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It's play ball for New York: Mets, Yankees can reopen with fans, at 20% capacity

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that Citi

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that Citi Field and Yankee Stadium will be able to accommodate 20% capacity to begin the MLB season. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, David J. Criblez, Matthew Chayes, Joie Tyrrell and John Valenti. It was written by Brodsky.

Citi Field and Yankee Stadium will be permitted to start the baseball season next month with thousands of fans in attendance for opening day, as New York State pushes forward toward reopening its economy and cultural life from the year's pandemic closures.

Surrounded by former pitchers CC Sabathia and Al Leiter, and executives for both the Mets and Yankees, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that major sports venues can open for activities at 20% capacity, beginning on April 1.

For Citi Field, that will mean that up to 8,492 fans in the stands may cheer on the Mets during their home opener on April 8 against the Miami Marlins, the Mets said. Up to 10,850 fans will be able to root for the Bronx Bombers at Yankee Stadium on April 1 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Fans will be required to provide either a negative PCR COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination to enter the stadiums and must continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.

Cuomo painted an optimistic picture of a hopeful spring for New York, emphasizing decreasing numbers on infection rates and the continuation of a massive vaccination campaign, which is expected to get a boost from increased supply.

"We are going to play ball with a crowd, which I tell you is so good for the psyche," Cuomo said during an online event in which he did not take questions from the media. "Getting out of the house. Getting out of the apartment. Getting out of this entrapment that we’ve been in and going to a game and getting outside and seeing a new season start. And just hope springs eternal."

The State Department of Health will reevaluate the testing and vaccination entry requirements in May, and they could potentially be discontinued if the rates continue to decline, Cuomo said. Vaccinations will continue to be administered at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field during the season.

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Yankee president Randy Levine said the facility will be safe for fans and staff alike.

"We promise you that we are going to do everything we can to keep our fans safe because that's the most important thing," he said.

Mets vice chairman Andy Cohen called it "another step forward for our hometown, for New York State and for the tristate area."

Lefthanded pitcher Al Leiter, who played for both teams, toting the hill for the Mets during the 2000 Subway Series against the Yankees, compared the reopening of stadiums to the city's return after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when baseball helped lift people's spirits at a tragic time.

"We weren't sure … whether it was the right thing to come back after the heinous tragedy of the World Trade Center and 9/11," Leiter said, "And I'll tell you, folks, the fact that we did and when we did, wearing the hats of all the respective first responders and knowing how special it was as players at the time to be carrying the baton … it was the right thing."

Cuomo also announced that starting March 29, statewide travel for sports and recreational activities will be permitted. Currently, travel is only allowed for contiguous counties and regions.

Performing arts venues hosting at least 2,500 people can open for outdoors concerts and shows April 1 at 20% capacity, while indoor facilities that hold at least 1,500 people will be capped at 10%, he said.

Low capacity limits present obstacles to putting on concerts at venues such as Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, which has 17 concerts on this summer’s roster, rescheduled from last year.

While "it’s encouraging to be closer to reconnecting artists and fans at concerts," Live Nation said in a statement, events "require regular capacity to really function."

More pop-up vaccination sites

Cuomo announced Thursday that 16 community-based pop-up vaccination sites will open over the next week at churches, public housing developments and community centers to provide inoculations to more than 4,500 people.

They include two on Long Island — the Congregational Church of Patchogue, which will provide vaccinations Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., and at the Lakeview Public Library in Rockville Centre, which provided shots Thursday.

Also Thursday, roughly 200 residents of Hempstead, Freeport, Roosevelt and Uniondale received their first dose of the vaccine at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses, while Johnson & Johnson is a one-shot vaccine.

"Equitable access to the vaccine remains my priority and these targeted vaccine distributions are key to reaching our minority communities and vulnerable populations," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

As of Thursday, 29.3% of Nassau residents and 23.2% of Suffolk residents had received at least one shot, according to the state.

In total, more than 7.1 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to New Yorkers, while 2.4 million residents received both doses, officials said.

Cuomo received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Wednesday in Harlem and said Thursday he was feeling no ill effects.

The Press Club of Long Island Thursday sent a letter to Cuomo calling for the state to include journalists on the list of eligible recipients of the vaccine, noting that reporters, photographers and videographers have been on the front lines since the start of the pandemic, reporting from hospitals, interviewing the seriously ill and attending crowded news conferences.

"While we would not want to jump ahead of the elderly and New Yorkers with preexisting health conditions, who rightfully deserve to be vaccinated first, it is poor health policy that other public-facing workers [those working for nonprofits, working at hotels, etc.] are already eligible while we are not," wrote Press Club president Scott Brinton.

State's positivity below 3%

The state's positivity tracked at 2.87% from 271,463 test results Wednesday, with 7,796 testing positive, including 632 in Nassau, 651 in Suffolk and 4,048 in New York City. Long Island's positivity rate on a seven-day average is 4.49%, the highest in the state. The state had a 3.28% positivity rate on a seven-day average.

New York recorded 57 deaths Wednesday linked to the coronavirus, including nine in Suffolk and two in Nassau.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio got his Johnson & Johnson vaccine Thursday — administered by his health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, at City Hall.

At a news conference afterward, de Blasio renewed his criticism of Cuomo for opening certain fitness classes, arguing that the decision was made without consulting the city or its health experts. The mayor questioned the governor’s motives, at a time when Cuomo is the target of investigations and calls for his resignation over sexual harassment allegations.

"Is this being done because of what the data and science is telling us, or is this being done for political reasons?" he said. "Cuz it sure as hell looks like a lot of these decisions are being made by the governor because of his political needs."

Middle school in Sachem back to remote

In local developments, three new positive COVID-19 cases at Seneca Middle School led the Sachem Central School District to shift to remote learning Thursday for sixth-grade students, officials said.

"It is our hope to have students that are not close contacts back in school on Friday, March 19, and that update will be confirmed as quickly as possible," the district wrote in an email to parents.

All Bay Shore students will be able to return to in-person learning five days a week in April, according to a notice posted on the school district’s website.

Eighth- and ninth-grade students will return April 12, while seventh-, 10th- and 11th-grade students will return by April 19. The district previously announced that sixth-grade students would return March 15 and 12th-graders on April 5.

"Bay Shore Middle School students will no longer have the option to use a hybrid instructional model," Superintendent Joseph Bond noted in a statement. "The hybrid option will remain in place for Bay Shore High School students. Remote instruction will remain available for all grade levels through the end of the school year."

Plans could change if there is another COVID-19 outbreak, Bond said.


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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