ITHACA, N.Y.—In perhaps the most significant COVID-19 reopening announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo yet, New York State will take a large new step in the course of its hopeful return to normalcy during the week of May 17.

Starting that week, most industry capacity restrictions will be ended in establishments in New York that currently must keep their occupancies below a percentage threshold, such as work offices, retail stores, museums, theaters (including on Broadway), gymnasiums, barber shops, salons, amusement parks, family entertainment and more. However, those establishments must adhere to CDC-recommended spacing guidelines that are still in effect, meaning six feet of space must be maintained between people indoors, which would theoretically limit the number of people who can be in the same establishment simultaneously.

Additionally, in New York, the outside social gathering limit will increase to 500 on May 10, and indoor social gathering limit increases to 250 on May 19. The outdoor residential gathering limit is removed and the indoor residential gathering limit will increase to 50 people (from 10 currently) both also on May 19. Large scale indoor venues will be able to increase their capacity to 30 percent (33 percent for outdoor venues like stadiums, though further guidance sounds like it’s coming for stadiums), again both taking effect on May 19.

Gatherings may only violate CDC spacing requirements if all attendees can show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations or recent negative tests.

However, if those in attendance at large gatherings can all show proof of vaccinations or recent negative tests, then their gatherings may exceed the CDC limits.

Cuomo was intentionally vague when talking about what the next steps were in the reopening process. He said “If something happens, God forbid, something happens, and we deal with it.”

“What happens next is what the science and the data says happens next,” Cuomo said. “What happens in two months? Three months? Four months? I don’t know. (…)  A lot of damage was done on many levels. Economic damage, social damage, psychological damage.”

He continued to tout the opportunity the recovery presents to “rebuild and reimagine” New York.

Cuomo made the announcement in one of his regularly scheduled press conferences to update the state’s reaction to the COVID-19 crisis. Very similar moves are being made on that date in Connecticut and New Jersey, two states that have often worked with Cuomo throughout the pandemic to coordinate a response.

“Reopening is not a light switch,” Cuomo said. “We are at a point now where we are going to take a major step forward in reopening. (…) We live in a  tri-state area, New York shouldn’t be a competitor or an encumbrance to New Jersey or Connecticut. (…) If New York has dramatically different rules than New Jersey or Connecticut, you’re going to see people driving back and forth, and that helps no one.”

It’s another step in the economic reopening of the state that was arguably hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, at least early on, as bars and restaurants just received a boon from Cuomo and the state legislature as the cumbersome food requirement was repealed.

As for New York City-specific announcements, Cuomo said that the MTA will return to its 24 hour service on May 17.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com