What to Know
- Indoor dining reopens in New York City at 25% capacity on Friday; the 10 p.m. indoor service curfew statewide extends to 11 p.m. Sunday; more big steps come later this month when large venues can return
- Mayor de Blasio says he'll implement the state's reopening guidance safely, but warned NYers that if the data changes, the city's response has to change, too; he called emerging variants the 'x-factor'
- The city is vulnerable, with the vaccination rollout still in its relatively early stages - but it's ramping up -- President Biden says the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply by summer's end to inoculate 300M
Indoor dining resumed Friday in New York City, nearly two months since Gov. Andrew Cuomo shut it down entirely for the second time in a year as COVID-19 cases began to climb post-Thanksgiving. And starting Sunday, the 10 p.m. statewide indoor service curfew will be extended to 11 p.m., Cuomo said Friday, citing ongoing declines in hospitalization and infection rates across New York.
It's the first in a series of critical reopening steps the governor has set over the course of this month, including the limited return of large venues, that have thrilled some while stoking anxiety among others leery after the latest surge.
Cuomo says he has put forth reopening decisions that are "smart," ones that rely on strict adherence to proven mitigation factors and testing, which is particularly critical, to safely chart New York's path forward. The governor has also cautioned that he moves based on the facts, and if the facts change, he'll adapt to them.
For New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, that adaptability is crucial. As recently as mid-December, he called for a full reimplementation of PAUSE as COVID rates started to soar again in the former epicenter of the national crisis. He has repeatedly expressed concern over the emergence of more contagious variants.
"We have to keep our eyes focused on the data and the science. The jury is still out and we have to be able to make quick decisions if we see a problem," the mayor said Friday on his weekly WNYC radio segment. "Today, we can make those decisions work. They're state decisions but we'll adopt them and implement them safely. Each week we need to watch and see if we need to vary the approach.
As for indoor dining, de Blasio said he'll do it at some point. He didn't say when.
The long-awaited dine-in at 25 percent capacity comes two days earlier than Cuomo had previously announced. He said restaurant owners had asked for the chance to take full advantage of the Valentine's Day weekend and given the recent improvement in COVID numbers in the city, he approved that request.
Cuomo cited the same improvement in numbers Friday behind his decision to extend the statewide indoor service curfew by an hour.
"Our decisions are based on science and data and we adjust as the virus adjusts. The infection rate and hospitalizations have continued to significantly decline," Cuomo said in a statement. "Accordingly, we have adjusted with arena and catering hall openings with rigorous testing and limited capacity indoor dining openings in New York City. We will continue to follow the science and react accordingly. If we keep the infections down and vaccinations up, we will continue to stay ahead in the footrace against this invisible enemy."
Over in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy lifted that curfew just last week as he raised the state's indoor dining capacity to 35 percent. He said local governments could choose to keep the curfew if their situations warranted.
Restaurant workers in New York became eligible for vaccination earlier this month, when Cuomo said local governments could add them to their group 1B rollout, which also includes teachers, first responders and people age 65-plus. But with first dose supply scarce and millions more people already ahead of them in line, many restaurant workers will likely be waiting some time to get their shots.
Mayor de Blasio has reserved half of the appointments at the newly opened Citi Field mega-vaccination site for food delivery workers and TLC licensees; that site saw a soft launch this week but is expected to ramp up capacity next week to about 4,000. Ultimately, the mayor says that site could do 35,000 shots a week -- and the city could do a half-million across its system -- if the supply was there.
"We are banking very substantively on an increase in supply. But there are still things we could do right now," de Blasio said on WNYC Friday. "Direct allotment from the federal government would simplify the process, the ability to use second doses now, knowing more supply is coming. I think the state and federal government can do more to speed this process up for us."
Some hospitality workers have said they don't want to bring back indoor service until they've been vaccinated. When asked about their safety earlier this week, de Blasio said his main concern was educating workers on health protocols and ensuring those measures are taken but asked for patience on the vaccine front.
"We want to keep them safe. And that's why I definitely fought for them to have the right be vaccinated," the mayor said. "We don't have enough supply to get everyone as quickly as we should. We’ve just got to get more supply."
As of Friday, New York City had fewer than 98,500 first doses left on hand. City-run programs have administered nearly 775,000 first doses to date, about 89 percent of the total they have received. The city's eligibility pool will expand considerably in just a matter of days, when people with qualifying underlying health conditions earn their chance to start scheduling appointments Monday.
New Yorkers age 16 to 64 with those pre-existing conditions can start scheduling appointments at state-run sites a day earlier, with Monday still being the first day they can get shots. The state has warned the influx of newly eligible New Yorkers, some of them among the most vulnerable, could mark the biggest stress test the already taxed and still young system has seen so far. Expect frustration, they said.
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
To date, state healthcare distribution sites have administered about 90 percent of all first doses received, amounting to nearly 1.86 million shots. Just more than 10 percent of the 19 million people who call New York home have had at least one shot (a disproportionate share of them white people). Experts say the low threshold for herd immunity is 75 percent. The ideal is closer to 85 percent.
Supply has been the holdback as far as the state and local governments are concerned, with roughly 5,000 sites statewide and hundreds of sites in the city ready to accelerate their scheduling -- but still operating on a week-to-week supply. First doses are being used virtually are soon as they are received.
More help is coming, though. The White House pledged another 5 percent boost in weekly allocation to states over the next three weeks on top of the roughly 20 percent increase promised over the same time period, Cuomo said Tuesday. The governor also announced a new federal partnership that will set aside special first dose allocation for new mass sites dedicated to underserved communities.
