What to Know
- New York City has joined New Jersey in shelving indoor dining indefinitely as bar- and restaurant-linked COVID cases surge across the nation; Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow the rest of the state to continue indoor dining
- Atlantic City's top-performing casino won't open as planned Thursday because of the indoor dining delay; the state's famed boardwalk rides, amusement parks and its playgrounds will finally return, though
- A growing number of states -- from Texas to California to Pennsylvania and Arizona -- are rolling back reopenings or shelving the process entirely as new U.S. COVID cases continue to smash records on a daily basis
New York and New Jersey, America's hardest-hit states, are no longer among the few currently on track to contain COVID-19, losing ground they had just a week ago, according to Covid Act Now, which uses real-time modeling and metrics to assess the nation's standing in the war against the novel coronavirus.
Right now, the two states are controlling disease growth, which is still a better standing than half of the rest of the nation. As of Wednesday, the latest update, just Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont were on track to contain COVID, according to Covid Act Now, which assesses risk based on contact tracing, hospital capacity, testing and daily case and death numbers.
Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Phil Murphy have cited Covid Act Now in their briefings as a measure of their states' progress, with Murphy doing so as recently as Wednesday. Cuomo has focused more on seven-day rolling average test rates than daily numbers in New York, as hospitalizations and daily fatalities plunge to three-month lows. The Empire State tests more per capita than any place in the world, the governor says. He opened it universally to New Yorkers on Wednesday.
At the same time, some reports have indicated trouble with contact tracing. Rockland County officials investigating a new party-linked cluster are resorting to subpoenas to compel people to comply, while New York City says it hasn't been able to reach a third of the contacts it receives.
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
Such containment measures are critical to preventing future spread -- even more so as new U.S. data shows indoor, enclosed spaces like restaurants and malls may pose a heightened risk of infection. These concerns have Cuomo and Murphy reevaluating their overall reopening strategies, shelving indoor dining indefinitely in New York City and New Jersey as the nation's top health experts warn the latest U.S. virus surge may already be beyond control.
America shattered its daily new COVID case records again Wednesday, topping 50,000 new reported infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, warned the Senate this week cases could soar to 100,000 a day at the current rate.
Scrambling to curb the spread, more and more states, from Texas to Arizona to Pennsylvania and California, are rolling back reopenings or pausing the process.
In New York City and New Jersey, indoor dining was the first domino to fall. Will it be the last?
Murphy's decision, which came just 72 hours before it was set to resume in the Garden State, forced casinos to abruptly reevaluate their reopening plans with little time to spare. Five of the state's nine casinos will reopen Thursday as scheduled, albeit it at 25 percent capacity, while three more open Friday.
“Honestly, we were totally surprised,” said Ron Baumann, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, which owns three Atlantic City casinos. “Our plans were to open up the restaurants at 25 percent capacity, and we were ready to do that. We've spent the last 2 1/2 days scrambling to come up with a new plan.”
Restaurants in New York City are also scrambling to come up with a new plan, a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo shelved indoor dining indefinitely in the five boroughs, citing soaring infection rates tied to bars and restaurants in a growing number of U.S. states. Cuomo also pointed to ongoing compliance issues in New York City regarding social distancing and mask-wearing -- factors he said could quickly jeopardize the city's low infection rate.
"Citizen compliance is slipping. Government is supposed to be enforcing compliance. That is not happening to a sufficient basis," Cuomo said. "This is not over. This can still rear its ugly head anywhere in this nation and in this state."
Cuomo offered no new potential timeline for the return of indoor dining in New York City, which it had been poised to resume Monday when it enters Phase III of the state's reopening strategy. De Blasio doubled down on al fresco eating in the meantime, announcing Thursday that 22 open streets, some new, some existing, will also host restaurants starting this weekend as part of the city's Open Restaurants Initiative. More than 6,500 eateries have applied for permits so far.
New York City will still transition to the third phase Monday absent indoor dining, resuming personal care services from nail and tanning salons to spas and massage parlors with COVID safeguards in place.
De Blasio also plans to open more outdoor recreation, including tennis, basketball and handballs courts as well as Bocce, soccer and volleyball fields.
The rest of New York state has already resumed indoor dining. Cuomo said Wednesday indoor dining would continue in the state's other nine regions, adding the issues that led to the delay in New York City are primarily city-specific issues. Seven regions have already moved into the fourth and final phase of Cuomo's reopening plan, with the Capital Region the latest to do so Wednesday.
That fourth phase reopens low-risk indoor and outdoor venues like museums and zoos under strict capacity limitations. It does not, notably, reopen shopping malls, gyms or movie theaters, all of which fall under the same umbrella as indoor dining as far as Cuomo's concerns about heightened COVID risk.
Whenever New York malls are able to reopen, they'll have to first install certain filtration systems to ensure the virus doesn't recirculate in the enclosed air. Shopping malls reopened in limited fashion in New Jersey this week but all common seating areas, as well as food courts and movie theaters, stay closed.
Just two weeks ago, Murphy had been talking about soon setting a date for New Jersey to enter Stage 3, the last step on his reopening roadmap. The latest developments nationally may have thwarted any hope to do that in the near future, as the CDC warns the U.S. surge may already be beyond control.
On Thursday, Murphy announced state flags will return to full-staff after months at half-mast in honor of all the lives lost due to COVID-19, although Murphy was quick to say that the action does not mean the state is out of the clear and must continue fighting the virus. Additionally, Murphy extended the public health emergency for an additional 30 days, meaning the state will remain vigilant and prepare to act should there be another severe outbreak of COVID-19.
Murphy noted that on Thursday the state has more daily positives, the spot positivity is up slightly and the rate of transmission is up slightly. Although officials said these areas are not of concern given that it does not show a trend at the moment, they will be monitored closely.
Meanwhile, the total number of hospitalizations, individuals in intensive care and those on ventilators are down. On Thursday, the state's museums, aquariums, libraries and indoor recreation (including bowling alleys, batting cages, shooting ranges and boardwalk arcades) were all allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity, ahead of the holiday weekend. While gyms remain closed, they are allowed to host individualized training by appointment only.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The three tri-states jointly imposed a quarantine order last week that requires travelers to self-isolate for 14 days if coming to the region from states where the seven-day rolling average of positive tests or positive cases exceed a certain threshold. The number of states on that restricted list doubled Tuesday to 16: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. Violators of the executive order may face heavy fines.