New York reopens. Here’s what it really means.

New York will lift many capacity restrictions on businesses starting Wednesday, in response to the easing of the coronavirus pandemic in the region and rising vaccination rates.

It is a moment that state officials have presented as a major return to normality.

Most businesses – restaurants, stores, lounges and gyms – will be able to return 100 percent capacity, but only if they can still maintain a distance of six feet between individuals or groups. The same goes for places of worship.

People who have been vaccinated will no longer have to wear masks, indoors or outdoors, in most cases, but individual companies are free to set more stringent mask rules. (Masks will continue to be mandatory on public transportation and in Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and nursing homes. health.)

“It’s an exciting time; this year has been dark and hellish, ”Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday, after announcing the end of the mask’s term. “But that was yesterday, and we see a different future.”

Here’s what you need to know:

The reopening of May 19 is not a return to normal. In many cramped New York City restaurants, the requirement to maintain a six-foot distance between tables could mean fewer patrons than under the 75% capacity that had already been allowed. In New York City, the indoor social gathering limit will be set at 250 and the outdoor limit at 500.

What’s new, however, is that these ability rules are no longer foolproof.

Restaurants will be allowed to place tables closer together to achieve 100% capacity if solid partitions five feet high are placed between them, Cuomo said. And theaters and other large venues, including ball parks, are allowed to return to full capacity, instead of a third party, if they require customers to show proof of vaccination.

Some restaurants, like Carmine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, already use partitions in a large open dining room. But other restaurants believe that using partitions compromises the dining experience, and plexiglass can be expensive. The practical difficulties of verifying vaccination status also mean that many small businesses will not yet need proof of vaccination.

“We’re about 50% inside,” said Annie Shi, one of the owners of King, a small restaurant in the West Village, which plans to stay at that level for now. “Until the government says something about social distancing, 75% or 100% doesn’t mean much.”

In private homes, 50 people will be able to congregate indoors, instead of 10.

The biggest change will be the end of the mask’s tenure. While restaurants and other businesses can set their own rules, waiters, chefs and customers could in theory all be exposed as of Wednesday if they are vaccinated.

Whether that will happen remains to be seen. The New York State Department of Health “still strongly recommends masks in indoor settings where individuals’ immunization status is unknown,” according to the new guidelines. Major retailers, including Costco, Target, CVS and Trader Joe’s, have already said they will end mask requirements for vaccinated customers, subject to local guidelines.

In the coming weeks, large venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden will open or expand capacity for indoor concerts, shows and sporting events. Customers will be required to present either a paper vaccination card, the New York State digital Excelsior Pass, or other digital form to enter or sit in the vaccinated sections.

Broadway theaters will reopen in September at full capacity.

People who are vaccinated can do much more with less risk than those who are not. But the vaccines do not offer 100% protection and only about half of the people in the region are fully vaccinated. As a result, some epidemiologists continue to recommend following the golden rules of coronavirus safety.

Despite the new guidelines, many experts still suggest wearing a mask indoors when not eating or drinking. People should maintain social distancing when possible. And they should try to choose the exterior over the interior.

“We need to continue to remind ourselves that we are well placed in New York,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, epidemiologist at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “We are almost where we were last summer”, when there were 300 new cases per day, against about 600 now, she added. “But we are not there yet.”

On Monday, the rate of positive tests in New York was 1.2%, the lowest since September.

So far, few sites have adopted a proof of vaccination policy for entry. This means that they will have to continue to separate the six-foot groups, which means that a standard movie theater will be about a third full.

“The capacity changes will not have an immediate effect on us,” said John Vanco, senior vice president of IFC Center, an independent cinema in the West Village. Its theaters have operated between 30 and 35 percent to maintain social distancing in recent weeks.

Mr Vanco said that at the moment, the logistics of checking immunization status among his clients felt too complex. He was waiting to see what big venues like Broadway theaters do first. Broadway Theaters have yet to announce whether they will require proof of vaccination.

When choosing a restaurant, the better the air circulation, the more space between tables, the more seriously a restaurant takes cleaning and other protocols, the lower the risk, experts at. health.

Many public health experts dislike five-foot barriers between tables in restaurants as a substitute for social distancing.

“Studies have shown that plastic barriers can actually be harmful because they block adequate ventilation of that space,” said Dr. Linsey Marr, professor of environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and authority on airborne disease transmission.

The coronavirus, explained Dr Marr, is not mainly spread by large infected droplets that could be stopped by a plastic barrier, but by tiny particles called aerosols produced when you speak, shout or sing. Aerosols can easily float and exceed five-foot barriers, just like cigarette smoke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized that the coronavirus is mainly spread by airborne transmission.

“All public health actors participated in the anti-plexiglass crusade,” said Dr El-Sadr. “Plexiglas is not protective.”

Other common sense tips apply when choosing to eat indoors at restaurants. Avoid rush hour. Try to sit near a window. And avoid the crowded indoor bars, which aren’t allowed yet. People can now sit in bars, but they cannot stand and drink, and groups must be six feet apart.

“There are still a lot of other restrictions that must be lifted before returning to restaurant and bar activities as we remember before the pandemic,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a industrial group.

In its new guidelines, the CDC said that vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask even when breathing heavily in an indoor group exercise class. But it remains one of the riskiest indoor situations in the minds of epidemiologists, especially for the immunocompromised or unvaccinated.

In New York City, social distancing rules will still apply in gyms, but following federal guidelines, those vaccinated will no longer have to wear masks unless the gym or locality prescribes it.

The exterior remains safer. If you want to exercise indoors, look for a gym with good air circulation and filtration, social distancing between clients and masks when possible, experts said. Avoid times of overcrowding and perhaps leave early, as aerosols – which are produced in greater numbers during exercise – can linger in indoor air.

“I won’t be going back to gyms anytime soon,” said Dr Brian Strom, Chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences in New Jersey, who said he would only consider a gym if it required vaccines. . “I just think gyms are too high a risk.”

Beauty salons must continue to maintain social distancing rules between the chairs. Although employees and customers of vaccinated salons may avoid masks, many salons may retain this requirement. These factors would mean that for vaccinated clients, salons are at low risk, several epidemiologists said.

Takamichi Saeki, owner of Takamichi Hair, an upscale salon from NoLIta, said he expects it to take time before his clients and staff feel ready to go beyond the 11 stylist chairs he now has available, in a space that can accommodate 22.

“I want to make sure my staff are comfortable and my clients are comfortable,” he said. “I want to go step by step.”

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