New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that the state would be lifting all capacity restrictions on restaurants, concert venues, museums, theaters, and bars. The changes will go in effect as of May 19, a surprisingly rapid rollback in restrictions that have existed since March of 2020.
“Today is a milestone for New York state and a significant moment of transition,” Cuomo told reporters. “This is a major reopening of economic and social activity.”
The actual timetable for reopening of large-scale events and cultural institutions in the state is likely to be far longer than the two week period between yesterday’s press conference and the planned full reopening. Social distancing requirements will also impact the percentage of capacity that venues are able to allow, as the state will continue to observe the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. “If the CDC changes their guidelines,” Cuomo says, “we’ll change our guidelines.” Venues that want to reopen more fully than a six-foot social distancing would enable have the option to do so, provided they have a mechanism in place to verify that all patrons in attendance have been immunized or can show a recent negative test result for COVID.
Some events have already begun hosting crowds in New York, which was the early epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States. Mayor Bill de Blaiso recently announced plans to “fully reopen” the city by July 1. Requirements for disclosing a recent negative test or vaccination already exist for entry, so it is likely that won’t change any time soon, particularly if it is a way to exceed the capacity that would be allowed by following the CDC 6-foot social distancing requirement.
Event operators were taken by surprise at the sudden rollback announcement, according to reporting from the Washington Post. In practice, institutions such as Broadway theaters will likely stick closer to the timeline that would see live shows back on stage closer to the end of summer.
“The Broadway League has been working closely with State and City officials on plans for safely restarting the Broadway industry, welcoming audiences and bringing our workforce back. [Last week’s] remarks by the mayor give us further optimism that Broadway productions can resume this fall, beginning in September, and we look forward to providing more details about reopening in the coming weeks,” the League said in a statement to Broadway News.
Reopening the state’s cultural space is almost certainly driven by two forces – increasing optimism regarding the safe reopening due to ongoing vaccination efforts, and the economic impact of shuttering the instutitions for more than a year at this point. Broadway alone helps power around 100,000 jobs, and has a multi-billion annual impact on New York City. Sports teams and concert venues across the state have seen enormous losses due to the ongoing restrictions on fan attendance, which has decimated revenue in ticketing, as well as concessions and other revenue streams that they rely on. But the daily average of COVID cases has fallen to around 3,400, with roughly a third of New York residents fully vaccinated – and thousands more reaching that milestone daily.