New Jersey

Coronavirus May Never Go Away — but NYC Is Coming Back, Mayor Says

New York is closing in on administering at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to half of the state's residents, while its positivity and hospitalization rates have fallen to Thanksgiving lows and continue to drop

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York state, including the city, can fully reopen at some point within the next two months if vaccinations stay on track, meaning, "literally, everything back to normal"
  • He announced a joint plan with New Jersey to lift almost all capacity restrictions there and in New York on May 19; social distancing will remain in place in the Empire State with certain exceptions
  • Connecticut, which previously set May 19 as the date to start phasing out all remaining COVID rules but indoor masking, is the first U.S. state to fully vaccinate half its residents age 18+, Gov. Ned Lamont said.

Everything open. No capacity limits, really. 24/7 subways. A couple of feet of distance. Fewer masks.

In little more than two weeks, New York City will return to the nearest semblance of itself it has been since a virus no one knew too much about flipped one of the world's most vibrant places -- and the world itself -- upside-down in March 2020.

Some precautions will remain when the tri-state area lifts most remaining business capacity restrictions May 19, but the influx of people into offices, onto streets, into trains and bars and restaurants will be the clearest glimpse of the new normal so far.

COVID-19 could soon become like the flu -- at least that's what Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes. In other words, the virus wouldn't go away forever. But we'd learn to live with it.

"I never actually thought herd immunity in the purest form was the goal that was so assured to us," de Blasio said in an interview on NY1 Monday night. "Honestly, I thought of it as more community immunity, more functional immunity."

"I was anticipating a world in which COVID becomes like influenza. Flu we have to take seriously, we lose some people each year to the flu. But for the vast majority of people, it's a quick shot and they're fine," he added. "So, COVID is not going to go away permanently, but we can reduce COVID’s impact to so little that it becomes just a part of the sort of health backdrop in New York City as we continue to recover."

New Jersey will lift all COVID-19 outdoor gathering limits and remove a 50% capacity limit on indoor restaurants and bars, as long as 6-foot distancing can be maintained, beginning on May 19. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

With New York City's subway set to begin 24/7 service again on May 17 and existing capacity restrictions for most types of businesses being lifted statewide two days later, de Blasio says he's optimistic that the city that never sleeps will flourish once more.

"I think the summer's going to be intense. I think you're going to see a lot of tourism. I think you're going to see people coming out to the outdoor dining, the cultural events."

The looming developments crown a meticulously phased reopening that has taken nearly 14 months and one huge rollback to put the one-time epicenter of the pandemic on the road to social, emotional and economic revival. More steps on that path roll out in the coming days, with restaurants and bars in the five boroughs moving to 75% capacity Friday and personal care businesses doing the same.

Business owners like Shane Hathaway of Hold Fast Kitchen and Spirits in Midtown say it has been a long 13-plus months. And it'll take more than a snap to come back.

"I think we have a little bit of ways to go until we are at a place of comfort for everybody, but today seeing people sitting at our bar is a sign of getting near the end of this all," Hathaway said. "What a wild ride it's been."

Current capacity restrictions on houses of worship and businesses — including restaurants, offices, beauty salons, gyms and hair salons — will also be lifted in New Jersey on May 19, Gov. Phil Murphy said. Starting Friday, indoor barside seating will return to New Jersey as it did to New York City. Proper social distancing is required, though if the CDC were to revise its social distancing guidelines, Murphy would too.

A big day across the region as governors announced reopening plans across the tri-state. NBC New York's Erica Byfield reports.

Cuomo has said the same as it relates to social distancing in New York. Indoor mask mandates will stay the norm for the time being, though.

Armed with the same trends in vaccination numbers and core viral metrics as his colleague in New York, Murphy also announced that phased relaxing of restrictions slated to take effect on May 10 will now apply on Friday, three days earlier.

“This means that the events that we all associate with summer, from fireworks displays to parades to the state fair, can all go forward, as long as attendees keep 6 feet of distance,” the governor said.

The only capacity limits that will remain in place across New York and New Jersey as of May 19 are for large-scale indoor and outdoor venues and indoor/outdoor social and residential gathering limits. Large indoor and outdoor venues will go to 30 percent and 33 percent max capacity that day. Proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID test will still be required in New York. Cuomo said the three tri-states are working to coordinate joint COVID protocol for those big arena spaces going forward.

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

Outdoor and indoor social gathering limits in New York will increase to 500 on May 10 and 250 on May 19, while the outdoor residential gathering limit will vanish and the indoor one increase to 50 on May 19 in New York.

Monday's joint announcement marked the single most aggressive step yet in fully reopening New York, which Cuomo said could happen within the next two months if the pace of vaccinations stays on track, meaning, "literally, everything back to normal."

While the pace of vaccinations has ebbed a bit, the share of fully vaccinated New Yorkers continues to rise as the most severe COVID metrics -- hospitalizations and death rates -- continue to fall. Statewide hospitalizations fell to 2,573 Tuesday, a 43% plunge since April 1 and a 31% drop in just the last two weeks, a steep trajectory Cuomo equated a day earlier to "skiing down the mountain."

The vaccination trends may not be as steep at this point -- but the arrow is at least, and most importantly, pointed up: To date, 35.7% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, while nearly a third of New York City residents can say the same. Almost half of each group has gotten at least one dose.

Cuomo is launching a targeted outreach effort to New Yorkers age 16-25, who were among the last to earn vaccine eligibility and who have the lowest vaccination rates.

The governor has suggested high schools help increase vaccination rates by bussing eligible students to hubs as long as they have parental consent. The Pfizer vaccine is the only one federally authorized for emergency use among 16- and 17-year-olds so far -- and the FDA is expected to authorize it for youngsters ages 12 to 15 by next week.

That could mean a large swath of students could be vaccinated by the time school gets back to "full strength" come fall, as de Blasio has vowed it will.

The CDC doesn't want you going out with friends right after full vaccination, but is encouraging waiting two weeks for coronavirus antibodies to kick in. NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres weighs in on those guidelines and also discusses the COVID-19 crisis in India, where hundreds of thousands of cases are being reported each day, and oxygen and ventilators are in high demand.

Both Cuomo and de Blasio have taken a "no excuses" approach to expedite vaccinations, with the governor opening up all state-run mass sites to walk-ins of any eligible age last week and the mayor doing the same in the city the prior week.

In order to incentivize more people to get the shot in New Jersey, Murphy introduced a new program offering a free beer to those who get a COVID-19 vaccine in May (sorry, folks, there's no retroactive clause for those who got vaccinated before that).

More than 37% percent of Garden State residents are fully vaccinated to date, putting Murphy just more than 70% of the way to his goal of fully immunizing at least 4.7 million New Jersey adults by June 30.

New Jersey residents who get their first Covid vaccination in May will be eligible for a free beer at select breweries, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday.

Connecticut, which previously set May 19 as the date to start phasing out all other remaining coronavirus rules except for indoor masking, is the first state in America to have half of its residents age 18 and up fully vaccinated, Gov. Ned Lamont said.

More than 40% of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, CDC data shows, while almost 70% of people age 65 and older in the U.S. can say the same.

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