How Far Along Is New York City in Its Reopening This Spring?

A moviegoer enters the AMC Lincoln Square 13 movie theater on March 5. Photo: Noam Galai/WireImage

Last year, all of New York followed a highly regulated outline that slowly reopened the state from the full shutdown implemented at the beginning of the pandemic. But with the closures this winter varying across the state, the return to a (new) normal this year is being executed on a local basis. Below, a guide to the process as it unfolds in New York City.

Bars and restaurants can now stay open until midnight

The city that never sleeps is slowly returning to its insomniac ways: On April 14, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that bars can stay open until midnight, while catered events can run until 1 a.m. The new measure willl take place on April 19.

City beaches and pools will open on time this year

On April 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City’s eight beaches would open for swimming with lifeguard staffing on Memorial Day weekend, and that 48 of the city’s 53 outdoor pools will open on June 26, the day after the last day of the school year. “It’s going to be a wonderful summer in New York City,” he said, noting that visitors must maintain social distancing between groups.

Last year, beaches did not open for swimming until July 1 and outdoor pools opened in late July.

Mayor de Blasio announces return to office for 80,000 municipal office employees on May 3

On March 23, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that city workers in office settings must return to the workplace on May 3, which will include around 80,000 employees who have been working remotely.

“We’re going to make it safe, but we need our city workers back in their offices where they can do the most to help their fellow New Yorkers,” de Blasio said. “And it’s also going to send a powerful message about this city moving forward.” The move is not without controversy: With New York City currently experiencing some of the highest test positivity rates in the United States, union leaders say the return is too early. Many workers will also have to navigate the challenges of providing care for children who have not returned to full in-person learning.

The decision to close the subway at night is looking more and more like pandemic theater

While city officials admitted in January that shutting down the subways to clean them at night did not save the Metropolitan Transit Authority any money, more and more evidence suggests the ongoing effort has little public-health impact as well. On April 5, the Centers for Disease Control released new guidance stating that while “it is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces … the risk is generally considered to be low.” Upon the release of the guidance, the advocacy group Riders Alliance called on the MTA to return to 24-hour subway service.

Before the City Council Transportation Committee on March 23, the MTA’s acting director of management and budget defended the Mask Force program, saying that “our customers have expressed comfort in knowing that we have been cleaning and disinfecting our system daily and vigorously.” He added that the agency has applied for reimbursement from FEMA to help cover the additional funds.

Indoor dining to return at 50 percent capacity on March 19

On March 10, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced that throughout both states, restaurants will be able to boost the capacity of indoor dining as of March 19. The rule will also apply to salons and casinos in New York, as well as gyms in New Jersey.

While movie theaters were allowed to open at 25 percent capacity on March 5, restaurant capacity has been slowly increasing since mid-February, when indoor dining in the city first opened at 25 percent, then was raised to 35 percent two weeks later. As Rachel Sugar at Grub Street notes, “50 percent has repeatedly been thrown out as a kind of milestone for restaurants,” at which point some places anticipate they could potentially break even. Fifty percent was also the mark that the NYC Hospitality Alliance determined was the point at which restaurants could “continue treading water.”

With the rest of New York already operating at 50 percent occupancy, that indoor-dining rate will jump to 75 percent outside of the city as of March 19.

NYC public high schools to return to the classroom on March 22

On March 8, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s high schools will return to in-person learning on Monday, March 22. In the same announcement, the mayor said that high-risk sports will return citywide in mid-April. Kids playing sports will be required to wear masks, and no parents or other spectators will be permitted. (Students learning remotely will also be eligible to play sports.) Some 62,000 middle-school students whose families chose in-person learning last year had previously returned to a hybrid model of in-person learning in February.

The measure will bring as many as 55,000 high-school students back to classrooms who signed up for in-person learning last fall; however, that number is far from the total high-school population of 282,000 students enrolled. In the March 8 announcement, de Blasio added that families that initially opted for their kids not to go back to classrooms would not be able to change their status to join the students who are returning, though he added that could change before the end of the school year.

Indoor fitness classes to return on March 22

On March 17, Governor Cuomo announced that indoor fitness classes will return inNew York City on March 22. He also announced the end of curfews for bowling alleys and movie theaters, though bar and restaurant curfews at 11 p.m. will remain for now. On March 22, residential gatherings will also be expanded from a limit of 10 people to 25 people.

How far along is the vaccination process in New York City?

Over 2.8 million vaccine doses have been administered in the five boroughs,
meaning that 11 percent of the city’s adult population is fully vaccinated, and 23 percent of the adult population has received their first dose. On March 10, Mayor de Blasio stated that the goal is to ensure that “all New Yorkers will be eligible to get vaccinated” by the end of spring.

How Far Along Is New York City in Its Reopening This Spring?