The first two will open in Queens and Brooklyn later this month and will have the capacity to inoculate up to 3,000 a day, marking the state's largest mass vaccinate sites to date. More sites are expected to be identified elsewhere soon. Cuomo met with President Joe Biden and other leaders at the White House Friday to discuss the new program, among other matters. The governor said Biden and Vice President Harris "recognize and appreciate how critical this targeted relief is for our ability to recover from this pandemic."
Another boon to the program: Residents in the 65 and older age group can begin to make appointments at select Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid and Costco pharmacies in New York City for their first dose starting Friday, officials said.
Around 250 stores began receiving 260,000 doses this week as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and more are expected to arrive next week. There will be 20,000 doses arriving each week at CVS pharmacies throughout the tri-state from that program.
Thus far, New York City has received 184,575 total doses at pharmacies eligible under the federal program; just about 55 percent of those have been used, since the vaccination effort has mostly been run out of hospitals and community sites. That supply, too, will likely dwindle quickly as retail pharmacies get a larger role.
In New Jersey, Murphy said this week a handful of CVS pharmacies in New Jersey would get direct allocations of COVID-19 vaccine from the feds and opened up appointment scheduling. One day later, all appointments were booked statewide.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
President Biden says the U.S. will have enough supply of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans. The nation is on pace to exceed his goal of administering 100 million doses in his first 100 days in office, with more than 26 million shots delivered in his first three weeks.
States across America are racing to get those in as many people's arms as quickly as possible as federal distribution ramps up. And data shows the tri-state area is inoculating at a much faster rate in just the last few weeks alone. That will only accelerate further, officials say, a boon as both New York and New Jersey continue to see their respective COVID numbers climb down from the last surge.
New community-based vaccinations sites are coming to 10 cities across New Jersey focused on getting doses to populations who've been disproportionately impacted by the virus, Murphy announced Friday. The rollout of these sites will begin next week for local residents only, open for a two-week window in places like Elizabeth, Patterson and Trenton before closing up shop and returning to administer second doses.
The state is nearing one million inoculations of the first dose, New Jersey's vaccine tracker reveals. Combined with the number of second doses distributed so far, the state has given 1,244,224 vaccinations to date. Hospitalizations in the state hovered above 2,500, Murphy reported Friday.
In New York, hospitalization stood at 7,068 as of Friday, their lowest total since Christmas day and a more than 2,000 decline from the mid-January peak. The seven-day rolling positivity rate is 4.04 percent, the lowest it has been since Nov. 30. The daily positivity rate has declined for 35 straight days.
New York City's rolling positivity rate of 4.75 percent Friday is down 26 percent from its early January peak, Cuomo said Friday. Across the river, the numbers continue to improve across the board on all key metrics as well.
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 ongoing decline from the holiday surge has prompted the governors of both states to announce incremental reopening steps in the last few weeks. Indoor dining was a key step for both. In New York, Cuomo took a major step forward this week when he said large arenas, from Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden and more, are eligible for limited public reopening on Feb. 23. Strict capacity limits and COVID rules apply; fans must provide proof of a negative test.
Over in New Jersey, Murphy is ready to take another step in the reopening of the state by allowing for the return of parents at high school sporting events. The governor says he'll sign an order to let a "limited number" of parents attend practices and competitions while adhering to indoor capacity limits (35 percent or 150 people max). Districts can decide whether to adopt the state's allowance or keep current restrictions on sporting events in place, Murphy said.
Meanwhile, the first limited wedding receptions will be allowed in New York by mid-March.
Nationally, the jarring COVID hospitalization and new case numbers, along with daily deaths, are declining, too. Top federal officials, including the head of the CDC, have expressed concern the emergence of more contagious variants could reverse those improvements. They're urged people to continue to exercise precautions at this critical juncture in the vaccination process.
Cases of the highly contagious U.K. strain have soared across the U.S. in recent weeks and now stand at 981, a 5 percent increase between the CDC's Tuesday and Thursday reports but a 42 percent increase between Sunday and Thursday.
"We're deeply concerned about these variants, they're the x-factor right now," de Blasio said on WNYC Friday. "I think it's fine to take those incremental steps. I want to see our economy come back but if at any point the data suggests we got to take a step back for a time, we got to listen to that and react."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
According to the CDC, there are now 981 reported cases of that variant, known as B.1.1.7, in 37 states. Locally, New York accounts for 59 of those, New Jersey for 36 and Connecticut for 20, though tri-state officials the actual number of variant cases are likely much higher than reported, given the exhaustive genetic sequencing process required to detect a variant in an individual sample.
Federal officials agree.
Cases of the South African variant, which carries additional mutations, have been identified in another two states since the CDC's latest update, with California and North Carolina joining a list that includes South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. The Brazilian variant has still only been detected in Minnesota and Oklahoma.
Overall, vaccines are expected to protect against the variants that have emerged and the new ones that will over time. Of greater concern, top federal officials say, is that they could lead to new case explosions at a critically vulnerable time for the country, with the goal of herd immunity via vaccination many months away.
Any influx in cases caused by the more transmissible variants could ultimately add to the U.S.' world-high death toll, which stands at more than 476,000 as of Friday, according to an NBC News tally. New York has long led the nation in confirmed COVID-19 deaths but was surpassed by California on Thursday.
A growing chorus of physicians and public health officials have warned that even with the mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the disease may become endemic -- meaning it's something people will have to live with, just like the flu.