New Jersey

7 More NY Counties Enter Phase II; NJ Lifts Stay-at-Home Order, Raises Crowd Limits

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the stay-at-home order in place since March on Tuesday. He also raised the cap for indoor and outdoor gatherings and expects the latter to rise to up to 500 people by the time schools can hold outdoor graduation ceremonies next month

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What to Know

  • New York's Mid-Hudson region entered Phase II Tuesday, while Long Island will do so Wednesday. NYC took its first reopening steps Monday; subway ridership jumped 17 percent week over week
  • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy lifted the stay-at-home order in place since March on Tuesday; he expects the outdoor gathering limit to rise to 500 by the time schools can hold graduations early next month
  • The city did see a record low percentage of people testing positive (1 percent) Tuesday, compared with 59 percent at the peak of the crisis; de Blasio says NYC is still in a moderate transmission state

New York's Mid-Hudson region, home to the lawyer who would become known as "patient zero" of the state's COVID outbreak, saw the National Guard deployed in New Rochelle in March to assist in early containment efforts. Three months later, it opened for outdoor dining and hair care, among other services, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave it the green light to enter Phase II. Long Island is not far behind.

Tens of thousands of people returned to work in Phase II in Westchester County Tuesday. More are expected to do the same on Long Island come Wednesday. The developments come a day after New York City finally took its first steps into reopening after its months-long shutdown, earning congratulations and a celebratory subway ride from Cuomo, who did his daily COVID briefing in Manhattan.

Subway ridership jumped 17 percent in New York City on Day 1 over the week before, from 686,000 riders on Monday, June 1 to about 800,000 riders on Monday, June 8, the MTA said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo both hailed the city's reopening as a moment of triumph; both urged continued caution in their respective messages. That moment of triumph for the former epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic has come at extreme cost. Westchester County, in the mid-Hudson region, has seen its share of tragedy as well.

It's now been 100 days since the first case of the coronavirus was confirmed in the tri-state area. News 4 looks back at the battle against the pandemic and revisits some of the people affected by the crisis. (Written, edited and produced by Linda Gaudino)

Home to one of the nation's strongest early COVID clusters, it has lost nearly 1,400 people to the virus -- impacted more than any county in the state next to the five boroughs and Long Island.

On Monday, Westchester County Executive George Latimer celebrated the fact that the county's active number of COVID-19 cases fell under 1,000, "which is pretty significant given the fact that at one point we were at 12,000 active cases.” Now, county residents are able to enjoy some outdoor dining, go inside stores for shopping and get some long-overdue haircuts. If all goes well over the next two weeks, Phase III would bring indoor dining back as well.

Cuomo expressed confidence that New Yorkers could avoid a spike in cases linked to reopening in the same way they bent the curve of infection. On Tuesday, New York City marked a new low in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 (1 percent); that compares with 59 percent at the peak of the crisis.

De Blasio later said the city is still in a moderate transmission state, with hundreds of new cases per day, and likely won't see a lower rate until fall. That lower rate will come, he and Cuomo say, as long as New Yorkers stick with the measures that have been proven to work, like social distancing and masks.

"If we stay as smart as we have for 100 days, we will be fine," Cuomo said.

The Archdiocese of New York told NBC New York that it will begin weekday masses, weddings, baptisms and funerals in the Mid-Hudson region starting Tuesday, adhering to strict state limitations on capacity and safety protocols.

Mario Fava, the owner of four Westchester restaurants, says his business has been doing extensive research and he's taking every precaution against COVID, spacing out tables and providing employees with masks and gloves.

"We are gonna start at lunchtime and work straight through seven days and we are never stopping again," Fava said, rejoicing in the day he and his son have been waiting on for months.

Business isn't expected to start suddenly booming in Phase II, but owners do expect more customers than they got in Phase I. In New York City, some shops remained boarded up Monday, concerned about paying rent until more customers feel comfortable going out to spend money again. That takes time.

"A lot of retail folks do not think Phase I works for them," de Blasio said Tuesday. "They want to get to Phase II. That's when I think you see retail come alive in New York City."

Small stores and restaurants on Long Island are looking forward to Phase II of reopening, expected to happen within 24 hours. In addition, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran wants the governor to fast-track the economic reboot and reopen malls at that time to recoup some tax revenue. Malls in New York aren't slated to reopen until Phase IV, even as some of the nation's biggest, like the Mall of America, eye sooner openings in other states.

Region by Region Status

Source: New York State; Report as of May 18

"This is not reckless reopening," Cuomo said Monday in New York City. "This is by the guidelines. If you see any increases in the infection rate, react immediately. You have to stay smart."

It's too early to tell if the statewide protests over the death of George Floyd, now entering a second week, have contributed to an increase in COVID cases. Cuomo once again urged any protest attendees to take advantage of one of the more than 800 testing sites now available statewide. The governor said Tuesday his team is launching a new dashboard that tracks the number of tests and percent positivity across the 10 regions on a day-to-day basis.

"Reopening resets the whole game. If those numbers start to move, then you want to know right away and how," Cuomo said, noting that's when the contact tracing work kicks in. "This is the new focus."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also urged protest attendees to get tested. He himself did so for the second time Monday after attending a rally for justice in his state over the weekend. New Jersey is set to enter its Stage 2 Monday.

Murphy signed two executive orders Tuesday -- one lifting the stay-at-home order in place since March 21 and the other raising the limits on both indoor and outdoor gatherings. Effective immediately, indoor gatherings are capped at 25 percent of a building's capacity or 50 people total, whichever number is lower. Up to 100 people are now allowed to gather outdoors. Social distancing is required.

"We are no long requiring you to stay-at-home, but we are asking you to continue to be responsible and safe," the governor said, while reminding residents to continue wear face coverings while in public.

Murphy also said Tuesday he expects to be able to raise the limit on non-protest and non-religious activities to 250 people on June 22 and to 500 people on July 3. School districts planning graduations should prepare for a 500-person limit to be in place by the time graduations are permitted to resume on July 6. Similar to New York, there are also calls by multiple town officials in New Jersey for the governor to reopen indoor malls and shopping centers as part of Stage 2 on June 15, but Murphy has not indicated that he would expedite their openings. Gyms are also slated to stay closed during the second stage.

A day earlier, Murphy said that municipal and private club swimming pools can reopen the following Monday, June 22. But that reopening order does not apply to amusement parks, water parks and arcades, which were ordered to remain closed pursuant to his original March order.

The New Jersey Department of Health is expected to release complete guidance on protocols and procedures to be followed later Tuesday. A day earlier, it released comprehensive guidelines on summer camps, which are permitted to reopen in New Jersey on July 6, about a week after New York's.

All the dates and numbers regarding reopening announced Tuesday could change and be pushed back if numbers show a significant increase in COVID-19 spreading over the next few weeks.

Asked about New York City pools Tuesday — the hottest day of 2020 thus far — Mayor de Blasio said the five boroughs aren't quite ready for that. But he is no longer completely ruling them out either, saying that "there may even be a way to get back to pools (but) we are not there yet," and adding the city will look at how opening beaches goes first.

"We have got to start with the things we know we can do -- sprinklers in parks, cooling for young people and older people, air conditioners and cooling centers," de Blasio said. "We have to make sure we don't do the worst of all things."

However, it usually takes around three months to get some city pools up and running, and there aren't any across the five boroughs that have started prepping for any sort of opening.

The city parks commissioner said that lifeguards for the beaches have been trained, but there is no indication yet as to when they would get their beach assignments.

This story has been updated to clarify that amusement parks and arcades are not allowed to reopen on June 22.

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