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.

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. 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 and gyms 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.  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 are 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.  NYS will announce which regions meet the above requirements for school reopening in the first week of August, 2020.

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.