Although New York is still in a declared state of emergency, the state is currently in the final phase of the NY Forward reopening plan.  Details regarding the reopening, including daily updates for COVID cases by county and by region, can be found at http://forward.ny.gov.

Certain low-risk activities are allowed to operate statewide, including drive-in movie theatres, camping in state parks with reservations, and low-risk outdoor sports.  These sports must limit spectators to 2 people per player.  They are also not permitted to engage in tournaments requiring travel.  Individual youth sports programs may decide whether or not to operate based on these restrictions; please contact your team or sports organization of choice for more details.  Guidance for sports and outdoor recreation activities can be found at the following website:  https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/SportsAndRecreationMasterGuidance.pdf

All of NY is currently in Phase 4 of the NY Forward Reopening plan. This allows for certain low-risk indoor and outdoor arts, entertainment, and recreation venues, in-person classes at colleges and universities, and professional sports without fans.  This includes museums and botanical gardens.  These entities are subject to social distancing rules and capacity restrictions, and must develop safe reopening plans.  More details on these restrictions can be found at www.forward.ny.gov.  Amusement parks are not included in this category, and will be re-opened at a later time as conditions permit.  Malls were be allowed to reopen as of July 10, 2020, provided their HEPA air filtration system has a filter that is rated MERV-11, MERV-12, or MERV 13, as these can filter the COVID virus out of the air.  Movie theatres are allowed to reopen in regions with a 2% or lower rate of infection, with no yellow, orange, or red cluster zones (see below), and with a maximum capacity of 50 individuals per screen.  However, given the recent rise in COVID cases, certain theatre chains have suspended operations in New York State.  New York City restaurants were allowed to open for indoor dining as of September 30, 2020 with capacity restrictions and other safety guidelines.  Social gatherings in private homes across New York State, regardless of region or cluster zone, are limited to a maximum of 10 people as of November 13, 2020.  The fines for hosting a gathering that exceeds this capacity have been increased to a maximum of $15,000.  Wedding receptions may not include cocktail hours, buffets, or other portions of the reception where guests mingle while standing.  Guests must be seated at tables during the reception, and must wear masks when walking to and from their tables.  Houses of worship may conduct in-person services with 50% of their maximum capacity, provided social distancing guidelines are followed.

As of October 7, 2020, New York State established new protocols for certain geographic areas with cluster outbreaks of COVID-19.  Although all of New York is in Phase 4 of reopening, these cluster areas have more stringent limitations on activities in order to prevent the clusters from spreading to surrounding areas.  Depending on the severity of the cluster and geographic proximity, the limitations include prohibitions on mass gatherings, school closures, prohibitions on indoor or in-person dining, and closures or restrictions on operations of religious services and non-essential businesses.  For information about cluster restriction levels and to see maps of current cluster areas, please visit https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-new-cluster-action-initiative#initiativemaps.

As of July 16, 2020, establishments in New York are only allowed to serve alcohol to customers who also order food.  For purposes of this rule, “food” constitutes something substantial that could substitute for a meal, such as soup, sandwiches, chicken wings, or full entrees.  Several establishments have attempted to serve miniscule portions of food (such as handfuls of crackers or croutons); however this is insufficient to meet the requirements of the new rule.  This rule also disallows individuals from standing at a bar and ordering beverages.  In order to be served any food or beverages, individuals must either be seated at the bar or be seated at tables.  This allows restaurants to enforce social distancing.  This new restriction applies statewide, regardless of reopening phase.  As of November 13, any establishment that has a State Liquor Authority (SLA) license must close to in-person service at 10:00pm nightly.  These establishments may offer carry-out or delivery service only after 10:00pm.  To file a complaint about a restaurant or bar that is not adhering to the COVID reopening restrictions, please contact your county’s Department of Health.

Schools were allowed to reopen for in-person instruction provided their district (or school in the case of private schools) submitted a COVID Safety Plan that was deemed sufficient by New York State, and provided they were located in a region of the state with a COVID infection rate of less than 5%.  School reopening plans include in-person, remote learning, or hybrid schedules.  If your child attends private school but lives in a district that is on fully-remote instruction, you are still entitled to bus transportation for days when the private school conducts in-person learning.  Please contact the transportation department for the district in which your child resides (which may be different from the district in which the school is located) for information on transportation.  Please check with your child’s school or school district directly for updates regarding its COVID reopening plan.  If any region reaches a 9% COVID infection rate after schools reopen, the schools in that region will be required to switch to fully remote instruction.

