What to Know
- As New York City high school students return to class on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said families who opted out of in-person learning will have an opportunity to change their minds this week
- Cluster zones in the five boroughs were lifted Monday and indoor fitness classes resume; Residential gathering limits across the state increase from 10 people in any space to 25 people outdoors
- The first case of a COVID-19 variant known as the Brazilian variant has been confirmed in New York. The patient is a resident of Brooklyn in their 90s who hasn't traveled recently
After a big reopening week for restaurants and businesses across the tri-state area, another massive step in the pandemic recovery is taking place in New York City Monday, even amid the discovery of the first local case of the Brazilian variant of COVID-19.
One of those steps is expanding vaccine eligibility to another swath of New Yorkers. People 50 years old and above will become eligible for the COVID-19 starting Tuesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said from Mount Vernon on Monday. It's not yet clear how many additional New Yorkers that will add to the estimated 12 million people already OK'd to get their first dose.
The eligibility influx could bring millions more into the fold that already consists of people age 60 and older, those with underlying health conditions, and certain essential and frontline workers. Cuomo said the increase in eligibility comes as the feds plan on ramping up vaccine supply — and when they do, he wants the state to be ready.
“We will have enough vaccine to vaccinate people,” Cuomo said. “We have to make sure we have the capacity and willingness to take the vaccine.”
The latest expansion of eligibility comes on the one-year anniversary of New York's "PAUSE" order that shut down the state as government leaders rushed to respond to the growing crisis. One year later, the state continues its buildout of vaccination sites while reopening additional sectors of the economy, some that have remained closed since March 22, 2020.
But New Jersey is taking a slower approach as per-capita cases rise to a national high, with Gov. Phil Murphy saying more reopenings are unlikely in the short term. New Jersey has the third-highest average of daily new cases in the country, but is by far the highest in terms of new cases per 100,000 residents. The state has seen an eight percent increase in new infections from just a week ago, and a 24 percent increase compared to this time in February.
"My guess is we won't be opening up further capacities for some time now because of the case load," Murphy said in a CNN interview Monday morning -- even as he said it's the state's goal to get 85 percent of students back into schools for in-person learning by the end of this school year.
Murphy might not be planning on reopening more of the economy, but he is allowing for more visitations to long-term care facilities and nursing homes. Based on new federal guidance, the New Jersey Department of Health is allowing for in-person visits, regardless of vaccination status. There are caveats, however, including that spread must be low in the region where the facility is located.
"In all cases, everyone – residents and visitors – must properly wear face masks," Murphy said. "If you encounter difficulty with visitations, contact the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman: 877-582-6995 or http://nj.gov/ooie." Outdoor visits remain an option.
Yet even as New Jersey slows down, New York City is speeding up. The city, immediate neighbors to the Garden State, ranks second in the country in new virus cases per 100,000 residents. With the explosion of variants in the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio shares concern with Murphy over reopening too much, too soon.
"I think it's time to reassess for sure. A good example is with indoor dining. The city now getting up to 50 percent, certainly we've got to stop there that would be my strong view while we see what happens with these variants and the overall situation," de Blasio said Monday.
Public high schools in the city reopened Monday. Indoor fitness classes resumed, with capacity capped at 33 percent and class times spaced out to ensure there is time for cleaning. Outdoor gathering limits increase. Cluster zones removed. All of it is happening on Monday and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced that more reopenings are on tap in the coming days.
While citing increased vaccination rollout and the lowest hospitalization numbers since the post-holiday surge, Cuomo also warned that the Brazilian variant "should give New Yorkers cause for concern." That particular variant is thought to be more contagious and somewhat more resistant to antibodies in people who've had COVID previously.
"We're in a race to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as possible before the variants can disrupt the progress we've made, but the infection rate is also a function of our actions," the governor said in a news release on Sunday.
Lower infection rates have led Cuomo to eliminate the cluster zones strategy he implemented last year to contain coronavirus cases that spiked in some neighborhoods. Starting Monday, zone restrictions are lifted in Washington Heights, the Bronx, Queens and Newburgh. They were the only areas left after Cuomo erased more than two dozen existing zones across the state in late January.
