What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo made more major reopening news Thursday, announcing Mets and Yankees fans can be in the stands for the home openers April 1; outdoor concert venues can also return
- NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken issue with some reopening moves, particularly the indoor fitness class one; he accused the governor of prioritizing his political needs over the public's health
- New Jersey and Connecticut plan significant reopening steps as well, with key moves slated for Friday; that's the same day Gov. Ned Lamont plans to open vaccine eligibility to people age 45-64
Emboldened by what he describes to be a dramatic decline in COVID rates and an ever-accelerating vaccination effort, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new slate of reopenings Thursday as he declared, "Let's get back to life and living. It is safe."
Flanked by Mets and Yankees baseball caps on opposite sides of his name card, Cuomo said sports stadiums will be allowed to have limited crowds in the stands starting April 1, provided attendees give proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination. That means both New York baseball teams will have fans in attendance for their home openers this season after an unfathomable last one.
The Yankees will host the Blue Jays in the Bronx that day, while the Mets have their home opener April 8 vs. the Nationals. Both stadiums have been converted into mass vaccination sites over the last two months, but it appears those hubs will return to their former revenue-generating statuses sooner rather than later.
Additional requirements apply for large venue reopenings aside from the capacity limit and test rules, including receive approval from the state Department of Health for all events, mandatory face coverings and assigned seats to ensure social distancing, temperature checks and required contact info collection.
They must also meet enhanced air filtration and purification standards for indoor areas.
The owners of both MLB teams supported the announcement and pledged each of their stadiums would be safe and ready when fans return in a matter of weeks.
Also on April 1, large outdoor performing arts venues that host live concerts and shows -- -- ones with 2,500-person capacity or more -- can reopen at 20 percent capacity, Cuomo said. That capacity cap will increase as COVID rates improve.
Cuomo also said he planned to reevaluate the proof of negative COVID test or vaccination for larger venues in mid-May. That testing concept was the crux of his pilot program with the Buffalo Bills and the reopening of larger indoor venues like Madison Square Garden and Barclays last month.
"New York has always been smart and safe all through this. We went from the highest infection rate in the United States of America to the lowest infection rate in America," Cuomo said Thursday. "We have beaten this virus like no other state in the nation has and we've done it by being smart."
"The calibration is right," he added.
The governor pointed to data on hospitalizations, which are down to about 4,500 statewide, a reduction from the latest admissions peak in January by more than half. He pointed to post-holiday declines in positivity rates at the state and local levels as well, though that state metric is still triple what it was in late October.
"This is a process," Cuomo said Thursday. "It's an intelligent combination of opening the economy, watching the science, watching the data."
New York City officials, though, beg to differ. They took particular issue with Cuomo's Wednesday announcement that indoor group fitness classes can resume on Monday. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who blasted Cuomo's recent decision to lift the state's domestic travel quarantine rule on April 1, didn't mince words.
"The state of New York continues to make decisions without consulting the city of New York or our health experts or any locality and this is why we need local control," the mayor said Thursday. "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 had been asked by reporters about reopening indoor group fitness classes just a day before Cuomo's announcement of their imminent return. He said the city wasn't ready, saying those classes bring "particular vulnerabilities."
A day before Cuomo's announcement, de Blasio said indoor group fitness classes presented "particular vulnerabilities" when asked about the ongoing suspension.
His senior public health adviser, Dr. Jay Varma, said he was concerned about the heightened risk of viral spread in such classes, where people are in close proximity indoors and "breathing heavily." Participants' masks could also be less effective because sweat could make them wet or they might fall off, he said.
The city's health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, echoed his colleague's worry, saying indoor group fitness classes "are the settings where we have seen COVID-19 spread. And those are the factors that facilitate that spread."
Both Varma and Chokshi doubled down on their comments Thursday.
"For people who are thinking about whether or not to participate in high-risk activities, please consider that carefully," Chokshi added. "We remain in a period where we shouldn't be throwing caution to the wind. We still do have risk of COVID-19 spread. That's particularly to be emphasized for anyone who is at risk of severe outcomes -- if you're older or if you have an underlying health condition."
The CDC reports the rate of cases per 100,000 over a seven-day rolling basis for all U.S. states but breaks out New York City from New York state in its reporting. As of its latest update, the CDC says New York City leads all states in that seven-day case rate, reporting 296.4 per 100,000 residents. New York state is No. 5.
Hospitalization and death rates from COVID, though, are substantially down in recent months. Officials say those are the most crucial metrics. New York City health leaders attributed the high plateau in cases this week to a combination of variant-related spread and the fact that younger people, who have received notorious blame nationally for flouting protocol at times and going mask-less, have not been vaccinated yet. The most at-risk populations have; the plunge in more severe COVID cases, they say, shows vaccines are doing their critical job.
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
Cuomo has said he's proceeding on a reopening course driven by data around risk factors and infection rates and will recalibrate that course if the data changes. Lately, that reopening has been a collision course between mayor and governor.
