What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he's considering tweaking the Phase III reopening process for NYC, especially as it relates to indoor dining; the city will transition to that next step in exactly one week, on July 6
- New Jersey had been scheduled to start indoor dining on Thursday, but Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday he had postponed that step indefinitely
- The developments come as much of the nation is shattering daily COVID case records on a regular basis and the pandemic accelerates globally; worldwide, the death toll topped 500k and cases hit 10m in last few days
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday he may tweak the Phase III reopening process for New York City as it relates to indoor dining, while New Jersey's governor said he would postpone that step indefinitely as virus cases surge across the U.S.
Both governors, who lead the two hardest-hit COVID states in America, cited evidence of heightened risk in other states from enclosed spaces. Both Cuomo and Gov. Phil Murphy also pointed to overcrowding and social distancing violations in some restaurants and bars in their states as reasons to reevaluate.
"Confidence in our restart is higher across the Northeast than it is in any other part of the country. That’s because we’re taking responsible and measured steps while following the science and data," Murphy said. "We still have nearly 1,000 people with COVID-19 in our hospitals. Our sister states are now battling for their lives. Do not think for one moment that this is behind us."
Murphy was initially set to announce that he wanted to see more enforcement of social distancing at bars, especially along the Jersey Shore, given the videos that surfaced on social media showing mostly younger people neglecting to wear masks or take other precautions while out. But after seeing what has happened to states in the south and west, he made the unexpected decision to halt what was supposed to be the next step in reopening.
"The carelessness of one establishment can completely undo the good work of many others. We will not tolerate outlier bars and restaurants, and frankly patrons, who think the rules don't apply to them," Murphy said. "I don't think it's a matter of days, it's a matter of weeks. And again, we have enormous sympathy (for restaurant owners), but the alternative here is worse and unacceptable."
New Jersey had been set to reopen indoor dining on Thursday; that will no longer happen and no new timeline has been set. New York City had been scheduled to start limited indoor dining next Monday when it enters Phase III. That may not happen either, though the five boroughs will still move to that stage next week.
Phase III reopens personal care services, from spas to nail salons to massage and tattoo parlors and more, in addition to indoor dining -- at least for nine of New York's 10 other regions. More outdoor recreation will also open at that time.
"I'm talking to business owners about it, we're going through the data — but this is a real issue," Cuomo said during his press conference. He also pledged a final decision on indoor dining in New York City by Wednesday.
Every other New York region has already resumed dine-in; it wasn't clear if Cuomo would adjust other regional reopenings to accommodate any potential changes to state guidelines.
"I would not want to roll back anything we’ve done. I want to continue to move forward but we may move forward with caution," Cuomo told NY1 Monday. "We have complications that we are studying now but there are issues we have to think through. Malls and indoor dining are things that I’m concerned about and we may consider slowing them down for next week."
Malls aren't slated to reopen in New York any time soon, but when they do, Cuomo said they'll be required to install certain air systems that filter the virus out rather than recirculate it. There's no timeline for those reopenings yet in the Empire State, but they did reopen with restrictions in New Jersey on Monday.
De Blasio indicated the same concern about indoor dining in his daily briefing Monday, saying the city was re-examining its rules for that component of Phase III. He pointed to new outbreaks in states from Michigan to California to Texas he says have been tied to specific restaurants and bars as reasons to reevaluate.
The mayor said he spoke with the governor's office about the matter over the weekend and would work to finalize details in the coming days.
Under current state guidelines, indoor dining must be restricted to half capacity and all tables must be 6 feet apart or have barriers between them when that's not possible. Employees must wear masks at all times and unseated patrons older than 2 must do the same. People are only supposed to dine out with members of their own households, though enforcing that in New York City may be difficult.
The stakes are very high for restaurants in the city, as they struggle to make ends meet during the pandemic. The New York City Hospitality Alliance said it will defer to public health officials to prevent another spike in coronavirus cases, but said that "small businesses urgently need certainty and immediate support on rent, expanded outdoor dining and other responsive policies if they are to have any reach chance of survival and recovery."
