This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Wednesday, June 24th 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

New York City is in Phase 2 of reopening now, which includes outdoor dining; hair salons and barbershops; and playgrounds are open, . Here's a look at preparing for the spread of coronavirus is here, and if you have lingering questions about the virus, here is our regularly updated coronavirus FAQ. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.

2:30 p.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced that gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed in phase 4 of the state's reopening plan, up from 25 people in phase 3.

Phase 4 will also permit indoor religious gatherings to increase to 33 percent of capacity, up from 25 percent.

Cuomo has notably been more conservative than governors for neighboring states with lifting restrictions on gatherings. As of Monday, New Jersey residents can gather outdoors in groups as large as 250 people, up from the current limit of 100. Indoor gatherings are restricted to 25 percent of a venue's total capacity, but cannot have more than 100 people.

Connecticut has further differentiated between private outdoor gatherings and organized ones like concerts in city parks. Beginning on July 3rd, the size of outdoor private gatherings in Connecticut will be raised to 100 people, with a one time exception for graduations at 150 people. Organized outdoor gatherings may have as many as 500 people.

Unlike New Jersey and Connecticut, Cuomo has not differentiated between outdoor and indoor gatherings.

New York state, with the exception of New York City, is either in the initial or final period of phase 3. Westchester, Rockland and other counties in the Mid-Hudson Region entered phase 3 on Tuesday, while Long Island began the third phase on Wednesday.

Five New York regions—the Finger Lakes, the Southern Tier, Central New York, Mohawk Valley and North Country—will enter phase 4 of the state's reopening plan on Friday.

New York City entered phase 2 on Monday. If the health indicators continue to show that the risk of spread is low, the city should enter phase 3 on July 6th.

During his press conference, Cuomo also said that no decision has yet been made on when to reopen malls, movie theaters and gyms.

Malls in Connecticut reopened last month, while movie theaters were allowed to reopen on June 17th. New Jersey will sign off on the reopening of indoor malls on June 29th. It is yet to make a decision on when to reopen movie theaters.

De Blasio Projects 22,000 City Employees Could Be Laid Off Due To Budget Shortfall

10:30 a.m. Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday said that 22,000 city employees could be laid off or furloughed if New York City is unable to cover a $1 billion budget shortfall resulting from the COVID-19 shutdown.

The statement, made during the top of his morning press briefing, was a direct message to labor unions, who the mayor said would need to agree to concessions. The city employs more than 326,000 employees, more than any other municipality in the country.

"The last resort would be layoffs and furloughs," he said.

The mayor has proposed a $90 billion budget, which has since been whittled down to $87 billion. The city's budget deadline comes on July 1st.

Both the mayor and Governor Andrew Cuomo have called on Congress and the White House to provide aid for states and local governments who have seen their budgets decimated by the virus. New York City has projected a $9 billion loss in tax revenues. And the loss in revenue comes with added expenses; the city estimates that it will spend $3.5 billion on fighting the pandemic by the end of the year.

Republican leaders have been reluctant to pass another stimulus package, though President Donald Trump is reportedly in favor of another direct payout to unemployed Americans.

A plan by the mayor to borrow up to $7 billion to pay its operating expenses has also come against resistance, this time from Cuomo and other state elected officials, who must approve the request. “We don’t want to create a situation where the state or any local government borrows so much money that they can’t repay it, and then you have to start to cut service and now you’re in that vicious downward spiral,” Cuomo said last month.

All of which has forced the mayor's hand to look for deeper cuts.

"We are running out of options here," he said. "That is the blunt truth."

"Next Couple Weeks Are Going To Be Critical," Fauci Says

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, warned the public of a “disturbing surge” of new coronavirus cases across the south and western parts of the country that still represents the first wave of the pandemic.

“The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges we are seeing in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and other states,” Fauci said during a hearing before a Congressional panel.

Seven states—Arizona, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas—have reported record-high numbers of hospitalizations. In three out of the last five days, the U.S. has recorded more than 30,000 new cases a day. On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who had been one of the first states to reopen, urged residents to stay home.

Although Fauci said he was "cautiously optimistic" that a vaccine could be developed by early next year, he was one of several members of the White House coronavirus task force who portrayed the current outbreak as an already dire situation that could spin out of control.

Deaths from the virus have been falling but experts have said it was too early to know for sure why. Some have speculated that the outbreak is now affecting younger people. Fauci noted that “deaths always lag considerably behind cases,” and said the latest trend could be temporary.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, described the pandemic as “the greatest public health crisis our nation and world have confronted in a century." He said that the upcoming influenza season in the fall could further strain hospitals and health workers. He urged people to get a flu shot.

“This single act will save lives,” he said.