Cuomo OKs Fanless US Open, Eases Crowd Limits as Virus Recedes in NY, Rages Anew in 21 States

On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced hospitals and group homes could start allowing visitors later this week; he also said the U.S. Open would go on as scheduled without fans in Queens later this summer

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What to Know

  • Western New York became the state's sixth region to enter Phase III of the four-stage reopening on Tuesday; Capital Region joins Wednesday
  • New York City is in its second week of Phase I; Mayor Bill de Blasio has said it could be ready for Phase II, reopening outdoor dining and more, in early July. Infection rates have stayed low despite easing restrictions
  • On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced hospitals and group homes could start allowing visitors later this week; he also said the U.S. Open would go on as scheduled without fans in Queens later this summer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order lifting the indoor crowd limit from 10 to 25 for Phase III regions, citing New Yorkers' sustained progress in fighting back a disease that has seen new life in nearly half of America's states. Western New York takes that next step Tuesday; the Capital Region will do so Wednesday.

The governor said the encouraging numbers in New York -- the state's lowest daily death and hospitalization rates since the pandemic hit -- prompted him to modify the previous Phase III crowd rules. Once the epicenter of the national COVID epidemic, New York now has one of the country's lowest infection rates.

On Tuesday, Cuomo announced hospitals and group homes, not nursing homes, can start allowing visitors at their discretion Friday, provided they follow state safety guidelines. He also said the U.S. Open would take place as scheduled in August (without fans) at its usual home in Queens' USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which was one of the facilities turned temporary field hospital as the city grew desperate for beds at the height of the COVID crisis.

Times have much improved since then. Today, none of New York's 10 regions has a daily COVID testing positivity rate higher than 1.4 percent (Central New York and Mohawk Valley). New York City's fell to 1.2 percent positive Tuesday of more than 28,000 people tested the day before. At the peak of the crisis, 59 percent of those tested each day in the five boroughs were positive.

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


New York City has been conducting about 20,000 tests a day; Mayor Bill de Blasio — who himself was photographed getting a COVID-19 test on Tuesday, a day after feeling under the weather, though added that he felt better Tuesday — estimates that number will go up to 50,000 by early July. He and Cuomo say that robust testing in tandem with a strong contact tracing program (the city is currently monitoring about 4,300 cases and expects to monitor a quarter-million New Yorkers this summer) are crucial to mitigating future spread.

"With Test and Trace we're building out a contact tracing system that is unprecedented in its scope and size," de Blasio said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. "We're seeing tremendous progress two weeks in, but we need all New Yorkers on board. My plea is simple: if you see a call from a 212 number, please pick up — it's your civic duty to help keep your neighbors safe."

Both are mandatory under the governor's reopening plan. Many states don't have such rigorous requirements -- and many are seeing the consequences as they lift their lockdowns.

"As we sit here today, 21 states are seeing an increase. Why? They reopened quickly, they did not have the same phases, they did not have the same controls. They're seeing the number go up," Cuomo said Tuesday. "The facts in New York are very, very good. I'm so proud of what the people in this state have done. We have made it over the mountain -- and we did it with a smart reopening."

At the same time daily infection rates decline, a new round of antibody testing reveals a slightly higher prevalence of COVID in the state and in New York City. Of 12,000 people tested statewide between May 1 and June 13, 13.1 percent had the antibody, meaning they had COVID at some point and recovered. That marked a slight uptick since the previous round of antibody testing.

New York City saw 21.6 percent test positive for the antibody, up less than 2 percent from the prior round, while Long Island had a positivity rate of 14.3 percent, up nearly 3 percentage points from the previous survey. Cuomo said those numbers are telling and further reason to keep close eye on those two regions, but he said at this point, the slight increases appear manageable.

Frustrated by "rampant" violations of his executive order, Cuomo called on local governments three times in the last three days to enforce compliance with reopening protocol. More than 25,000 business complaints have come in across the state, mainly in Manhattan and the Hamptons, he said. Some eateries in the city were accused of using outdoor dining areas, which is a Phase II step.

Video captured parents breaking into a locked Williamsburg playground more than two dozen times, a behavior de Blasio called intolerable in his briefing Tuesday.

"We are not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands. People are not allowed to open up a playground," the mayor said. "I understand people's frustrations. I know it's not easy but people have to understand there are reasons for this rule."

