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Day after New York reopening, not all are ready to drop COVID-19 safety measures

After Cuomo announced the end of COVID-19 restrictions,

After Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the end of COVID-19 restrictions, there is still some confusion as to how businesses should handle social distancing and mask-wearing. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

This story was reported by Alfonso A. Castillo, Bart Jones, Michael O'Keeffe and David Olson. It was written by Jones and Olson.

A day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lifted COVID-19 restrictions across a wide swath of businesses and social activities, some on Long Island said Wednesday they are not ready to abandon the safety measures adopted to stop the spread of the virus.

At Standard Pour, a café in Valley Stream, "nothing’s changed since yesterday," co-owner Shanelle County said.

The coffeehouse and restaurant opened during the pandemic, in October, and has had limited seating from the beginning, with more seating added as restrictions were loosened, County said.

"The COVID restrictions being lifted allows us to fully execute our vision," County said. "We didn’t make a decision yet on what we’re going to do going forward. We have plans to fill out our space, but it’s not an overnight decision."

For now, the café is keeping its requirement that customers wear masks unless seated.

Cuomo on Tuesday ended many pandemic restrictions after 70% of state residents 18 and older had gotten at least one dose of vaccine for COVID-19, according to the federal tally of shots. Two of the three available vaccines require two doses, spaced weeks apart, to be considered complete.

On Wednesday, the level of adults in the state who had one shot was 70.4%, but only 51% of the total state population was fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At Nantuckets restaurant in Port Jefferson, capacity remains about 75%, manager Cami Gonzalez said.

"We’re not going back to 100%" for the time being, Gonzalez said. "We decided the safety of our customers is more important, so we keep some distance between tables."

Mid Island YJCC in Plainview on Tuesday bumped up fitness center capacity from about 30% to more than 50%, but will wait for feedback from patrons before deciding whether to increase it, said George Loft, health and recreation director.

Mid Island also is keeping its requirement that members make reservations via an app, to control the number of people working out, and will keep some classes and equipment in a tent outside, he said. The fitness center will keep screens between cardio equipment, because members say they like them, he said.

The YJCC’s mask rules are in line with state guidelines: Only unvaccinated people are required to wear masks. But, Loft said, "There are people who I know are vaccinated who continue to wear their masks in the fitness center."

Planet Fitness, which has gyms across Long Island, said in a statement that "as of yesterday, all New York Planet fitness clubs are at 100% capacity. Some clubs still have some cardio equipment distanced for the time being."

Getting back to worship

Some religious institutions had varied approaches. The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island said it is recommending churches keep some restrictions.

Parishioners should still wear masks at indoor services and gatherings "to avoid the necessity of ‘policing’ people regarding their vaccination status," Bishop Lawrence Provenzano wrote to diocese members.

He is recommending against open food at coffee hours or church receptions, though contact tracing at the door or taking temperatures are no longer necessary.

Singing is permitted indoors, but only with masks, Provenzano said, and physical distancing is not required.

The Catholic Church on Long Island took a different approach, saying parishes can no longer require parishioners to wear masks to Mass.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre is dropping social distancing requirements, and is ordering parishes to remove all pew barriers, spokesman Sean Dolan said.

There are no gathering limits, and Catholics will no longer receive a dispensation, or official permission, to miss Mass in person, starting Aug. 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"However, we are inviting all Catholics to return to Mass now," Dolan said.

Choosing a cautious approach

Mimi Simonetti, 94, of Glen Head, was hospitalized with COVID-19 in December and January for five weeks. The relaxation of the rules will not affect her life, at least for now, she said.

"I’m probably going to be extra cautious, because I don’t want to go through that again. Even though you’re vaccinated, you’re really not completely immune to it," she said, alluding to how the vaccines aren’t 100% effective and a small number of vaccinated people have gotten sick from the virus.

She and her housemate, Sally DiMiceli, 78, said they plan to continue avoiding restaurants.

