What to Know
- A seventh New York region has reopened, leaving just New York City, Long Island and Mid-Hudson shut down; NJ and CT have also eased a number of restrictions -- and most tri-state beaches reopen Friday
- New York alone accounts for about 1/4 of the national death toll, which is quickly approaching 100,000. The tri-state area has confirmed more than 37,500 COVID deaths and nearly 550,000 total cases
- NJ Gov. Phil Murphy and NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo both say they hope to provide parents and teachers guidance on schools next month, citing concerns about a potentially deadly new syndrome affecting kids
With more restrictions easing each day, an energized tri-state area is beginning to get into the groove of its new normal. For the first time in months, people lined up to eat (al fresco) at their favorite restaurants in Connecticut, as New Jerseyans stood, socially distant, in line to buy their summer beach badges.
In New York, religious groups of up to 10 people are permitted starting Thursday. The same small crowds are also allowed for Memorial Day ceremonies to honor veterans -- as flags remain at half-staff, indefinitely, across the tri-state area to honor the tens of thousands of lives lost to its ongoing war against COVID-19.
That war is far from over. Seven of New York's 10 regions have started to reopen for business, aware that the slightest misstep could trigger a setback on one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's seven criteria to continue on the path forward.
The governor urges those regions to proceed cautiously.
"Increased activity only leads to increased cases if precautions aren't taken. Everyone has a role to play," Cuomo said Thursday, as he noted new daily hospitalizations had hit a months-long low. "If people get arrogant and casual about this pandemic, you will see the infection rate go up."
New York City and Long Island have each met four of the seven reopening metrics. Both regions have yet to identify and train their complete contact tracing armies; they're required to have at least 30 tracers for every 100,000 residents. Long Island continues to struggle on the hospital death rate metric, while New York City has yet to make the hospital and ICU beds available that Cuomo says it needs to have to ensure it can handle a potential viral resurgence.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city is on track to overcome its remaining roadblocks to reopening by early-to-mid June; Cuomo's office agrees. Parts of the city are already starting to spring back to life, perhaps too quickly for some.
MTA bus driver Regan Weal told MSNBC Thursday she's noticed more ridership recently, though most riders are complying with mask mandates on board.
"We have a handful that love to give us a hard time. But there are definitely a lot more people on the bus, which is uncomfortable," Weal said. "I don't know if it's because things are slowly opening up. But even on the weekend, there's a lot of people outside, a lot of people on the buses now."
Buses, subways and trains could potentially be a little more crowded this weekend, as the MTA said that no additional service will be added and is running an essential service schedule, encouraging potential passengers to stay home. More than 120 transit workers have died during the COVID-19 crisis, and with seemingly more people using the service, some union officials are calling for more to be done for the employees.
"We need hazard pay. We demand hazard pay. Workers deserve it," said John Samuelsen of TWU International.
With most tri-state beaches reopening outside New York City within 24 hours, and mass transit the prime means to get there, Acting Senior Vice President of NYC Transit Department of Buses Craig Cipriano issued a public appeal Thursday.
"We can’t risk overwhelming the system," Cipriano said. "Please do not take buses to the beach this weekend."
Long Island Rail Road President Philip Eng made a similar ask as it relates to the trains. Earlier Thursday, de Blasio said the city flat out doesn't want people taking mass transit to the shore. To give them more options, the mayor said Staten Island Ferry rush-hour service would increase to every 30 minutes rather than hourly starting Thursday afternoon.
City beaches remain closed to swimming, but will be open for sunbathing. The NYPD said late Thursday that beachgoers can enter the water up to their ankles and surfing will be allowed, but no swimming.
Nassau and Westchester counties have limited beach access to residents only, at least in this preliminary period. Officials believe some beaches, which open starting Friday, may be filled up to the 50 percent capacity mark by before 11 a.m.
"It's not because we want to do this, we're trying to stay within the parameters of public health that we're told," Westchester County Executive George Latimer said.
New Jersey expects to have some nonlocals on its beaches this weekend. The state remains in Stage 1 of what Gov. Phil Murphy has described as a three-stage roadmap to reopening.
