Forty Second Street stands mostly empty as as much of the city is void of cars and pedestrians over fears of spreading the coronavirus on March 22, 2020 in New York City. Across the country schools, businesses and places of work have either been shut down or are restricting hours of operation as health officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19.
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New York City officially began to reopen on Monday after months of shelter-in-place orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Phase 1 of the reopening allows construction sites and some retail stores to operate again with masks required and other health protocols.
If testing benchmarks continue to be met, more businesses — including restaurants with outdoor space — can reopen in Phase 2.
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After nearly three months of confinement — and more than 16,000 deaths — New York City began to relax its coronavirus restrictions on Monday, allowing some non-essential businesses to restart operations.
Up to 400,000 construction, retail, and other manufacturing workers could begin their return on Monday in Phase 1 of the reopening, The New York Times estimates, as most of the US city remains on “PAUSE” (Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s name for New York’s version of shelter-in-place orders, which have been in effect since March).
Testing, hand-sanitizer, and protective equipment will be key to making sure new cases continue to decline as New Yorkers head back to some sense of normalcy, officials said.
“You want to talk about a turnaround. This one, my friends, is going to go in the history books. New York was the hardest hit and in 98 days we have gotten to a much, much different place,” Cuomo said in a Saturday press conference.
In addition to curbside retail pickup, construction, and manufacturing, some “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” businesses may also resume, per the state’s guidelines, though they may be somewhat limited given it’s New York City.
However, transportation will be tricky as workers head back to crowded buses and subways. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs services in New York City as well as commuter trains into its suburbs, says it’s still only serving “essential” workers. Masks are still required, and the entire subway system is still shutting down overnight from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. It’s not clear if workers returning to businesses allowed to operate in Phase 1 are regarded as essential by the MTA. Business Insider has reached out to MTA representatives to clarify the rules.
Gov. Cuomo plans to ride the subway, which is still running with an extremely sparse schedule, prior to an announcement Monday morning, his office said.
There’s been concern from some experts about a lack of transportation contingency plans in New York, which depends on its sprawling transit system to shuttle workers to and from some of the densest neighborhoods in the country. The New York Stock Exchange, for example, barred its workers from taking public transit upon their return in May, and traffic has returned to choke many of the borough’s busiest streets.
“People are going to have to improvise when it comes to mass transit,” Mayor de Blasio said at the time. “I really want to push back on the notion we can solve everything all the time.”
The city did, however, announce plans on Monday to build five new busways — one per borough, totalling 20 miles — between now and October. Earlier in June, the MTA called on the city to build 60 miles of bus-only lanes to bolster transit as workers return.
In order to reach Phase 2 of reopening, where such things as curbside dining can occur, New York City will need to hit certain state-wide testing benchmarks. Professional services, nonprofits, technology companies, administrative support, and higher education administration (excluding full campus reopening) can all begin a modified return to work in the next phase.
“And remember that when you go back to work, it doesn’t mean we’re going to go back to the way we were, there’s no going back in life, it’s about going forward and finding a new normal with new behavior and new patterns in the workplace, right?” Cuomo said. “And we need everyone to cooperate with that as they’ve cooperated all along.”
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