The tri-state area has plowed forward with its reopening process after a months-long shutdown. While the region is far from a return to pre-pandemic times, increasing steps are being taken to safely return to a new sense of normal.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut all have slightly different strategies, but all focus on a singular objective: Protect public health, revive the economy.
New York City entered Phase IV on July 20 -- the last New York region to do so -- but remains the only area in the state where indoor dining is still not on the menu, for now. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that indoor dining will be allowed to return to the city on September 30 at 25 percent capacity and other restrictions. If infection rates stay below 2 percent through November 1, then capacity may be increased to 50 percent.
Gyms reopened in New York starting Aug. 24 -- a boon for fitness aficionados who have had their workout routines disrupted for the last five months. Those in the city have to wait until September 2, though.
Capacity at gyms will be capped at 33 percent to start, though if that proves problematic, the state says it will dial that number back. Health requirements include mandatory masks at all times, proper air ventilation, sign-in forms, screening at the door (like temperature checks) and social distancing. It will be up to individual localities to determine whether gyms can hold indoor classes, Cuomo said.
Local health departments also must inspect each gym before or within two weeks of reopening; they can reopen as early as Monday, Aug. 24 but must be inspected by Sept. 2.
Museums and aquariums have begun to reopen in New York City as well, with more welcoming back visitors throughout September. Museums and other indoor entertainment spaces were originally part of New York's Phase IV of reopening but were stalled in New York City as concerns over national coronavirus spikes prompted a slowdown from state leaders.
With caution, New York is reopening as it continues to deal with the pandemic, and some landmarks have been allowed to reopen as well. Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island can now have visitors once again, while city beaches and many pools were opened as well to give people places to cool down.
Zoos and aquariums throughout NYC (Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo) have all reopened now as well. On the flip side, things like street fairs, outdoor concerts, parades and other big events that require city permits have been canceled through the end of September.
A handful of youth sports were cleared for play in all regions of New York state as school districts prepare to restart academic years and health officials tout record low virus positivity rates. Cuomo announced the OK to resume play for sports like tennis, soccer, cross county, field hockey and swimming -- all considered lower-risk by the state. Teams can begin play Sept. 21, but no travel for practice or games is permitted outside the school's region until Oct. 19. Full-contact high school sports like football, volleyball and competitive cheerleading will be postponed until the spring, however.
Malls have been allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, with no indoor dining. Casinos also reopened that same day, but at 25 percent capacity and with enhanced air filtration systems in place, and with other limitations like no beverage service.
Movie theaters outside of New York City can also reopen beginning Oct. 23. However, counties must have a positivity rate below 2% on a 14-day average and have no “cluster zones" to reopen. Audiences will be restricted to 25% of capacity with a maximum of 50 people per screen, Cuomo said. Masks will be required and there will be assigned seating to ensure social distancing.
Ski resorts in New York will be allowed to open Nov. 6 at half their indoor capacity with restrictions. Cuomo said that masks will be required at all times except when eating, drinking or skiing. Gondolas and lifts will be restricted to members of the same party and shared or rented equipment must be disinfected between uses.
Here's a look at which businesses and activities are included in New York's reopening phases. (If you need help determining whether your business is eligible, click here.)
Here's the breakdown of businesses that reopened in Phase I:
- Building Equipment Contractors
- Building Finishing Contractors
- Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors
- Highway, Street and Bridge Construction
- Land Subdivision
- Nonresidential Building Construction
- Residential Building Construction
- Utility System Construction
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting
- Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture Production
- Other Animal Production
- Other Crop Production
- Support Activities for Animal Production
- Support Activities for Crop Production
- Support Activities for Forestry
Phase One includes delivery and curbside pick-up service only for the following businesses:
- Clothing Stores
- Direct Selling Establishments
- Electronics and Appliance Stores
- Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses
- Furniture and Home Furnishing Stores
- General Merchandise Stores
- Health and Personal Care Stores
- Jewelry, Luggage, and Leather Goods Stores
- Lawn and Garden Equipment and Supplies Stores
- Office Supplies, Stationery, and Gift Stores
- Used Merchandise Stores
- Shoe Stores
- Sporting Goods, Hobby, Musical Instrument and Book Stores
- Other Miscellaneous Store Retailers
- Apparel Manufacturing
- Computer and Electronic Product Manufacturing
- Electric Lighting Equipment Manufacturing
- Fabricated Metal Product Manufacturing
- Furniture and Related Product Manufacturing
- Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing
- Machinery Manufacturing
- Nonmetallic Mineral Product Manufacturing
- Paper Manufacturing
- Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing
- Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing
- Printing and Related Support Activities
- Textile Mills
- Textile Product Mills
- Wood Product Manufacturing
- Other Miscellaneous Manufacturing
- Apparel, Piece Goods, and Notions Merchant Wholesalers
- Chemical and Allied Products Merchant Wholesalers
- Furniture and Home Furnishing Merchant Wholesalers
- Household Appliances and Electrical and Electronic Goods Merchant Wholesalers
- Machinery, Equipment, and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers
- Metal and Mineral (except Petroleum) Merchant Wholesalers
- Paper and Paper Product Merchant Wholesalers
- Professional and Commercial Equipment and Supplies Merchant Wholesalers
- Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers
- Miscellaneous Durable Goods Merchant Wholesalers
- Miscellaneous Nondurable Goods Merchant Wholesalers
Here is a list of the businesses that can open during Phase II, which all regions are now past. Strict guidelines on capacity and social distancing apply:
- In-person retail operations
- All business activities where the core function takes place within an office setting
- Vehicle sales, leases, and rental activities statewide
- Retail rental, repair, and cleaning activities
- Playgrounds and pools at local governments' discretion
- Commercial, non-residential building management activities
- Hair salons and barbershops. This does not include nail salons, tattoo parlors, or any other non-haircutting-related personal care services or activities, like beard trimming, nose hair trimming, facials, manicures/pedicures, makeup application, threading, tweezing, or waxing.
