Pandemic restrictions in place for more than a year limiting how many people can sit in a restaurant, work out in a gym and shop in a store will be lifted by the state on Wednesday, as cases of COVID-19 remain at low levels across New York.
The changes will be as large scale as the number of people who can attend a concert or sporting event to as small as how many people are permitted to attend an indoor residential gathering.
Here is breakdown of the changes:
What changes are coming to businesses?
The state business capacity rules, which are based on a percentage of maximum occupancy, will be removed. Many businesses will only be limited by the space available for patrons to maintain the required social distance of 6 feet.
The new capacity rules will apply at settings that include retail, food services, gyms, fitness centers, hair salons and houses of worship.
The businesses may eliminate the 6 feet of required social distancing, and therefore increase capacity, if all patrons within the establishment — or a separate designated part of the establishment — present proof of full vaccination.
Proof of full vaccination can be provided through paper form, digital application or the state’s Excelsior Pass.
Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola and an infectious disease expert, said "as evidenced by the lower rate of positivity, cases and hospitalization, I believe it’s time to relax some of these rules."
Will every vaccinated person in a store be maskless?
Not quite. Employees at many stores are being required to continue wearing a mask by their employer. For example, CVS, Starbucks and other chains have said they're following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for customers, but are asking employees to continue wearing masks for their own safety, whether they're vaccinated or not.
What are the new social gathering limits?
Outdoor social gathering limits already had increased from 200 to 500 people. Beginning Wednesday, the indoor social gathering limits will increase from 100 to 250 people. Also, the outdoor residential gathering limit of 25 people will be removed, reverting to the social gathering limit of 500 people — with space appropriate for social distancing. The indoor residential gathering limit will increase from 10 to 50 people.
Any event gatherings in excess of the social gathering limits may only occur if all individuals present proof of full vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test result.
Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill, said, "if you’re outside, it’s very safe. If you’re inside and vaccinated, you’re probably safe as well, but if you’re uncomfortable, wear a mask. There is nothing wrong with wearing a mask. It should be socially acceptable."
What will change for concerts, sports and other entertainment that is held both indoors and outdoors?
Large-scale indoor event venues can move from 10% capacity to 30% capacity. Outdoor event venues can operate at 33% capacity.
Attendees who are not vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status must be spaced 6 feet apart in assigned sections. For indoor venues, masks will be required except when people are seated and eating or drinking.
Attendees who are fully vaccinated — and can be verified by the venue — can sit next to each other at 100% capacity without social distancing in specially designated sections. Masks are optional.
Children under the age of 12 who are not vaccine eligible or under the age of 16 and not vaccinated can sit with fully vaccinated adults.
Sean Clouston, associate professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said it’s important for parents to discuss mask wearing before going out in public. Clouston said his young children are not yet eligible for the vaccine.
"I definitely have sat down with my kids and told them now it’s actually more important for you to wear masks and be very vigilant about your mask because other people aren’t going to be," he said.
What about Broadway shows?
Broadway can technically reopen Wednesday, but performances aren't scheduled to begin until September. Several productions already have announced opening dates, including "Hamilton" and "The Lion King" on Sept. 14.