Months after the post-holiday surge forced students to go back to remote learning, New York City public high school students return to in-person learning on Monday. The majority of students will still learn from home because they had opted out of in-person learning in early November when virus cases were still high, but that could soon change with another opportunity for families to change their minds.
Of those who opt to come back to in-person learning, elementary school kids can do so in April. It has not been said when older students would be allowed to return.
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
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new window for choosing in-person school opens Wednesday, March 24 and would remain open through April 7. Returns to the classroom would start with preschoolers and elementary school students while administrators work to coordinate a safe return down the road for higher grade levels, he said.
"What a good feeling, what a good sign, what a hopeful sign about our future," the mayor, who welcomed students Monday morning at a Bronx school, said of getting 488 high schools back open for in-person instruction.
About 70 percent of New York City's more than 1 million public school students have elected to learn online, according to the Department of Education. While it's unclear how many will sign up to return to physical classrooms for the last three months of the school year, the mayor suggested “a lot of parents have been clamoring for that opportunity."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The return of older students comes as federal authorities recently eased their guidance on how many children can safely fit in a classroom. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that students can safely sit 3 feet apart in the classroom if they wear masks. The agency previously called for 6 feet of distance. Schools around the country had to remove desks and stagger schedules in order to meet that standard.
Students should still be kept the usual 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the CDC said. The city's Department of Education
The United Federation of Teachers said it would be “extremely complicated to implement such a plan in New York City public schools” in an email to members before de Blasio's announcement.
“We will wait for New York state to weigh in,” the UFT said.
The de Blasio administration has also raised similar concerns to the state about the reopening of indoor fitness classes in New York City. Gyms had reopened in the five boroughs already, but indoor classes were off the table until Monday.
De Blasio had been asked by reporters about reopening indoor group fitness classes just a day before Cuomo's announcement of their return. He and his health advisors said the city wasn't ready, saying those classes bring "particular vulnerabilities."
"It's just troubling to me that our healthcare team has said very clearly this is not what they would have done and the state just doesn't care. We're going to do our best to implement this rule safely because the state has the legal right to do it, but it's not what we would have done," de Blasio said last week.
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
Also on Monday, residential gathering limits across the state increased from 10 people in any space to 25 people outdoors (the indoor limit remains). Social gathering limits can climb to 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors, up from the 50-person limit currently in place.
In addition to lower infection rates, Cuomo says boosted vaccine supply has also fortified the reopening effort, as well as the vaccination rollout itself. New Yorkers experienced major frustration booking their COVID-19 vaccine appointments (if they were even able to book one) just a few weeks ago.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
Cuomo announced a slight change in the state's vaccination rules on Sunday. Pharmacies, which previously were allowed to provide shots only to people over 60 and teachers, can now vaccinate people under 60 who qualify for the inoculations because of certain health conditions.
With Cuomo's Thursday announcement of a new round of reopenings and a recent expansion to vaccine eligibility, more New York residents are trying to get vaccinated. The more than 2,600 pharmacies across the state may be the most convenient path to vaccination for many New Yorkers.
As of Monday, 26.1 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose since the state's vaccination effort began, and 13.4 percent have been fully vaccinated.
But it's not an easy race to the finish line, as evidenced by the new and growing presence of COVID-19 variants. State health officials on Saturday confirmed the arrival of a strain connected to Brazil in an elderly Brooklyn patient with no travel history. Like many variants before it, the first confirmed case is likely not the only one in the area.
Dr. Dave Chokshi, New York City's health commissioner, and other officials last week revealed a preliminary in-depth report on the presence of variants in the five boroughs. It found that two variants -- the U.K. one and another that first originated in Manhattan's Washington Heights -- accounted for 51 percent of all current cases citywide.
Notably, Chokshi and Dr. Jay Varma, senior public health adviser to the mayor's office, said the two prime variants in New York City only appeared to have heightened levels of infectiousness, not greater risk of severe illness or death.
"There is no change in our recommendations for people regarding new variants. The same things that work for regular strains of COVID also will work against the variants right now; that means maintaining distance, washing your hands, wearing a mask, getting tested frequently and getting vaccinated with the first available vaccine you have," Varma said Monday.
The B.1.1.7 variant, the highly contagious variant first identified in the U.K., likely accounts for up to 30 percent of the country's infections, White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday. Officials believe it will become the dominant strain later this month or by early April.