  New York will be monitoring schools for COVID clusters and outbreaks through a website that will give each school in the state a “COVID Report Card.”  This Report Card will be available publicly, and will tell viewers how many COVID tests were conducted on students and staff at a particular school, how many tests were positive, and whether the positive tests come from individuals who were participating in school remotely or in person.  The website contains information for public, private, and charter schools in New York.  It can be found at https://schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov/.

Interscholastic sports in New York with a low risk of contact (including low- or medium-risk sports such as cross country and soccer, but not including high-risk sports such as football or wrestling) may begin playing and practicing as of September 21, 2020.  Travel for play outside of each school’s region or geographically contiguous regions is prohibited until at least October 19, 2020.  Contact your local district to determine the status of your school’s sports program, as many may be modified due to schools being in hybrid or fully remote learning models.  Sports with high risk of contact may practice, but may not play games against other schools.

New York has also released guidance for colleges and universities in order to minimize the risk of cluster outbreaks as students return to campus.  If any college or university experiences 100 COVID cases or an infection rate of 5%, that institution must move to 100% remote instruction for at least 2 weeks.  During this period, on-campus activity must be minimal.  Dining hall options must be take-out only and all sporting events and social events must be cancelled.  The state and local health departments will assist the institution as needed to quell the outbreak, including testing and contact tracing.  If after 2 weeks, the institution still reports 100 or more COVID cases or a 5% infection rate, the state and local health departments have the power to order that 100% remote learning continue, or to take other measures as appropriate to stop the outbreak.  Institutions with outbreaks involving fewer than 100 students may also be subject to intervention by the local and state health departments if the outbreak appears to strain the institution’s internal resources.  Colleges and universities may request assistance from the local and state health departments at any time in dealing with COVID on campus.

Bowling alleys in NYS were allowed to reopen as of August 17th.  In order to open, alleys must keep every other lane open.  Patrons must stay at their own lane, and may only order food and beverages from wait staff that come to their lane.  They may not go to the counter to order food or beverages.  Alleys must ensure that high-touch surfaces are regularly sanitized.  Bowling alleys that serve alcohol must close at 10:00pm nightly as of November 13, 2020.

Gyms in NYS were allowed to open as of August 24th.  Each gym must be inspected by the local health department before opening or within 2 weeks of opening, no later than September 2nd.  Even if a gym is allowed to reopen, the local health department has the authority to decide whether gyms in its jurisdiction may offer indoor fitness classes.  Patrons must wear masks at all times, sign in and out with the date and time of attendance, and are limited to 33% of the gym’s total capacity.  In order to open, a gym’s HVAC system must have a filtration level of MERV-13 or higher.  NYS is also recommending that each gym perform temperature screenings of patrons entering the facility.  Additionally, gyms must close at 10:00pm nightly as of November 13, 2020.

Facilities for gambling, including state-run casinos and video lottery terminals, were reopened as of September 9, 2020.  These facilities will have restrictions on capacity and will have additional screening measures in place.  As with all indoor public spaces in New York, masks are required to be worn except while eating or drinking.

If you are not certain which phase a business or service 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. 

Additionally, as of April 17, 2020, New York State began requiring all people over age 2 to wear masks whenever they are outside of their own homes if they are in a situation where social distancing (staying 6 feet away from other people) would be difficult or impossible.  Examples of this would include grocery stores, mass transit (busses/trains), cabs, ride-shares (Uber/Lyft), indoor buildings, protests or rallies, and other spaces or events that are still open to the public.  These can be homemade cloth masks, surgical-style masks, bandanas/scarves tied around the face, or N95 masks.  Any mask or face covering worn must cover your mouth and nose in order to comply.  In restaurants, bars, and other places where food and drink is served, masks must be worn by patrons at all times unless they are seated at a table, and by employees and staff at all times.  Fines for refusing to wear a mask in the above situations can be as high as $1,000 per individual and $2,000 for businesses that allow individuals to enter their property without masks.  Businesses have an affirmative duty to refuse service to individuals who do not follow the NYS mask requirements, and may impose their own mask requirements that are as strict or more strict than the NYS mask requirements.

