Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday a significant step toward fully reopening the economy in the next two weeks with the lifting of many of the COVID-19 capacity limits imposed on New York businesses and venues.
In coordination with New Jersey and Connecticut, Cuomo said that starting May 19, retail, restaurant and food service establishments, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment outlets, museums, theaters, hair salons and barber shops and offices will be allowed to return to full capacity.
The governor said each business or organization may make its own decision on when and how to fully reopen based on economic and health considerations, but most establishments will be able to operate freely.
“It is irrefutable when you look at the numbers that New Yorkers have made tremendous progress,” Cuomo said. “All the arrows are pointed in the right direction, have been for awhile and are dramatically pointing in the right direction.”
There will still be 33 percent capacity limits at outdoor stadiums starting on May 19, including Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, one area where limits will remain in effect.
In addition to the lifting of most limits, outdoor food and beverage curfews will be eliminated on May 17 while the indoor food and beverage service curfews will also expire on May 31.
For indoor catered events, the limit on guests will rise to 250, but if the venue requires proof of full vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, up to 500 guests would be allowed.
Residential gathering limits will also increase to 50 people on May 19.
As vaccinations have increased across the state, there has been a sharp reduction in infection rates and hospitalizations, enabling the state to take the relatively bold step. The state’s positivity rate on Sunday was 1.94 percent, and 1.79 on the seven-day rolling average.
Over the past month there has been a 50 percent decline in the positivity rate statewide and a 38-percent reduction in hospitalizations, Cuomo said.
As of Monday, the state has administered more than 15.7 doses of the vaccines, with just over seven million people, or 35.2 percent of the state’s population, now fully vaccinated. About 9.3 million people have had at least one dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
However, the slowing of the vaccination rate in the past couple of weeks is a cause for concern. Cuomo pledged that his administration will work on convincing young people, most notably the 16-to-25 age group, to take the vaccine. Last week, he asked high schools to schedule their own drives to help students 16 and up get vaccinated.
While that age group was the last to be eligible for vaccines, which partially explains why only 18.5 percent have been vaccinated, the “superhero” mentality also is a factor, Cuomo said.
“We’re going to continue focus with the vaccinations,” he said. “Young people have to get vaccinated and I’m going to continue working on that.”
In Westchester, County Executive George Latimer said the county is launching a public information campaign to try and vaccinate the younger and the skeptical population.
The campaign, titled the “I Kicked COVID to the Curb” drive, is an illustrated mailer geared toward students and their parents on the importance of vaccination.
The county also has created a public service announcement video with New York Knicks players Obi Toppin, an Ossining native, and Immanuel Quickley about the need to get vaccinated. Latimer will also host a virtual Town Hall that is geared toward younger people on May 13.
This Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the county is hosting a Mother’s Day vaccination drive at Westchester Community College that encourages residents to bring their mom if she hasn’t gotten vaccinated yet, and the adult child can get vaccinated as well. Gift baskets are available while supplies last.
For appointments for Saturday’s drive, visit https://on.ny.gov/3gJdD5B. Walk-ins are also welcome.
While young adults can feel invincible, COVID-19 has affected people of all ages, Latimer said.
“So the message is very simple: We’re not indestructible at any age. Get vaccinated,” Latimer said. “That’s the best path that we have, and for people that are young, you have a great future ahead of you. When you’re 20 years old, you may not realize how many more mountains you can still climb, not just physical mountains but thing that you can achieve in your life, and you want to be around for those things.”
Westchester continues to have a sharply declining active caseload, down to 2,187, as of Sunday. For each of the past three weeks, there has been an average decline of about 1,000 cases.
On Saturday, there were 116 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, a number that has been continually dropping over the past month. Fatalities are up to 2,258, including nine deaths in the past week.
For information on eligibility and vaccination sites, the public may call 1-833-697-4829 or visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov