What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo one-upped the Senate Democratic Majority Wednesday, announcing plans to erase remaining NY restaurant curfews next month and allow bar seating in NYC as of May 3
- The developments come one day after New York adopted new outdoor CDC mask guidance for fully vaccinated people; top NYC officials say they agree with the idea in theory but urge continued caution
- NJ Gov. Phil Murphy on the new mask guidance: 'Our outside guidance has not changed, we're asking you to wear a mask outdoors unless you can properly socially distance ... We're going to leave it where it is'
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York's 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 starting on Monday.
The May 3 return of bar seating across the five boroughs aligns with Cuomo's rules for the rest of the state and will give New York City its biggest nightlife jolt in more than a year. The governor recently extended his indoor food and beverage service curfew by an hour, to 12 a.m. It will be lifted entirely for outdoor dining areas beginning May 17 and for indoor dining areas beginning May 31, he said.
Cuomo also said the 1 a.m. curfew for catered events where attendees have provided proof of immunization or a recent negative COVID-19 test will be lifted starting May 17, with the curfew for all catered events set to be lifted on May 31.
Catered events can also resume at individual homes starting May 3 above the residential gathering limit of 10 people indoors (25 outdoors) if core COVID protocol is maintained. Fixed dance zones will come to catering halls the same day.
"Everything we've been doing is working - all the arrows are pointing in the right direction and now we're able to increase economic activity even more," the governor said. "Lifting these restrictions for restaurants, bars and catering companies will allow these businesses that have been devastated by the pandemic to begin to recover as we return to a new normal in a post-pandemic world."
"To be clear: we will only be able to maintain this progress if everyone gets the COVID vaccine," he added. "It is the weapon that will the war and we need everyone to take it, otherwise we risk going backward."
Wednesday's announcement comes amid a series of recently announced capacity changes for offices, large-scale outdoor events, concerts and non-NYC gyms and fitness centers by the governor. And it one-ups the Senate Democratic Majority, which rolled back some Cuomo executive orders, including the rule that restaurants only serve alcohol to people who also buy food, later in the day.
That plan was announced a day in advance, giving the governor the chance to take the reopening further ahead of the repeal. It was their first repeal of any COVID executive order since voting to strip Cuomo of his pandemic emergency powers. The Assembly passed the resolutions as well, officials said.
The latest reopening developments come a day after Cuomo said New York state adopted new CDC outdoor mask guidance for fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated people. Those recommendations include a number of circumstances where even non-vaccinated people can ditch the mask when out in public.
Allowing people to congregate at city bars and outside restaurants without buying food became a sticking point over the summer as viral rates started to increase again. Crowds of young people lingering on packed streets, some without masks, were blamed for fueling COVID spread at the time. The situation has changed.
The statewide rolling positivity rate is 2.02%, Cuomo said Wednesday -- the lowest rolling average since Nov. 7. Hospitalizations are at their lowest total (3,117) since Thanksgiving and vaccination rates are rising.
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
Nearly 33% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, while Mayor Bill de Blasio will likely hit the halfway mark to his June goal of fully vaccinating 5 million city residents Thursday. So far, 2.48 million (29.5% of the city's population) are inoculated. New daily case, hospitalization and daily death averages have been falling accordingly.
While indoor dining capacity is still limited to 50% for the city and 75% for the rest of the state, restrictions like the food and alcohol rules are "no longer necessary," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in announcing the repeal.
Along with the food with alcoholic beverage requirement, the state Senate repealed Cuomo's executive order imposing "unnecessary" penalties for vaccine providers who don't use their full allocation within a certain timeframe and "outdated" priority group regulations that officials say slowed the vaccination process.
Stewart-Cousins said the changes will "enhance the quality of life for volunteers, patrons, and business owners," and that the state Senate will continue to review of other existing Cuomo directives. There was no immediate comment from her on the governor's latest reopening announcements Wednesday.
State Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt, though, had a few words on that matter, saying, "the governor may have announced that his arbitrary curfew will be lifted in a few weeks but our small businesses can't afford to wait another day."
"The Legislature should not only immediately repeal these nonsensical, non-scientific orders -- we should also fully repeal the governor’s emergency powers and restore local control to the officials who are best equipped to make decisions for the residents who elected them, and their local economies," Ortt continued. "New Yorkers are sick and tired of a governor who transparently bases all of his decision-making on political science, not medical science. In the best interest of all New Yorkers, we must finally re-establish the Legislature as a co-equal branch."
Restauranteurs have been outspoken opponents of the alcohol and other food service-related restrictions since Cuomo first implemented them. Some owners' answers to the food/alcohol purchase rule tried to skirt it by creating menu items like "CUOMO Chips", to mock "Cuomo's Unnecessary Obligated Menu Options." They said the rule was unfair to an industry already hit hard by the pandemic.
