‘Light at end of the tunnel’: New York mayor envisions full reopening by July 1

Peter Szekely and Maria Caspani, Reuters

Posted at Apr 30 2021 05:46 AM

‘Light at end of the tunnel’: New York mayor envisions full reopening by July 1 1
Performers take part in a pop up Broadway performance in anticipation of Broadway reopening in Times Square amid the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, March 12, 2021. Carlo Allegri, Reuters/file

NEW YORK—New York City aims to "fully reopen" on July 1 after more than a year of closures and capacity restrictions, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday, citing satisfactory progress in vaccinating its more than 8 million residents.

"We are ready to bring New York City back fully on July 1," de Blasio told a news briefing. "Now we can see that light at the end of the tunnel."

De Blasio said he had not discussed the city's reopening date with Governor Andrew Cuomo but his announcement comes a day after Cuomo lifted restrictions that would clear the way for a revival of the city's nightlife. The state has the power to impose or lift restrictions on restaurants and other venues.

"I think the best way to proceed here is to set out the city's vision," de Blasio said.

Asked about the reopening plan for New York City at a later press conference, the governor reiterated it was up to the state to make decisions on reopening. He said he was "reluctant" to set a date but was hopeful it could happen before July 1.

"I don't want to wait that long," said Cuomo. "I think if we do what we have to do - we can be reopened earlier."

Even though the July 1 date is still aspirational, the mayor's announcement is significant in that New York is the country's most populous city and was the early epicenter of the pandemic as the virus began sweeping across the United States last spring.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday eased capacity restrictions for businesses including restaurants and bars, theaters, festivals and outdoor spectator events, citing an improvement in COVID-19 metrics and progress in vaccine distribution.

In California last month, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties eased guidelines that had kept most office buildings closed for the last year, allowing companies to open up their offices for up to a quarter of their capacity. Los Angeles County could enter the state's least restrictive phase as soon as next week, health officials said earlier this week.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong bars and clubs opened to serve those who have had at least one vaccine shot. France will start relaxing a nightly curfew and allow cafes, bars and restaurants to offer outside service from May 19.

MASSIVE VACCINATION DRIVE

The New York mayor said his optimism on the city's imminent return to normal reflected the progress of a massive drive to get New Yorkers vaccinated. He said 6.4 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the city of more than 8 million residents.

More than 42% of residents have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine, according to city data.

"People are showing up," he said. "We need to keep the momentum going," he added. "This is exactly how we get to the full reopening we're all looking forward to."

While touting the inoculation effort, the mayor acknowledged the city needed to make more progress on vaccinations, especially to reach communities hardest hit by COVID-19.

Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have trended lower in New York City since the beginning of the year. On a seven-day rolling average, the city reported over 7,000 new cases a day at the outbreak's peak in January. By March new infections ebbed to 4,000 a day and now average about 2,000 a day.

New York City last week had about 12,000 new cases or 141 cases per 100,000 people. If it were a state, it would rank 17th nationwide for most new infections. New York State overall was reporting 158 cases per 100,000 while California and Hawaii had less than 40 new cases per 100,000 last week.

De Blasio did not provide clear guidelines on whether those attending shows, dining indoors or frequenting gyms and salons would have to adhere to any specific requirements, such as presenting proof of vaccination.

"There certainly will be particular institutions that may choose to have rules around a vaccination or testing," de Blasio told reporters, adding that the city will keep monitoring COVID-19 data and adjust its approach accordingly.

Currently, the New York Yankees and Mets require those attending baseball games to take a rapid COVID-19 test or show proof of vaccination before gaining admission to their ballparks in keeping with New York state guidelines. Attendance is limited to 20% of capacity.

On Wednesday, Cuomo set a date for the end of a curfew that had forced city restaurants to end their bar and food service by midnight. The curfew would end on May 17 for outdoor dining areas and on May 31 for indoors, he said. The governor also allowed seating at bars across the state to reopen for the first time on May 3.

In addition, Cuomo said capacity limits would increase starting May 15 for several businesses outside of New York City, including gyms and casinos. Offices across the state, including in the city, will be able to increase capacity from 50% to 75%, the governor said. (Reporting by Peter Szekely and Maria Caspani in New York; Additional reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Nick Zieminski)