The current emergency declaration is set to expire on June 6th and PAUSE has been extended through May 28th, but certain regions of NY were allowed to begin reopening as of May 15th once they met the below criteria.  Reopening will occur on a regional basis, assuming the below 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.

Certain low-risk activities are allowed to operate statewide, including drive-in movie theatres, camping in state parks with reservations, and low-risk outdoor sports.  These low-risk outdoor sporting activities include the following:

  • tennis;
  • non-motorized boat use and rentals, such as row boats, kayaks, canoes;
  • golf and driving ranges, except miniature (mini) golf, with food and retail services subject to the restrictions that are currently in effect within the region;
  • racket games, such as badminton, racquetball;
  • toss/bowl games, such horseshoes, bocce, bean bag toss, croquet;
  • flying disc games, such as disc golf and frisbee;
  • shuffleboard;
  • zip lining;
  • rope courses, including aerial rope courses;
  • batting cages;
  • shooting ranges; and
  • swim classes and swim instruction.

Additionally, certain medium-risk are allowed to commence as of July 6 for regions that have reached Phase 3.  Medium-risk sports include the following:

  • baseball,
  • softball,
  • doubles tennis,
  • racket games, such as badminton, racquetball,
  • water polo,
  • gymnastics,
  • field hockey,
  • non-contact lacrosse,
  • swimming relays,
  • soccer,
  • crew with two or more rowers in shell,
  • rafting,
  • paintball, and
  • other sports and recreation activities with similar abilities to maintain physical distance and/or limit exposure to shared equipment prior to such equipment being cleaned and disinfected.

These sports must limit spectators to 2 people per player.  They are also not permitted to engage in tournaments requiring travel.  Individual youth sports programs may decide whether or not to operate based on these restrictions; please contact your team or sports organization of choice for more details.  Guidance for sports and outdoor recreation activities can be found at the following website:  https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/SportsAndRecreationMasterGuidance.pdf

Day camps are allowed to operate for children as of June 29, provided that camps adhere to social distancing guidelines.  Overnight and sleep-away camps, however, will not be operating for the summer.  New York State has allowed cities, towns, villages and other local governments to open their pools, splash pads, beaches, and playgrounds for the summer if they choose to do so.  New York has already opened the state-run beaches with capacity restrictions and enforced social distancing guidelines.  Contact your local government to see if locally-governed recreational facilities are open to the public.  Any open pools, splash pads, playgrounds or other attractions must enforce capacity restrictions and social distancing guidelines.

New York’s reopening 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. Social gatherings limited to 10 people or less and must follow social distancing guidelines.
  • 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), rental/leasing operations, and outdoor dining at restaurants. Churches may hold indoor services with social distancing requirements in effect and with a maximum of 25% of the total building capacity during Phase 2.  More information on these guidelines may be found at forward.ny.gov.
  • Phase 3 – restaurant inside dining services at 50% capacity with social distancing restrictions, personal services including nail salons, tattoo parlors, ear/body piercing and waxing with social distancing restrictions, hotels, and other travel accommodations (Airbnb, VRBO, etc.). Restaurant indoor dining in New York City only is still suspended during Phase 3.  Restaurants must space tables at least 6 feet apart or have physical barriers between each table.  Restaurant patrons must wear masks until they are seated at their tables.  Staff must wear masks at all times.  Patrons for personal services (nails, tattoos, piercing, and waxing) must wear masks at all times, meaning services that require mask removal, such as lip/nose piercing or waxing are not allowed during Phase 3.  More details on these restrictions can be found at forward.ny.gov.  Social gatherings are allowed with a maximum capacity of 25 people, and social distancing guidelines must be followed.
  • Phase 4 – Certain low-risk indoor and outdoor arts, entertainment, and recreation venues, colleges and universities, and professional sports without fans. This includes museums and botanical gardens.  These entities are subject to social distancing rules and capacity restrictions, and must develop safe reopening plans.  More details on these restrictions can be found at forward.ny.gov.  Movie theatres are not included in this category, and will be re-opened at a later time as conditions permit.  Malls will be allowed to reopen as of July 10, 2020, provided their HEPA air filtration system has a filter that is rated MERV-11, MERV-12, or MERV 13, as these can filter the COVID virus out of the air.  Social gatherings are allowed with a maximum capacity of 50 people, and social distancing guidelines must be followed.  Wedding receptions are limited to 50% capacity of the venue at which the reception is held.  They also may not include cocktail hours, buffets, or other portions of the reception where guests mingle while standing.  Guests must wear masks when walking to and from their tables.  Houses of worship may conduct in-person services with 33% of their maximum capacity, provided social distancing guidelines are followed.

