What to Know
- NYC is on track to enter Phase IV, the final stage of the state's reopening plan, on Monday; but will do so without reopening new indoor venues
- The rest of the state is well into Phase IV, reopening museums and malls with capacity limits and other restrictions; those will stay closed when the city initially starts Phase IV. Zoos and botanical gardens will be OK to open
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday he remains concerned about compliance in NYC regarding bars and restaurants; going forward, any that get three violations will receive an immediate shutdown order
New York City is on track to move to Phase IV of the state's reopening plan on Monday, but it will do so without the reopening of any new indoor venues like malls, museums and more, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
He offered no new timeline for those reopenings. The announcement echoes the strategy Cuomo took for the city in Phase III two weeks ago, when he allowed the five boroughs to make the transition absent indoor dining amid heightened national concerns about increased infection risk from enclosed spaces.
“You see the inside, interior spaces, air conditioned spaces, where the virus is tending to spread,” Cuomo said. “So we’re going to take that precaution in New York City.”
Cuomo said the state would issue a final decision at 4 p.m. Friday on the city's Phase IV, which also reopens low-risk outdoor venues like zoos and botanical gardens with strict capacity limits and mandatory COVID precautions in place.
Earlier Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city and state were still finalizing the Phase IV approach for the five boroughs and indicated both were "feeling cautious." Given the still spiraling and record-breaking COVID surge, de Blasio said he wouldn't be surprised if the city tweaked or delayed its Phase IV rollout -- particularly as it relates to the venues Cuomo listed.
"The outdoor elements I feel good about and confident about so long as we're clear about the standards and enforcement. The indoor is causing me pause," de Blasio said. "There can't be a slippy slope there. Indoor is the challenge and we have to be very tight about it. I think there are substantial parts of Phase IV that can move ahead. There are other parts we have to be very cautious about."
That split situation was the case for the city in Phase III. It opened personal care services and more outdoor recreation but postponed the return of indoor dining indefinitely, even as the rest of the state was permitted to continue doing it. It did still transition to Phase III two weeks after entering Phase II, as scheduled, and appears on track to do the same as it relates to a modified Phase IV next week.
While the open-aired Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island have announced plans to partially reopen Monday, the anticipated start of the city's Phase IV, the indoor Met says it won't return until late August. Cuomo said the Met can still plan to reopen at that time, despite his announcement Thursday, but added, "We'll see."
It wasn't clear if the modified Phase IV plan for the city would still allow for the cap on social gatherings to be increased from 25 to 50, which has been the case for other regions taking that fourth step.
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 Phase IV timeline is a uniquely critical one for New York. It is tied directly to the fate of schools. Regions have to be in Phase IV and maintain a daily infection rate of 5 percent or lower over a 14-day rolling average in order for Cuomo to even consider their school districts' reopening plans, all of which will likely involve a mix of in-person and remote learning to start the year in September.
New York City's current seven-day rolling average is just 1 percent, a far cry from the 59 percent daily positivity rates it was seeing at the peak of the crisis in April.
The rest of the state's regions have maintained seven-day rolling averages around 1 percent through their transitions into Phase IV, though certain counties have seen spot spikes recently. Some have been fueled by out-of-state travel. Cuomo issued a new New York emergency order to better enforce compliance with the tri-state quarantine advisory. Twenty-two states are now on that list.
Out-of-state travel has compounded the problem of slipping compliance with social distancing and face coverings locally, Cuomo has said. Both he and the mayor have expressed concern over rising COVID infections among people in their 20s. On Long Island, Fourth of July parties are fueling new clusters; 42 percent of new cases in Suffolk County are among people 30 or younger.
Officials there say the parties were under the 50-person gathering threshold, but attendees may not have been abiding by mask and social-distancing protocol. Studies show both mitigation measures are proven to reduce the risk of infection spread; the evidence on universal face masking as an effective virus-fighting tool is only growing stronger.
Responding to a report on Twitter of mask-off parties popping up around New York City Wednesday, the governor had one thing to say: "Knock. It. Off. Now."
