(The Center Square) – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced the most significant easing of COVID-restrictions since the pandemic began.
The move to reopen more of New York's economy came as part of a joint initiative with neighboring states New Jersey and Connecticut, which takes effect May 19.
On that date, New York will transition from a crowd cap based on a percentage of capacity to just a strict social distancing guideline. In short, that means most businesses – including food and entertainment venues – will be able to accommodate as many people as they can as long as parties remain six feet apart.
There are exceptions to the new rules, which Cuomo explained during a news conference. For one, restaurants can get by the six-foot rule if they put barriers between tables or dining stations.
“Also… if you have an operating plan for vaccinated people, then you can operate at less than six feet [of social distancing],” the governor added.
The changes come as the number of new vaccinations have fallen in recent weeks, so Cuomo was offering the guidance as incentives to increase vaccinations.
According to information from Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, the state administered 355,801 doses on April 4. It has not topped 300,000 doses in a day since then. In all, about 16.1 million doses have been administered in New York, with 6.4 million people fully vaccinated.
Cuomo’s announcement wasn’t embraced warmly by everyone in the hospitality community, whose members will likely have to invest more money under the plan if they want to operate at or near full capacity.
In a tweet, Andrew Rigie, executive director for the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said getting to 100% would require a lot of plexiglass, provided restaurants could even get it.
“CDC needs to lift/modify social distancing requirements because there's not enough plexiglass for restaurants and bars to place partitions in-between all the tables for them to operate at 100%,” he added. “And, does this mean clubs can re-open if we dance in-between plexiglass?”
In addition to easing restrictions for businesses, Cuomo also announced that New York City’s subways would resume around-the-clock service on May 17. The subway has been closed between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. daily for cleaning.
When it reopens, it’ll be the first time in a more than a year that the subway has operated on a 24-hour basis.
“This expansion will help working people, businesses and families get back to normal as the city reopens and reimagines itself for a new future,” Cuomo said in a statement from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.