What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo says NY will adopt the CDC's new indoor mask and social distancing guidance for fully vaccinated people starting Wednesday, which will be the tri-state's biggest reopening day yet
- Nearly all remaining business restrictions will lift across NY, NJ and CT that day; CT has said it will also adopt the CDC's new guidance at that time while NJ's governor says his indoor mask mandate stays in effect
- Gov. Phil Murphy did lift NJ's outdoor mask rule for all people Monday as well as the state's travel advisory Monday; he also said his executive order allowing schools to teach remotely in some cases will end after this academic year, meaning a full return in-person this fall
New York state will adopt the CDC's new mask and social distancing guidance for fully vaccinated people starting Wednesday, the same day the three tri-states are poised to lift most remaining virus restrictions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says.
Masks are still required on public transit, in nursing homes, in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, schools and healthcare facilities across the state in accordance with the new federal guidelines, the governor said Monday.
Private venues can still impose additional rules as they see fit, but the longstanding statewide executive order on masks that has been in place since April 2020 will be gone in less than 48 hours. People who are immunocompromised or are unvaccinated should continue to wear masks and socially distance, Cuomo added.
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"We have to reopen. We have to reopen smart, with a cautious eye. We have to get back to life and living and we have to do it the way New Yorkers do it," the governor said, an empty Radio City Music Hall serving as a dramatic backdrop behind him. "Unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and social distance, but if you are vaccinated you are safe -- no masks, no social distancing."
The governor's highly anticipated announcement came four days after the CDC surprisingly dropped new guidance saying fully vaccinated people could ditch masks indoors in most cases and one day after six New York county executives, two Democrats and four Republicans, called for Cuomo to adopt it statewide.
None of them represent the city, where the CDC's exceptions to dropping masks for the fully vaccinated -- on subways or buses, in crowded places and hospitals and homeless shelters -- are as indigenous as cactus is to Arizona's Sonoran Desert.
A growing number of businesses are well on board with the change. Target, CVS and Starbucks are among the latest companies to say they will not require masks in their stores for fully vaccinated patrons unless it is mandated by state law.
In New York, that state provision will no longer exist as of Wednesday. The state's mask order has been in place since mid-April 2020, when Cuomo first required everyone over the age of 2 to wear a mask when in public or unable to stay socially distant. At that time, the state was losing about 800 people to COVID daily.
The situation has changed since. Daily deaths are regularly in the 20s (and fell to 11 on Monday, the lowest single-day count since Oct. 30, Cuomo said), while COVID hospitalizations are at their lowest level since the second week of November and have plunged nearly 60% over the last month alone. In terms of their rolling seven-day average, statewide hospitalizations have seen 46 straight days of decline.
More than half of New York's adult population is now fully vaccinated, while the city is on the verge of that milestone.
Elected and top health leaders in New York City, while calling the CDC's indoor mask guidance change "monumental" in terms of what it means for America's progress against COVID-19, still urge continued caution in higher-risk settings.
Asked again about masks on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "I like the guidance. I think it makes sense. Folks who are vaccinated are going to have more freedom." The mayor also noted the CDC's indoor mask guidance does include what he perceives to be necessary caveats for transit and crowded scenarios.
De Blasio said in an interview Monday evening that ditching the mask won't yet be an option for city employees, saying on NY1 that they will being going with a "slow approach" for the first few weeks workers return to in-person offices, given that there will be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people inside.
Cuomo had initially planned to leave New York's mask and social distancing rules in place for the big reopening on Wednesday but said he would reevaluate the guidance if the federal recommendations changed. They did. New York's will, too.
Social distancing remains a requirement for venues where non-vaccinated people are in attendance. That will inherently limit capacity even when most percentage-capacity restrictions lift across the state in less than 48 hours. A number of pro sports teams, including the Yankees, Mets and Islanders, have, in partnership with the state, debuted vaccinated-only fan sections to limit that social distancing cap.
The playoff-bound Knicks and Nets will do the same. More than 50% of arena seating at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center will be reserved for fully vaccinated fans only starting May 22. Vaccination status will be verified. The Knicks said they're hoping to get 13,000 at each game.
Masks are still required for unvaccinated people, for whom social distancing rules will also remain in effect.
Cuomo has said he plans to pilot reduced social distancing at smaller indoor venues, too -- like Broadway theaters -- before June 19.