He doubled down on the compliance message Thursday, once again calling on local governments to ensure they were doing enforcement.
"The compliance enforcement of these rules and regulations is essential," Cuomo said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "If we do not enforce compliance, the virus will spread. It is that simple."
Bars and restaurants have been primary violators of COVID rules in the city, the governor said. Going forward, Cuomo said bars can only serve alcohol to people who order food. He also enacted a "three strikes and you're closed" policy, effective immediately. Any bar or restaurant that receives three violations will be closed; single egregious violations can also result in immediate shutdown.
“The state itself has looked at over 5,000 establishments in downstate New York and found many cases of a failure to comply,” he said. ”It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, it’s selfish, it’s unacceptable, it’s also illegal.”
Restaurants and bars across New York can no longer allow walk-up bar service, or serve alcohol to people who aren’t buying food, he added. While the governor acknowledged it might not be a popular move, he said it's far better than the alternative and called on local governments to better enforce safety guidelines.
"I’ll tell you what’s less politically popular — if we have to close down a region because compliance wasn’t done,” Cuomo said.
The statewide crackdown comes after complaints that some eateries have gotten too crowded amid fears of a coronavirus spike. However, owners of some spots said the enforcement has not been fair or consistent. David McOllum, who owns Rathbones Pub on the Upper East Side, said he was given a violation after serving drinks to a table after he cleared away their chips and guacamole they ordered. He now has two violations, one away from being shut down.
"Nobody could have expected we would be in the position we're in today. This is a second wave but it is a manmade second wave," he added, referring to the surging cases nationwide. "This is a situation where we just failed to learn the lessons of the first wave. Rather than the wave coming from the East to hit New York, the wave is going to come from the West and hit New York. There's no reason for this nation to be going through what it's going through now."
At least 21 U.S. states have paused or reversed their reopenings amid the national surge. Florida, one of the states on the tri-state quarantine-restricted list, set a new daily COVID case record over the weekend. Daily confirmed cases topped 15,000 there, blowing past the previous record New York set in April. On Thursday, the state reported another record day of hospitalizations and deaths — as the U.S. once again set a new single-day record number of new cases, blowing by the previous mark of more than 71,000 before 9 p.m., according to NBC News.
Cities and states are scrambling to contain rapidly-spreading outbreaks the CDC has warned may already be beyond the nation's ability to control. More school districts across the country -- from Richmond, Virginia, to Los Angeles, California, are opting to start the fall with virtual learning only
In New York City, the plan remains to have as many kids in school buildings as is safely possible when classes resume Sept. 10. At this point, most students will likely only be in physical class two or three days a week, learning remotely the other days.
Recognizing parents' concern over lacking childcare options on the virtual days, Mayor de Blasio said Thursday that the city has a new plan to provide safe, quality childcare to 100,000 kids by early September and plans to expand capacity. It's now working with partners to identify locations and staffing, and those child care slots will be available to children who will only be in their physical schoolrooms two or three days a week under the city’s hybrid back-to-school plan.
De Blasio said that for parents who need to report to their workplaces, “the child care will make all the difference in the world. And here’s where the can-do spirit of this city comes in.” He also said City Hall is looking at sites like libraries and community centers to house the new child care programs.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
The numbers in New York have been good as of late, but the governor and mayor know how quickly infections can spiral. Cuomo recalled an 11-day stretch of abject "hell" Monday, referring to a devastating period back in April where New York was losing nearly 800 people to the virus a day -- every day.
On Wednesday, the state topped 25,000 confirmed virus deaths, though Cuomo acknowledges the actual toll is likely much higher. New York City accounts for two-thirds of the confirmed COVID deaths statewide and adds another 4,619 deaths that probably were attributable to the virus but not confirmed by lab test.
Nationally, the virus has killed more than 138,000 people, by NBC News estimates. The head of the CDC says America could see 200,000 deaths during the upcoming flu season if more isn't done to slow the spread of coronavirus.