What to Know
- New York City will move to Phase II Monday, Mayor de Blasio said Thursday; up to 300,000 more people are expected to return to work. Long Island and the Mid-Hudson regions join the rest of the state in Phase III next week
- Phase II reopens outdoor dining, in-person retail, office-based jobs, hair salons, barbershops and more; NYC playgrounds will also reopen Monday, while team sports like basketball and football remain prohibited
- In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday indoor parts of retail shopping malls can reopen June 29; masks must be worn, all stores limited to 50 percent capacity
Mayor Bill de Blasio clarified any confusion surrounding New York City's move to Phase II Thursday, saying in no uncertain terms that the transition will happen on Monday: "Get on your mark, get set, cuz here we go."
Phase II allows for the reopening of outdoor dining at bars and restaurants, in-person retail, hair salons and barbershops (but not personal care services like nails or massages) and more office-based jobs, all at half capacity and with mandatory COVID safeguards in place like social distancing and facial coverings.
"It includes the single biggest piece of our economy. We're all in agreement this is the right thing to do," de Blasio said. "It's time to move forward, and if anything comes up in the data that's a concern we're going to talk about it publicly."
Restaurants have been clamoring for the opportunity to legally resume outdoor dining to boost their struggling businesses; they've had to take an "adapt or die" approach to survive the months-long shutdown. Some set up al fresco areas in violation of the state's reopening guidelines as the weather warmed recently.
The mayor revealed a preliminary outdoor dining plan even before New York City entered Phase I. It focuses on making more temporary space available to restaurants, leveraging curbside seating, sidewalks and open streets. On Thursday, de Blasio added pedestrian plazas and backyard and patio seating to the plan, saying the "Open Restaurants" initiative could ultimately save 5,000 restaurants and up to 45,000 jobs. He signed an order initiating that Thursday.
"We know that restaurants define greatness in the city. We're going to make sure we save restaurants, that is the mission," he said. "We want to make sure it's easy for restaurants to come back; that means using outdoor space in the beginning."
The mayor also provided long-awaited clarity on the plan's components:
- Sidewalk seating: Must maintain a clear path free from obstructions between the seating and the curb
- Curb lane seating: Roadway seating can't exceed length of business frontage, and be separated from the travel lane with a barrier (planters, barricades). Restrictions on areas ineligible for roadway seating including ‘No Standing Anytime’ curbs, bus stops, within 15’ of hydrants, etc
- Open Streets: DOT will work with community groups and partner agencies to identify additional seating within full street closures in July
- Plaza Seating: Restaurants can work with their local Business Improvement District and DOT to request additional seating in plazas. Email: Plazas@dot.nyc.gov
Outdoor tables have to be spaced 6 feet apart and employees have to wear masks. Indoor dining areas should stay closed. Customers must also wear masks unless seated, and they're only supposed to be seated at a table with members of their own household. In New York City, the latter may be challenging.
The plan calls for overtaking a vast number of regular parking spaces. Most of those spaces are metered, but de Blasio said the city still has to figure out what to do in cases where there is alternate side parking. Alternate side has been suspended for all but two weeks since the city shut down in March. De Blasio said Thursday he planned to make a decision on that in the coming days.
Also an obstacle: restaurants located in front of bus lanes, hydrants or near construction zones. Those businesses will not have outdoor seating made available to them. And even though the mayor says that outdoor dining could benefit about 5,000 of the city's 27,000 restaurants, some eateries won't be participating as they aren't able to fit enough tables to justify re-hiring workers, and some aren't able to re-staff.
"It has been a real challenge. There are a number of reasons keeping the employees from running right back," said Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association. "One is certainly the pandemic unemployment assistance. Others have genuine concerns for their own health and the health of their families."
Under the city's outdoor dining plan, alcohol can be served outdoors for restaurants with existing liquor licenses. Officials are working with the State Liquor Authority to automatically extend licenses to new seating, de Blasio said. The Department of Transportation will post an online self-certification application for sidewalk and curb seating Friday. As part of that application, restaurants and bars will have to self-certify they won't allow unseated customers to crowd outside of their establishments. Repeat noncompliance could cost eateries their Open Restaurant authorizations.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took enforcement a step further Thursday, signing an executive order empowering the state to shut down violators of local reopening guidelines and strip them of their liquor licenses. He also signed an executive order holding bars responsible for the sidewalk area in front of their businesses.
