What to Know
- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have imposed a 14-day quarantine on travelers from any state where infections pass a certain threshold; violators could face a civil penalty up to $10,000
- Once the two hardest-hit states, New York and New Jersey now have some of the nation's lowest viral transmission rates; Gov. Cuomo says five NY regions will enter the last phase of his four-part reopening plan Friday
- New Jersey's virus toll soared by nearly 2,000 Thursday as the state moved to include probable deaths in the overall count; those probable fatalities now account for more than 12 percent of the 14,872 total
New York's COVID hospitalizations fell below 1,000 for the first time since mid-March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday, a day after he and the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut implemented a 14-day quarantine order for people traveling to the tri-state area from viral U.S. hotspots.
At the same time, the former epicenter of the national crisis, New York City, is on track to enter Phase III of Cuomo's four-step reopening plan on Monday, July 6, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. He said a slate of long-awaited activities will return to the five boroughs when that happens, including basketball, tennis and handball courts, dog runs, soccer, volleyball and Bocce ball. (See a full breakdown of the latest reopenings across the tri-state area here.)
New York City, which has lost tens of thousands to the virus in the last three months, now boasts one of the lowest COVID transmission rates in the U.S. Its seven-day rolling positivity rate for daily positive tests is just 1 percent, and the mayor said it didn't appear any of the protests triggered a new resurgence or wave of hospitalizations, with all indicators still remaining low. Even America's deadliest COVID counties, Queens and Brooklyn, are seeing daily positivity rates well below 1.5 percent on a consistent basis.
"The data is telling us 'yes' right now," de Blasio said as far as July 6 goes, adding he would provide more guidance for businesses in his Friday briefing.
Phase III also reopens indoor dining and personal care services with restrictions. The rest of the state is already there, while five regions -- the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, North Country and Central New York -- are set to enter the fourth and final phase of the state's reopening plan on Friday.
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. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
That phase allows many low-risk indoor and outdoor activities to resume, and boosts the limit on social gatherings to 50 from 25, but doesn't allow for malls, gyms or movie theaters. Cuomo says he's concerned that AC systems may just recirculate the virus rather than cleanse the air; he's working with health officials to understand any potential hidden exposure risk posed by those larger venues.
New York's phased reopenings haven't caused any significant spikes in reopening thus far, even as nearly half the nation's states experience record viral surges.
Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont jointly announced the new travel restriction Wednesday for visitors from hotspots, the same day the U.S. recorded its highest single-day new COVID caseload with 45,557 infections. That blew past its previous record April 26 by 25 percent.
The CDC said Thursday the actual total of U.S. COVID infections may top 20 million, 10 times higher than reported, based on national antibody samples.
The new tri-state travel mandate also comes as summer travel to beaches, parks and New York City would normally swing into high gear. While people aren't legally barred from travel by any means, Cuomo said he's counting on people to act responsibly, given the challenge of enforcement, and threatened to fine violators up to $10,000 if they're caught.
"If you fly into New York, we'll have your name, we'll know where you're supposed to be staying, there will be random checks," Cuomo said on CNN Thursday. "You get pulled over by a police officer and he looks at where your residence, and says, 'How long have you been here?' You get sick, you go to a hospital from out of state and you test positive and you've been within the 14 days, you're violating the law and you're going to have a problem."
The governor's office also later confirmed that it is fine for people flying into tri-state airports to use a rideshare or take a taxi to get to their final destination. However, anyone who was hoping to get tested and have a negative result end their quarantine will be disappointed, as Cuomo said the full 14-day quarantine is expected from everyone coming from those certain states no matter what.
The list of affected states will change daily as COVID numbers too, the governor said. It applies to states where 10 of every 100,000 people test positive on a rolling seven-day basis or where the positivity rate in the total population is 10 percent (also on a seven-day rolling basis).
Eight states currently meet that threshold: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah and Texas, which was forced to pause its reopening on Thursday amid the ongoing surge in new cases.
The virus spikes can't be definitively linked to looser reopenings than the one underway in New York, Dr. Anthony Fauci says, but he finds it "highly suspicious." Cuomo, on the other hand, firmly believes the surges are tied to hasty, non-scientific reopenings across the country. He blames the federal government.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
To date, the United States has lost nearly 123,000 people to the virus, more than a third of those coming from the tri-state area. Virus projection models have shifted to a grimmer ultimate death forecast for America through August, given that more fatalities are expected to accompany the sudden surges in cases.
New Jersey's death toll soared by nearly 2,000 Thursday as the state moved to include probable COVID deaths in the overall toll, which New York City did months ago in accordance with CDC guidance. The probable fatalities now account for more than 12 percent of the state's 14,872 deaths as of Thursday.
"In one day, we are significantly adding to the already weighty toll this pandemic has had on our state, and on so many families. We report this out of nothing else than a solemn sense of duty," Murphy said. "Given our current testing protocols and decreasing number of deaths overall, we do not anticipate this number growing significantly in the future," though the state will update it weekly.
In the meantime, he is plowing forward on his state's reopening, hoping to soon designate a date for its entry into Stage 3, the last step in Murphy's roadmap, even amid concern over growing COVID cases among young adults in his state.
While Murphy is expected to hold an update on education Friday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and the state's education department outlined their plans that would require all schools to bring students back into the classroom in the fall.
The plan consists of schools using a "cohorting" system, which would keep the same students in small groups based on classrooms. Those students would function separately from other groups in the school, according to Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, who admitted that the system might be difficult for high schools.
Schools would need to maximize social distancing and all students and staff would have to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth, Cardona said. School hallways would be rerouted to be one direction, students would be recommended to eat lunch in their classrooms or outside whenever possible, and districts would be encouraged to use gymnasiums or auditoriums to potentially alleviate classroom size and promote social distancing. School buses would be used at full or nearly full capacity.
The state also will have districts come up with alternative plans in case COVID numbers go up, with a hybrid plan (similar to the one NYC is looking into) as an option.
In New Jersey, more new reopening steps are added to New Jersey's timeline daily. On Wednesday, the governor said arcades, museums and bowling alleys can reopen on July 2 at quarter capacity. Also slated to return that day in the Garden State: outdoor amusement and water parks, including boardwalk rides, indoor dining, playgrounds and casinos. The following Monday, on July 6, NJ Transit will resume its full weekday service schedule for rail and light rail, as an increasing number of people return to work and engage in light summer travel.
New York City's subways have already seen a marked uptick in ridership. Earlier this week, it topped one million daily riders for the first time since March, though that's still just a fraction of the more than 5 million who used the system each day before the pandemic hit. Bus ridership also topped the one million-rider mark this month. Both will likely see continued growth as the city progresses through its phases and more reopens, like all 14 miles of public beaches to swimming on July 1. It won't be enough to save the cash-strapped MTA from catastrophe.