New York City is tentative, but has finally reopened.
Monday was the beginning of “phase one” of the reopening in what was once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in America. It lasted 100 days since the first reported Covid-19 case, and more than two months after the city was first closed to reach this stage, and the five boroughs are still lagging behind the rest of New York State. Provinces in the state have already entered the second phase of reopening, and even places like hard hit Long Island have already relaxed the restrictions.
Even as the city reopens, the magnitude of the crisis remains staggering: NYC registered over 200,000 confirmed cases and more than 21,000 dead since the outbreak began. Hundreds are still test positive every day, but the capital punishment has fallen dramatically since the peak of 800 deaths in early April. The city was incorporated on June 3 no new Covid-19 fatalities for the first time since mid-March.
The reopening of “phase one” is still very limited. Production, wholesale, agriculture, landscaping and construction may resume (although during that complete exclusion there were some exceptions for those industries), and stores can reopen for curb or store pickup. Industries still need to take precautions, such as enforcing social distance rules and demanding face covering.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that the city estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 workers at this stage can resume their jobs – and return to public transport, which is still trying find out how to adjust the reality of commuting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Protest against police brutality over the murder of George Floyd by the police, who have brought thousands of New Yorkers to the streets in the past ten days, has somewhat overshadowed this milestone and has complicated a number of questions surrounding the easing of the city’s constraints by lifting limitations.
City and state officials made it clear that the coronavirus crisis is not over yet. “We’re not out of the woods,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Monday, “but we’re definitely on the other side.”
The virus was ravaging the city disproportionately affected minority and low-income communities. Thousands, many with resources, fled. The New York budget office has estimated it will take years for the economy to fully recover and for jobs to reach pre-pandemic levels. State and city budgets have been decimated, and Washington has not yet offered relief.
But Monday’s reopening is progress in a city that has endured weeks of closed and screaming ambulances, saw the hospitals pushed to the breaking pointand became a hotspot for coronavirus not only nationally, but worldwide.
“This is the first day of the reopening and it has been accomplished through the hard work of New Yorkers,” said Blasio at a news conference on Monday. “This is clearly the most difficult place in America to come right now, the most difficult place to reopen because we were the epicenter.”
New York City enters phase one at a time of uncertainty
New York State is planning a phased reopening in four stages. To reach each stage, regions must meet certain benchmarks, both health indicators – such as a 14-day decrease in hospitalization and deaths – and capacity statistics, such as extensive testing and contact tracking.
New York City is the last part of the state to even partially reopen. It should remain in this phase for at least two weeks; if it continues to meet these benchmarks, it could move to “phase two”, allowing many stores (but not indoor malls) to resume retail and business retail, including financial, legal and real estate services, to reopen.
That includes nail and hair salons, although all companies have to work with reduced capacity and take health precautions, such as enforcing the use of facial covers for employees and customers. Outdoor dining can also resume in phase two, and places of worship can reopen with a capacity of 25 percent.
In phase three, bars and restaurants can resume service indoors, with restrictions, and in phase four, cultural institutions such as museums and Broadway can be reopened.
New York City is still a long way from these stages, and officials will have to wait at least two weeks to find out if the five boroughs can move to stage two. City officials have suggested that the most realistic timeline for phase two is sometime next month, start of July. And even phase one comes with a lot of uncertainty.
About 500 companies have called a New York City Small Business Services hotline to answer questions about reopening, city officials said. The city also provides support to companies such as face masks.
Transport is another important – and still unfortunately unsolved – problem. The City and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the state-run agency that oversees the city’s subways and regional railways, have still not proposed a clear strategy to absorb the influx of commuters who return to work with trains and buses, places where social distance, especially during rush hours, is unlikely.
The metro’s 24-hour service was shortened last month so trains could be cleaned from 1am to 5pm, and that will continue to exist. The Blasio said on Monday that the city will add 20 miles of dedicated bus lanes on some bus routes to ease the crowds, but it won’t be fully rolled out until later in the summer and does not meet the 60 miles that the MTA asked from the city.
The mayor said 800 police officers will be deployed on subway platforms to boost social distance and hand out face masks for free (there will be no criminal enforcement). Social distance markings indicate areas where people can stand safely on metro platforms and stations.
But these measures will not be enough to tackle the crowds as more people return to work, and the MTA basically does said it will be impossible to permanently enforce social distance on public transport.
Daily average riding rose to about 1.3 million at the end of May in the city’s metros and buses, up from 800,000 during the peak of the pandemic. Pre-pandemic ridership was almost 8 million, and it’s unlikely to reach that level anytime soon, especially if New Yorkers aren’t convinced it’s safe.
The pandemic is getting massive protests
Also looming over the reopening are the recent brutality protests against New York City police, which brought together hundreds of people night after night. Masks were a feature of the protests (at least among protesters), and although they took place outdoors, they defied the leadership of mass gatherings.
Whether these protests will increase in cases of coronavirus in New York City will probably not be clear for at least two more weeks, given Covid-19’s incubation period.
Aside from the health risks, the demonstrations again raised questions about what the pandemic recovery will look like in the city. The shutdowns disrupted many small businesses in New York City, and some did looted and destroyed during the unrest, which adds another huge roadblock to recovery.
The city and the state are provide aid to looted companies, including dozens of small businesses in the Bronx. But even that aid may not be enough to meet the greater challenges of an uncertain economic recovery in New York and across the country.
The corona virus has also put pressure on the city’s budgets, as in other states and municipalities. That requires major cuts and the recent protests have again called for savings to be made to the New York City police $ 6 billion.
Supporters and activists call for reassignment $ 1 billion from the NYPD other programs, such as social services and infrastructure programs that will help restore the pandemic. The Blasio has said the NYPD’s budget will be cut and said it will be “something substantial” on Monday, but he declined to commit to that $ 1 billion. The mayor has said he wants to spend the money on youth employment programs.
But even with these challenges, the reopening of phase one is a critical milestone. New York was the epicenter of the pandemic in the US and, really, worldwide. State of New York testing nearly 35,000 people a day, and the number of new cases clocks around 500, a level at which the thousands of new contact tracers can be used to fight infections.
New York, along with the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut, continues to see deaths and infection rates drop, even though other places in the US are seeing spikes. Covid-19’s national death toll now exceeds 110,000.
“If you’d told me 100 days ago, we would reopen, not even knowing how bad it was going to be – I mean, we had some terrible predictions,” Cuomo said Monday.
“It was frightening,” he added. “But New Yorkers have done it. New Yorkers have done it. It is as simple as that. ‘