Cuomo Eases COVID Rules for Gyms, Offices, Casinos — and Says NY's Iconic State Fair is On

President Joe Biden is expected to reveal new CDC guidance on outdoor mask-wearing as early as Tuesday; there will likely be separate guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not

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What to Know

  • Improvements in core COVID rates, like hospitalizations, for New York and New Jersey have been fueled by the vaccination rollout, officials say -- and they, in turn, are fueling more reopenings
  • Effective Monday, movie theaters across the Empire State expand capacity to 33% and museum and zoo capacities go to 50%; large indoor arena capacity goes to 25% May 19 ahead of NBA playoffs
  • In NJ, indoor caps for weddings, proms, performances and more rises to 50% (250 people max) on May 10; outdoor carnivals can return at 50% capacity the same day while outdoor gathering limits rise to 500

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced yet another series of reopening moves for New York on Monday, affirming that the iconic New York State Fair in Syracuse will be held in person this August and raising capacity limits on a number of core businesses, including outdoor stadiums, offices and fitness clubs.

There will be some planning modifications for the event, which typically draws people from 28 states and at least a half-dozen countries, the governor said. The 18-day fair will be spread across four dedicated areas -- food and beverage, amusement rides, concerts and agriculture -- to help manage the crowds. Cuomo said capacity will be limited to about 50 percent of the max for this year's fair in August.

Tickets will be sold independently for each of the four outdoor areas so families can decide in advance which ones they want to visit. Capacity limits will be reexamined and adjusted if necessary to comply with health and safety guidelines. The fairground's buildings will not be open to the public, except for bathrooms.

Attendees will be required to observe social distancing and wear masks, except when eating or drinking. Attendance at concerts and other live performances will be limited. So far, performing acts include REO Speedwagon, Dropkick Murphys, Sheena Easton, Great White and Vixen and the Oak Ridge Boys, Cuomo said.

The governor also announced his next series of business capacity limit increases Monday. Effective May 15, offices can boost capacity from 50% to 75%, casinos from 25% to 50% and gyms and fitness clubs outside of NYC from 33% to 50%.

Those changes take effect four days before large arenas throughout the state will be allowed to boost indoor capacity to 25%, which is just in time for the NBA playoffs. Large-scale outdoor event venues can increase spectator capacity from 20% to 33% the same day, Cuomo said Monday.

"If you had asked me four months ago, 'Would we have made as much progress as we made?' I would've been dubious," Cuomo said as he reported the state's lowest seven-day rolling positivity rate (2.13%) since Nov. 8.

Statewide hospitalizations stand at 3,174, the lowest total since Thanksgiving Day, while more than 31% of New Yorkers are now fully vaccinated, he added.

"The arrows are all pointed in the right direction. We just have to keep the arrows pointed in the right direction. And that is a function of what we do. As hellacious as this has been, as complicated as COVID is, with variants of interest and this one and that one, it is still simple in the final analysis," Cuomo said. "It is a virus. We know how it spreads. If you take precautions within the family when someone gets the virus, you can make sure that other people don't spread the virus."

New Jersey's governor says he will make a "major announcement" Monday on the state's reopening post-pandemic, while New York expands capacity limits for movie theaters, museums, aquariums, botanical gardens and zoos the same day. Additionally, Americans who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus may be able to visit countries within the European Union this summer. Tracie Strahan has the latest.

The latest developments come the same day New York expands capacity limits for movie theaters, museums, aquariums, botanical gardens and zoos, and as New Jersey's governor made his own "major announcement" on his state's reopening.

Starting Monday, May 10, indoor room capacities for private catered events, including weddings and school proms, political events, funerals, memorial services and performances will rise to 50% with a maximum of 250 individuals, Gov. Phil Murphy said. For students to go to prom, they will have to be vaccinated, have a recent negative COVID test, or have had COVID in the previous 90 days.

Dance floors will be permitted at private catered events at that time, though masking and social distancing requirements remain in place. Dance floors at bars and other businesses like nightclubs are still prohibited.

Also on May 10, New Jersey's general outdoor gathering limit will increase to 500 individuals (good news for graduations), while outdoor capacity for large venues -- defined as areas with 1,000 or more fixed seats -- will increase to 50%. Six feet of distance is required between seated groups. Outdoor carnivals and fairs will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity, aligned with other amusement businesses, starting that same day.

"As we have said from Day 1, we have been eager to relax our restrictions as soon as the numbers gave us confidence that we could do so safely and responsibly. That time has come," Murphy said.

Indoor dining remains capped at 50%, where it has been since mid-March, for now, Murphy added. He also said he would release updated guidance for day and overnight summer camps at his next scheduled coronavirus briefing on Wednesday. (The CDC just released its guidance on that front Monday.)

The governor noted he expects to be able to make additional reopening announcements in the coming weeks given the trajectory of the numbers. Certain components announced Monday -- like the looming outdoor gathering limit increase -- could be boosted even more ahead of Memorial Day, Murphy said.

