What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will extend the statewide indoor restaurant and catered event curfews by an hour each starting on Monday; horse and racing spectators return in person Thursday
- The governor has said he is proceeding on a safe and science-driven reopening course, one that has been fortified by the state's vaccination rollout; statewide hospitalizations are at their lowest since Dec. 1
- Still, both Cuomo and Bill de Blasio urge continued caution; more contagious variants and questions around vaccine supply are among lingering reasons the mayor says to take reopening slow
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he will extend New York's indoor restaurant service and catered events curfews by an hour each and welcome spectators back to horse and auto races next week, his latest reopening steps as statewide COVID hospitalizations fall below 4,000 for the first time since Dec. 1.
Starting Monday, the state's curfews for indoor restaurant service and catered events extend from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. and 12 a.m. to 1 a.m., respectively, Cuomo said. Horse and auto racing spectators can return to the stands Thursday at 20 percent capacity. Attendees must show proof of a recent negative test or completed vaccination series prior to entry at a racing event. Other core COVID protocol applies as well.
Cuomo has said he is proceeding on a safe and science-driven reopening course, one that has been fortified by the state's vaccination rollout. On Thursday, he reported the lowest statewide positivity rate (2.76 percent) since Nov. 21, while the seven-day rolling average fell to 3.05 percent, the lowest it has been since the day before Thanksgiving.
But work remains to be done.
"Even as we make progress vaccinating more New Yorkers every single day and hospitalizations drop to new lows, it's critical for us all to stay vigilant until the infection rate drops and we reach a higher level of immunity," Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. "Washing hands, staying appropriately socially distanced and wearing masks are important things each of us can do to slow the spread."
"This has been an incredibly trying time for all New Yorkers, and I know COVID fatigue is setting in, but we can't give up fighting this virus until we reach the light at the end of the tunnel," the governor added.
Restaurant owners have said there should be no curfew at all. Asked to weigh in Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a familiar refrain: "When it comes to fighting COVID, we have to be really smart about how we relax restrictions. We still are dealing with a really huge challenge with the variants. We're concerned about making sure we have enough supply of vaccine."
"Take it step by step," the mayor added. "When we see an adjustment like this let's see how it goes for a little bit, let's see what happens out there, let's make sure that we're making decisions based on the data and the science and the data and the science means you've got to give it a little time to see how things work."
De Blasio said he hopes the city's nightlife scene will be able to return in fuller force over the summer and into the fall, but he noted a number of lingering questions.
The latest planned reopenings come as tri-state officials -- and those across the nation -- seek to reassure their people of vaccine safety and effectiveness after this week's recommended U.S. pause of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose regimen.
That suggestion came Tuesday after a half-dozen reports of women between the ages of 18 and 48 suffering rare blood clots after taking the J&J vaccine. One of the women, a 45-year-old from Virginia, died. The CDC and the FDA are continuing to debate the next steps as J&J precautionarily pauses its single-shot rollout in Europe.
Tri-state officials, including de Blasio, describe the pause as a "tremendous curveball" but say they hope -- and believe -- it won't hamper their vaccination efforts for long. De Blasio says the city remains on track to fully vaccinate 5 million residents by the end of June. He's about 40 percent of the way there.
Amid local, state and national pushes to vaccinate, federal experts, including CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have warned Americans to maintain COVID precautions, saying vaccinations take up to six weeks to take full effect.
That time gap potentially gives more contagious variants that have intensified their collective grip on the country more time to spread and threaten U.S. progress.
Some authorities have pointed to variants, like those first identified in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, as a factor in heightened hospitalization rates among people younger than 65, fewer of whom are fully vaccinated compared with their 65 and older counterparts. For the latter, the average rate of admissions into New York City hospitals for COVID-like illness has fallen by 51 percent since mid-January, health officials say.
That compares with a 29 percent-decline for those under 65, city officials say.
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
That's an indication that vaccinations are working against variants overall, as health experts have said they would, and de Blasio said Wednesday he thought the vaccination rollout would outpace the spread of variants. Those currently account for about three-quarters of positive samples in the five boroughs, up from about 10 percent in January, according to a detailed report from health officials this week.
De Blasio says he believes the city would likely be in a much better position as far as its COVID numbers if not for the variants.
"We are concerned certainly in case of one variant of the particular negative effects it has," de Blasio said Wednesday of the U.K. variant, which has been linked to more severe outcomes. "That said, we've talked about this analogy for a while now, you know, running a race, you know, having a race against the variants. I think we're winning that race right now."
Ultimately, officials still believe existing vaccines protect against the variants that have emerged and those that will emerge over time. The hope, as de Blasio said, is that vaccinations will continue to increase at a faster rate than variants' prevalence.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
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
He and others urge New Yorkers to get vaccinated and say the J&J pause shows that the protective system is working. It's not a reason not to get one's shots, they say.
To date, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have all vaccinated slightly more than a quarter of their respective populations.
Nationally, 30.3 percent of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, while 48.3 percent have had at least one shot. The ratio is even higher for the 65 and older age group, of which 63.7 percent has been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
President Joe Biden has set a Monday deadline for U.S. states to make all residents age 16 and older eligible for vaccination.