What to Know
- Mayor Bill de Blasio says he's planning for NYC to reopen at "full strength" come July 1, though it's not yet clear what that might look like in terms of continued COVID protocol such as masks indoors
- The mayor doesn't have unilateral power to lift remaining pandemic restrictions; Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he's hopeful NY will be able to fully reopen before July 1 though was reluctant to make projections
- Officials keep trying to simplify the vaccination process to encourage people to get shots; all state-run mass vaccine sites now accept walk-ins for anyone 16+ while all city-run sites did that a week ago
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he's hopeful that New York can fully reopen earlier than July 1, the date Mayor Bill de Blasio pitched for the city's lifting of restrictions earlier Thursday, though he said he was reluctant to make projections.
"I think they're irresponsible," Cuomo said, reiterating decisions on state pandemic restrictions were his call. "July 1 - you have May, June, what happens in May, what happens in June? I'd like to get the hopeful reopening date before that. I don't want to wait that long. I think if we do what we have to do we can reopen earlier."
Asked what a full reopening would look like, the governor was clear: "What does reopening mean? Reopening means, literally, everything back to normal."
Get Tri-state area news and weather forecasts to your inbox. Sign up for NBC New York newsletters.
De Blasio made the surprise announcement on his plans to fully reopen the city by early summer ahead of Cuomo's scheduled briefing. He didn't specifically address the potential implications of his plan under existing statewide restrictions, and he said he hadn't spoken to Cuomo about the announcement before he made it.
"I think the best way to proceed here is to set out the city's vision. We're going to work with the federal government, we're going to work with the state government, but it's quite clear it's time to set a goal and move on that goal," the mayor said.
That 100% reopening means full capacity for restaurants and bars, stores, shops and small businesses, hair salons and barbershops, gyms and fitness classes, arenas, stadiums, music halls, museums and theaters, de Blasio said.
He did not specifically detail steps to achieve that goal, nor did he lay out which COVID precautions may stay in place through summer or any other requirements.
"Our plan is to fully reopen New York City on July 1. We are ready for stores to open, for businesses to open, offices, theaters, full strength. We have poured over the science and the data," the mayor added. "This is going to be the summer of New York City. You're going to see amazing activities, cultural activities coming back. I think people are going to flock to New York City because they want to live again."
So too do New Yorkers, Cuomo acknowledged at his COVID briefing later in the day.
"I want to open up New York City Monday. I want to open it Tuesday," he quipped as he said the data points weren't quite there for him to make bold projections.
"We're not done with COVID yet. Yes, we're making great progress but people are dying every day from COVID. We have to weigh those two facts," Cuomo said earlier in his briefing. "We're not home yet. We have to keep up with the precautions. We're relaxing the precautions as the numbers are getting better, but we're not home yet,"
"We are reopening. We're calibrating to COVID. We are in the home stretch. The end of the race is ahead of us. Now is no time to slow down."
Asked if the city planned to include additional COVID requirements -- like proof of vaccinations -- in its full reopening, de Blasio seemed to leave that to the purview of individual businesses. He has said indoor masking will remain the norm -- a statement Cuomo reiterated, and with more clarity around the reopening, Thursday.
"We are reopening and I would say aggressively but it's phased to the change in the data," Cuomo said. "It is a mathematical function. There'll always be some safety precautions in the near term -- it's now culturalized to people."
Coronavirus precautions have become the cultural norm for businesses, too -- not just the required standard. Even as de Blasio said he planned to fully reopen arenas and stadiums, among other businesses, by July 1, the organizations behind some of the largest venues in the city -- the biggest money drivers -- were skeptical.
Madison Square Garden, which first allowed limited numbers of fans to return to the stands in late February along with Barclays Center as part of Cuomo's first efforts to bring those venues back, indicated that the situation was still fluid.
Schedules have been shifting since the arts of the pandemic for a host of reasons that involve artists, promoters and tour schedules and it's difficult to predict an exact time for when the entertainment industry can actually return to normal, whether elected officials set a specific date "full reopening" date or not.
Barclays deferred questions on arena capacities to the state. Broadway hasn't been expected to return until September at the earliest and reiterated those plans -- albeit with a bit more optimism -- on Thursday.
"The Broadway League has been working closely with state and city officials on plans for safely restarting the Broadway industry, welcoming audiences, and bringing our workforce back," the Broadway League said in a statement. "Today's remarks by the mayor give us further optimism that Broadway productions can resume this fall, beginning in September, and we look forward to providing more details about reopening in the coming weeks."
Smaller theaters may start to reopen over the summer, though. Schools will be back to "full strength" come September, de Blasio has said.
