Governor announces ‘major reopening’ set for May 19, although caveats remain

Most capacity restrictions for businesses such as retail stores and restaurants will be lifted May 19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in announcing a “major reopening of economic activity.”

A key caveat remains: six-foot distancing must be maintained to follow current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to “err on the side of caution,” the governor said. So that means the capacity limits would be set by the space available for patrons to maintain six-foot distancing. The governor announced the plan as part of a coordinated reopening effort with neighboring states, similar to when the shutdown restrictions went into effect last year.

“It’s capacity subject to your ability to maintain the six-foot rule,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It is fully open subject to six feet.”

The six-foot distancing would not apply for an event or venue where proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test is required.

Mr. Cuomo, speaking at a media briefing in Albany, said if the CDC adjusts the six-foot guidance, then New York would follow. The CDC last week announced an easing of outdoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated people, saying masks are not required unless in a crowded area or in certain venues.

Robert Mujica, the state budget director, noted that restaurants already have the option to use physical barriers as a way to bring tables closer than six feet.

“If you have an operating plan for vaccinated people, then you can operate at less than six feet,” Mr. Cuomo said.

He said business such as theaters could offer sections for vaccinated people with seats closer together and then other sections with seats farther apart for non-vaccinated people as an incentive to help get people vaccinated.

“You want to go a ball game? Get vaccinated,” Mr. Cuomo said. “You want to go to a movie theater? Get vaccinated. You want to go to a restaurant? Get vaccinated. I think that’s good.”

The regionally coordinated reopening set to begin May 19 includes gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment centers, hair salons, barber shops, museums and offices.

“They may make their own economic decision as to when they need to reopen,” Mr. Cuomo said, referring to Broadway theaters as an example.

The governor also noted that the outdoor food and beverage curfew will be lifted May 17. The indoor food and beverage curfew will be lifted May 31. And the indoor catered gathering limit increases to 250 or 500 with testing or vaccine on May 19.

Residential gatherings can be as high as 50.

The latest data on vaccines in New York shows about 46.5% of the state’s population has received at least one dose and just under 35% are fully vaccinated. Suffolk County now has a higher average than the state with 47.6% receiving at least one dose and 35% fully vaccinated.

The governor noted the vaccination rate is slowing. On April 12, the number of vaccination over the prior seven days was 1.55 million. That number dropped to 1.12 million on April 26.

“You’re starting to deal with a population that is less eager to get it,” Mr. Cuomo said.