New York and neighbouring states New Jersey and Connecticut will lift most coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses by mid-May, underscoring how the virus is in retreat in one of the regions hit hardest at the start of the pandemic.
Capacity restrictions on offices, theatres, museums and businesses including retailers, bars and gyms will be scrapped in the three states from May 19, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference on Monday.
The co-ordinated reopening mirrored the steps taken last year to close parts of the states’ economies as they dealt with the first wave of the pandemic.
It was also the latest sign of how infections in the densely populated region, as well as the US more generally, have declined sharply as the country races to distribute vaccines.
While the states “don’t have identical policies because we are in slightly different situations”, Cuomo said, the steps to reopen would “complement each other”.
The number of daily Covid-19 cases hit a peak of about 95 per 100,000 people in New York on January 12 and has since fallen to a per capita rate of about 17, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To assist with the reopening of the economy, New York City is set to again be served by a 24/7 subway system for the first time in more than a year.
The subway will revert to round-the-clock service from May 17. The move reversed a decision in May last year by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to close the network between 1am and 5am to allow for enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of carriages and stations.
Individual businesses will be allowed to make their own decisions on capacity limits and some parts of the city will take longer to spring back to life. Broadway is unlikely to reopen quickly because of the long lead time to prepare shows.
Bill de Blasio, New York City mayor, previously said he planned to have the metropolis “fully reopen” on July 1.
After a devastating winter wave, cases across the US have fallen. The seven-day average of infections dropped over the weekend below 50,000 for the first time since October, according to CDC data, putting it 80 per cent below its January peak. The average of daily deaths has hovered between 630 and 720 a day for the past month, the lowest rate since July.
Other states, including Texas and Arizona, have phased out or lifted many restrictions altogether. California raised a stay-at-home order at the end of January, and its most populous county, Los Angeles, has eased more business restrictions in recent weeks as a jump in cases has subsided.
Florida lifted almost all pandemic restrictions in September but allowed local authorities to limit restaurant capacity by as much as half. Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, who has been a vocal critic of strict lockdowns, signed a bill that curbed officials’ emergency powers during a pandemic, effectively ending all local restriction in THE state.
The bill, which also bans the use of “vaccine passports”, will take effect on July 1. However, DeSantis plans to issue an executive order suspending local rules until then.
“I think that’s the evidence-based thing to do,” DeSantis said during a news conference at a restaurant in St Petersburg, Florida. “I think folks that are saying they need to be policing people at this point, if you’re saying that, then you’re really saying you don’t believe in the vaccines.”
Businesses could implement their own protocols, such as insisting that customers wear masks, DeSantis said.
The rapid decline in cases has come amid a big push by states and the White House to distribute vaccines as quickly as possible. The US has administered 247m vaccine doses, well above President Joe Biden’s goal of 200m doses within his first 100 days in office. More than 44 per cent of Americans have received at least one shot and almost 32 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated.
After an initial rush, some states have experienced a fall in demand for jabs. Officials are trying to lure reluctant people with incentives including promises of relaxed restrictions, savings bonds and even free beer.
Despite progress in taming the pandemic on the national level, some regions were still grappling with fresh outbreaks. Oregon has deemed 15 counties an “extreme risk” because of a surge in cases, instituting a three-week lockdown and shuttering gyms and indoor dining.