As of July 16, 2020, establishments in New York are only allowed to serve alcohol to customers who also order food.  For purposes of this rule, “food” constitutes something substantial that could substitute for a meal, such as soup, sandwiches, chicken wings, or full entrees.  Several establishments have attempted to serve miniscule portions of food (such as handfuls of crackers or croutons); however this is insufficient to meet the requirements of the new rule.  This rule also disallows individuals from standing at a bar and ordering beverages.  In order to be served any food or beverages, individuals must either be seated at the bar or be seated at tables.  This allows restaurants to enforce social distancing.  This new restriction applies statewide, regardless of reopening phase.  To file a complaint about a restaurant or bar that is not adhering to the COVID reopening restrictions, please contact your county’s Department of Health.

Public school summer school programs will be conducted online in New York, but school-based meal services will continue through the summer.  Special education services may also be conducted in person.  Schools will be allowed to reopen in the fall of 2020 for in-person instruction if they are located in a region that is in Phase 4 by August 1st, and if their region shows an infection rate of 5% or below.  Schools that reopen for in-person instruction must enforce mask wearing for all staff and students in situations where it is not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance between individuals.  All schools in NYS were required to submit reopening plans to the state by July 31st, which will include plans for social distancing, disinfection, and contingencies for remote learning in the event that a school must close.  Schools that reopen under the above requirements will need to discontinue in-person instruction and move to remote instruction if their region reaches a 9% infection rate.  On August 7, 2020, NYS announced that public schools whose reopening plan is deemed sufficient by the state will be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction, which could include fully in-person instruction or hybrid models that contain some in-person days and some remote days.  NYS will notify school districts whose plans are deemed deficient.  Before a district reopens, it must have at least 3 parent information meetings where parents are allowed to submit questions about the reopening plan, and must have one meeting exclusively for teachers and staff.  These meetings may be virtual.  School districts for the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and New York City must have 5 parent meetings due to the size of these districts.

Bowling alleys in NYS are allowed to reopen as of August 17th.  In order to open, alleys must keep every other lane open.  Patrons must stay at their own lane, and may only order food and beverages from wait staff that come to their lane.  They may not go to the counter to order food or beverages.  Alleys must ensure that high-touch surfaces are regularly sanitized.

Gyms in NYS may open as of August 24th.  Each gym must be inspected by the local health department before opening or within 2 weeks of opening, no later than September 2nd.  Even if a gym is allowed to reopen, the local health department has the authority to decide whether gyms in its jurisdiction may offer indoor fitness classes.  Patrons must wear masks at all times, sign in and out with the date and time of attendance, and are limited to 33% of the gym’s total capacity.  In order to open, a gym’s HVAC system must have a filtration level of MERV-13 or higher.  NYS is also recommending that each gym perform temperature screenings of patrons entering the facility.

If you are not certain which phase a business or service 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.

Additionally, as of April 17, 2020, New York State is requiring all people over age 2 to wear masks whenever they are outside of their own homes if they are in a situation where social distancing (staying 6 feet away from other people) would be difficult or impossible.  Examples of this would include grocery stores, mass transit (busses/trains), cabs, ride-shares (Uber/Lyft) and other public spaces that are still open to the public.  These can be homemade cloth masks, surgical-style masks, bandanas/scarves tied around the face, or N95 masks.  Any mask or face covering worn must cover your mouth and nose in order to comply.  In restaurants, bars, and other places where food and drink is served, masks must be worn by patrons at all times unless they are seated at a table, and by employees and staff at all times.  Fines for refusing to wear a mask in the above situations can be as high as $1,000 per individual and $2,000 for businesses that allow individuals to enter their property without masks.  Businesses have an affirmative duty to refuse service to individuals who do not follow the NYS mask requirements.