In late-April, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City would lift all restrictions on businesses and cultural institutions on July 1. His decision to return the city to normalcy comes from data showing that the coronavirus is waning and a bet that 1.4 million additional people will join the 3.6 million who had already received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Achieving this feat means that state lawmakers will have to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency executive orders expire and that businesses, employees, residents and tourists will accept the mayor’s assurance that regular activities are once again safe.
Coinciding with a significant drop in cases, restrictions on businesses have been loosening. In February, indoor dining reopened. In March and April came announcements about billiards halls, movie theaters and events. The city has also been increasing capacities at restaurants and bars. Gov. Cuomo ended the midnight curfew on outdoor dining and at events where attendees were vaccinated or tested negative in May and set May 31 as the end of curfews everywhere else. In addition, he ended the rule prohibiting seating at city bars.
By late April, many restaurateurs in residential neighborhoods said they were already beginning to fill to capacity, between indoor dining at 50% and new outdoor tables, although they are still missing corporate diners, tourists, and parties.
Some public health officials said that many of the regulations from the emergency orders had begun to seem arbitrary, even though curfews were originally meant to keep people from congregating too long in one place and the bar prohibition was meant to protect the bartender.
For live performances, capacity restrictions have been a hindrance to reopening, given the huge expense of mounting a show that would not be covered by selling just a third of the usual tickets. Large-scale shows need several months to prepare and may not have been willing to get started before an opening date was set. The Broadway League said September remains its targeted opening date.
The mayor hopes that the full reopening will put the city on track to regain 400,000 of the 600,000 remaining lost jobs, many of which came from the hospitality, tourism, and arts sectors. Meanwhile, city workers began returning to offices in early May for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, giving a boost to a New York office market that remains decimated by the coronavirus. Mayor de Blasio announced that the city would start bringing remote workers back to their offices in May, and the administration moved forward with that pledge despite criticism from the city’s largest municipal employees’ union, DC37.
De Blasio encouraged anyone with questions about safety measures to check out a guide the city had put together on managing the return to the office amid the pandemic. Its guidance includes increasing outdoor air ventilation, limiting restroom occupancy, and establishing a face-covering protocol.