The New York State Restaurant Association on Tuesday applauded the state Senate's plan, calling it a small step towards recovery. Its response to Cuomo's Wednesday announcement was a bit more exuberant.
"We thank the state for listening to our request for a reopening plan, bringing New York in line with many of our neighbors," Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the NYSRA said in a statement. "With vaccinations going up and positivity rates going down, the hospitality industry can set our sights on rebounding this spring and summer as we scratch and claw our way back to profitability, which for many has seemed impossible."
Under the deal made between New York's Assembly and state Senate to reverse Cuomo's emergency powers, his other temporary emergency powers are set to expire on April 30. The executive orders he has issued will remain in effect as the Legislature sees fit.
Cuomo also needs to consult the Legislature on new potential orders -- and he said Monday he would notify the necessary parties of the CDC mask guidance adoption.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
NYC Urges Caution on New CDC Mask Guidance
It's not immediately clear how the city plans to communicate the new guidance to its public. De Blasio and his senior health leadership had described the anticipated changes as "logical" ahead of the official CDC announcement.
But they also say the city presents some unique challenges. And they had said they wanted more time to review the new CDC recommendations in detail before determining "how best to apply them in New York."
Asked Wednesday whether the city would adopt the changes immediately given the governor's statewide announcement a day earlier, de Blasio hedged a bit.
"The guidelines make sense. We have to look at the guidelines carefully. They say if someone's fully vaccinated they can approach some things differently outdoors but there's still caution if people are in crowded spaces," de Blasio said. "Obviously if someone is not fully vaccinated, I think you continue to take careful precautions."
"It comes back to the central point we've talked about for a while," he added. "We have to keep our guard up. We have to keep vigilant. We have to keep practicing smart approaches because we want to end this crisis once and for all."
The mayor then turned to the city's health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, who echoed comments by de Blasio's senior public health adviser a day earlier in saying that "as with any federal guidelines, we have to apply them to our local situation."
"In New York City, it is more common to encounter a lot of people in an outdoor space," he said. "Even for fully vaccinated people, although we agree with the idea that you are at much lower risk when you're outdoors, when there's less ability to distance it remains reasonable and rational to keep your mask on in that situation."
It wasn't clear if the health department planned to release updated mask guidance for the five boroughs based on the latest CDC recommendations at some point or let Cuomo's statewide adoption stand on its own.
Connecticut had already planned to lift its outdoor mask mandate this Saturday, along with other remaining outdoor restrictions. New Jersey's governor clarified his state's response to the CDC outdoor mask guidance in his briefing on Wednesday.
"The mask guidance outdoor, I'm going to leave indoor aside, we are still mandating indoor wearing of face coverings unless you're literally putting food or drink into yourselves, our outside guidance is and has been and has not changed, we're asking you to wear a mask outdoors unless you can properly socially distance," Gov. Phil Murphy said.
"The only wrinkle between what we've been saying from Day 1 and as I understood the feds saying yesterday is they've added that you need to be vaccinated to do what you just said," he said, noting people are already more liberated in New Jersey outdoors than in. "We've not had that as a requirement and I don't expect that we will. We're going to leave it where it is. We want to keep this as simple as possible."
Indoor masking will likely remain in place for some time in the tri-state area, given the density and heightened risk associated with closed spaces. But as vaccinations reach more and more people, those restrictions too will eventually be reassessed.
Murphy did make some reopening news Wednesday, announcing New Jersey day and sleepaway camps can operate this summer. Health department guidance includes many core COVID protocols like indoor masking and daily health screenings. It also requires unvaccinated overnight campers and staff to receive a COVID test before camp starts and again within the first few days of the session.
"We are pleased that our health metrics are allowing our summer camps to plan for the season ahead and we hope everyone can make the most of the summer and take away some great Jersey summer memories," Murphy said.
New Jersey, like New York, continues to make progress with its vaccination rollout and is 62% of the way to Murphy's goal of 4.7 million fully vaccinated individuals by June 30. Nearly a third of the state's population is fully vaccinated to date.
Murphy said Wednesday he expects to announce a "suite of steps" next week to ensure New Jersey hits his vaccination goal -- and will likely have more significant reopening news as well, when asked for a response to Cuomo's latest steps.
"It is now quite clear this thing has turned -- and turned for the better," Murphy said.
He is scheduled to get his second vaccine dose along with his wife on Friday, which will make them both fully vaccinated.
Nationally, 37.3% of U.S. adults age 18 and older can say the same, according to the CDC. That number is even higher among adults age 65 and older, nearly 68% of whom have completed their shot series.
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