New York state lifted nearly all remaining Covid-related restrictions on Tuesday, 15 months after a raging pandemic forced America’s largest city into an unprecedented lockdown, decimating its small businesses and killing more than 33,000 of its residents.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the milestone in a towering ceremony at One World Trade Center — the skyscraper rebuilt after the September 11 terror attacks — that was meant to give the feeling of a declaration of victory after a long war.
“Think of June 15, think of today! Because it’s the day New York rose again,” Cuomo said.
New York made its decision the same day that California, another center of Covid devastation, is also lifting most of the restrictions. Both states did this after the percentage of adults who had at least one dose of a vaccine exceeded the 70 percent recommended by public health authorities as a threshold for rolling back preventative measures.
As a result, masks and social distancing restrictions that have ruled daily life in two of the most populous US states for more than a year will no longer be mandated in restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores, sporting events, workplaces and other venues. Or, as Cuomo said, “We can now return to life as we know it.”
Masks are still required on public transport as it is governed by federal rules.
The movements coincided with other green shoots of recovery. A survey by the Business Roundtable found that confidence among US executives reached near record levels between the first and second quarters of the year. Members expect the US economy to grow by 5 percent this year, up from previous forecasts of 3.7 percent, and a corresponding jump in hiring and investment.
New York City has been creeping back to normalcy since the darkest days of the pandemic more than a year ago, when life had eerily come to a standstill and the wail of sirens — many Covid patients taking Covid patients to crowded hospitals — filled the air.
The reopening of New York and California comes despite a slowing national vaccination campaign, with vaccination rates lagging significantly behind others in some states. In Wyoming, Louisiana and Alabama, less than half of the adult population has received a single dose, and the number of cases is above the national average.
According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, U.S. deaths attributed to Covid-19 crossed 600,000 on Tuesday.
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As new infections have declined in New York City, the restaurants that didn’t fail are filling up again. Apartment rent signings have skyrocketed in the past two months, albeit at lower rents, and the city’s cultural life has resumed. Tickets have gone on sale for Broadway shows, one of New York’s biggest tourist attractions, set to reopen in September.
But the return of workers to the city’s office towers, particularly in Midtown Manhattan, has been slow. According to data from Kastle Systems, the office security company, only 20.7 percent of employees have done so. This raises questions about the viability of commercial districts in a new era of remote working.
Several banks have been sending their employees back to their desks in the coming weeks, and many executives believe the office, the center of the city’s economy, will recover significantly in September.
Kathryn Wylde, chair of the Partnership for New York City, an employers’ group, said Tuesday’s announcement was “the green light employers have been waiting for to bring workers back to the workplace.”