New York lifting COVID occupancy limits on May 19. What you need to know
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are ending many COVID-19 capacity limits beginning May 19 as coronavirus infections continue to decline and vaccinations climb, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The lifting of occupancy limits marks a major milestone in the phased reopening of the states after more than a year of battling COVID-19.
The caveat is that people will still be required to stay six feet apart, which will affect the number of people allowed into offices, restaurants, theaters and other indoor settings, Cuomo said. The six-foot rule will not apply to most events that require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
"This is major reopening of economic and social activity," Cuomo said, adding the tri-state area will coordinate on the impacts of the reopening on mass transit and other infrastructure.
A capacity restriction will still apply to outdoor stadiums and large-scale indoor events, which will remain limited to 33% and 30%, respectively, beginning May 19.
Cuomo, however, suggested that could change: He said he is working with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on a joint plan for stadiums going forward.
Cuomo also encouraged sports leagues, restaurants and other businesses to consider pursuing more programs to incentivize COVID-19 vaccinations, such as seating and events specifically catering to those who get the shots.
"There are benefits to getting vaccinated beyond you're safer and won’t hurt anyone else," he said, referring to the rule that allows venues to circumvent the six-foot social distancing capacity rule for vaccinated attendees.
The reopening comes as New York's COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations hit lows last seen in the fall, before the winter surge that peaked in January.
The statewide COVID-19 test positivity rate, for example, dropped over the weekend to below 1.5%, down from mid-January peak of nearly 8%, and the lowest since late October. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 now hover around 2,500, down from 9,300 in January.
Meanwhile, more than 7 million New Yorkers, or 35% of the population, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Cuomo said Monday.
About 47% of the population, or 9.3 million people, have received at least one dose of the vaccines, with Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines requiring two doses to be fully effective. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine requires one dose.
The new socially distanced-based maximum capacity rule will apply across commercial settings, according to Cuomo's office, and a variety of pandemic safety requirements will remain in effect, such as mask wearing in crowded places and indoors.
The list includes retail, food services, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barber shops and other personal care services, among other settings. It will also apply in houses of worship.
What COVID rules still apply in NY
While most business will see occupancy limits lifted later this month, a variety of COVID rules will still apply to residential settings, social gatherings and various venues, according to Cuomo's office.
In New York, beginning May 10, the outdoor social gathering limit will increase from 200 to 500 people.
Beginning May 19, the indoor social gathering limit will increase from 100 to 250 people.
Also, the outdoor residential gathering limit of 25 people will be removed, reverting to the social gathering limit of 500 people with space for appropriate social distancing. The indoor residential gathering limit will increase from 10 to 50 people.
Smaller commercial and social events in New York — such as those at venues that host sports competitions, performing arts and live entertainment and catered receptions — will still adhere to occupancy limits of 500 people outdoors or 250 people indoors.
These sites can exceed the cap if all attendees over age 4 present proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test results, and social distancing can be accommodated.
Further, industry-specific COVID-19 requirements will remain in effect, including state or local health authority event notification, health screening and contact information for tracing efforts.
Enhanced air handling and building system standards, hand hygiene, and environmental cleaning and disinfection protocols will also remain in effect.
State officials will continue to provide additional guidance on the provisions as they apply to each industry, according to the governor's office.
New York vaccination pace slows
Meanwhile, the pace of vaccination has slowed recently in New York as supply caught up with demand, raising concerns about the push to vaccinate between 70% and 90% of New York’s population to effectively starve the coronavirus of people vulnerable to infection and end the pandemic.
The seven-day tally of vaccinations in New York declined to about 1.2 million for the week ending May 2, down about 25% from mid-April.
"You're starting to deal with a population that is less eager to get it," Cuomo said of the vaccine, adding officials are targeting young people with more vaccination program and outreach.
He called them "the youthful and the doubtful."
For example, state officials have asked high school leaders to organize events to bus students age 16 and above to get vaccinated at mass vaccination sites.
"This is the population we need to get vaccinated," Cuomo said, citing numbers showing just 18.5% of New Yorkers ages 16 to 25 have been vaccinated.
In contrast, nearly 71% of New Yorkers ages 65 to 74 have been fully vaccinated the highest rate for an age group in the state, Cuomo said. The disparity is partially due to the fact older people became eligible for shots earlier than those ages 16 to 30, who gained access April 6.
"We still have more to do on the vaccinations, and the vaccinations are the key," Cuomo said, referring to the shots as the means to avoiding future coronavirus outbreaks.
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