Murphy, like Cuomo, has exercised one of the more cautious reopening processes among American governors as his state, like New York, continues to fight new viral spread. Earlier this month, both New Jersey and New York ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in new daily infections per capita and were among five states driving 44% of all new daily U.S. cases at one point.

New Jersey remains second in the nation in terms of new daily cases per capita and third among U.S. states in daily COVID deaths per capita. Less than half the state's population has received at least one vaccine dose, while 31.7% is fully vaccinated. That's more than 2.8 million New Jerseyeans and 60% of the way to Murphy's previously stated goal of fully vaccinating 4.7 million adults in the state by June 30.

Murphy indicated last week he may move soon to allow walk-ins at some state vaccine sites as New York has done. A Bergen County spokesman says the mega-site at Paramus' New Bridge Medical Center opened walk-ins for Moderna Monday.

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

Transmission rates have slowed considerably in the last two weeks, though. The seven-day rolling average for new cases in New Jersey is 2,720, according to New York Times data, down 41% from the rolling average on April 2. In New York, the rolling average for new cases is 4,633, down 33% over the April 2 rolling average.

Hospitalizations have dropped by double-digit percentage points in both states over the last two weeks as well, according to the Times.

The drops in core viral metrics combined with an accelerated vaccination rollout have the governors confident they can proceed on a safe reopening course, one that continues to rely on core COVID precautions like masks even as other states begin to lift those longstanding mandates.

One such state that will be lifting its outdoor mask mandate soon is Connecticut, which will be reopening in full on May 19 (with only the indoor mask mandate still in tact). Gov. Ned Lamont issued some more reopenings on Monday as well, with sleepaway camps for kids being allowed this summer. The state is working on specific guidance for overnight camps. That news came as the state said that residents who are fully vaccinated will be able to get a free drink at participating restaurants in May.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has hinted at mask rules possible ending as soon as July, and some epidemiologists believe it could happen even sooner. NBC New York's Lynda Baquero reports.

Outdoor face coverings may soon be a thing of the past nationally, too. President Joe Biden is expected to reveal new CDC guidance on outdoor mask-wearing as early as Tuesday, a source familiar with the talks tells NBC News. There will likely be separate guidance for people who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.

To date, 36.5% of Americans age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data. That number is even higher for those age 65 and up, 67.5% of whom are fully vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout picked up steam again over the weekend. New York, New Jersey and other states resumed administering the Johnson & Johnson regimen after federal regulators ruled the benefits of the shot outweigh the risk of rare blood clots, 15 of which have been reported to date. All of the cases were women.

Overall, more than 8 million Americans have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Most report mild or so side effects.

The rare clot condition is called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Here's what means and what signs you should look for if you're concerned.

The federal decision on J&J came the same day New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio opened all city-run sites for walk-in vaccinations, his latest bid to simplify the process as he pushes to hit his goal of 5 million fully vaccinated New Yorkers by June. De Blasio has said the city will "reassess" its mask and social distancing regulations around that same time.

To date, New York City has fully vaccinated 28.4% of its population, more than 2.3 million people. Most of them are older than 55, and while 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible for vaccination, the vast majority of the roughly 51,000 students who start returning to class in person this week after the latest (and last) opt-in period have not have had their shots yet. They join more than 327,000 other in-person-learning students across all grades. Most of them aren't even eligible for vaccination yet.

But their teachers are and have been for some time. As of early April, about 44% of roughly 147,000 Department of Education staffers citywide had been vaccinated, though that number has most certainly climbed over the last three weeks.

Schools have been a bright spot for New York City in terms of infection rates since they first reopened for in-person learning, persistently showing lower rates of in-building transmission than the neighborhoods that surround them. De Blasio and top city health officials have sought for months to assure parents and school staff that classrooms are safe and thus far, the data has backed it up.

COVID-19 at New York City Public Schools

This map shows all known cases of COVID-19 at New York City public schools. It is updated Sunday through Friday at 5:30 PM.

     Building that has been closed
     One or more classrooms has been closed
     A member of the school community has tested positive but the school community was not exposed


Most of the students returning to buildings in person Monday are younger grade levels. The Department of Education says nearly half of those who opted back into in-person learning in this latest and final round are elementary grade students. Roughly 10,000 middle school and 13,000 high school students are also heading back.

An estimated 70% of families served by the nation's largest school system, though, are still opting for fully remote education. De Blasio says he's not surprised.

“My view is, a lot of parents were really focused on the scheduling question,” he said recently. “They had gotten into a schedule that worked for them with remote. The kids had gotten used to and like the teachers they had. And they didn’t want to disrupt that."

While he expects some parents to still choose remote learning for their kids come fall, de Blasio says he believes “the vast majority of parents are going to want their kids in school five days a week.” He has said the city will be ready to accommodate them when the next academic calendar year begins in September. It may mean a big influx.

The federal government recently adjusted its school guidance to say that students can safely sit 3 feet apart in the classroom if they wear masks, a suggestion New York state accepted in its latest round of school COVID guidelines, which were issued mid-April.

School districts will have to allow parents, school staff and local health officials to weigh in about any potential new changes before they take effect, officials have said.

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