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Cuomo: State reopening indoor family entertainment centers, amusement parks and summer camps

The state is issuing reopening guidelines for indoor

The state is issuing reopening guidelines for indoor family entertainment centers and outdoor amusement parks such as Adventureland in East Farmingdale, pictured in 2018. Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Scott Eidler, Joan Gralla, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Beth Whitehouse. It was written by Jones.

Indoor family entertainment centers and outdoor amusement parks across the state will be allowed to reopen from pandemic closures, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday, while also announcing that summer camps will get the green light to reopen in June if COVID-19 numbers continue to decline.

The indoor amusement centers can reopen March 26 at 25% capacity, while the outdoor sites can resume operations April 9 at 33% capacity.

All of the centers will be required to enforce social distancing and mask wearing requirements, along with temperature checks and cleaning and disinfection of rides, attractions and high-touch surfaces. Any rides or attractions where distancing and disinfecting are not possible must remain closed.

Cuomo said tickets must be sold in advance, and that entry, exit and waiting times should be staggered to avoid congestion. Indoor areas must meet enhanced air-filtration, ventilation and purification standards, he said.

In addition, "Summer camps, as of now … can plan on reopening," Cuomo said, though "that doesn't happen until June, and we hope the current trajectory stays" through the next few months. Summer day and sleepover camps will need to have in place a testing protocol to be specified by the state, he added.

Family fun businesses look to reopen

The return of entertainment centers and amusement parks was hailed by business operators on Long Island.

"I think it gives people a good opportunity to have an option to go out in a safe way, expend some energy and have some fun … as the world opens up," said David Wolmetz, co-owner of Urban Air Lake Grove, an indoor family adventure park that offers a high-ropes course, climbing walls, bumper cars and virtual reality games.

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Urban Air Lake Grove was open for four months before it was forced to shut down, along with other family entertainment centers, on March 16 due to the pandemic. It reopened for five weeks in the fall before the state mandated closings again, Wolmetz said.

"Obviously it’s been a very, very long road with respect to working with New York State to prove we’re just as safe as some of the other businesses that have been opening," he said.

Long Island camp owners said they were elated by the news, and expect widespread reopenings.

The move has two main practical benefits, said Mark Transport, co-owner of Crestwood Country Day Camp in Melville and immediate past president of the 25-member Long Island Camps and Private Schools Association.

"What’s nice about this announcement is it allows families to plan accordingly," Transport said.

Gone is the uncertainty they had last year about whether to commit to programs that might not happen, he said.

In addition, camps have had time to implement protocols and share practices that worked from the last camp season. While day camps were ultimately permitted to open last summer, only about three-quarters on Long Island did, Transport said.

As for this summer: "I don’t know of any camp on Long Island that is not going to open."

Transport happened to be having lunch on Wednesday with Mark Newfield of Commack, who owns the Iroquois Springs sleepaway camp in the Catskills, where 25% of the campers are from Long Island. "It turned into a celebration lunch when we heard the news," Transport said.

Iroquois Springs was closed last summer, but will open this season. "I think more than ever, after the entire year the kids have endured … this allows kids to have an in-person, live experience at a place many of them call their summer home. It will do wonders for their emotional and social well-being," Newfield said.

Permitting the openings is based on continued projections of a "post-holiday surge reduction" in infections, Cuomo said.

Long Island, 'number one loser'

Despite the camp news, Cuomo again put the spotlight on Long Island for having the state's highest seven-day average of new cases based on test results from Tuesday. Nassau and Suffolk combined tracked at 4.5% positivity.

"Number one, not winner, number one loser," Cuomo said of Long Island.

Overall, the state reported a weekly positivity rate of 3.6%, which marked the 40th straight day of declines in that figure and was the lowest since Nov. 28.

A total of 109 people died on Tuesday of causes related to the virus. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 declined by 46, to 6,574.

The number of new confirmed cases was 538 in Nassau, 590 in Suffolk, and 3,078 in New York City.

More vaccination sites opening

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Wednesday that the planned opening of a new mass vaccination site in Selden could be delayed if "extreme weather" conditions around the country push back the delivery of doses.

Officials had planned to open the county’s third vaccination site Thursday at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Selden, specifically for county employees and residents with underlying medical conditions, as the county expected to receive 3,000 more doses of the vaccine than usual this week.

But winter storms that have iced over roads and left millions without power and heat could threaten vaccine distribution, and the site’s opening date, Bellone said. He is also "expecting tough weather here," with a storm that could arrive Thursday and bring up to 9 inches of snow.