"Is this being done because of what the data and science is telling us or is this being done for political reasons?" de Blasio asked Thursday. "Because it sure as hell looks like a lot of these decisions are being made by the governor because of his political needs."
The two have long had an at-times contentious relationship, but de Blasio has been more prone to criticize his reopening and vaccination rollout measures in the last month amid sexual harassment allegations that have prompted the mayor to join others in calling for Cuomo's resignation.
Cuomo has repeatedly refused calls to resign, denying he touched anyone inappropriately and asking New Yorkers to wait for the attorney general's final report before casting judgment. That investigation will likely take two months.
Cuomo has changed his briefing routine since the firestorm erupted. His team prefaced Thursday's on-camera news conference with a no-Q&A announcement, which has been his new, albeit controversial, normal these last few weeks.
In the meantime, Cuomo has proceeded to make news on both the reopening and vaccination fronts. His directives require more approval steps now that the state legislature has repealed his pandemic-related emergency powers, but neither the legislature nor the governor gave any indication his latest announcements might be reversed. And business owners, for one, are thrilled.
In less than 24 hours, the city's indoor dining capacity will boom to 50 percent. Between now and April 5, New Yorkers will see restaurants outside the city go to 75 percent capacity. They'll see public high schools return in-person in the city, and the social gathering limits increase. Cluster zone restrictions will be erased. Smaller arts and event spaces will open. And some state curfews will lift, too.
Even as the governor and mayor remain at odds over some logistics -- ones that appear to transcend the logistics associated with reopening -- the two agree on at least one key point: Take any vaccine you can when it's your turn. They all work.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio received their single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week before cameras. The governor did it Wednesday, while the mayor followed a day later. De Blasio's top health team, Chokshi, Varma and NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz, all received vaccinations this past weekend. They each got a different brand to drive home the point.
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
Neighboring governors in New Jersey and Connecticut have also taken stronger reopening steps in recent weeks, citing the same reasons as Cuomo.
In New Jersey, indoor dining goes to 50 percent capacity Friday, as does the cap for gyms and health clubs, recreational facilities, arcades and personal care businesses. Indoor and outdoor gathering limits will both double.
Connecticut takes more aggressive measures the same day, lifting indoor capacity restrictions on nearly all businesses, including restaurants.
Unlike states like Texas and Mississippi that abruptly reopened their economies and lifted mask mandates earlier this month, the tri-state governors say face coverings will remain a core requirement for the foreseeable future.
The oft-spoken goal of herd immunity, for which Cuomo puts the low threshold at around 75 percent, remains a still seemingly far-off objective, even as the pace of vaccinations have scaled up rapidly across the board in recent weeks.
As of Wednesday, New York had administered at least one dose to nearly 4.8 million people, about 24 percent of the state's population. Almost 2.5 million -- 12.4 percent of the populace -- have completed their shot series.
The eligibility pool, which now holds more than 12 million people, most recently expanded Wednesday. No further new eligibility dates have been set at this point in the Empire State. Ten new state-run mass vaccination sites open this Friday.
In New York City, 1.8 million people (21.3 percent of the population) have gotten at least one dose, while nearly 880,000 (10.5 percent of the population) have both.
Across the river, New Jersey has doubled-dosed nearly 1,080,000 people, about 12 percent of its population. Gov. Phil Murphy says the state is about 45 percent of the way to his stated goal of administering at least one dose to 70 percent of New Jersey's adult population in the coming months.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Over in Connecticut, more than 14 percent of the population is also fully vaccinated. The Constitution State ranks seventh among U.S. states in terms of population percentage fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, though state-level reporting may indicate a higher number than the federal agency's data.
Only two states -- Alaska and South Dakota -- have administered at least one dose to a greater share of their respective populations than Connecticut (27.4 percent).
Alaska became the first U.S. state to open vaccination up to all people 16 and older earlier this month. Mississippi did it this week and Gov. Ned Lamont hopes to make Connecticut the third on April 5 under an accelerated eligibility timeline.
All three tri-state governors have said they are scaling up distribution and administration efforts exponentially to meet President Joe Biden's plan of having all U.S. adults eligible for vaccination by late May. Cuomo called achieving Biden's goal perhaps the greatest logistical undertaking of local government ever.
Nationally, about 15.5 percent of U.S. adults 18 years and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Nearly 29 percent of that same population has received at least one dose, which 65.4 percent of those 65 and older have done.
The race, more of a marathon, has taken on heightened urgency in recent weeks as officials fight to maintain low hospitalization and death rates while battling to contain the spread of new cases, which top federal officials say have plateaued at a "very high" level across the country. With spring break coming up, and officials worried about lax COVID protocol among people traveling, the message is stark.
Don't let down your guard. Keep wearing a mask. Get vaccinated when it's your turn. And it doesn't matter which of the three brands you get. As New York City's health commissioner says, "The best vaccine is the one you can get now."