What to Know
- Effective immediately, international travelers arriving to New York are no longer required to quarantine or be tested upon arrival even if they're unvaccinated, updated state health department guidance says
- Still, health officials discourage international travel given the rising prevalence of more contagious variants; NYC's samples with the U.K. variant are up nearly 170% over a two-week period
- The hope is an expedited vaccine rollout will lead to a safe, faster economic revival; Lin-Manuel Miranda helped the mayor open a new Times Square site for theater, film and TV workers on Monday
Less than 10 days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted New York's longstanding coronavirus quarantine requirement for domestic travelers, the state has announced international travelers who are asymptomatic need no longer self-isolate either.
In health department guidance updated Saturday, the state says it has adopted a new policy to correspond to current CDC guidelines. That policy requires proof of a negative test or recent COVID recovery in order to board planes headed to the U.S., but it doesn't require isolation or testing for international travelers who lack symptoms upon arrival.
Though the quarantine and testing mandates have ended, state health officials still recommend those who are not fully vaccinated delay international travel. They recommend testing for fully vaccinated travelers anyway and say unvaccinated travelers should also get tested three to five days of arrival, too. The latter group should consider self-quarantine, but neither the isolation nor the testing is mandatory.
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Vaccination and/or testing requirements have been a key component of New York's reopening process. Cuomo said Monday the state would have guidance around graduations by May 1. The details will depend on size and location, but expect 20 percent capacity for large outdoor venues that can hold 500 people or more, 33 percent capacity for medium-sized venues (201 to 500 people) and 50 percent capacity for smaller venues (up to 200 people max). Different guidelines will apply for indoor locations, the governor said. Face masks, contact tracing screening and other precautions will apply in addition to the testing and vaccination requirements.
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
The CDC said earlier this month that fully vaccinated people could travel within the U.S. without getting tested or self-quarantining, but CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky urged caution at the time of that announcement. She said she would “advocate against general travel overall" given the rising number of infections across the U.S.
“If you are vaccinated, it is lower risk,” she said.
The change to the long-standing New York requirement comes amid worry over COVID-19 variants contributing to higher spread rates despite increased vaccinations.
With the vaccination rollout still far from the oft-cited goal of herd immunity (for which Cuomo puts the low threshold at 75 percent), officials encourage New Yorkers to keep employing mask-wearing, social distancing and other core COVID precautions.
New York and New Jersey are among five states that account for 44 percent of all new U.S. COVID infections over the latest seven-day period available for study, Johns Hopkins data showed last week. The U.K. variant is now the predominant strain in the U.S. and increasingly prevalent in the tri-state area.
As of the CDC's latest report, nearly 21,000 positive U.S. samples have contained the U.K. variant, known as B.1.1.7, in all 52 U.S. jurisdictions. That variant accounted for 27 percent of all positive samples tested in the latest two-week period, up from 12 percent the previous two-week period.
The South African and Brazilian variants, B.1.351 and P.1., remain less common but the prevalence of each continues to rise nationally. The South African variant has been detected in 453 U.S. samples in 36 states, while the P.1. strain has been found in nearly 500 samples in 31 states, the CDC says.
New Jersey has reported nearly 960 variant cases in total to date; the U.K. strain accounts for 98 percent of them. The state's health commissioner said Monday that B.1.1.7 strain appears to be associated with more severe outcomes in the state, based on hospitalizations and death rates. In New York City, the B.1.1.7 variant has been identified in 1,586 samples over the latest seven-day period studied, an increase of 169 percent over data reported for a seven-day period two weeks earlier.
Genomic sequencing of a subset of virus specimens taken from city residents during the week starting March 22 found an estimated 29.5 percent were B.1.1.7. More than 34 percent of samples studied in the same period were the B.1.526 variant, the strain thought to first have originated in Washington Heights before spreading to other boroughs and states. That New York variant was present in 6 percent of all U.S. cases tested the two-week period ending March 13, up from 4 percent the previous two-week reporting period, according to the CDC.
Top health officials in the five boroughs say they've seen no widespread evidence of more severe outcomes associated with the variants circulating in the city so far.
While research on that element is ongoing at the local, national and global levels, top experts agree on at least one fact: The U.K. variant and the other primary variants of concern most certainly are more infectious than earlier strains -- by 50 percent or more.