The Glen Cove Senior Center will end its rule requiring masks for all patrons and staff on Thursday, to allow vaccinated people to not wear masks if they choose, said Christine Rice, the center’s executive director.

There are seniors who are still wary of going to the senior center, but that is beginning to change, Rice said. "The number of members attending the programs during the day are rising daily," she said. "They are feeling much more comfortable with the number of vaccinations and with the restrictions being lifted."

At James Joyce, a bar and restaurant in Patchogue, "There’s no change yet," manager Stephanie Zaleski said.

"We’ll still try to keep it comfortable for those who aren’t vaccinated or those who aren’t as comfortable in busy environments," she said.

The restaurant last year removed tables to allow for social distancing, and "we haven’t moved those tables back yet," she said. James Joyce allows customers to stand at the bar — but only if they’re vaccinated, "And we’ll continue with that," she said.

El Mofongo, a Dominican restaurant in Hempstead, added two tables Wednesday to operate about 75% capacity, owner Martha Caro said. She said it wasn’t the governor’s lifting of the restrictions that prompted the change.

"A lot of my clients, they come in and are fully vaccinated, so I said, let me add a couple more tables," Caro said. "The vaccinations are what gave us the confidence to increase the number of tables."

Caro said customers have had to wait for tables or sometimes ate in their cars if there was no room. Some asked her to expand capacity because "they miss sitting here. They want to go back to normal."

Mixed rules for public transportation

Although the state’s mask mandate remains in place for trains, buses and indoor public transportation facilities, Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials announced Wednesday that masks no longer would be required at outdoor settings, including at Long Island Rail Road station platforms.

"Just to be clear, masks are still required at all indoor parts of our system," MTA construction and development president Janno Lieber said. "At this time though, in accordance with CDC and Federal Railroad Administration guidance, masks are not necessary on outdoor platforms and outdoor areas of stations in general."

Babylon commuter Melissa Weir said the policy change will make little difference at her station, where many riders already wait for trains unmasked. She questioned the continuation of the mask requirement on LIRR trains. Passengers who violate the rule could face a $50 fine.

"I would like to know the science behind how they came up with this," said Weir, 44, who takes the train one day a week to her job in Manhattan. "Concert halls are having full events. There are less people on the train."

Meanwhile, the Islanders will increase attendance by nearly 1,000 for Thursday night’s playoff game at Nassau Coliseum against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The exact figure will increase to 12,978 from 12,000 for a building that holds 13,913 for hockey.

And the Mets announced that Citi Field will return to full capacity starting with Monday’s doubleheader against Atlanta.

State remains at record lows for positivity

COVID-19 indicators remained at record lows in test results from Tuesday, though Cuomo says the key to crushing the virus is getting more people vaccinated.

The seven-day average of positive results in testing for COVID-19 was 0.40% statewide, 0.43% on Long Island, and 0.38% in New York City. The daily statewide average was 0.35% from 100,477 test results on Tuesday, according to state data.

The number of new confirmed cases was 24 in Nassau County, 34 in Suffolk County, and 179 in New York City.

Across the state, nine people died Tuesday of causes related to the virus. None of the deaths were on Long Island.

NYC giving cash for shots

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced two initiatives to encourage New Yorkers to get inoculated.

The city is making up to $4 million available to civic, faith, tenant and other organizations that refer community members to get the vaccine.

Preapproved groups will receive $100 for every individual they refer who receives their first dose at a city-run vaccine center. The organizations can earn up to $20,000 through the program.

"It is all about going out to grassroots, reaching people where they live, answering their questions and concerns, helping them to understand that this could be the beginning of something so much better if we can get more people vaccinated," de Blasio said.

Also on Wednesday, the mayor said people who register to get the vaccine through city-run facilities will be eligible to win a debit card worth $2,500. Ten debit cards will be raffled off through the end of July.

"All of this is about reaching farther and farther into communities with vaccinations," de Blasio said.

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