At Nassau County sites, second-dose appointments scheduled for Thursday and Friday will be shifted to Monday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

People who were scheduled for Thursday and Friday will receive email notices advising them of the delay, she said, and if Monday is inconvenient, there will be other options.

Vaccine sites should be operating on Saturday and Sunday, she said.

In Suffolk, officials will open the Selden site as soon as the vaccine doses are available and any delay would "only push us back slightly" because the site is otherwise "ready to go," Bellone said.

The county already has mass vaccination sites in Brentwood and Riverhead for essential workers. The county will have the capacity to administer 51,000 doses a week once the Selden site opens and vaccine supply increases, Bellone said.

"We expect to see the number of vaccines available going up in the coming weeks," Bellone said.

Cuomo called it "good news" that President Joe Biden's administration "announced another increase in doses" of the vaccine for COVID-19, though he did not specify how many more shots New York can expect for week 11 of the inoculation campaign.

Cuomo said the state is opening 13 "pop-up" vaccination sites throughout New York this week, including one in East Hampton. The Long Island site will operate at Most Holy Trinity Parish on Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The sites, located at community centers, public housing complexes and cultural centers, are aimed at increasing vaccinations in Black and Latino communities hard hit by the pandemic.

The new sites are expected to vaccinate a total of 3,850 people throughout the week, and will be reestablished in three weeks to administer second doses. Since Jan. 15, about 42,500 New Yorkers have been vaccinated at more than 90 pop-up locations.

"COVID impacted communities of color at much higher rate, and it exposed the inequalities that have existed in our nation's health care system for decades," Cuomo said in a statement.

"From day one we have made the fair and equitable distribution of the vaccine a top priority, but two issues still exist, especially in our Black and Brown communities — accessibility and skepticism."

The state, along with the federal government, is also opening four mass vaccination sites aimed at increasing vaccinations in "socially vulnerable" communities in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and Yonkers.

Each site will administer 1,000 shots a day. The sites are similar to ones opened recently in Queens and Brooklyn and also aimed at increasing vaccinations in heavily Black and Latino areas.

In the region, Northwell Health on Wednesday said the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients continues to drop.

The largest health system in the state said it had 1,061 COVID-19 patients at the 19 hospitals it owns and operates, down from a winter high point of nearly 1,400, which it hit in mid-January.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell had more than 3,400 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at the pandemic's peak in April 2020.

A day after Manhattan-based Mount Sinai Health System said it had to cancel appointments in the city because of a lack of supply, health system representatives said its Long Island appointments were still on.

Mount Sinai South Nassau spokesman Joe Calderone said its vaccination site in Rockville Centre is proceeding as planned on Thursday. Calderone said anyone with an appointment this week should check the Mount Sinai South Nassau website for any updates.

Meanwhile, Cuomo announced that the state has suspended the liquor licenses of another 23 bars and restaurants, including five on Long Island, for violating coronavirus restrictions.

The suspensions brought to 393 the number of businesses that have lost their liquor licenses temporarily during the pandemic because they have exceeded crowd limitations or failed to enforce mask wearing and other requirements.

On Long Island, the businesses suspended are located in Amityville, Rocky Point, Manhasset, Huntington and Mount Sinai.

"The vast majority of bar and restaurants are following the rules, but we have zero tolerance for those who openly ignore public health measures, putting New Yorkers' lives at risk — and we will continue to hold them accountable," Cuomo said.

Pols back appointments system

Republicans in the Nassau County Legislature on Tuesday lent their support to a State Assembly bill advocating for creation of a vaccine preregistration system.

The bill, introduced last week by upstate Assembly Democrats, would have New York create a vaccine "preregistration" system to curb the sign-up frenzy that's amounted to a free-for-all for state residents, bill sponsors and critics have contended.

A universal credentialing system would let New York create appointments more efficiently and lessen the anxiety among many New York State residents who are having trouble signing up for vaccinations. Other states, including Florida, use this method.

Legislative Republicans lent their support to the proposal, but also called on the state to use the system to prioritize seniors.

"The state’s vaccination program is failing, and as more individuals become eligible, it’s creating an even bigger risk to our most vulnerable citizens," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said. "With limited supplies and a mad scramble among millions of New Yorkers trying to obtain an appointment dealing with shifting rules, overloaded websites and interminable waits on the phone, the current system is simply not working, and it’s time to make a change."


Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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