In other reopening news, Cuomo said the iconic New York City Marathon would return for its 50th running on Nov. 7 at 60% capacity, which is about 33,000 runners. Health and safety guidelines will be in place but are subject to change as the race draws closer. Registration opens on June 8. County fairs can also resume statewide with social distancing requirements in place. State Department of Health permits are required for events that involve more than 5,000 attendees.
Meanwhile, a new park, Pier 76 on the Hudson -- will officially open on June 9 and host the Tribeca Festival's opening night screening of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights," yet another incremental step toward a new normal for New York state.
"Having Radio City back at 100% without masks, with people enjoying New York and the New York arts is going to be not only symbolic and metaphoric but I think is going to go a long way towards bringing back this state overall," he added. "People are going to say, 'So if I'm not vaccinated I can't go?' That's right."
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
Tri-State Poised to Make Biggest Recovery Push Yet
Monday kicks off New York's most critical reopening week yet as all three tri-state governors ready to lift most remaining COVID restrictions.
The subways are now back to running 24/7 for the first time since the pandemic brought daily life to a standstill in March 2020. Longstanding statewide curfews on indoor and outdoor restaurant and catering services are gone.
Come Wednesday, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will lift most remaining COVID rules, a coordinated effort akin to the one the governors employed when they first shut down last year.
Of the three states, Connecticut (the first in America to fully vaccinate more than half of its adult population, according to its governor) was the first to announce plans to adopt the new CDC guidance on indoor masking when the rest of its virus restrictions evaporate that day.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has said his state isn't quite ready to drop its indoor mask mandate for fully vaccinated people in public places yet and reiterated that point Monday. He has said he expects the Garden State could reach the point where he feels comfortable adopting the new CDC guidance "within a matter of weeks."
"While we have made tremendous progress, we are not out of the woods yet. The majority of New Jerseyans are still unvaccinated and we're not checking anyone's vaccine status at the door when you go to the supermarket or to a hardware store, for instance," Murphy said. "I don't know how we can expect workers to tell who is vaccinated from who isn't -- and it is unfair to put the burden on business owners and frontline employees to police every patron."
"The best thing we can do for now -- and this is not forever and always, folks, we just need more time on the clock, is to keep our indoor mask mandate in place in public settings to protect you, your family, the workers and the entire community," the governor added.
A key first step, Murphy officially signed an executive order Monday eliminating New Jersey's outdoor mask mandate altogether in public spaces. That applies to those who have yet to get their shots as well as to those who are fully vaccinated.
Murphy also announced Monday that he will allow his executive order permitting schools across New Jersey to use remote instruction in certain cases to expire at the end of this academic year, meaning a full return in person in the fall.
And he said the state's travel advisory, implemented last June as COVID rates soared across the country, is lifted effective immediately.
Like its neighbor across the river, New Jersey was hit particularly hard in the early days of the pandemic. That devastating cost has had officials leery of rolling back any core restrictions too quickly for months even as other states tossed mask mandates early.
Both Cuomo and Murphy have said it's more challenging to reopen their states post-pandemic than it was to shut them down at the start of it, especially in the denser areas. What they don't want to do, they say, is to reverse a major restriction only to have to revive it should COVID rates soar again. Vaccinations should help prevent that, the governors note -- and above all, those they want to encourage.
"I just don't want to get burned. I don't want to go back. We're the only state in America that hasn't gone back once and I don't want to start now," Murphy said Monday as far as his break with Cuomo on the mask changes. "If we can save one more life with a little bit more time on the clock, it will have been worth it."
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
Anyone age 16 and older can now walk into any New York City- or state-run site and get vaccinated without an appointment, though minors need parental consent.
Cuomo has also authorized New York City to administer vaccines to any U.S. resident 16 years and older, making it one of fewer than 20 places in America to expand access to immunization that way.
The more vaccinated people in New York, the better, officials say -- whether they live here or not.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
"The vaccine is the weapon that can win the war, and the faster everyone takes in, the faster we can continue to safely reopen our economy and get back to a new normal," Cuomo said. "We are continuing to work with community leaders and organizations to make the vaccine more accessible to New Yorkers, but we are seeing a lag in vaccinations and I remind everyone that we cannot get complacent."
"The vaccine is safe and effective, and the process is as seamless as it can be," the governor added. "You just have to show up at one of our sites across the state, roll up your sleeve, and help bring us a step closer to victory against the virus."
Nationally, more than 47% of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated, according to the latest CDC data. Nearly three-quarters of the country's population age 65 and older can say the same.