The July 1 start would mean events that typically draw huge crowds -- like the city's annual Pride and Puerto Rican Day parades -- would have already passed.
De Blasio and Cuomo have taken a necessarily cautious approach -- at times voicing disagreement with each other's reopening statements -- to bringing back the one-time epicenter of the pandemic.
But increases in vaccinations have helped fuel declines in core viral metrics, especially around hospitalizations and deaths, in recent weeks. The mayor acknowledged the city still has work to do but says he's confident in the timeline.
"Help us out by going out and getting vaccinated if you haven't already, and it's free and it's all over the city and now we're doing walkups at sites all over the city," de Blasio said. "We've got some work to do but I'm quite confident we'll be ready for full strength by July 1. We're seeing better indicators in terms of healthcare than we even expected at this point, and this is the power of vaccination."
New daily case, hospitalization and death averages are down in the city -- by 41%, 45% and 37.5%, respectively -- over the last seven days compared with the daily average for the prior 28 days, health department data shows. And the number of New Yorkers getting vaccinated continues to rise even as the rate slows a bit.
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
De Blasio hit the halfway mark to his goal of fully vaccinating 5 million New York City residents by the end of June on Thursday, the same day New Yorkers of any eligible age got the walk-in option at all state-run mass vaccine sites.
The walk-ins at state-run sites are for first doses only. Most of the state-run mass vaccine sites administer the Pfizer vaccine, which can be given to anyone age 16+. The second dose of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be scheduled automatically after the first shot is administered, according to the governor.
Previously, the state walk-in option only applied to those age 60 and older and was limited to 16 sites. Cuomo expanded it this week as he seeks to keep vaccinations on pace with his reopening plans, which have accelerated considerably in recent weeks. On Thursday, he announced a new targeted outreach effort to encourage vaccination among people between the ages of 16 and 25 as well.
"We want to get to a point where there are no excuses," Cuomo said, suggesting that high schools start organizing vaccine drives for students of eligible age.
De Blasio opened all city-run sites to walk-ins of any eligible age last week as he seeks to hit his goal of fully vaccinating 5 million New York City residents by June's end. He should hit that goal Thursday. As of the state's latest data, 2.54 million New York City residents, 30.3% of the population, are fully vaccinated. Statewide, more than a third of New Yorkers now report a completed immunization series.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio have called on community health centers and private providers to open up walk-in appointments as well. The mayor wants pharmacies to do the same. He says making the process easier will help persuade skeptics.
"We may have, all of us, mistaken hesitancy for lack of convenience. There is definitely hesitancy too," de Blasio said. "There's definitely some people just don't want to get the shot right now or maybe ever, but I think as we've made it more and more convenient, sort of incentivized folks more, we're seeing lots of folks coming forward."
The walk-in expansion comes as infection rates are decreasing in most of the state. New York has averaged about 4,000 new COVID-19 cases per day over the past seven days, less than half the daily number of cases it averaged to start the month.
State hospitalizations are down 35% since April 1 alone, with Cuomo announcing Thursday that they had fallen below 3,000 for the first time since Nov. 24. Its daily death average is down 25% over the prior 14-day period, New York Times data shows.
Improved health metrics and increased vaccinations have prompted the governors of New York and New Jersey to announce steps to relax restrictions practically every week, sometimes more than once, as of late. They've led to changes nationally, too, with the CDC easing outdoor mask guidance for fully vaccinated people.
A day ago, Cuomo said his longstanding statewide food and beverage service curfew will end next month for both indoor and outdoor dining areas, while bar seating can return to New York City Monday for the first time in more than a year.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The announcement comes amid a series of recently announced capacity limit expansions for offices, large-scale outdoor events, concerts and non-NYC gyms and fitness centers by the governor of New York.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made some reopening news across the river this week, too, announcing indoor capacity limits for weddings, proms, performances and more rises to 50% on May 10. Outdoor carnivals can return at 50% capacity the same day, while outdoor gathering limits will increase to 500, Murphy said.
Asked Wednesday, as he revealed new state guidance for day and sleepaway camps this summer, for a response to Cuomo's latest move on bars, given the proximity between New Jersey and the city, Murphy said to expect developments next week.
"It is now quite clear this thing has turned -- and turned for the better," he added.
He is scheduled to get his second vaccine dose along with his wife on Friday, which will make them both fully vaccinated. They'll join a third of New Jerseyans who can say the same.
Nationally, 37.8% of U.S. adults age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. That number is even higher among adults age 65 and older, 68.3% of whom have completed their shot series. More than half of U.S. adults have had at least one shot.