Cuomo Sets NYC Movie Theater Date as State Kicks Off Huge Reopening Week; Delayed Vaccines Arrive

New York sees large arenas, NYC middle schools, more subways, nursing home visits and higher NYC indoor dining capacity kick in this week, while New Jersey OK'd limited reopening of sports and entertainment venues

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What to Know

  • New York kicks off what may be its most significant reopening stretch to date Tuesday, when large venues can reopen to fans, NYC middle schoolers return to class and indoor dining hits 35% capacity
  • The governor also said nursing home visits resume Friday with strict rules; NYC movie theaters can open March 5 at 25% capacity or 50 people per screen in line with the rules for the rest of the state
  • NJ is making strides, too; large venues with 5,000-plus capacity can open for spectators March 1 (10% max capacity indoors, 15% max outdoors); collegiate sports can have 2 spectators now

Fans in the stands. Middle schoolers in the classroom. More overnight subway service. A big boost for indoor dining. The largest vaccination site yet. Nursing home visitations.

This may be the most significant (and varied) week of reopening in New York state and city since the pandemic began. It comes a day after the U.S. surpassed a once-unthinkable 500,000 lives lost to COVID-19 and as the unprecedented vaccination rollout faces severe weather and other challenges that had left the five boroughs with less than 1,000 first doses for the weekend.

Almost all first doses that had been scheduled to arrive in New York last week were delayed by weather, but the restock started to slowly trickle in on Monday, City Hall said. By early Monday, the first dose supply had increased to 23,253, according to city data. Last week, the city did more than twice that in one day.

"Finally, the supply we expected last week is arriving today. That means we basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "But it will not stop us from reaching our goal of five million New Yorkers vaccinated by June because we still have the ability and the capacity to do it."

Other sites, like some in Westchester County, were excited after expecting to receive 400 doses Monday — and got 700 instead. Now they are racing to fill up appointment slots, as all the shots from each shipment have to be given out in a week, and within sic hours after thawing from the deep freeze.

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

Extreme winter weather across the country significantly impeded the race to vaccinate Americans through much of last week, halting the delivery of desperately needed doses and ultimately forcing tens of thousands of appointments in the tri-state area to be postponed or even canceled over supply.

Some sites did remain open in New York City through the weekend, but those were dedicated primarily to the administration of second doses -- doses Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly asked permission to use as first shots until supply ramps up. Those repeat asks have been repeatedly denied by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration, which says the CDC does not recommend such a reallocation.

New Jersey has faced similar shortages: Officials in Essex County canceled first dose appointments for Sunday and Monday while those in Monmouth County canceled Monday appointments for the fifth straight day. Essex County plans to dole out 4,500 vaccines on Tuesday, and will have 28,000 more doses for residents after the shipments arrive Monday and Tuesday. Monmouth County said it would keep vaccine sites open later this week to reschedule all of the missed appointments by Sunday.

The Garden State, like the Empire State, continues to expand its distribution network and plans a soft launch this week for three new FEMA-run sites in Franklin, Trenton and Paterson.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

The United States' death toll climbed past 500,000, according to a count by NBC News. NBC New York's Adam Harding reports.

The White House said Sunday a third of its scheduled doses did manage to get through -- about 2 million -- and it expects to rapidly fill the backlog this week.

Such an influx would be of especially critical importance in New York, where the state's two largest vaccination rates to date, both run by FEMA, open Wednesday in Brooklyn and Queens. Both are designed to target historically underserved communities and will be able to inoculate up to 3,000 people a day each for about eight weeks. Appointments opened up for scheduling Saturday for people in dozens of hard-hit ZIP codes with low vaccination rates. They'll be made available to all eligible residents in each site's county or specified target region next week.

Almost all first doses that had been scheduled to arrive in New York last week were delayed by weather, but the restock started to slowly trickle in on Monday, City Hall said. New Jersey has faced similar shortages: Officials in Essex County canceled first dose appointments for Sunday and Monday while those in Monmouth County canceled Monday appointments for the fifth straight day. NBC 4 has team coverage.

