NY, NJ Loosen Restrictions on Gatherings in Time for Memorial Day Weekend

Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions could reopen following the holiday weekend, Gov. Cuomo announced Saturday

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What to Know

  • Governors Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy have issued orders allowing non-essential gatherings up to 10 people in New York and New Jersey
  • Long Island and Mid-Hudson regions could reopen after the holiday weekend, leaving just NYC shut down
  • New York City joined the rest of the tri-state area in reopening its beaches Friday; they are still closed to swimming and social distancing will be strictly enforced

New York recorded its lowest single-day death toll related to the coronavirus Friday, the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order permitting small, non-essential gatherings in the state.

Under the latest order from Gov. Cuomo, up to 10 people can gather for non-essential purposes "provided that social distancing protocols and cleaning and disinfection protocols required by the Department of Health are adhered to." That means people still need to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, or wear a face covering when they cannot maintain that distance in public.

Cuomo's previous order only allowed gatherings of that size for Memorial Day services, but a civil liberties group filed a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on other gatherings, leading to the new guidance.

Citing ongoing progress in flattening the curve, Murphy relaxed additional restrictions on Friday. He lifted the limit on outdoor gatherings from 10 to 25 people, but noted outdoor gatherings do not include al fresco dining or graduations. Indoor gatherings remain capped at 10 people.

The capacity for charter and fishing boats, outdoor batting cages, driving ranges and other outdoor recreational businesses was raised to 25 in New Jersey as well. Recreational campgrounds, public and private, can reopen immediately, Murphy said.

Gov. Cuomo said Saturday that New York recorded the lowest number of daily deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. New York had 84 deaths Friday, the first day below 100 since March, Cuomo said.

"It doesn't do any good for the 84 families that are feeling the pain, but for me it's a sign that we are making real progress and I feel good about that," Cuomo said.

As more of the tri-state area reopens for business in some restricted fashion, New York City remains shut down, impaired by the density that makes it one of the world's most vibrant places. So too are Long Island and the Mid-Hudson region, but not for much longer Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed Saturday.

Long Island has struggled on the death rate metric despite making significant progress in that regard, as has the Mid-Hudson region. The latter met the state's criteria for decline in deaths and if the Mid-Hudson region trains enough contact tracers over the weekend it will be ready to reopen Tuesday, Cuomo said.

The Mid-Hudson region needs 1,991 contact tracers. So far, 1,134 have been trained, the governor said.

Long Island's opening is less cemented, but Cuomo hopes to see it qualify by Wednesday. The region must see a drop in the number of coronavirus-related deaths as well as an increase in the number of personnel trained to contact trace.

Businesses in those areas are already gearing up, hoping to be able to re-hire some of the workers lost during the shutdown and get back to business — but know they have to do so safely and and to not let their guards down, or else risk another wave of the virus. Westchester County has registered nearly 33,000 COVID-19 cases, with close to 1,500 deaths.

The daily death tolls in New York have been declining across the board, however. This week, the state has averaged about 107 confirmed virus deaths a day, a still-staggering number but a somber improvement from a stretch near 800 in April.

Region by Region Status

Source: New York State; Report as of May 18

The Cuomo administration is watching data closely and preparing for upstate regions that could soon be ready to enter Phase II. Many of the regions have been open for one week, half the time previously announced by Cuomo needed to separate each phase of the state's plan.

When questioned about moving regions forward, Cuomo said Saturday the "two weeks is a rule of thumb," and ultimately any region could reopen sooner or later than the two-week window designed to watch for setbacks or hiccups in the reopening process.

The second phase involves retail, finance and professional services, while the third addresses food and hospitality. Education and entertainment will be the last sectors to resume, Cuomo has said.

Upstate regions look ahead of Phase II while three downstate regions remain under New York's "PAUSE" order, for now.

New York City Reopening Metrics

New York City, which has met four of Cuomo's seven criteria to reopen thus far, may not be too far behind them. On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a new indicator threshold system that the city will use to chart its progress toward reopening going forward.

It relies on the same three key metrics -- daily new hospital admissions, current number of ICU patients and percent of people testing positive -- that the mayor has tracked and shared in his daily briefings, but it assesses progress differently.

Rather than look for 10 or 14 straight days of decline on all three metrics together to signify progress, each metric now has a single "indicator threshold" that the city will look to stay below as it charts its path forward.

For new hospital admissions, it's just below 200. For the number in intensive care, it's around 375. The threshold for the percentage of people testing positive is 15 percent. As long as the city's line stays below the respective thresholds, it remains on track to reopening next month. As of Friday, the city was well below the new daily hospitalization threshold and just under the positive test one. The number of people in intensive care is still too high, even by the new system.

Mayor de Blasio outlines reopening metrics for New York City.

"This is about the reality on the ground. The indicators are numbers, they actually reflect what you're doing," de Blasio said. New York City has made major strides over the last two months. Moving forward now is less about small day-to-day variations in numbers, he said. It's about maintaining positive trends.

In an effort to help reach the proper levels to reopen, the city released a new ad campaign hoping to remind people to not stay out or linger outside long if not necessary: Take out, don't hang out.

Both the mayor and governor's office have said New York City is currently on track to reopen in the first or second week of June. It will still have to meet Cuomo's criteria to do so, regardless of where it stands on de Blasio's thresholds.

"There's no changing the criteria. It's not up to the local officials, it's a statewide decision across the board," Cuomo said.

New York City accounts for two-thirds of the confirmed COVID deaths statewide, which reached 23,282 Saturday as Cuomo added 84 more names to the toll. The city reports another 4,735 probable deaths, which bring its toll well over 20,000. A recent CDC report suggests the actual toll could be even higher.

New Jersey, which is in Stage 1 of what Gov. Phil Murphy has described as a three-stage reopening process, now reports more fatalities per 100,000 residents than any other state. It has lost at least 11,081 people to COVID-19.

Connecticut, which opened up al fresco dining as part of its first major statewide reopening steps this week, has reported 3,675 deaths.

Nationally, the toll is fast approaching a grim 100,000 milestone, with NBC News reporting nearly 97,000 U.S. virus deaths as of late Friday. A new virus projection model that curates data from 41 diverse models projects the country could lose another 20,000 people just over the next four weeks.

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