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New York expanding capacity for museums, zoos, movie theaters, large arenas

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that the

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that the capacity of museums and zoos will be raised to 50% starting April 26, and movie theater capacity will increase to 33%. Indoor large arena capacity will be raised to 25% on May 19. Credit: NY Governor's Office

New York is expanding capacity for museums, zoos, movie theaters and large indoor arenas as COVID-19 levels continue to improve and the state gradually reopens its economy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Museums and zoos can allow up to 50% capacity starting April 26. The same day, movie theaters can operate at 33% capacity.

And large indoor arenas will be allowed to go to 25% capacity on May 19, just before the NBA playoffs begin, Cuomo said.

Long Island movie theater owners praised the move, though the owners of the Long Island Ducks, along with local officials, pleaded with Cuomo to increase that stadium's attendance to 50% of capacity if he wants the minor league baseball team to survive.

Entertainment venues have been operating at different levels of limited capacity in New York, with the state gradually reopening cultural and economic activity after shutdowns at the height of the pandemic last spring.

"We think this is a very overdue and positive step for New York’s movie theaters," said Dylan Skolnick, co-director of Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre. "It’s been a long journey through this crisis for cinemas, and this is a yet another sign that we’re moving forward toward recovery."

What to know

Movie theaters will be allowed to increase the number of people in attendance from 25% to 33% of capacity, starting April 26.

Museums, aquariums, zoos and botanical gardens will be able to increase attendance from 25% to 50% of capacity, starting April 26.

Large scale arenas and event venues, including sports stadiums, can increase attendance from 20% to 25% of capacity, starting May 19, ahead of the NBA playoffs.

Mark Malinowski, vice president of global marketing at Showcase Cinemas, said the increased capacity will allow theatergoers to enjoy the full movie experience.

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"During the last few weeks, we have seen a steady rise in attendance and are booking hundreds of private screenings every weekend," Malinowski said, adding that the recent release of "Godzilla vs. Kong" was the biggest hit since the pandemic's beginning.

Meanwhile, area museums said the increased capacity will go a long way in setting the ground for major new exhibits.

"We are not just thrilled to see the limit lifted, but we are ready for this important next step as we prepare to open a [Andy] Warhol show, always a fan favorite," said Charles Riley, director of the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor.

John Coraor, interim director of the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, which reopened in August, said, "This is especially good news as we prepare for this year’s major exhibition — The Heckscher Museum Celebrates 100 — which was delayed a year due to the pandemic."

Cuomo said the latest moves are linked to improving virus metrics. The seven-day average positivity rate in testing was 2.85% on Sunday, the lowest figure since Nov. 13, he said.

That was significant because the levels in mid-November were substantially lower before a holiday surge reversed gains made in fighting COVID-19 spread during the summer and early fall.

"We’re actually back to where we were before we hit the holiday increase," Cuomo said at a livestreamed press briefing.

Bellone: Rooting for the home team

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Monday urged Cuomo to increase to 50% capacity regulations at Fairfield Properties Ballpark, home of the Long Island Ducks.

Current state guidance allows for only 20% capacity, which team officials said will prevent the Ducks from operating this year because of financial infeasibility. Last year’s season was canceled because of the pandemic.

"We want to give people a sense of normalcy," said Bellone, speaking at the Central Islip ballpark. "We want to give people things they can do with their families."

Increasing capacity to 50% would allow for 3,000 fans in an outdoor setting — a number that regularly visited county beaches on a daily basis last summer.

The Ducks’ safety protocols include socially distant seating, enhanced cleaning practices and mandatory mask-wearing. Suffolk Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott sent a letter to the State Department of Health signaling support for the plan.

State Health Department spokeswoman Erin Silk said Monday the current capacity level for outdoor stadiums was set at 20% only last month.

"We understand and share the desire to increase fan attendance at sporting events and encourage all New Yorkers to keep following the state's effective COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including social distancing, wearing face coverings, and getting vaccinated," Silk said.

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said if indoor museums can operate at 50% capacity, outdoor minor league ballparks should have similar flexibility.

"We want people to be safe," Carpenter said. "We are still in the throes of this pandemic. So we need to provide venues for families to be together."

Michael Pfaff, president and general manager of the Ducks, said the inability to host fans last year led to a 90% revenue drop compared to 2019.

"This plan is not a theory or something we think can work," Pfaff said. "We know it can."

Frank Boulton, founder and chief executive of the Ducks, said no matter how many fans are in the stadium, PSEG, National Grid and all of its vendors expect to get paid.

"So we do need fans to be in this ballpark for many, many different reasons," Boulton said.

The Atlantic League’s season begins May 28.

In Nassau, County Executive Laura Curran on Monday praised the expanded capacity to be allowed for venues, calling it "good news for our economy, for our playoff-bound Islanders, and for Isles fans eager to Rock the Barn one last time before our move to Belmont."

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units declined on Sunday by 13, to 836, the lowest number since Dec. 4, Cuomo said. But the state reported 44 deaths from coronavirus-related causes on Sunday, including two each in Nassau and Suffolk.

The seven-day average for virus positivity was 3.10% on Long Island, compared to recent weeks when the figure hovered near 4.5%. The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases from Sunday was 312 in Nassau, 373 in Suffolk, and 2,104 in New York City.

The city on Friday set a record for vaccinations in a single day at 106,528, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. In total, the city has given 5,746,328 vaccine doses to date.

"We see the system as working. Lots and lots of vaccination sites," de Blasio said. "More than 600 around the city. The grassroots sites are working. People want vaccinations in their own neighborhood in places they know."

The city on Monday also announced a new vaccination site at the American Museum of Natural History, where residents can get vaccinated directly below the giant blue whale. While the site is open to everyone, its particular focus will be on public housing residents, cultural workers and public employees with the DC 37 AFSCME union.

"This effort is absolutely critical to the health and welfare of our fellow New Yorkers and also … important for our city’s recovery and our ability to attract visitors back to the city," museum president Ellen Futter said.

Over the weekend, the city began allowing walk-up vaccination for residents 50 and older without an appointment at more than 30 sites across the five boroughs, de Blasio said. The mayor said he is looking to expand that program moving forward to all city sites but is concerned about long lines.

"We wanted to test this out," he said. "The goal here is to make vaccinations as convenient as possible. We want to welcome people to it. And I think honestly convenience has been one of the issues. And the more convenient it gets the easier it will be for people to make that choice."

In another move toward normalcy, New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore cited vaccine availability in announcing Monday that, starting May 24, "All judges and court staff will be required to physically return to work in their assigned courthouses." She said their return should allow for "an increased number of in-court proceedings, including jury trials."

With Bridget Murphy

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