What to Know
- New York City gyms return for business Wednesday; cetain restrictions on capacity apply and indoor fitness classes cannot resume quite yet
- What will be next to reopen for the five boroughs? Indoor dining doesn't appear to be the next course, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo said recently he hoped to make 'positive news' on casinos statewide this week
- Meanwhile, City Hall and the city's largest teachers' union reached a deal to avert a strike -- one that delays the start of in-person learning from Sept. 10 to Sept. 21 to allow teachers additional time to prepare and ensure safety
Six months after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in New York City, little remains left to technically reopen -- though those who live in the five boroughs have had to adjust to dramatically different ways of daily life.
Low-risk indoor activities like museums are back. School will be back, partially in person for hundreds of thousands of families, in the coming weeks -- though with a slight delay after an 11th-hour deal between City Hall and the unions to thwart the first teachers' strike in nearly five decades. Gyms return Wednesday.
What's next for the city of over 8 million residents?
It doesn't appear indoor dining will be the next course on the table. That does return in nearby New Jersey in less than 48 hours, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo, while acknowledging the competitive disadvantage for NYC restaurants, said this week that the five boroughs just aren't ready yet. School may have to come first.
Asked about indoor dining yet again at his briefing Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was continung to work closely with the state and hoped to have some announcement, whether good or bad news, in the coming weeks.
"Indoor restaurants are still sensitive. They may not be as much of a challenge as bars and nightclubs, but they're still really sensitive and they have been linked to problems around the country, around the world," de Blasio said. "I think it's our responsibility to give them as clear an answer, in the month of September, as possible of where we're going. If there can be a timeline, if there can be a set of standards for reopening, we need to decide that in the next few weeks."
Compliance has been improving, which could accelerate the already delayed return for indoor dining in New York City. Of nearly 1,200 establishments in the city and Long Island visited by state investigators Tuesday night, just three citations were issued, Cuomo's office said. All were in Suffolk County.
City Hall has been facing criticism from all sides regarding a return of indoor dining. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said bringing it back is "crucial" for not only the owners, but also employees — many of whom are immigrants who rely on those wages to survive.
"The rest of the State has been allowed to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining, and New Jersey is allowing indoor dining come Friday. Now is the time to allow it in New York City. Our restaurants and our City's economy can't wait," Johnson said in a written statement.
From the other side of the political aisle, State Assembly member and former mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis tweeted that de Blasio's plan of waiting to make a decision by the end of September "makes absolutely no sense."
Bettors might be wise to gamble on a sooner return of casinos statewide. Cuomo had said he hoped to make "positive news" on that sometime this week. New York City malls also have yet to reopen, but the governor hasn't hinted on a timeline.
New York state hasn't experienced significant infection upticks from its phased reopening to date, though the school factor looms large. Right now, the state is in the midst of a 26-day streak with daily COVID positivity rates below 1 percent. New York City also consistently reports positivity rates of 1 percent or lower.
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 five boroughs were not left out when Cuomo announced gyms could return in New York state the last week of August, but Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed the start back for the city as he prioritized inspections of 1,500 school buildings. Gyms began reopening in the city Wednesday and will also have to be inspected -- before or within two weeks of reopening -- to ensure compliance with COVID safeguards and other protocol as previously outlined by the state.
While many gym rats can't wait to get back after months of working out at home, fitness centers won't be entirely the same as when they were last inside. Some that offer food items like protein shakes may still have them available, but there is no indoor seating to drink it. Indoor swimming and group classes are still not allowed as well, and every gym will have stringent new cleanliness and social distancing measures — including only allowing one person at a time on a basketball court. Gym members will need to wear a mask at all times and stay 6 feet apart, and gyms can only operate at one-third capacity.
As with each step of the phased reopenings, strict COVID safety standards apply. Capacity will be capped at 33 percent to start, though if that proves problematic, the state says it will dial that number back. Health requirements include mandatory masks at all times, proper air ventilation, sign-in forms, screening at the door (like temperature checks) and social distancing. Indoor fitness classes and indoor pools will remain closed for the time being, de Blasio has said.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
It's been an at-times exceedingly slow rollout of daily life staples in New York City over the last few months -- and that's with good reason.
"Remember, this city has a very low infection rate right now. We're the envy of this country. We were the worst at one point, the epicenter – from worst to first, we're now in a very good position," Mayor de Blasio said on CNN Tuesday night as he spoke about the revised plan for New York City schools.
Gyms and health clubs also returned in New Jersey this week. Those were permitted to reopen Tuesday at 25 percent capacity. Additional precautions include limited fitness class size, mandatory face-coverings at all times and required contact logs of all patrons and staff to support contact tracing efforts in the event of a potential outbreak at any given facility.
Indoor amusement facilities were also allowed to reopen with similar restrictions. Movie theaters will be permitted to reopen starting Friday as indoor dining resumes.
"Let’s be clear where we are. This virus is not done with us yet – not by a long shot," Gov. Phil Murphy said at his Wednesday briefing. "But, today, we can say that New Jersey is one of the safest states in the nation."
On the schools front, New Jersey students are still scheduled to start their 2020-21 academic year next week. Nearly 57 percent of the state's 766 school districts will begin with a hybrid approach similar to the one outlined in New York City. Less than 9 percent will start all in-person while nearly a third will begin all-remote.
"We’re confident that the steps we have in place will make the kind of chaotic situations we’ve seen in other states far less likely to happen in ours," Murphy said. "There are no, and can be no, one-size-fits-all measures. There will nearly be as many paths to reopening as there are school districts – and that’s exactly how it should be."
Some Nassau County parents on Long Island were among the first to see their children go back to school for the first time since before the pandemic hit, as 3,000 students in Plainedge returned to the classroom Wednesday. But it was not a uniformed opening throughout the county, as over in Hempstead teachers protested to raise safety concerns — leading the district to delays the start of in-person learning by two weeks to address those concerns.