What to Know
- New York City moved to Phase II Monday; up to 300,000 more people were expected to return to work. Long Island and the Mid-Hudson regions join the rest of the state in Phase III later this week
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that 10 New Yorkers died of COVID the day before, the lowest daily toll since March 21; he's still considering a quarantine on travelers to NY from viral hotspots like Florida
- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy upped crowd limits in his state on Monday, saying the cap on outdoor gatherings could rise to 250 from 100; limit on indoor gatherings increased to 25% capacity but can't top 100 people
New York City got more "back to normal" Monday than it has in three months as it entered Phase II, reopening long-restricted restaurants to outdoor dining, stores to in-person retail, playgrounds and more services with strict limitations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio described Phase II as the five boroughs' "biggest step forward" yet as the city looks to recover from the nation's deadliest coronavirus outbreak. He and his wife Chirlane McCray were one of those enjoying outdoor dining for the first time in months, eating outside at Melba's Restaurant in Harlem, their table on the street in what used to be a parking spot.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said owner Melba Wilson, president of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. She said outdoor dining was “the infusion that we so greatly needed” after three months of struggling to get by on takeout and delivery.
In the Bronx, one of the places hardest hit by the virus, the outdoor dining comes as the borough is showing quite the turnaround. In April, the Bronx recorded up to 1,000 coronavirus cases a day — now that number is down to 60. Some store in the Fordham Heights section, which had to overcome looting problems, now seeing some new life as well, with customers inside for the first time in months.
Shoppers can also once again browse inside stores (but not malls), from Macy's Herald Square flagship to beloved mom and pops. Shaggy hair can get cut, though nails and massages have to wait. Cooped-up kids can climb playground monkey bars instead of apartment walls. Office workers can return to their desks, though those who can work remotely are advised to continue doing so.
Up to 300,000 more people were expected to return to work starting Monday on top of the hundreds of thousands who did when the city entered Phase I, though all the long-awaited returns come with a bevy of restrictions. Businesses must stick to half capacity with mandatory COVID safeguards in place like social distancing and facial coverings. Many also have limited hours. City inspectors will be out to note violators and first try to educate rather than fine them.
The heart of New York City's Phase II plan is de Blasio's Open Restaurants initiative, which focuses on providing more temporary space to restaurants through curbside seating, sidewalks, open streets, pedestrian plazas and backyard/patio seating. See full details on that plan, which de Blasio said could save up to 5,000 restaurants and 45,000 jobs, here.
How many New Yorkers will take advantage on Day 1? Opening the doors is one thing. Getting people to step inside is another challenge entirely.
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
The virus has been blamed for more than 22,000 New York City deaths and may be accountable for upwards of 27,000. The city's death toll has been in single digits in recent days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo added just 10 more names statewide to the toll on Monday, the lowest number of daily deaths since March 21.
Infections are also down -- roughly 1 percent of about 30,000 people tested each day in New York City are positive -- but the five boroughs still adds hundreds of new cases daily. New Yorkers are as wary as they are eager to move forward.
Eve Gonzalez, a food industry worker, told the Associated Press she's concerned restrictions may be easing too soon.
“I’m dying to go out, but people’s health is more important,” said Gonzalez, 27. Another city resident, Alice Tilghman, who was commuting from Staten Island to Queens for the first time since March, said it was still a "scary situation."
The phased regional reopenings have not caused statistically significant spikes in infection thus far in New York, even as nearly half the nation's states grapple with new outbreaks.
Cuomo has said experts have advised him to implement a 14-day quarantine on travelers to New York from viral hotspots including Florida, where cases topped 100,000 Monday, and other states. He said on MSNBC he was "seriously considering" new restrictions and speaking with neighboring states, including New Jersey and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, about a coordinated plan.
"It's more effective if we do it as a regional collaboration," Cuomo said Monday.
Many of the states seeing infection rates soar lack New York's robust reopening standards. Cuomo and de Blasio both urge New Yorkers to continue their commitment to the mitigation measures that flattened, then bent the COVID curve in the first place.
While the governor is no longer holding daily COVID briefings after delivering an emotional address in his 111th and final one Friday, he issued a reminder to New Yorkers to continue to "be smart" Monday as the city officially entered Phase II. He also said he's prepared to undo the restart if COVID-19 cases spike.