That didn't stop hundreds of people from going into the Middleton Playground, very few of whom were wearing masks — looking more like a scene from summer 2019 rather than a socially distanced 2020. The Hasidic community who lives in the neighborhood believes they have a right to the space, however, and some said that staying indoors is a bigger risk to their mental and emotional health.

Cuomo shut down playgrounds statewide as the COVID crisis worsened earlier this spring. He said last week local governments could open them up, along with pools, at their discretion but urged them to ensure they had the data to support it. Meanwhile, State Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein have said that the mayor is making criminals out of mothers and children just looking to get some fresh air, pointing to weeks of daily protesting by the thousands and calling it a double standard.

Police say locks at a Williamsburg playground has been broken more than 25 times after playgrounds were shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

De Blasio said Tuesday playgrounds in the city won't reopen until Phase II, which could be as early as June 22 but more likely in early July. The mayor also reiterated the city is working on a plan to safely reopen pools and lifeguards are training with the expectation they'll be needed this summer; he had no timeline.

"If folks act prematurely and that causes the disease to start spreading again, that the kind of thing that will undermine our ability to get to Phase II and stay in Phase II," de Blasio said.

As far as Cuomo's complaints that "people are violating everything" without consequence, de Blasio said Tuesday the NYPD responds to violations as needed. The city remains committed to educating people on social distancing and enforcing the rules as it looks forward to the next step of reopening, which would allow for outdoor dining and ease some concerns for restaurants. Some owners have grown frustrated over not knowing for sure when they'll actually be able to reopen.

Many eateries have started offering take-out alcoholic drinks to boost their struggling businesses; patrons linger outside. Other places in the city have been allowing customers to dine al fresco — something not allowed until Phase II. Still, the city's Department of Transportation Commissioner wouldn't reveal specifics about what food places are allowed to do or where they can set up outside tables and chairs, instead only saying it will be a "very nimble and user-friendly approach."

The mayor said that there is no confirmed date of going into Phase II yet because the city is checking to see if thee will be a COVID-19 spike from all the protests of the past two weeks.

Cuomo wants local police to start citing people for violating open container laws; he also warned restaurants and bars that violating his reopening rules could cost them their liquor licenses.

"To the local governments I say 'Do your job,'" Cuomo said Monday, warning regions that fail to comply could be forced to take a step back in their reopenings. He acknowledged that compliance is difficult; people have been stuck inside for months and want to return to life. But it's the mitigation measures New York has taken that drove down infection spread in the first place -- and it's those same measures that will keep it that way, he says.

Phase III in New York opens up indoor dining and personal care services like nail salons and massage parlors; all businesses must maintain a strict 50 percent capacity, require face coverings and ensure full adherence to social distancing. And while takeout has been able to keep some businesses afloat, the city's Hospitality Alliance said the financial strain is frightening, leaving them unsure of how many businesses will survive post-pandemic.

Those businesses will be allowed to reopen in New Jersey on June 22. The state just entered Stage 2 of Gov. Phil Murphy's reopening roadmap a day ago, resuming outdoor dining, child care, in-person retail and library pickup, among other services. Some towns have threatened to defy Murphy's executive orders, saying the reopening needs to move more quickly for businesses to survive.

Murphy says he's comfortable with the state's reopening timeline and doesn't want to rush it for fear of inciting a viral resurgence he fears could happen at some point anyway. He's particularly concerned about indoor businesses.

"Indoor environments where it’s challenging to wear masks – such as gyms – or where people remain sedentary for long periods of time – such as restaurants – remain the most dangerous in terms of transmission," Murphy said Monday. "We were the second hardest-hit state in America. Over 12,600 fatalities. We've got to be very careful about opening up things up that are inside, lack of ventilation, close proximity. There's no question we'll get there, we're just not ready yet."

New Jersey has struggled on some core metrics over the last month. As of Tuesday, it had reclaimed the dubious distinction of the state with the most daily deaths per 100,000 residents, Murphy said. It ranks fourth among U.S. states in total hospitalizations per 100,000 residents but has fallen to 32nd on new cases.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Murphy said Tuesday. "Let’s keep working to get to Stage 3 of our restart and recovery. Keep up with social distancing. Common sense for the common good."

Connecticut, which has been the least-impacted of the tri-states as far as COVID, has also been the most aggressive of the three on reopening. Gyms and fitness studios, along with amusement parks, movie theaters, salons and bowling alleys will reopen in that state on Wednesday.

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