With the brakes temporarily pulled on indoor dining plans, de Blasio is focused on expanding the city's already extensive al fresco dining program, which turns curbs, parking spaces, open streets and sidewalks into temporary dining space. More than 6,100 restaurants have applied for al fresco permits in recent weeks. He said Monday he'd add a new outdoor option this weekend: barbecue areas in city parks.
"We're at a watershed moment for the city of New York. We have to get it right. We're going to make adjustments all the time and we'll be open to you about when we need to make adjustments," de Blasio said Monday. "But we're also going to be very open about the progress and what we need to do. When we see a problem, like concerns about indoor dining, we have to address it."
The former epicenter of the national COVID crisis, New York City now boasts one of the nation's lowest viral transmission rates, averaging just a 1 percent positive test rate over a rolling seven-day period, even as many U.S. states see surges anew. Even America's deadliest counties, Queens and Brooklyn, see their daily percentage of positive tests consistently fall below 1.5 percent.
Mohawk Valley is the only region in New York state with a daily positive test rate higher than 1 percent (2 percent) over a seven-day rolling period, though it has a smaller population, testing about 7 percent of the number the city does each day. That region is one of five already in the state's fourth and final reopening phase. No significant infection spikes have been reported as it relates to the reopenings.
Hospitalizations have fallen to their lowest levels in months. The number of daily virus deaths has also plunged. On Monday, Cuomo said just seven more people had died across the entire state, the lowest single-day toll in well more than three months except for the five he said had passed a day earlier. At the height of the crisis, nearly 800 New Yorkers were dying a day.
Monday kicked off a big reopening week for New York and New Jersey even with indoor dining plans shelved for now. New York day camps and New Jersey shopping malls both made a limited comeback starting Monday. At the Westfield Garden State Plaza, there were small crowds gathered outside a handful of stores, eager to get inside as they opened for the first time since mid-March, with 50 percent capacity. While masks were mandatory, it was apparent the social distancing rule of six feet apart was not being enforced.
Later this week, casinos, boardwalk rides and amusement parks are set to reopen in New Jersey, but the latest guidance may change some of those businesses' plans. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City said on Monday that it will remain closed "until such time that the Governor lets us know it is safe to offer food and beverage" options.
Meanwhile, New York City's 14 miles of public beaches will finally become available for swimming, bringing much-needed relief as temps hit their warmest levels yet.
Amid hard-earned progress locally, much of the nation is battling COVID anew -- with Florida among the states shattering its new daily COVID case records on a regular basis. Texas became the first to put its reopening process on pause.
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
Cuomo argues loose reopenings fueled by the federal government's overwhelming drive to reboot the national economy are to blame for the surges. He blasted the White House again Monday for butchering the COVID response, accusing it of being in denial about the virus from the onset of the pandemic.
Texas and Florida are two of eight states subject to the tri-state's new quarantine rule, which asks travelers from viral hotspots to self-isolate for 14 days. The other restricted states are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Utah and the Carolinas.
"Time to wake up, America. If that spread comes to New York, we could have to do this all over again. Doing this once in life is enough," Cuomo said Monday. "We don't need to climb another mountain. One mountain is enough."
Out-of-state infections may already be sparking new ones in New York. Cuomo's office is now investigating whether a student who traveled to Florida before attending an outdoor graduation ceremony in Westchester County may have sparked a new outbreak there. At least 13 new cases have been linked to that single student, Cuomo said. Westchester is home to New Rochelle, the source of the state's first virus cluster and the first community to see a containment zone.
"One person led to hundreds of cases. One person," Cuomo said. "That's why the local governments have to be diligent on enforcement."
Cuomo doesn't want to reward New Yorkers who travel to hotspots either, given the added risk they could bring back home. He signed an executive order making New Yorkers ineligible for paid sick leave if they voluntarily travel to those states.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed new coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. has hit an all-time high. It now has more than 2.5 million confirmed infections and some 125,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins, though the CDC said last week the true number of cases is likely up to 10 times higher than the official count. New York alone accounts for nearly 20 percent of each of those tolls.
Globally, the outlook has also worsened in recent days. Worldwide virus deaths topped 500,000 over the weekend, according to Johns Hopkins, while the World Health Organization said confirmed COVID cases topped a 10 million-milestone.