"We watch those numbers every day — any tick, we will respond," the governor said.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye said Monday roughly 95 percent of mass transit riders were wearing masks in accordance with state law. Asked about the ongoing overnight subway shutdown, Foye said 24/7 service would resume when the pandemic ends. Apart from those four overnight hours daily, subways are running at 100 percent pre-pandemic service while serving about 20 percent of the ridership, Foye said. On Friday, weekday combined ridership on subways and buses surpassed 2 million for the first time since the pandemic started (which, according to Foye's statistic of 95 percent wearing masks, means there still would be 100,000 people riding buses and subways not wearing masks).
NYC Transit President Sarah Feinberg still urges companies to stagger shifts, in order to avoid crowding on the subway at peak times.
"There are only so may ways we can play it. We are maxed out," Feinberg said. "So people can avoid those peak times and please — mask vigilance."
New York City was the state's last region to enter Phase II and will be the only one in that step later this week, once the Mid-Hudson and Long Island regions make their foray into Phase III, opening indoor dining and personal care services.
All regions so far have experienced two weeks in each phase before moving onto the next. Asked Monday if he thought the city would be ready to enter Phase III in two weeks, on July 6, de Blasio said, "It's going to be based on the data and it's going to be, of course, a high bar because doing something here affects so many people we have to get it right."
Education and arts/entertainment comprise the fourth and final phase of Cuomo's reopening plan. While summer camps in New York can open at the end of the month, parents are left in limbo as it relates to school in September.
In New York City, the goal remains to start school as scheduled on Sept. 10. But it almost certainly won't look the same as previous years. A recent letter Chancellor Richard Carranza sent to superintendents, principals and others gave a first glimpse at possible adjustments, including split schedules, social distancing and blended (both remote and in-person) learning to safeguard health.
Playgrounds are a first step in reopening activities for kids, de Blasio said last week when asked about team sports like football and basketball and pools. "Let's take it slow" and see how that, along with the rest of Phase II, goes first, he said. The mayor remains committed to trying to reopening city beaches before he tries to tackle the issue of pools, which are far less conducive to social distancing.
All of those are already open in New Jersey, which took it next steps Monday in reopening personal care services like salons, tattoo shops and massage parlors as well as outdoor pools and non-contact organized sports. Businesses throughout the state were repeatedly sanitizing and taking customers' temperatures while operating on an appointments-only basis — which hasn't seemed deter customers, as some hair salons have said they're booked well into July.
One week from now, indoor shopping malls can reopen in the Garden State with limitations. Indoor dining can resume at 25 percent capacity (to start) on July 2, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. Casinos can also reopen that day with the same capacity limitations. The governor also raised the cap on outdoor gatherings to 250 from 100, effective immediately. He expects that limit to climb to 500 by the time socially distant outdoor graduations can resume in the state July 6. Indoor gatherings are now limited to 25 percent capacity but can't exceed 100 people.
Murphy said Monday if current health trends stay on track, he'll be able to set a date soon for New Jersey's entry into the third and final stage of his reopening roadmap. If they decline between now and next Thursday, he said, he'll have to pause the process.
"That’s the last thing I want to do – so let’s keep using common sense for the common good," Murphy said.
New Jersey joins New York in celebrating one of the lowest COVID transmission rates in the nation, but it continues to rank among the top five or 10 U.S. states in terms of new daily deaths and total hospitalizations per 100,000 residents.
The state's current death toll stands at 12,895 but Murphy warned last week that it was expected to increase "significantly" going forward as New Jersey moves to add probable COVID fatalities -- cases where there was no confirmed COVID diagnosis but it or an equivalent was listed as a cause of death -- to the count. New York City's transition to that accounting, which it did months ago in accordance with CDC guidelines, added up to 5,000 names to the total.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Across the tri-state area, nearly 42,000 COVID deaths have been confirmed, along with more than 600,000 cases. Nationally, NBC News estimates more than 120,000 have died as the case total approaches 2.3 million.
Globally, daily COVID cases hit a new record high Monday for the second time in four days as the World Health Organization warned the coronavirus is still accelerating worldwide.