He has allowed a growing number of outdoor activities. Curbside retail pickup is also permitted, though the mayor of Newark had to pull the plug on that Thursday. He said stores were letting people use the sidewalk as a fitting room. They'll stay shut down until they each develop plans to operate safely within Murphy's guidelines. The governor, meanwhile, said restricted reopenings of some indoor businesses -- like salons and gyms -- could be a few weeks away.
Region by Region Status
Source: New York State; Report as of May 18
The Uncertainty Problem: A Mutating Virus and the Question of Schools
The unknowns around this virus have stalled progress to some degree. It has mutated into a more contagious strain since first emerging in China. Asymptomatic people can transmit it. Antibody immunity is unproven. Children may not largely be spared, as was previously believed to be the case. Half of U.S. states are now reporting cases of what the CDC has termed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
New York state's Department of Health is investigating 157 cases of the illness, which is linked to COVID-19 but targets blood vessels rather than the respiratory system, Cuomo said Thursday. At least three children have died. Ninety percent of the children displaying symptoms tested positive for the virus or its antibodies. New York City says it has confirmed 89 cases, with another 43 under investigation, while New Jersey has identified 19 cases as of Thursday.
The emergence of the new syndrome has prompted new concerns about summer camps running in some capacity this year, and further complicated the question of schools reopening as usual in September. Cuomo said Thursday the state is still re-evaluating its guidelines for summer camps in light of the new illness. He says he thinks the identified cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
"Until we know how widespread this issue is, I wouldn't send my children to day camp," Cuomo said. "And if I wouldn't send my children to day camp, I can't ask someone else to send their children to day camp."
It's still too early to make a decision on the fall, the governor said. He pledged more guidance to come in June and said school districts will be required to submit preliminary plans the following month on how they'll protect students should in-person class resume in September. In the meantime, all summer school programs in the state will continue with remote instruction.
The school issue has also been top of mind for New Jersey's governor.
"We've got a small if not a large army looking at this right now," Murphy said on MSNBC Thursday. "We're planning on going back. That's going to be our base case. But we've got to do it in a responsible way."
Social distancing and face coverings will likely be a part of the new reality. Murphy said he hoped to provide parents and teachers guidance by early-to-mid June.
"There's a lot of uneasiness around this, understandably, right now," the governor said Thursday. We want to make sure we get this right."
Infection Rates Still High in Some NYC Nabes; Confirmed Tri-State Deaths Near 40,000
Even as overall infection rates slow in the five boroughs, alarming new data shows COVID-19 continues to spread practically unabated in some high-risk neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are lower-income and predominantly communities of color -- and they're the prime source of new hospitalizations.
Cuomo announced new partnerships with Northwell Health and SOMOS to expand testing in the hardest-hit communities. He also vowed more targeted outreach and directed local governments to focus on that as well. It's one thing to offer the tests, another to encourage people to go out and be tested. Masks and other supplies have been funneled into NYCHA developments for weeks now. It's not clear how many residents actually use them on a daily basis.
New data published by the city health department shows death rates are higher in lower-income ZIP codes. The five boroughs account for two-thirds of the confirmed virus deaths statewide, which hit 23,083 Thursday as Cuomo added 105 more names to the toll. The city reports another 4,771 probable deaths, which bring its toll above 20,000. A recent CDC report suggests the actual toll could be even higher.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Overall, New York's daily death tolls continue to decline across the board. The state has averaged 107 deaths a day over the last four days -- a still staggering number but a grim relief from a devastating stretch near 800 in April.
New Jersey now reports more fatalities per 100,000 residents than any other state and has been adding nearly 200 more names each day, though the daily toll fell below 100 on Thursday. To date, New Jersey has lost 10,843 people to COVID-19. Connecticut has reported 3,582 deaths.
Nationally, the toll is fast approaching a grim 100,000 milestone, with NBC News reporting more than 94,000 U.S. virus deaths as of Thursday. A new virus projection model that curates data from 41 diverse models projects the country could lose another 20,000 just over the next four weeks.