What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a pilot with the Buffalo Bills to host fans at two playoff games in January; they had to show proof of a negative test and adhere to certain rules at the stadium
- Declaring that effort an "unparalleled success," Cuomo said Wednesday other large NY arenas and venues can reopen to the public starting Feb. 23 with testing and other requirements in place
- The governor has said for months that testing is the key to faster reopenings of entertainment, offices and more before vaccination reaches critical mass; he says NY can't stay closed for that long
Declaring New York state's demonstration with the Buffalo Bills an "unparalleled success," Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday he will extend the testing- based program to any large stadium or arena later this month.
Fans who provide a negative PCR test within 72 hours of an event will be able to attend music shows and performances as well as baseball, soccer, football and basketball games. Arenas can open to the public on Feb. 23.
Certain rules and restrictions apply to start, Cuomo said. There is a strict 10 percent capacity limit in arenas and stadiums with more than 10,000-person total capacity. Venues have to submit their plans to the State Department of Health for approval. Core mitigation efforts like mask-wearing, temperature checks and mandatory assigned seating to ensure social distancing will also be required.
The state's inspection efforts of eligible venues has been underway, which is why Barclays Center has already been cleared to reopen on the first day it can, Feb. 23. The Brooklyn stadium will host fans for the Nets game against the Sacramento Kings.
"The success of this, and similar events in approved venues over the coming weeks will help inform the re-opening process for smaller venues in the future," Cuomo said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he was speaking with the state and the Nets about his hopes of turning Barclays into a mass vaccination site for the city, so it's not clear how Cuomo's announcement might affect his plans.
In the meantime, the governor wants any other venues potentially interested in reopening sooner rather than later to "let us know."
New Mets' majority owner Steve Cohen said Wednesday he wants to get Citi Field, currently being used as a city-run mass vaccination site, on board next. He hopes to have the stadium ready for fans for the 2021 season home opener against Miami on April 8, albeit it an expected limited capacity.
"I think there's gonna be fans. We're not sure exactly what percent of the stadium is gonna be filled, but it'll be at least 10 to 15 percent, probably," Cohen said. "We're hopeful -- people get vaccinated and maybe things loosen up over time."
MSG said the Garden would reopen to fans as well, roughly 2,000 per game starting with the Knicks on Feb. 23 and the Rangers on Feb. 26.
The Yankees issued a statement welcoming Cuomo's decision, but the team did not elaborate on its plans for when and how many fans could attend games. A spokesperson for the team called Cuomo’s announcement an “encouraging first step.”
Cuomo said testing is the single most critical key to the reopening equation at these early stages.
"I can go see the president of the United States, take a test and if I pass the test, walk into the Oval Office," the governor said. "Why? If you're negative, you're negative. Testing is the key."
He added that the plan he unveiled Wednesday "hits the balance of a safe reopening. A PCR test is as safe as you can get."
Cuomo has said for months that testing is the key to reopening entertainment and sports venues, offices and more before vaccination reaches critical mass. He has said New York state and city can't stay shut down for as long as it will take to reach herd immunity, which likely remains many months away.
Still, the possibility of people who recently caught COVID-19 testing negative one day but still being able to transmit the virus on game day remains, according to Scott Weisenberg, infectious diseases specialist and director of the travel medicine program at NYU Langone Health.
The governor laid the foundation for the plan when he launched a pilot program with the Buffalo Bills to host two playoff games in January; fans had to show proof of a negative test before the game and adhere to certain rules at the stadium. That will be the model for the safe and smart reopening of New York, which has seen its positivity rates decline for the last month post-holiday surge.
“We’ve had virtually no cases of spread from that game,” Cuomo said Jan. 29, although that claim has not been verified.
Hospitalizations statewide stood at 7,593 as of Wednesday, the lowest total since two days after Christmas. However, that number is one of the highest in the nation, despite being down from 9,300 in mid-January.
And while the number of new infections in New York is dropping, it remains much higher than most states per capita. Nearly 62,000 people in the state have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last seven days, a rate last seen in early December. At least 1,000 people with COVID-19 have died in nursing homes and hospitals each week since early January.
CUNY School of Public Health epidemiology professor Denis Nash said New York’s approach lacks a scientific basis when “community prevalence is very high.” He and other public health experts interviewed by The Associated Press pointed to evidence that COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors and questioned why New York’s policy includes indoor stadiums, which raises the risk of people sitting near others who may be cheering or taking masks off while eating.
“To think about bringing people into large groups and mass gatherings including in indoors arenas, right now, seems cross-purposes with our efforts to really maximize the impact that the vaccine roll out will have in controlling the pandemic,” Nash, the executive director for CUNY Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health, said.
Eli Rosenberg, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at University at Albany School of Public Health, said he’s worried about ensuring venues are following rules, and whether the shift would suggest New York is “out of the woods.”
“We’re still at a very severe point, even if the trajectory is good,” Rosenberg said.
Could Broadway be next? President of the Broadway League Charlotte St. Martin said while the reopenings are promising, a lot of work will go into the reopenings of storied theaters.
"If we were told say, in May, that we could open, it's still going to take us two-three months to get all the cast back, because they're scattered all over the country, to go into rehearsals," said St. Martin. She added that the group is still hopeful theater-goers will be able to catch shows in person at some point in 2021, saying they are "cautiously optimistic about early fall."
The indoor vs. outdoor dilemma is a real one, Cuomo has said, but continues to claim that testing is the key to a more immediate revival of the arts, culture and sports that are so foundational to the vibrance that was New York City before the pandemic. New York City can -- and will -- be that vibrant again, Cuomo says.
“Live sports and entertainment have long been engrained in the fabric of New York and the inability to hold events has only added to the isolation we have all felt at the hands of this virus,” Cuomo said.
To further accelerate the revival, Cuomo announced the launch of NY PopsUp, an arts festival featuring hundreds of free pop-up performances throughout the state, including New York City. It launches Feb. 20 and runs through Labor Day.
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
"Cities have taken a real blow during COVID, and the economy will not come back fast enough on its own - we must bring it back," Cuomo said in his announcement earlier this week. "Creative synergies are vital for cities to survive, and our arts and cultural industries have been shut down all across the country, taking a terrible toll on workers and the economy."
"We want to be aggressive with reopening the State and getting our economy back on track, and NY PopsUp will be an important bridge to the broader reopening of our world-class performance venues and institutions," he added. "New York has been a leader throughout this entire pandemic, and we will lead once again with bringing back the arts."