- Real estate activities
- Outdoor dining
All New York regions are now at least in Phase III, with NYC joining in July. Here are the businesses and activities allowed to resume during this phase:
- Restaurants/food service, including food trucks and other food concessions, may open up both indoor and outdoor areas. However, no indoor dining is allowed in NYC.
- Personal care services. This includes non-hair-related personal care businesses and services, including tattoo and piercing facilities, appearance enhancement practitioners, massage therapy, spas, cosmetology, nail specialty, UV and non-UV tanning, or waxing.
- Indoor gatherings of up to 25 people are permitted in this phase
- In NYC, de Blasio says he'll reopen more outdoor recreation like basketball, tennis and handball courts, dog runs, volleyball and Bocce ball
Summer day camps reopened June 29, Gov. Cuomo said, though sleepaway camps will not return this year. Westchester County's outdoor summer camps opened the following week on July 6. Hospital visitations resumed at local discretion on Friday, June 19.
Necessary in-person special education instruction will be allowed this summer, but school districts must follow all state and federal guidance. Low-risk youth sports began play July 6, with Cuomo saying only two spectators can be present per child. Outdoor activities conducive to social distancing, like golf and tennis, are also permitted, while outdoor graduations can be held with limited capacity as of June 26.
Veterinarian practices and dentists are also open statewide, while professional sports leagues got the go-ahead to begin practicing as well.
Here are the businesses and activities allowed to resume during this phase:
- All types of in-person higher education institutions, including but not limited to community and junior colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools, medical schools, and technical schools. Social distancing and facial coverings are mandatory. Higher education institutions must develop and submit a plan for reopening and operating for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Low-risk outdoor arts and entertainment activities including outdoor zoos, botanical gardens, nature parks, grounds of historic sites and cultural institutions, outdoor museums, outdoor agritourism, local agricultural demonstrations and exhibitions; and other similar institutions/activities. Face coverings and social distancing will be mandatory. Social distancing and facial coverings are mandatory. Capacity is restricted to 33 percent.
- Indoor museums, historical sites, aquariums, and other related institutions or activities, except in New York City. Social distancing and facial coverings are mandatory. Capacity is restricted to 25 percent.
- Media production businesses/activities in regions of New York. “Media production activities” encompass all activities undertaken in motion picture, music, television, and streaming productions on set, on location, or at any production or recording site. Social distancing and facial coverings are mandatory. For indoor facilities or locations, employees, cast, and crew members is limited to no more than 50% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area.
- Professional sports competitions, albeit no fans are allowed to attend in person
Beginning July 10, malls reopened in Phase IV regions, with the exception of New York City, so long as they have enhanced HVAC filtration system and measures in place. The enhanced filtration system and measures in place include:
- MERV-13 filter or highest rating compatible with the system, but no less than MERV-11 rating.
- Ventilation protocols: Increased outdoor air, reduced air re-circulation, longer system run times and frequent filter checks.
The Empire State Building reopened it’s Observatory July 20 with limited capacity and new safety protocols.
Region by Region Status
Source: New York State; Report as of May 18
The Garden State has already eased some restrictions across the state throughout the summer, and more reopenings are on the way.
The limit on outdoor gatherings (including the activities listed below) was raised from to 500 people on July 3. The cap on indoor gatherings was increased to the lesser of either 25 percent capacity or 150 individuals. That includes houses of worship.
Indoor dining at restaurants was postponed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who (along with New York Gov. Cuomo) pointed to overcrowding and social distancing violations in some restaurants and bars, especially along the Jersey Shore, as reasons to reevaluate. It restarted once again on Sept. 4.
