The current emergency declaration is set to expire on June 6th and PAUSE has been extended through May 28th, but regions of New York may be allowed to begin reopening operations on May 15th.  Reopening of the state will occur on a regional basis, assuming several conditions are met.  Each region will need to reopen in several phases, and have adequate time between each phase of reopening to ensure that there are no spikes of COVID cases due to reopening.  As of May 15th, certain low-risk activities will be allowed to operate statewide, including drive-in movie theatres and low-risk outdoor recreational activities such as tennis.

In order to reopen, a region must meet the following 7 criteria:

  • There must be a 14-day decline in new hospitalizations due to COVID, measured over a 3-day rolling average, OR under 15 new hospitalizations.
  • There must be a 14-day decline in new deaths due to COVID, measured over a 3-day rolling average, OR 5 or fewer deaths.
  • The region’s total hospital capacity must have 30% of beds available.
  • The region must have a total of 30% of ICU beds available.
  • The region must have the capacity to test 30 people per every 1,000 residents, per month.
  • The region must have at least 30 contact tracers (individuals who determine who came into close contact with a COVID patient, so those individuals can be tested and isolated) per 100,000 residents, with additional contact tracers available for anticipated numbers of new cases per region.

Once a region meets all 7 of the above conditions, it must also begin reopening in phases.  The phases are as follows:

  • Phase 1 – construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and any retail operations that can offer delivery, curbside pickup or in-store pickup of items purchased.
  • Phase 2 – professional services including attorneys, finance and insurance services, hair and nail salons, barber shops, remaining retail, administrative support, real estate (without the current restrictions on home showings and in-person contact), and rental/leasing operations.
  • Phase 3 – restaurant dine-in service, food service, hotels, and other travel accommodations (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.)
  • Phase 4 – arts, entertainment, recreation, in-person services at houses of worship, and schools.

Public school summer school programs will be conducted online in New York, but school-based meal services will continue through the summer.  If you are not certain which phase a business falls under, please use the following tool to find this information from New York State: https://www.businessexpress.ny.gov/app/nyforward.  For businesses to reopen within each phase, they must be able to maintain safe conditions for their employees and their customers.  This includes maintaining social distancing (keeping people 6 feet apart and/or behind physical barriers), adjusted workplace hours or shifts to accommodate reduced capacity, additional cleaning and disinfecting procedures, health/temperature screening prior to entry of buildings, and mask-wearing whenever appropriate.  Businesses need to have a written safety plan in place prior to reopening when their region reaches their corresponding phase.  New York has released a template for businesses to use to make their opening safety plan.  This template does not need to be submitted to the state, but it does need to be on hand at business locations and provided to employees and customers upon request.  The template can be found at https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/NYS_BusinessReopeningSafetyPlanTemplate.pdf.

An important part of reopening is the contact tracing that is happening at the county level.  Contact tracing involves determining who has been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, and testing those close contacts to see if they contracted the virus.  Contact tracing is an essential tool in order to contain new outbreaks and continue reopening.  This contact tracing will happen primarily by phone.  If you receive a phone call from “NYS Contact Tracing,” this is not a scam – it’s an official call from your local contact tracers.  You should pick up the phone, as they will likely have important information for you about potential exposure.

Certain counties with low rates of COVID-19 transmission are beginning to expand their court operations.  Please see the section of this article on court functions for more details.  In regions of New York that have reached the Phase 1 reopening stage, social gatherings are allowed with individuals of 10 or less, with proper social distancing procedures in place.  New York has also not released any guidance on when non-essential travel should resume, although the CDC recommends that non-essential travel be considered only when an area has had 42 days of sustained decline in new COVID cases.