What to Know
- Long Island entered Phase II of reopening on Wednesday; NYC is the only state region in Phase I after ending its months-long shutdown Monday
- New York City hopes to be able to reach Phase II by early July; the mayor's office has already released a comprehensive outdoor dining plan to help provide restaurants with more temporary al fresco space
- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the stay-at-home order in place since March on Tuesday; he expects the outdoor gathering limit to rise to 500 by the time schools can hold graduations early next month
Long Island, home to two counties among America's 10 most-impacted by COVID-19, took its next reopening step Wednesday as it entered Phase II, resuming outdoor dining, hair salons, barbershops and other businesses.
Hundreds of restaurants in Suffolk and Nassau counties were expected to reopen. Nearly 50 in a single town alone, the town of Islip, were granted temporary outdoor dining and tent permits in advance of the Phase II reopening, planning to leverage the community's miles of waterfront to boost business.
According to state guidelines for outdoor dining, tables must be spaced 6 feet apart and employees must wear face coverings. Unseated diners must wear face coverings as well. In addition to dining, Long Island residents can now shop inside stores, rather than rely on curbside pick-ups and online orders. (Here's a breakdown of everything that opens in Phase II.)
"This is a major milestone for Suffolk County restaurant owners, who have endured more than 100 days of take-out service only or who elected to remain temporarily closed," Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement.
There was also good news in Nassau County, especially as the weather warms up: Four of the six county pools will be open for Nassau residents starting July 3, County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement. She also said that the state is expected to send guidance regarding possibly opening the two remaining pools at Nickerson Beach.
Suffolk County didn't have the same happy news, as multiple towns all said they will keep their pools closed, saying the logistics and costs of opening them up combined with the risk of spreading the virus are just too much. That goes against CDC and Suffolk County Health Department's own ruling that said municipally owned outdoor pools are allowed to operate, however.
Some restaurant owners in the Mid-Hudson region, which entered Phase II Tuesday, were so eager to get started they said they'd never close again. If all goes well over the next few weeks and the Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions move on to Phase III, restaurants will be able to resume indoor dining as well.
Even so, reopening the doors is one thing. Helping customers feel confident enough to walk inside after a pandemic that has sickened 40,000, taken more than 4,000 lives and costs thousands of jobs in Nassau and Suffolk counties alone, is a different challenge.
Will a dreaded spike in COVID cases come with the long-awaited reopenings? Not necessarily, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says -- as long as New Yorkers retain the same commitment to social distancing and mask-wearing that bent the curve in the first place.
With all 10 New York regions in some phase of reopening, Cuomo has shifted his team's focus to testing and tracing, identifying potential new clusters before they emerge and quickly isolating and treating any new positive COVID patients.
On Tuesday, the state launched a new dashboard that tracks the number of tests conducted and the percentage of positive results across the 10 regions on a day-to-day basis. It also breaks down those metrics by county, helping the state hone in on continuing viral hotspots like the 10 recently identified in New York City.
According to that dashboard, 1.5 percent of 27,639 people in New York City tested Tuesday, which reflects the state's latest data, were positive, though the Bronx and Queens had higher positivity rates compared with the other boroughs. That compares with a 59 percent positivity rate at the peak of the crisis. Mayor Bill de Blasio still considers New York City to be in a moderate state of virus transmission with hundreds of new cases each day. He expects it to lower by fall.
De Blasio has rolled out mobile testing trucks in the hardest-hit communities and the state has added nearly a dozen new testing sites in those neighborhoods recently. More than 240 free testing sites are open across the five boroughs.
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
Long Island saw just 0.9 percent of its 8,309 tests Tuesday come back positive, though Suffolk County had a slightly higher rate (0.9 percent) than Nassau (0.8 percent).
While the numbers offer a daily assessment, Cuomo has cautioned against relying too much on a single day. Percent positivity ebbs and flows a bit day to day, but if the numbers start to trend upward, that indicates a problem.
"Reopening resets the whole game. The numbers to watch now are the daily testing results," Cuomo said. "You can monitor what is happening on a daily basis. If you're going to get in trouble, you'll see it in the numbers."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
It's too early to tell if the statewide protests over the death of George Floyd, now ongoing for nearly two full weeks, have contributed to an increase in COVID cases. Cuomo has repeatedly urged any protest attendees to take advantage of one of the more than 800 testing sites now available statewide.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also urged protest attendees to get tested. He himself did so for the second time this week after attending a rally for justice in his state over the weekend. New Jersey is set to enter its Stage 2 Monday.
Large-scale retailers have called on Murphy to add big indoor malls to Stage 2 of his restart and recovery plan. It currently allows nonessential retail stores to reopen to in-person sales, but doesn't specifically break out eligibility by size. All of the phased reopening plans require some sort of capacity limits to start.
Meanwhile, Murphy took two more major steps forward Tuesday, lifting the stay-at-home order in place since March 21 and raising the limits on both indoor and outdoor gatherings. Indoor gatherings are capped at 25 percent of a building's capacity or 50 people total, whichever number is lower. Up to 100 people can gather outdoors, and Murphy expects that cap to rise to 500 by the time school districts are able to resume outdoor graduations in early July.
Still, the same message of caution echoing throughout New York applies. Social distancing will continue to be the "watchword" of the day, Murphy said.
"We are no longer requiring you to stay-at-home, but we are asking you to continue to be responsible and safe," the governor said.
New Jersey pools reopen in about a week and a half, on Monday, June 22.
New York City isn't quite ready to reopen its pools, de Blasio said when asked about it Tuesday. He said the city will look at reopening beaches first; it's easier to maintain social distancing on the shore than in a packed public pool.
Cuomo said Wednesday he would form a task force to start looking at the possibility of reopening playgrounds in New York City, which is slowly churning back to life after taking its first reopening steps three days ago. Subway ridership jumped 17 percent week over week when the five boroughs entered Phase I on Monday. Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North service also saw boosts in ridership on that day, and transit officials say the upward trend continued as the Mid-Hudson and Long Island regions took their Phase II steps this week.
The LIRR restored service to 90 percent of its pre-pandemic load on Monday. Beginning June 15, Metro-North will return to about 61 percent of the normal weekday service with a new schedule supporting supplement peak inbound and reverse peak service, while still maintaining hourly service during off-peak hours.
All of the reopenings around the tri-state come amid the fight against COVID-19 that has lasted longer than 100 days. While it may seem like a long time, especially to many residents who were or continue to be stuck primarily inside for significant amounts of time, it's also sobering to see just how many lives have been impacted or lost to the virus that no one had heard of this time last year. More than two million cases of the virus have been found nationwide, and more than 113,000 people have died as a result of it, according to NBC News.