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COVID-19 positivity rate stays low as NY venue capacity restrictions set to loosen

Movie theaters such as the AMC Loews Stony

Movie theaters such as the AMC Loews Stony Brook 17 can expand capacity to 33% starting on Monday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The number of new COVID-19 cases across New York State remained low on Saturday as movie theaters, museums, zoos and other entertainment venues got ready to welcome more visitors starting Monday.

Movie theaters can increase capacity to 33% from 25%. Indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment considered low-risk — which also includes historical and cultural sites and aquariums — can boost capacity to 50% from 25%.

The loosening of restrictions set to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic was "especially good news" for John Coraor, interim director of the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, which reopened in August. He said the museum is preparing for a major exhibition — The Heckscher Museum Celebrates 100 — which had been delayed.

Mark Malinowski, vice president of global marketing at Showcase Cinemas, told Newsday last week there has been a "steady rise in attendance" in its movie theaters in recent weeks.

Also on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the Small Business Administration’s $28.6 billion federal restaurant relief program will begin accepting applications for grants in early May and will begin distributing funds later that month.

"Our purpose here today is to tell the restaurants of New York to get ready," the Senate majority leader said Sunday during a news conference outside Crave Fishbar, a seafood restaurant in midtown Manhattan. "Help is on the way."

The continued reopening of businesses and entertainment sites — welcome news to pandemic-weary New Yorkers — has hinged on a steady decrease in COVID-19 cases and an increase in people getting vaccinated against the disease.

Of the 217,972 test results reported to the state on Saturday, 4,087 were positive for a daily positivity rate of 1.88%, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday.

Still, the state reported 50 additional deaths to COVID-19 in the state on Saturday, for a total of 41,808 since the pandemic started.

"New Yorkers are staying safe, getting vaccinated and following the public health guidance, and we're seeing a decrease in the numbers as a result of their efforts," Cuomo said in a statement. "We're getting closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's important that we don't lose any of our hard-earned progress."

He noted that washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing are still necessary.

On Sunday, the state reported 44.1% of New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose and 31.1% have completed their vaccine series. Over 8.7 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in New York and more than 6.2 million have completed their vaccine series.

But health officials are concerned the number of people seeking vaccinations is starting to flatten out, leaving them with the task of convincing reluctant New Yorkers that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Federal officials lifted a pause on the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, after concerns it was linked to unusual blood clots in a small number of women after they were inoculated. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which each require two doses, were not placed on pause during that time.

Both Cuomo and state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker have urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated as soon as possible, using whichever of the three is immediately available.

The restaurant relief program, funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, provides up to $5 million per restaurant or $10 million for a restaurant group.

The money can be used by restaurant owners for any business-related expense, Schumer said, including payroll, mortgage, rent, equipment, supplies and food. Big restaurant chains are excluded from the program.

"Hopefully this lifeline will keep New York restaurants going," Schumer said, noting that eateries serve as community centers and that they employ hundreds of thousands of people. He said about a third of New York restaurants would close if not for the program.

Application instructions will be posted on the SBA website soon, he said.

Crave Fishbar owner Brian Owens, whose staff shrunk from 150 to 30 during the pandemic, said the funds "will help us get through this year and next year."

With Robert Brodsky

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