What to Know
- New York City will move to Phase II Monday, Mayor de Blasio said; up to 300k 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, real estate and more; NYC playgrounds also reopen Monday, while team sports like basketball and football remain prohibited
- The World Health Organization said Friday that the coronavirus pandemic had entered a “new and dangerous phase” as global daily COVID cases hit a new record high, with nearly half of them coming from the United States.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the final go ahead for New York City's entry into Phase II Monday during an impassioned address on Friday, his final daily COVID briefing after 111 straight since New York City confirmed its first case on March 1.
"Over the past three months we have done the impossible," an emotional Cuomo said. "We are controlling the virus better than any state in the country, any nation in the globe. I am so incredibly proud of what we all did together and as a community. We reopened the economy and we saved lives -- because it was never a choice between one or the other. It was always right to do both."
New York has fought furiously against COVID-19, a war that at times it appeared it might lose. Back in March, it was a desperate race to find enough hospital beds and ventilators to save lives. It was COVID running rampant, cases rising exponentially amid relentless tragedy. By mid-April, there was a full week stretch where nearly 800 New Yorkers died daily.
In less than three months, a virus no one had heard of a year ago claimed at least 24,686 lives, though officials acknowledge the actual toll is likely much higher.
"I thought about it every day as climbing a mountain. The Mount Everest of social challenges," the governor said.
Today, the Empire State has the lowest transmission rate in the nation and the most per capita testing, Cuomo said. Daily deaths are in the low double digits. Seven of 10 regions are more than halfway reopened. New York City, one of the most vibrant meccas in the world, will reopen the biggest chunk of its economy Monday. New Yorkers' commitment to slowing the spread didn't just flatten the curve; it bent it completely, the governor says.
"We all benefit when we work together. We showed that in the end, love does win -- that no matter how dark the day, love brings the light. That is what I will take from the past 111 days," Cuomo said, his voice cracking a bit. "If we could accomplish this impossible task of beating back this deadly virus, there is nothing we can't do. And we will be better."
New York City will continue its mission to do that Monday when it enters Phase II of Cuomo's four-phase reopening plan. Phase II allows for reopening of outdoor dining at bars and restaurants, in-person retail, hair salons and barbershops (but not personal care services like nails or massages), real estate and more office 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," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "It's time to move forward."
The mayor said playgrounds will also reopen Monday, but team sports like football and basketball remain prohibited. Asked about team sports Friday, de Blasio said he wants to first assess the potential impact of Phase I and the protests on infections, which should be clear in the coming days. Once playgrounds reopen, he'll monitor COVID rates again for any spikes.
"Let's get into Phase II, let's see if it's working, let's see what we learn from Phase I and at the right time we can make a decision on all sports facilities in common," the mayor said Friday.
A day earlier, he outlined the heart of the city's Phase II plan -- the Open Restaurants initiative, which focuses on providing more temporary space to restaurants through curbside seating, sidewalks, open streets, pedestrian plazas and backyard/patio seating. See full details on that plan, which de Blasio said could save up to 5,000 restaurants and 45,000 jobs, here. The restaurant plan comes with a slate of rules. Repeat violators could lose their authorizations.
The mayor also encouraged people use their best judgement and go at their own pace when it comes to reopening. "If you're not comfortable, don't do it," he said, implying that just because certain activities are available once again, doesn't mean it is ideal for everyone, especially those at-risk. "I'd say this is a personal decision people need to make. And I'd say to anyone ... less is more."
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.
But on a warm Friday night, there were crowds gathering in New York City not just for Juneteenth celebrations or marches, but rather some were enjoying some early al fresco dining — or more accurately, drinking. Groups gathered in Hell's Kitchen, where local leaders passed out masks and hand sanitizer as they encouraged safe reveling after months of lockdown, but also pushed for caution.
"We are still trying to beat this virus. People who aren't social distancing, New Yokers who aren't wearing their masks are not helping the cause," said State Senator Brad Hoylman, who represents the neighborhood.
Many restaurants that had previously set up tables on the sidewalk no longer had them out for customers however, with the state's threat to pull liquor licenses seemingly inspiring the good behavior, even if some in the area were alarmed by the volume of people, a portion of whom were not wearing masks.
Up to 350,000 more people are expected to return to work when the five boroughs start Phase II, on top of the hundreds of thousands who did when it entered Phase I. The MTA has launched aggressive new safety measures and service enhancements to accommodate the increased volume, but isn't planning any additional changes before Monday's rush of returning riders. It will also install hand sanitizer in specially designed anti-theft “cages” at all 472 stations, and masks remain mandatory on all trains and buses.
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. In Phase III, the cap on indoor gatherings rises to 25 from 10.
The Mid-Hudson region, which includes Westchester and Rockland counties, petitioned Cuomo to allow it to start Phase III Friday so it could have larger Father's Day gatherings this weekend. The governor has yet to respond, but considering his stance on standard rules for all regions, it's unlikely that he would oblige the request to shorten the two-week requirement between phases.
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 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 says experts have advised him to impose a 14-day quarantine on travelers to New York from new viral hotspots, like Florida. He said he's considering that but hasn't made a final decision. A number of states imposed such limits on New York travelers in early spring as the virus ran rampant.
"Fast forward, now we're afraid they're bringing it to our state," Cuomo added.
New York is seeing a consistently low daily percentage of tests come back positive, despite testing roughly 80,000 people a day. As of Friday, the statewide seven-day rolling average of percent positive tests is 1 percent. The seven-day rolling average in New York City is also 1 percent, a far cry from the 59 percent it was seeing at the peak of the crisis.
The five boroughs are still adding a few hundred new COVID cases daily, but considering 30,000 or more are being tested each day that's not unmanageable. Even Brooklyn and Queens, the two deadliest COVID counties in America, are seeing percent daily positive tests well below 2 percent.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
New Jersey now ranks 36th among U.S. states as far as new cases per 100,000 residents, but it has struggled on other key metrics, ranking third and fifth, respectively, in new daily deaths and total hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.
Starting next week, Gov. Phil Murphy said New Jersey would add probable COVID deaths to its overall toll, as New York City has done. He says that change will increase the state's overall toll, which stands at 12,835, "significantly."
All these are reasons to remain vigilant, Murphy says, as the state prepares to take its next step Monday, reopening beauty salons, tattoo and massage parlors and more personal care services, along with non-contact team sports.
Murphy announced more key dates Friday. Starting Father's Day, nursing homes, assisted living residences and other long-term care facilities, which have accounted for nearly half of New Jersey's COVID deaths, can allow visitors in designated outdoor spaces. Murphy wants to review their plans before they do.
"Being apart from our loved ones has been on of the most difficult challenges throughout the pandemic — especially for long-term care residents and their families," state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said, adding that the new guidelines protect and reduce risk for the at-risk population.
The governor also set a date for this week for the long-awaited reopening of indoor shopping malls. Those can return June 29 with restrictions. Food courts, common seating areas, theaters and arcades remain closed.
All of that has reopened in Connecticut as of this week. The least hard-hit of the tri-states amid the COVID outbreak, the Constitution State has been the most aggressive of the three on reopening. All that remains shut down in Connecticut are schools, summer camps, state campgrounds, the DMV and bars.
Tri-state confirmed COVID cases surpassed the 600,000 mark Friday, while the region's confirmed virus deaths are nearly 42,000. Nationally, NBC News estimates more than 2.2. million cases have been confirmed, while almost 120,000 have died -- at least.
The World Health Organization said Friday that the coronavirus pandemic had entered a “new and dangerous phase” as global daily COVID cases hit a new record high, with nearly half of them coming from the United States.