spring.
As the three states made their announcement, there were other signs that the nation was turning the corner in the fight against Covid-19. Significantly, the Food and Drug Administration was said to be moving toward authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old by next week.
New York is following states in the South and parts of the West that have already moved to reopen. But in many of the nation’s other major cities, plans for reopening have been mixed amid shifting case counts.
Businesses in New York will still have to abide by federal social distancing guidelines, which recommend a minimum of six feet of space between groups. So the size of crowds will be limited by those constraints. And New York’s rules requiring masks indoors remain unchanged.
The planned reopening comes as New York’s coronavirus indicators have improved significantly since cases skyrocketed after the holidays. About 1.8 percent of virus tests statewide were positive over the past seven days on average, the lowest since early November. But the changes come as New York officials are increasingly concerned about a slowing demand for the vaccine, even as walk-in vaccinations are now widely available. Though nearly half of the state’s population, or more than 9 million people, has received at least one dose of the vaccine, vaccination rates have waned since hitting a peak in early April, NY Govenor Andrew Cuomo said. Fewer young people have been vaccinated, in part because they only recently became eligible, and hesitancy remains a daunting hurdle among a significant portion of the population.
In New York City, 39 percent of adults were fully vaccinated and 54 percent have had a least one dose as of Monday.
New Jersey is eliminating most of its remaining virus restrictions, including capacity limits for outdoor events. Indoor arenas with more than 1,000 seats will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity. More than 3.2 million New Jersey residents are fully vaccinated and the state has set a goal of fully vaccinating 4.7 million residents by the end of June.
In Connecticut, where about 40 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, one of the highest rates in the nation, Govenor Ned Lamont credited the elimination of many restrictions to “a nation-leading vaccine distribution program.”
New York will allow large indoor sports venues to increase their capacity to 30 percent from 10 percent, while outdoor arenas can increase to 33 percent from 20 percent. Fans are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative virus test. New York’s theaters and arts venues will also be permitted to fully reopen. Since April, live shows have been allowed only at small and medium indoor arts venues at one-third capacity or a maximum of 100 people. But it remains unclear to what extent the city’s cultural life will immediately come back since venues typically need months to plan productions and social distancing requirements remain a logistical challenge.
Many of the city’s museums and zoos, which were able to increase to 50 percent capacity in April, said they planned to stick to limited reopenings until tourists return in greater numbers. Danielle Bias, the director of communications at the Whitney Museum of American Art, said the museum plans to gradually increase its capacity to 50 percent by June 1, “in a way that is safe and comfortable for visitors and our staff.”
The decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, to restore 24-hour service was an answer to a question many New Yorkers had been asking: Would round-the-clock service ever restart? Up until last year, New York was among a handful of cities that never closed its public transit for an extended period.