New Jersey

Mayor de Blasio Offers 1st Detailed Picture of What NYC's Phase I Reopening Looks Like

Positive local reopening developments come amid the pandemic's staggering emotional and economic cost; the tri-state area has confirmed nearly 40,000 virus deaths, while the U.S. toll topped 100,000 Wednesday

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What to Know

  • New York City is the state's only region left on PAUSE; eyeing an early June reopening, Mayor de Blasio outlined Thursday what Phase I will look like
  • New Jersey is close to entering Stage 2 of Gov. Phil Murphy's three-stage reopening plan; he says he'll make the move when the data supports it
  • The positive developments come amid the pandemic's staggering emotional and economic cost; the tri-state area has confirmed nearly 40,000 virus deaths, while the U.S. toll topped 100,000 Wednesday

With New York City expected to begin its reopening process in the next two weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered a first detailed picture Thursday of what that could look like -- one that involves up to 400,000 people returning to work.

That's the high end of the estimate, but the mayor expects at least 200,000 to start heading back to their workplaces in Phase I as construction and wholesale operations resume, and furniture, clothing and electronics stores open for curbside pickup. The MTA has increased subway and rail service to accommodate more commuters, with much of the state already open and the city not far behind. Agency officials said Thursday they've already seen an uptick in ridership and plan to reveal more on phased service restorations in the coming days.

New York City businesses that reopen in Phase I must do so in compliance with social distancing protocol and limit occupancy to 50 percent, de Blasio said Thursday. They must provide employees with proper personal protective equipment and require face coverings if a 6-foot distance can't be maintained for core work functions. Gatherings and meetings will have to be limited in size and take place in well-ventilated areas, de Blasio said.

"You have earned your way to the gateway to Phase One. We're not there until the day we declare, but we are damn close," the mayor said. "People are ready for this but they need to know it will be safe."

He also issued a warning: Any business that reopens before it is eligible under state guidelines will "face the consequences" - starting with $1,000 fines. A salon on Staten Island, which lawmakers have argued should reopen ahead of the rest of the city, received a summons Thursday for opening its doors early.

“I’m not into free agents," de Blasio said. “I’m not into people deciding that they get to make the rules and they can do something everyone else can’t do.”

All companies that do open in Phase I must ensure frequent cleaning of any shared surfaces. Business owners will have to implement mandatory health screenings for workers, like temperature checks and questionnaires. They must create social distancing markers to help customers and employees stay 6 feet apart, as a number of grocery and convenience stores have already done. Businesses will also be required to post Phase I safety plans in their workplaces.

Region by Region Status

Source: New York State; Report as of May 18

Teams from various public agencies will conduct random inspections, reviewing businesses' reopening safety plans and providing guidance and support on best practices. The rules will be enforced as necessary, de Blasio said. Summonses will only be issued in the most egregious cases or to repeat violators, he added.

The goal is not to fine or close businesses or shut them down, the mayor said. The goal is to protect progress; New York City paid an excruciating price for it.

"We've come a long way, we're not going to blow it now," de Blasio said. "New Yorkers have worked so hard for this progess, but we must remain vigilant in this fight."

He did not say exactly when the city expects to get the green light to for manufacturing and curbside retail to start again.

Eventually, the city will be able to enter Phase Two — which includes businesses like different types of retail — and then Phase Three, involving restaurants. City Council pitched a new plan on Thursday that would expand outdoor dining on sidewalks and even onto key streets, giving them more room for customers. Some restaurant owners said reopening their businesses is the key to revitalizing local neighborhoods.

"When restaurants can't reopen, communities can't reopen. So when a restaurant dies, it's not just that physical place, it's a domino effect," said Melba Wilson, who owns the famous Harlem restaurant Melba's.

But New York City still has plenty of work to do. It continues to see a higher number of patients in intensive care than the 375-patient threshold de Blasio wants to stay below. But it has made significant progress on its other core indicators. New daily hospitalizations and percent of people testing positive are well below their respective thresholds. To drive down the infection rate further, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is aggressively targeting state resources to the city's hardest-hit ZIP codes, which are the prime sources of new cases and hospitalizations statewide.

Speaking Thursday from one of those neighborhoods -- Flatbush in Brooklyn -- Cuomo called the city "a more difficult situation" than the rest of the state, and said New York was partnering with Northwell Health to bring in additional healthcare services. He also said the state would deliver another 1 million masks to the hardest-hit neighborhoods within 24 hours. Antibody testing data shows first responders have lower positivity rates than the population citywide, which Cuomo says prove masks work in reducing the spread of infection.

People may not want to listen to him on masks, Cuomo has acknowledged. He brought two famous Brooklynites -- comedian Chris Rock and actress Rosie Perez -- to his Thursday briefing to help emphasize the message.

"To mi gente, oye, wear a mask, please," Perez said. "The numbers in our communities are staggering. This is not a joke. This is not a hoax. This is real."

To drive home the point, Cuomo signed sign an executive order authorizing private businesses to deny entry to anyone not wearing a face-covering. His previous executive order mandating masks applied only to situations where people could not maintain a 6-foot distance from one another.

Outside New York City, the rest of the state has reopened. Five regions, the first to open when Cuomo's PAUSE order expired on May 15, could qualify to enter Phase II as early as Friday, opening up more professional and retail services.

New Jersey, meanwhile, is on the verge of moving into Stage 2 of what Gov. Phil Murphy has described as a three-stage opening process. New hospitalizations ticked up to a weekly high on Thursday, Murphy said. His team is looking into whether that is due to a reporting lag or signifies a more concerning potential setback in the state. Still, Murphy says the overall trends are positive -- and pledged to provide further guidance on the state's next step in the coming days.

He remains optimistic summer camps will be able to run this year in some fashion, and that daycare operations can resume soon. Data drives dates, Murphy says. He asks the public for continued patience, even as some businesses threaten to reopen June 1 in defiance of the shutdown.

"Go out and get tested," the governor said Thursday, a day after doing so himself, along with his wife. "The more data we have, the more confidence we can have that it’s time to move forward."

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