New Jersey

NYC Hints at Possible Easing of Mask Rules; State Vax Sites to Allow Walk-Ins for 60+

Total new cases, hospitalizations and confirmed deaths are all down the last seven days over the weekly average the last four weeks -- by 28.6%, 41.2% and 34.7%, respectively

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What to Know

  • New York City and state continue to see improvement in core COVID metrics; hospitalizations are down by double-digit percentages over recent weeks in both cases
  • The improvement gives Gov. Andrew Cuomo more confidence in proceeding with a safe reopening; museums and zoos in New York can boost capacity to 50% Monday; movie theaters go to 33%
  • On May 19, large indoor arenas can increase their capacity to 25%, a boon ahead of the NBA playoffs. On that same day, Connecticut will lift all remaining restrictions except for its indoor mask mandate

COVID-19 numbers in New York City are still not where they need to be to lift all remaining business restrictions like Connecticut plans to do next month, Mayor Bill de Blasio says, but he hinted outdoor mask rules may not be so stringent come summer.

"Continue to wear their masks and I'll keep saying it, at least through June," the mayor said as he talked about the city's vaccine efforts. "Stick with the mask, stick with the social distancing, people are still being smart and cautious and that's helping us."

A similar message reverberates at state and federal levels around masks. With so many lingering questions around vaccinations, and only 26% of New York City residents fully vaccinated at this point, officials stress masking up is an ongoing public safety need.

The prevalence of more contagious COVID variants is another reason for pause, local officials say. As of the city's latest weekly report, genetic sequencing of positive city samples found the B.1.1.7 variant, the strain first identified in the U.K. that has been linked to more serious outcomes, in an estimated 35.6% of them.

The variant has been reported in at least 2,278 NYC samples, an increase of nearly 44% over the previous reporting period, city data shows.

New real time information is allowing scientists at Hackensack Medical Center to develop a new rapid test that detects COVID-19 variants. NBC New York's Brian Thompson reports.

Still, core COVID metrics are indeed on the decline in the city. Total new cases, hospitalizations and confirmed deaths are all down the last seven days over the weekly average the last four weeks -- by 28.6%, 41.2% and 34.7%, respectively.

In another sign of good recovery news, the last COVID field hospital in the city (and the state) closed on Wednesday. With coronavirus cases dropping under 100 at Staten Island University Hospital, a first in the last five months, the last patient left the facility that had been occupied by more than 1,000 COVID patients over the last 372 days.

The mayor's senior health adviser, Dr. Jay Varma, reiterated it was hardly time to loosen critical restrictions but said he's "cautiously optimistic" about the latest numbers. He also agreed with a possible June end to outdoor mask mandates.

It's not clear how any potential citywide change to mask guidance would affect the ongoing statewide executive order mandating masks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's order on that, which was instituted early in the pandemic, remains in effect. The legislature's March move to strip him of his pandemic-related powers amid ongoing state and federal investigations into his dueling but separate scandals could make it easier to restore more local power as it relates to COVID rules, though.

The governor has also continued to advocate the use of masks along with other core COVID precautions even as the state's virus metrics continue to improve. Continuation of mitigation efforts is key to a safe reopening of the economy, Cuomo says -- and he outlined his next planned steps in that regard earlier this week.

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

Starting on Monday, April 26, museums and zoos in New York can open up their doors to 50% of their normal capacity, while movie theaters will expand to one-third of normal capacity, Cuomo said. On May 19, large indoor arenas with more than 10,000 seats can increase their capacity to 25%, up from the current 10% limit.

New York still ranks in the top third of U.S. states for most infections per capita but its most concerning metrics -- hospitalizations and deaths -- have seen more significant drops. Hospitalizations are still hovering around early December levels -- nothing close to the improvements seen over the latest summer but a far cry from the nightmare that was the spring of 2020 -- but officials expect vaccinations to help drive those down.

Most New Yorkers are still not protected against COVID via vaccination. As of Wednesday, 42.1% of the population has had at least one dose, while 28.8% is fully vaccinated, the latest state data shows.

During a news conference at a mass vaccination site in Yonkers on Wednesday, Cuomo touted the importance to continue vaccinations.

"The COVID numbers show that we are making progress. The COVID numbers show that we are heading in the right direction," Cuomo said, adding that Tuesday's percentage of coronavirus cases in the state was its lowest since November, although one shouldn't let their guard down.

"The only way to address and defeat COVID and crush COVID is to get the vaccination. We have to reach herd immunity," he said, stressing that those 60 years and older can get vaccinated without prior appointments at 16 walk-in vaccination sites across the state starting Friday, April 23. The sites are:

  • Kodak-Hawkeye Parking Lot (Rochester)
  • NYS Fair (Syracuse)
  • Washington Ave. Armory (Albany)
  • Crossgate Mall (Albany)
  • Suffolk County Community College (Brentwood)
  • Aqueduct Race Track (South Ozone Park)
  • National Guard Armory (Yonkers)
  • SUNY Old Westbury (Old Westbury)
  • Medgar Evers College (Brooklyn)
  • York College (Queens)
  • Javits Center (Manhattan)
  • Yankee Stadium (Bronx)
  • SUNY Binghamton (Johnson City)
  • Delavan Grider Community Center (Buffalo)
  • Rochester Dome Arena (Rochester)
  • SUNY Polytechnic Institute (Utica)

Some public health experts have worried that New York has been easing COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining and gatherings too quickly. There are still hotspots for the virus. Hospitals in parts of western New York have seen admissions more than double since mid-March. Cuomo said that these numbers are a reflection of the actions from the public and COVID-19 related precautions, such as mask wearing and social distancing, should still be followed.

State health officials haven't offered any reason for the uptick in western New York, though Cuomo blamed human behavior earlier this week.

“We don’t believe there’s anything that accounts for that than the variant in human behavior and the precautions people take,” the governor said.

Cuomo said his administration is not considering imposing restrictions again in western New York.

“But we do have to get it under control,” he added.

Copyright NBC New York
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