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

Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over a year since widespread closures and a brutal first wave of coronavirus cases changed New York City forever, a new, post-vaccination normal has arrived. Below, a guide to the reopening process as it unfolds in New York City.

The midnight bar curfew has been lifted

The city that never sleeps is back to its insomniac ways. As of Memorial Day, the midnight curfew for indoor service at bars and restaurants has been lifted, meaning that patrons can be served until 4 a.m. — a significant boost for bars which bring in much of their revenue in the early morning hours on weekends.

Only vaccinated Knicks fans can attend games — if they make the second playoff round

While Madison Square Garden allowed vaccinated and unvaccinated basketball fans into the arena for the first round of the NBA playoffs between the New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, a new restriction was announced on May 29. If the Knicks make the second round, only vaccinated fans may attend. The protocol may not affect too many supporters: According to NY1, 90 percent of the 15,000 people who attended game one were vaccinated. (It might not affect any supporters, as Atlanta currently leads the series 3-1.)

NYC to drop remote-learning option this fall

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday morning that New York City schools would no longer offer a remote-learning option this fall, with virus cases plunging in the city and vaccine eligibility now open to children over 12.

De Blasio said on Morning Joe that when the new school year starts on September 13, all faculty and the city’s roughly 1 million students will return to in-person learning. (The venue for his announcement did not sit well with some parents.)

Remote schooling became the norm for schools around the country last March, as the virus began to spread in the United States. Many parents found its efficacy low to nonexistent, and as evidence mounted that schools were a low risk for coronavirus transmission — and that the CDC’s six-feet-apart guidelines for classrooms didn’t make much sense — public pressure mounted across the country to send kids back to the classroom.

New York was the first major city to reopen its classrooms for optional in-person learning, back in November. But the majority of parents, fearing for their children’s safety, still chose the remote option. Now, with most capacity and mask restrictions in New York a thing of the past, they will no longer have that choice.

Get your shot for a shot to win

New York announced a lottery promotion tied to receiving COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday, May 20. Per Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement, individuals who get vaccinated between May 24 and May 28 at ten state-run sites will also receive a free New York Lottery ticket scratch-off ticket as an incentive to urge more people to be jabbed. The governor said there’s a one-in-nine chance of winning a scratch ticket prize, which range from $20 up to $5 million.

The big reopening day: May 19

At a press briefing on May 3, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a “major reopening” on Wednesday, May 19, at which point restaurants, museums, theaters, and retail outlets will be allowed to reopen at full capacity. The news came as New York closed in on administering at least one dose of COVID vaccine to half of its residents; by the time of the opening itself, 52 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose.

Cuomo also announced that New York will follow the recently relaxed Centers for Disease Control guidelines for mask requirements, advising that vaccinated Americans do not need wear masks indoors in most settings. In New York, masks will still be required on public transportation, in health-care facilities, in schools, in nursing homes, and in homeless shelters.

While private businesses not listed above will not have to require masks indoors, they will still be allowed to set their own policies regarding face coverings or vaccinations. “They can check, they can ask at the door, they can ask when you are seated at the table, or not,” Cuomo said. “There is no mandatory compliance the state is imposing on the private vendors.” And though mask wearing will not be mandated indoors, the New York state health department still recommends that residents wear masks indoors among strangers whose vaccinated status is not known. Gathering limits were also updated, permitting 500-person events outdoors, 250-person events indoors, and 50-person gatherings in private residences.

On May 19, the Yankees and Mets open at normal capacity for vaccinated ticketholders. “Normal seating for people who are vaccinated,” Cuomo explained. “Sit next to each other in a section. Sit next to a friend. Sit next to your family. Just normal capacity.” For those who are not vaccinated, there will be seperate sections in which “the six-foot distancing applies with masks, which comes out to about 33 percent capacity.” If those who are not vaccinated wish to become so, the Yankees and Mets have partnered with the state’s Department of Health to offer Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose shot at both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium during games. Those who get a vaccine at the pop-up clinic will receive a free ticket to a future Yankees or Mets game.

Outdoor food and beverage curfew lifted and subways running non-stop as of May 17

As of Monday, the 12 a.m. curfew on food and beverage service has been lifted. The indoor curfew will be lifted on May 31, marking the true beginning of the vax summer. And after shutting down overnight for cleaning for the first time in 115 years, the subway is once again running 24 hours a day

SUNY and CUNY will require vaccination for all students in the fall

All state and city colleges and universities will require COVID-19 vaccinations for students returning to in-person classes in the fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday, May 10.

Cuomo said he would encourage private universities in the state to require vaccinations as well.

“Let’s make a global statement: you cannot go back to school in September unless you have a vaccine,” Cuomo said. “That will be a major motivation to get the vaccination.”

New York State gets the reopening okay

At a press briefing on May 3, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a “major reopening” on May 19, at which point restaurants, museums, theaters and retail outlets will be allowed to reopen at full capacity. The news came as New York closed in on administering at least one dose of COVID vaccine to half of its residents.

Cuomo worked with Connecticut and New Jersey to roll out a regionally coordinated plan, and those states will drop capacity restrictions on the same day. The states will still require adherence to the CDC’s six-foot distancing rule, unless businesses can prove that people at a gathering are vaccinated.

The outdoor food and beverage curfew will be lifted on May 17, a date that coincides with the restoration of 24-hour MTA service in New York City. The indoor dining curfew will be lifted on May 31st. Broadway will also be allowed to reopen fully, but theaters are not expected to be back in business  before September.

Museum capacity to return to 50 percent on April 26

On April 19, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that museums and zoos can return to 50 percent capacity on April 26 and that movie theaters can return to 33 percent capacity on the same day. Cuomo added that his office is in talks with the owners of indoor sports arenas to increase capacity from 10 percent to 20 percent “by the playoffs.” The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets are both in position to make the NBA playoffs, which will begin in late May.

City beaches and pools will open on time this year

City beaches and pools will open on time this yearOn 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?