As outdoor dining reopens in New York City Monday, so too will its playgrounds, de Blasio said. Social distancing ambassadors will monitor crowding, distribute face coverings and encourage hygiene. Team sports like basketball, football, softball and soccer remain prohibited in Phase II.
De Blasio says up to 300,000 people are expected to return to work in Phase II, on top of the hundreds of thousands who went back when the city entered Phase I. The MTA has launched aggressive new safety measures, as have the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North. More bus lanes have been painted in the city and Staten Island Ferry rush-hour service is now more frequent, but much no specifics have been offered on how people should actually get to and from work. Right now, those who can work from home are advised to continue doing so.
The city said it will distribute 2 million free face coverings to Phase II businesses on top of the 2 million it has already dispensed. Find full state guidance on the restrictions and requirements for Phase II businesses in all sectors here.
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 mayor's Thursday announcement comes a day after Cuomo declared New York City on track to enter Phase II Monday despite the mayor refusing to commit to a firm date earlier that morning. De Blasio had said he wanted to assess the potential impact of the widespread protests on the city's COVID numbers, which remain at pandemic lows. He also wanted to see if Phase I, which brought hundreds of thousands back to work, affected infection rates.
Cuomo said Thursday he was awaiting a review by international experts of New York City's recent health metrics before he finalized the Phase II move, which he has done with all other regions. He expects to give the green light Friday and told businesses in the five boroughs to prepare for Monday accordingly.
New York City is the state's only region still in Phase I. Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions are in Phase II but will take the step into Phase III, opening up indoor dining and personal care services, by the middle of next week. County executives from Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland counties all wrote to Gov. Cuomo requesting to enter Phase III on Friday so as to allow some larger gatherings over Father's Day weekend.
The phased regional reopenings have not caused statistically significant spikes in infection thus far in New York, even as nearly half the nation's states grapple with new outbreaks. Many of those lack New York's robust reopening standards.
Cuomo said Thursday he's concerned about rising COVID rates in Florida and considering imposing a 14-day self-quarantine for people who travel from there to New York. Florida was among the states that did that for New York travelers early in the pandemic as the virus ran rampant across the five boroughs, he said.
"Fast forward, now we're afraid they're bringing it to our state," Cuomo added.
On Thursday, the Empire State saw its lowest daily percent of positive tests (0.9 percent) since it started testing, though Cuomo said he is closely monitoring Central New York, where daily percent positives are rising. As of Thursday, that Phase III region's daily percentage of positive tests was up to 3 percent, notably higher than its 1 percent seven-day rolling average. The state has conducted more than 3 million COVID tests in the last three and a half months. Twelve percent of New Yorkers have tested positive, though the city's rate is higher.
Right now, the percentage of New York City residents testing positive over a seven-day rolling average is just 1 percent. That's a far cry from the 59 percent it experienced at the peak of the crisis earlier this spring. Statewide, that seven-day rolling average is also 1 percent.
The five boroughs are still adding a few hundred new COVID cases daily, but considering nearly 30,000 are being tested each day that's hardly unmanageable. Even Brooklyn and Queens, the two deadliest COVID counties in America, are seeing percent daily positive tests well below 2 percent. Given the dramatic progress, Cuomo said his last daily briefing would be Friday -- though he said he would still hold news conferences for key announcements. Friday will be in his 111th straight daily briefing.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
New Jersey, meanwhile, entered Stage 2 of Murphy's reopening roadmap earlier this week, resuming outdoor dining, child care, in-person retail and library pickup, among other services. More personal care services like salons and massage parlors are on track to reopen on Monday, June 22, the same day New York City starts its Phase II. Gov. Phil Murphy set some new dates Thursday, announcing indoor portions of retail shopping malls can reopen on June 29 with limitations.
"Malls are part of New Jersey culture and lure," Murphy said. "We want these businesses to get back up and running responsibly and safely. If you head out to the mall, please comply with the requirements in place."
New Jersey still ranks among the nation's top states in terms of new daily deaths (No.2) and hospitalizations per 100,000 residents (No. 5), but has fallen to 38th on new cases per 100,000 residents. These are reasons to stay vigilant.
"Even with the significant decreases in COVID-19 data we’ve seen over the past days and weeks, we’re still one of the nation’s most-impacted states," Murphy said Thursday. "This is why we all must keep up with social distancing."
Connecticut, the least hard-hit of the tri-states amid the COVID outbreak and the most aggressive of the three on reopening, took its biggest step yet Wednesday as it moved into a phase that allows 95 percent of its economy to restart.