New York City joins the Empire State's nine other regions in Phase IV of Gov. Andrew Cuomo four-stage reopening plan Monday, but a few key indoor activities held back as a precaution.
Cuomo made the announcement Friday in an afternoon conference call, giving New York City the green light to enter the final phase without the long-awaited returns of malls and museums. Indoor dining, postponed weeks ago after fears that a national rise in coronavirus cases was due in part to other state's reopening too soon, and other inside activities that have come with the transition for the rest of the state will not reopen.
"I feel like we are standing on a beach, and we're looking out at the sea and we see the second wave building in the distance, so I want all New Yorkers to be on high alert," Cuomo said Friday.
Phase IV also reopens low-risk outdoor venues like zoos and botanical gardens with strict capacity limits (only a third of standard capacity) and mandatory COVID precautions in place. Those will be allowed to return in New York City when it moves to the next phase Monday. Production of media and TV shows can also return, as well as fanless pro sports — which included weekend play between the Yankees and Mets in front of an empty Citi Field.
While Liberty Island is prepared to partially reopen Monday, Ellis Island will remain closed, while the indoor Met says it won't return until late August. Cuomo said the Met can still plan to reopen at that time, despite his ongoing indoor restrictions, but added, "We'll see."
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
It wasn't clear if the modified Phase IV plan for the city would still allow for the cap on social gatherings to be increased from 25 to 50, which has been the case for other regions taking that fourth step.
In the meantime, de Blasio said the city's wildly popular Open Restaurants initiative would be extended through Halloween, with another 40 blocks expected to open for weekend al fresco dining in the coming weeks.
The Phase IV timeline is a uniquely critical one for New York. It is tied directly to the fate of schools. Regions have to be in Phase IV and maintain a daily infection rate of 5 percent or lower over a 14-day rolling average in order for Cuomo to even consider their school districts' reopening plans, all of which will likely involve a mix of in-person and remote learning to start the year in September. The governor said he would make a decision on New York schools the first week of August.
Reports of mask-off parties in the city have popped off on social media. Day after day, New Yorkers are seen lingering outside bars and restaurants, many packed close together and some not wearing masks -- for an extended period of time.
”It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, it’s selfish, it’s unacceptable, it’s also illegal," Cuomo said of ongoing violations. "If we do not enforce compliance, the virus will spread. It is that simple."
This was especially the case over the weekend in Astoria, Queens.
Majority unmasked and in clear defiance of the New York's social distancing rules, a crowd of several hundred people filled Steinway Street Friday night, overwhelming police and leaving a mess in their wake.
Video of the nighttime party shows people lining Steinway Street in Astoria, packed from sidewalk to sidewalk. New York City police officers responding to the scene were vastly outnumbered and unable to enforce safety measures.
The crowds caught the attention of Mayor Bill de Blasio Saturday, who promised increased enforcement in Astoria following Friday night's crowds. The following night, video captured more people gathered on Steinway Street, but the crowd was much smaller than Friday. Still, many gathered in the late hours of the night opted not to wear a mask.
NYPD officers were handed out free face masks and encouraged social distance among the crowds, but say they didn't hand out any tickets.
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in New York state dropped to 722 and 13 more people died, Cuomo said Sunday. Statewide data show New York with 502 newly confirmed cases, representing 1.08% of all tests performed.
New Jersey saw significant progress over the weekend, reporting its lowest number of hospitalizations in three months. According to the state's health department reports, less than 800 people are hospitalized for coronavirus in the state.
Gov. Phil Murphy delivered the latest numbers Sunday, confirming an additional 144 new cases and 11 deaths related to the virus.