NEW YORK — Most COVID-19 rules restricting capacity in businesses will be lifted and increased at public events in the tri-state area in the coming weeks as coronavirus infections and hospitalizations drop, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.
The relaxing of the pandemic-era regulations could be used as incentives for New Yorkers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the governor said.
Restrictions will be lifted for retail, food service, gyms or fitness centers, amusement parks or family entertainment centers, hair and beauty salons, barber shops, offices and other establishments in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut starting Wednesday, May 19.
Most of the state’s COVID-19 social distancing, capacity and other guidelines for businesses were in keeping with neighboring Northeastern states as a coalition, including New Jersey and Connecticut.
“It is irrefutable when you look at the numbers that New Yorkers have made tremendous progress,” Cuomo said Monday during a coronavirus briefing in his Manhattan office. “All the arrows are pointed in the right direction and have been for awhile, so it’s time to readjust the (restrictions) with the decisions made on the science and on the data.”
Capacity restrictions will also be lifted for restaurants, museums, theaters and Broadway performances.
The state will increase its limit on residential gatherings to 50 people May 19.
The limit for indoor catered events will rise to 250 people starting May 19, or up to 500 people who present proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results within the past 72 hours.
Cuomo suggested businesses could devise a plan to allow a higher capacity of vaccinated patrons to operate with fewer than the 6-foot social distancing requirement.
Theaters or sporting venues could reserve more seats in groups or close proximity for people vaccinated against COVID-19, he said.
“You want to go to a ball game? Get vaccinated,” the governor added. “You want to go to a restaurant? Get vaccinated.”
The midnight curfew for outdoor bars and restaurants and outdoor food and beverage consumption will be lifted May 17. The curfew for indoor food and beverage or restaurant services will be lifted May 31.
Large outdoor stadiums will be increased to 33% capacity May 19, Cuomo said, adding that official are working on a joint protocol with other states to allow stadiums to accept more patrons with a vaccine or negative testing requirement.
“We are going to take a major step forward in reopening,” Cuomo said. “Reopening is not a light switch. We said this from the beginning ... it’s a smart reopening, it’s a measured reopening, it’s a phased reopening.”
Monday’s briefing was the first in-person news conference in the city since November of last year.
The changes to the state’s coronavirus rules comes as the state’s COVID-19 positivity declined to about 1.8% over a seven-day average — a 50% decline over the last month.
The number of New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID-19 complications decreased to 2,839 people Sunday, the lowest since Thanksgiving, and reflects a 38% decrease in the last month.
The state is ramping up prioritizing vaccinating young New Yorkers ages 16 to 25 and about 20% of the population who remains doubtful about the vaccine’s safety or efficacy.
State vaccination rates are slowing, with a vaccination rate peaking at more than 1.5 million dosages distributed the week of April 12. That figure declined to more than 1,395,00 people the week of April 19 and a lower 1.1 million doses the week of April 26.
“Why the drop? That’s something we’re studying,” Cuomo said. “Obviously, New Yorkers who were most eager to get the vaccine went out first, they got it, and now you’re having New Yorkers who are less eager to get it.”
All state residents ages 16 and older became eligible to get vaccinated April 6. State-run vaccination sites opened to walk-in visits last week as appointment logjams dissipated.
The state is focusing on vaccinating teenagers over 16 and young adults after state data show only 18.5% of New Yorker’s fully vaccinated are 16-25. People ages 26-34 and 35-44 are the second- and third-lowest age groups respectively at 30% and 37.8%.
About 70.7% of New Yorkers ages 65-74 have been fully vaccinated against the virus, or the group with the highest likelihood of being vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the governor’s office.
About 64.1% of New Yorkers ages 75 and older have taken the vaccine.
“Show some civic responsibility,” the governor said to young people Monday. “Maybe you’ll be fine and you don’t know that either. We’ve had a lot of young people who have died. ... Or maybe you go home and kiss your grandmother and wind up killing your grandmother.”
The governor suggested other reasons for the drop-off stem from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended pause and then the resumption of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The brief pause took place April 13 after the CDC confirmed that out of nearly 7 million people who received the vaccine, six reported experiencing “rare and severe” blood clots. The number of reported cases has since increased to 15. Following a safety review, the CDC lifted the recommended pause 10 days later.
“Some people hypothesize well after the J&J pause, maybe that made people rethink,” Cuomo said. “Nobody has any data on that. I think the J&J pause should have shown people the exact opposite. If they pause the vaccine because one person out of a million had a reaction that means they’re studying these vaccines very carefully and you should take comfort in that fact, but we’re seeing the number drop. Slight tick up last week, but you can see we’re much lower than where we were.”
The state would have to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for New Yorkers working in certain industries by law.
Cuomo discouraged the idea Monday, saying a legally mandated vaccination would be highly controversial.
“I believe the union leadership would be opposed to that,” the governor said of a mandate for health care workers. “I don’t know what you can do short of mandating it, but I’m telling you that would be highly problematic.”
About 9.31 million New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna two-shot vaccination against the novel coronavirus, or the Johnson & Johnson one-shot immunization. All three shots have been separately approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Roughly 7 million state residents have been fully vaccinated against the disease.
The state has a higher number of fully vaccinated adults than any other large U.S. state, according to the CDC.
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.