The sites -- at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens -- are being operated under a new federal partnership that provides special first dose allocation outside of the regular weekly state allotment to ensure continuity of supply. Four more sites under that program will open upstate March 3 in Buffalo, Yonkers, Rochester and Albany. Those will each vaccinate 1,000 people a day.

Cuomo toured the site at Medgar Evers Monday morning. That site opens Wednesday, while the one at York College will open soon. They are intended to serve communities of color and lower-income communities that have been hardest-hit by the pandemic and have lower than average vaccination rates. They'll operate seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and be staffed jointly by state and federal officials. The National Guard will assist with operations as well.

In an effort to make access to the new sites easier for these so-called "socially vulnerable" communities, Cuomo said the MTA will enhance bus service from NYCHA and community centers to the new state-FEMA sites as part of a pilot program. The state will also partner with faith leaders in Brooklyn and Queens for a vaccination drive aimed at encouraging people to sign up for appointments.

De Blasio's latest mega-site, one at Staten Island's Empire Outlets, did open Friday after a series of supply-related delays. That site, like the one at the Bronx's Yankee Stadium, serves borough residents only. The mega-site at Citi Field reserves half appointments for Queens residents and half for restaurant and TLC workers.

Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here

More than 10 million people are currently eligible for vaccination in New York, a number that still far exceeds the supply coming from the federal government. State healthcare distribution sites have administered 93 percent of all first doses received to date, amounting to more than 2.4 million shots. New Jersey, which receives substantially less weekly federal allocation than its neighbor across the Hudson, has done more than 1.1 million first doses to date. The two states have nearly 7,000 providers ready to accelerate the rollout once supply is more stable.

Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City's health chief who himself battled COVID-19 earlier this month, says the federal government has indicated it plans to boost weekly allocation substantially by April. It has made incremental boosts already.

Most localities have used some of the boosted supply numbers to start vaccinating essential personnel such as fire, police — and teachers, a group Cuomo said the state will start tracking vaccination numbers for weekly. He said it's a part of President Joe Biden's push to open schools, and will also involve figuring out how many teachers are doing in-class learning, as many educators are concerned about going back to the classroom without a vaccine.

The race to vaccinate has taken on heightened urgency as more contagious variants first identified abroad become more prevalent in the United States, threatening to lead to faster viral spread as the country descends its latest peak.

U.S. detection of the U.K. variant, which some evidence shows may now also be more lethal as well as being more contagious, has far outpaced the nation's detection of the South African and Brazilian variants. As of the CDC's Sunday update, nearly 1,700 cases of the U.K. strain had been found in 44 states.

New York accounts for 82 of those, while New Jersey and Connecticut have detected 53 and 42 U.K. strain cases, respectively, though the actual numbers are likely significantly higher. A Fairfield County, Connecticut, resident became the first in the tri-state confirmed to have the South African variant a week ago -- and Cuomo reported the first such case in New York -- on Long Island -- Sunday.

The Brazilian variant remains relatively rare in the U.S., with the CDC confirming just five cases in four states -- Maryland, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Florida.

No details on the Long Island case have been released apart from the patient being in Nassau County. Contact tracing efforts are underway.

New York City health leaders said Monday they expect to put out a report in the coming days detailing the estimated "burden" of the new variants in the city.

"It's very complicated data to analyze so we've been really ramping up our capacity so that we can actually have a really accurate snapshot of how much of these variants are being transmitted here in the city," Dr. Jay Varma, senior public health adviser to the mayor's office said Monday.

With new COVID-19 variants from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil now spreading, doctors are rushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before more mutations arise. Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a regional director of One Medical, joined LX News to talk about why vaccines are so important right now and how she encourages her patients to overcome their skepticism about it.

Once that first report comes out, Varma said the city anticipates being able to update variant data weekly. De Blasio has consistently expressed concern over the new strains, which he calls the "x-factor" as far as continued improvement in the numbers. But, he said Monday, "it does not change the game plan."

Varma agrees.

"As people hear about these variants, they may think there's something different they need to do," he said. "The reality is that everything we're doing right now is what we need to push for and we do have an opportunity to outrun this with getting vaccinated and continuing all the safety measures that we do."

With new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus circulating, health experts are adjusting their recommendations for face masks. NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres joined LX News to explain why you should make sure your face mask is well-fitted and double up.

Meanwhile, COVID numbers across the tri-state area continue to decline across the board. New York state's seven-day rolling positivity rates have dropped to late November numbers.

Statewide, hospitalizations have dropped to 5,804, a nearly 3,500 patient plunge from their post-holiday surge peak of 9,273 on Jan. 19. The governor also reported a single-day death toll Monday below 100 (89) for the third straight day. Those single-day tolls had been in the triple digits every day since Dec. 13.

Given the numbers, Cuomo announced Monday that movie theaters in New York City could reopen March 5 at 25 percent capacity or 50 people max per screen in line with the rules for the rest of the state, which saw cinemas return about a week before Halloween. Assigned seatings, certain air filtration standards and staff to manage occupancy and social distancing are required; moviegoers will be required to keeps masks on except when eating or drinking wile seated. Movie theater employees are not yet eligible for vaccination under state guidelines.

In light of the announcement, theater chain AMC announced it would reopen all 13 of its NYC theaters on March 5. It said that there had not been "a single reported case of COVID-19 transmission among moviegoers" since reopening nationwide last August.

Billiard halls can also reopen on that date, with capacity at 35 percent for establishments in NYC; all other locations can open at 50 percent capacity. Similar to movie theaters, there will be assigned tables and social distancing must be enforced.

The governor also released further guidance regarding weddings and catered events in the state, which are allowed to return on March 15. Venues are restricted to 50 percent capacity, with events limited to 150 people. All patrons must be tested before events, with contact information required in case tracing is needed afterward. Venues must also notify the local health department of large events in advance. Masks are required, and some ceremonial and socially distanced dancing is allowed under strict guidelines, but it wasn't immediately clear how that would be enforced.

When asked if he thought it was a good idea to be reopening places like movie theaters in New York City, de Blasio said that they will continue to monitor the data and especially keep an eye on the variants, saying they "really could change the environment." He also didn't say whether he'd be willing to go back into a movie theater right away, but said at some point he would.

The governor said he did not hit back at critics fast enough, which why he said confusion and anger continue to grow over his administration's handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes. NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst reports.

New Jersey has experienced similar declines in its COVID numbers over the last month or so. On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced sports and entertainment venues with a fixed-seating capacity of more than 5,000 people can open for spectators starting March 1. Capacity will be capped at 10 percent for indoor venues and 15 percent for outdoor venues. Social distancing and masks apply.

"Other states have recently taken similar steps including New York and we are pleased to be able to join them," Murphy said. "One reason we can take this step is because fixed seating means spectators are largely confined to their seats, which minimizes congregating. Should the numbers we track every day continue to go down, we hope and expect to be able to raise these capacity limits as we approach the summer and fall."

Murphy also said Monday that collegiate sporting practices and competitions s can welcome two guardians per athlete with COVID protocol in place, effective immediately. He also upped the capacity limit for houses of worship and religious services to 50 percent, effective immediately. Masks, again, are required.

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


Amid the progress, both the governors of New York and New Jersey, along with Mayor de Blasio and top officials nationally, are keenly aware of how fast the pendulum could swing in the wrong direction without ongoing mitigation efforts.

Last week, New York City health officials updated their mask guidance to reflect the latest CDC recommendations encouraging double-masking. Research shows double-masking -- a cloth mask worn along with a surgical mask -- can block about 80 percent of the particles coming toward the head breathing them in. If two people double-mask, up to 95 percent of those particles can be blocked.

As more COVID variants are identified across the globe, health experts are suggesting upgrading masks with better filtration, or, if surgical masks are the only options, to "double mask" when out and about.

Overall, vaccines are expected to work on the variants that have emerged and those that will emerge over time. To date, the United States has administered more than 63 million total vaccine doses, nearly 19 million of those second shots.

In New York City, more than 1.5 million total doses have been administered to date, including nearly 885,000 first shots at city-run vaccine hubs alone.

"We still have a lot of evidence that the vaccines work across the board regardless of the variants, and the best game plan is to get the most people vaccinated as quickly as possible," de Blasio said Monday. "Yes, we're watching constantly. But it doesn't change what we do. In fact, we're in a race against time and a race against the variants to get people vaccinated."

Copyright NBC New York
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