Most capacity restrictions will be lifted across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, while all-day subway service will resume in New York City, as lower virus rates and higher vaccinations help move the region toward normalcy.
“This is a major reopening of economic and social activity,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday at a briefing.
Round-the-clock subway operations in the city that never sleeps will resume May 17, while capacity restrictions on restaurants, theaters, stores and museums will end May 19, Cuomo said. The subway move will provide an essential service to restaurant and hospital staff and others who commute outside the traditional workday. It will also help transport more people as the MTA anticipates ridership will increase alongside an uptick in business activity and cultural events.
“Workers are going to need to get back and forth,” Cuomo said. “Now you’ll have people working until 4 o’clock in the morning again.”
New York, the most visited city in the U.S., was the early center of the nation’s Covid-19 outbreak. Cuomo shut down the city as the virus spread, and its restaurants, bars, stores and theaters have struggled to stay in business under capacity restrictions and curfews. The subways are the lifeblood of the city, providing more than 5 million rides a day in pre-pandemic times.
In May 2020, Cuomo ordered the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest mass-transit network in the U.S., to stop its subways for four overnight hours every day to clean and disinfect trains and stations. It cut that time to two hours in February.
Elected officials and transportation advocacy groups had urged the MTA in recent days to return to the normal subway schedule.
The pandemic decimated MTA’s ridership. Subway usage is still down 65% from pre-outbreak levels as people work from home. The agency will receive a combined $14.5 billion of federal aid to cover lost revenue.
Even with the overnight subway shutdowns, there has been an increase in crime on the system. The MTA plans to install cameras at every station and platform, and will add a record number this year. While the city has sent more police officers to monitor the subway system, the MTA has asked for additional officers. Riders and MTA workers have experienced more harassment.
According to a recent MTA survey, 72% of active customers are very concerned with crime and harassment on the system, surpassing worries about health and safety. And 36% who stopped riding on the public-transit system said they did so because of such concerns.
“The city has to add more mental-health services, homeless outreach, and uniformed police officers to the system,” Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano said in a statement following Cuomo’s announcement. “Too many transit workers and riders are being harassed and assaulted right now with the current hours of operation.”
About 80,000 New York City workers returned to their offices Monday, and de Blasio said he hopes the private sector follows suit.
The city Sunday posted a seven-day daily average of 1,370 confirmed and probable cases, down from a 28-day daily average of 2,361. Hospitalizations and deaths have also decreased, while nearly a third of city residents are fully vaccinated, data show.
Across New York state, the positive-test rate has dropped by 50% in the past month, Cuomo said.
In addition to ending the capacity limits, Cuomo said the outdoor food and beverage curfew will be lifted May 17, and the indoor curfew will be lifted May 31. The outdoor large stadium capacity will go to 33% in New York state on May 19.
The state will keep the six-foot social distancing requirement for gatherings, pursuant to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, Cuomo said. Events that can show proof that attendees have been fully vaccinated or have recent negative test results don’t have to follow that requirement, Cuomo said.
Just as New York coordinated its shutdown with its neighbors, it is doing the same for its reopening, Cuomo said. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has scheduled a “major announcement on easing restrictions” for Monday afternoon, according to a Twitter post.
“If you’re not coordinated, you’ll drive people from New Jersey to come to New York, or Connecticut to New York,” Cuomo said. “The coordination is important because you’re a mobile population.”