The city that never sleeps is the state’s last region allowed to get out of bed.
Monday marks another bench mark of New York City's reopening, the second of four-phased stages designated by the state: easing restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic, which in the city has infected at least 208,763 people and killed an estimated 22,244.
Phase 2 — which the rest of the state, including Long Island, has already entered — permits the reopening of offices, in-store retail, outdoor dining, beauty parlors and barbers, motor vehicle transactions and commercial building management, as well as retail rental, repair and cleaning.
But restrictions such as mandates for social distancing and masking remain in force, as statewide. The city reopening is more complicated than on Long Island and in the rest of the state due to density and the number of infections. Mass transit, including subways, buses and the Long Island Rail Road, continues with restrictions.
Between 100,000 and 300,000 workers are returning to their jobs — 200,000 returned two weeks ago — according to an estimate Thursday by Mayor Bill de Blasio at the news conference he has been holding virtually almost every day since mid-March, when the restrictions began going into effect.
“Get on your mark, get set, because here we go,” de Blasio said, cautioning that the city would be vigilant for signs that the virus is on the upswing.
“We’re always going to be watching. We’re always going to be watching for any variations, any new data. That's also crucial to always keep an eye on the data, but we've seen consistent progress.”
The city and state — which did not impose restrictions as early as states such as California, Ohio or Washington state — once had been the virus’ epicenter, but have since had a steep decline. Other states that reopened sooner have seen a spike, including Florida, Texas and Alabama.
Earlier last week, de Blasio had expressed trepidation about whether New York City was ready to reopen, citing the George Floyd protests in which thousands have gathered against rules prohibiting assembly, albeit many with masks. On Tuesday, de Blasio said Phase 2 might not begin until July, while the city waited to measure whether the protests seeded infections. But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has the authority to decree re-openings under his executive order, announced later in the week that the city would enter Phase 2, and de Blasio now says he agrees.
With Monday's reopenings, after months of no professional haircuts, dining out or shopping in stores — at least not legally — New Yorkers can begin old routines, with asterisks.
At eateries, where only takeout and delivery had been allowed until now, the city is easing permitting requirements to allow outdoor service, with the aim of resuscitating the ailing hospitality industry and putting the waiters, cooks, chefs, bussers, dishwashers and bartenders back to work.
De Blasio has promoted curb-lane seating, sidewalk seating, backyard and patio seating, seating on roadways where motor vehicles have been banned during the pandemic, and seating in public plazas.
“Five different ways to help them come back,” de Blasio said.
In offices, occupancy must be limited to 50 percent of maximum capacity, workers must be spaced at least six feet apart, face coverings must be worn if people are closer than six feet, no more than one person can be in an elevator, company vehicle or other tight space unless everyone is wearing a face covering, and work schedules should be staggered.
Although children’s playgrounds will now be reopened — with mandated social distancing and “ambassadors” monitoring crowding, distributing masks and encouraging hygiene — team sports such as basketball, soccer and softball are still not allowed.
There are now two more phases to go before restrictions are fully relaxed, including those on sports arenas, schools and other mass gathering places.
In Phase 3, which several regions in central New York and upstate have already begun, indoor dining is allowed at restaurants, at a fraction of capacity and at tables spaced at social distance, as well as certain youth sports.