Here's a list of activities or places that have already been able to reopen or start up again:
- Indoor dining resumed statewide at 25 percent capacity on Friday, Sept. 4; outdoor dining returned a few months ago;
- Movie theaters and other indoor performance venues can reopen at 25 percent capacity;
- Hair salons and barbershops;
- Child care services;
- In-person retail sales, with each store maintaining a strict 50; percent capacity in order to stay open;
- Libraries offering curbside pickup;
- State parks and golf courses;
- Beaches along the Jersey Shore;
- Municipal and private-club swimming pools;
- Cosmetology shops, day/medical spas, massage parlors, tattoo parlors, tanning salons;
- Charter fishing services and for-hire vessel activities, as well as watercraft rental businesses, with required social distancing measures;
- NJ Transit rail and light rail back running with full service
- Organized sports practices, with activities limited to those that can take place outside;
- All low-risk sports (golf, tennis), medium-risk sports (soccer, baseball, softball) and high-risk sports (football, hockey, basketball, cheerleading, boxing, karate, wrestling, etc.) are allowed to resume, with indoor competitions and practices featuring contact allowed in rooms where capacity is limited to 25 percent, and no spectators allowed if there are more than 25 participants
- All outdoor recreational and entertainment businesses that were previously closed. Outdoor amusement and water parks, including boardwalk rides, can reopen at half capacity, as well as playgrounds;
- Indoor parts of retail shopping malls; face coverings must be worn and all stores are capped at 50 percent capacity. Food courts and common seating areas remain closed, along with theaters and arcades;
- In-person sales at car, motorcycle and boat dealerships and bicycle shops;
- Batting cages, golf ranges, shooting and archery ranges, horseback riding, private tennis clubs and community gardens
- Recreational campgrounds, public and private;
- Youth day and summer camps, including municipal recreational programs;
- At 25 percent capacity, the following can reopen: casinos (with a ban on indoor smoking), museums, aquariums, libraries and indoor recreation including bowling alleys, batting cages, shooting ranges and boardwalk arcades;
- Also at 25 percent capacity, gyms, fitness centers, health clubs and indoor amusement facilities can reopen, under the following parameters:
- Group sessions limited to one person per 200 square feet
- Masks are mandatory and social distancing must be maintained at all times, including six feet of distance between workout equipment
- Clients must get their temperature checked and sign a form that they will comply with health protocols, including a rule that states they must wipe down equipment after use
- In-person customer service at the Motor Vehicle Commission, with sites being split into vehicle centers (for those needing new vehicle registration, titles, or license plates) and licensing centers (for those needing new licenses, permits or real ID). Those who need both must wait in two lines;
- Student driver road tests and vehicle inspection stations;
- Outdoor visits to long-term care facilities (nursing homes, assisted living residences, pediatric transitional care homes, comprehensive personal care homes, etc.), with up to two visitors allowed at a time who must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms; visitors must maintain a six-foot distance from residents and wear masks;
Connecticut residents can now dine out (outdoors or indoors), go to retail stores, visit zoos, aquariums and museums — basically do everything that was available before the COVID pandemic, but with certain restrictions, of course.
Gov. Ned Lamont said that on Oct. 8 the state will be moving into Phase III of its reopening. Places like restaurants spas, tattoo parlors, libraries and more can increase capacity inside from 50 percent to 75 percent. Outdoor venues like ampitheaters and race tracks, as well as indoor performance venues, can increase capacity to 50 percent.
Indoor religious gatherings can increase capacity up to 50 percent as well, or be capped at 200 people — up from 100 in Phase II. Indoor weddings can also increase to half capacity, but the limit for those is set at 100.
Any other outdoor private event will have a 150-person limit, but outdoor religious gatherings and graduations are allowed at whatever the full capacity is for the location, as long as distancing is maintained between groups.
The limit for indoor social gatherings at private residences will still be 25 people, no change from Phase II. Also, bars and nightclubs will remain closed.
Lamont released details about the rules that businesses reopen during Phase III have to follow. To read specifics about the rules and guidelines for each sector, click here.
The state was initially set to go into Phase III on July 6 (which would have allowed larger indoor and outdoor gatherings, and some bars to reopen), but Lamont pushed that back ultimately until October after seeing states around the country see big spikes recently after reopening businesses like that so quickly.
All the businesses that can now open must strictly follow rules that allow for social distancing as much as possible. Amusement parks have some of the most regulations, including only allowing 25 percent of capacity in at a time and having to organize lines for rides in a "maze style" to prevent bunching of crowds.
Connecticut also outlined their plans that would require all schools to bring students back into the classroom in the fall. The plan consists of schools using a "cohorting" system, which would keep the same students in small groups based on classrooms. Those students would function separately from other groups in the school, according to the education commissioner, who admitted that the system might be difficult for high schools.
Schools need to maximize social distancing and all students and staff have to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth, Cardona said. School hallways are rerouted to be one direction, students are recommended to eat lunch in their classrooms or outside whenever possible, and districts are encouraged to use gymnasiums or auditoriums to potentially alleviate classroom size and promote social distancing. School buses are being used at full or nearly full capacity.