At the time Cuomo lifted the domestic travel quarantine rule in early April, Mayor Bill de Blasio accused the governor of defying that rule of caution. He said lifting the mandate for fully vaccinated travelers would be fine, but said city health experts continuously say limiting travel and requiring testing proved to be key in reducing viral spread risk.
He has yet to comment on the loosening of restrictions for international travelers.
The mayor has set a goal of fully vaccinating at least 5 million New Yorkers by the end of June, part of an overarching state and city effort to expedite inoculations and revive the economy faster. On Monday, de Blasio was on hand, along with famed "Hamilton" creator and actor Lin-Manuel Miranda, to celebrate the opening of a new Times Square vaccination site dedicated to the theater, film and TV industries.
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
The mayor announced plans to launch that dedicated vaccination site at 20 Times Square late last month. In reaffirming the opening Monday, de Blasio said the site, which initially was supposed to be only for theater workers, would also serve film and TV employees. The city is working with the unions on outreach, he said.
"This is how a recovery for all of us works, to bring back the entire city to ensure that everything that makes New York City great is coming together," de Blasio said. "It's part of the lifeblood of our city. It's just part of what makes us special."
Performers donned face shields as they sang in a drizzly Times Square Monday afternoon. Even that scene nearly brought Miranda to tears.
"This is the first live performance I've seen in a year and a half so I'm emotional today," the Broadway icon said.
In addition to the vaccination site at 20 Times Square, there will be a mobile unit for off-Broadway workers and pop-up COVID testing sites organized by theaters. The initial announcement came days before Cuomo allowed smaller arts and performance venues statewide to open at 33 percent capacity. He has also allowed large indoor and outdoor venues to reopen.
For now, Broadway's 41 theaters are closed through at least May 30, but de Blasio has said September is a more likely target. While some theaters could open under Cuomo's latest rules, most theaters have only 500 to 1,000 or so maximum seating capacity, which makes profiting under capacity caps exceedingly difficult.
Asked whether he could see Broadway functioning at half capacity, Miranda admitted Monday that he doesn't know.
"I think we have to trust the science and follow the recommendations," added Miranda, who got his own vaccination in the Bronx.
The hope -- and the plan -- is that increased vaccinations will lead to increased capacity limits, more public confidence and ultimately a faster recovery for the starved New York state and city economies. To date, New York state has fully vaccinated 24.9 percent of its population, nearly one in five New Yorkers, while 37.9 percent have had at least one shot. In the city, 35.4 percent of the population has had at least one shot, while 22.4 percent report a completed vaccination series.
President Joe Biden has set an April 19 deadline for all states to make vaccinations universally available to adults. New York took that step last week, while Connecticut did so earlier this month. New Jersey, which has thus far fully vaccinated about 25 percent of its population, is set to make that universal eligibility push on April 19.
Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife each got their first vaccine doses Friday at the Atlantic City mega-site. They'll get their second doses soon, he said. Overall, the state is roughly 47 percent of the way to Murphy's initial goal of 4.7 million fully vaccinated individuals who live or work in New Jersey by the end of June.
The state has made particular progress in vaccinating its senior population, the governor said Monday, while it ranks fifth among U.S. states in the percentage of vaccine supply administered and sixth in percent population with at least one dose.
The rollout across America has taken similar strides as of late.
The U.S. reported 4.6 million vaccine doses administered on Saturday, a new single-day record, as the country sees an average of 70,000 new COVID cases per day, a level in line with the summer 2020 surge, according to Johns Hopkins data. Nationally, about 46 percent of U.S. adults age 18 and older have received at least one dose, while 28 percent is now fully inoculated, according to the CDC.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Globally, the World Health Organization warns the pandemic trajectory is growing "exponentially" at more than 4.4 million new cases a week for the last two months. Worldwide deaths jumped 5 percent last week compared with the week before.
Currently, the U.S. vaccination rate is above the global average, according to Johns Hopkins data. No country has vaccinated a higher percentage of its population than Gibraltar (88.06 percent), followed by Israel (55.57 percent), the university says.
It's still unclear how long protection lasts for those who are vaccinated, the CDC says, though new research suggests Moderna's vaccine protection lasts at least six months. It takes about two weeks after the final shot to build immunity.