This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Wednesday, May 20th, 2020. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.

Read our guide to understanding New York on PAUSE, NY's stay-at-home order, as well as what the upstate reopening means; 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.

Here is what you need to know for today:

  • De Blasio Launches Coronavirus Response Plan For NYC's Nursing Homes
  • More Than Half A Million Freelancers And Gig Workers Have Received Unemployment Payments In New York
  • New York State Will Allow Religious Gatherings Of 10 Or Fewer To Resume
  • Childhood Vaccination Rates Plummet In NYC
  • Connecticut Lifts Stay-At-Home Order Today, Offices, Stores And Restaurants Cleared For Limited Reopening

De Blasio Launches Coronavirus Response Plan For NYC's Nursing Homes

4:45 p.m.: The city is launching a coronavirus response plan in New York City's nursing homes to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday.

City workers will begin on-site coronavirus testing for residents and staff at the city's 169 nursing homes and add additional personnel to help nursing home staffers during the crisis.

“We'll ramp it up immediately, and then continue as long as it takes,” de Blasio said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “If this needs to go on for months and months, we will continue for months and months, whatever it takes. As long as we're fighting this crisis, we will make sure that all nursing homes have the testing capacity they need in New York City.”

The city will test as many residents and staff as possible in the next two weeks, eventually shifting to weekly tests as requested to track the virus and keep it from unknowingly spreading. The testing capacity at nursing homes would reach 3,000 a day under the plan, in addition to existing testing capacity from the state. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who’s state department regulates most nursing homes, has previously required all nursing home staff get tested twice a week.

De Blasio’s plan for the city comes after scrutiny on Cuomo for how the state handled the rapid spread of the coronavirus in senior facilities, where more than 5,700 people had died as of May 15th. (That figure includes confirmed and probable coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and adult care facilities.) Staff at nursing home facilities have detailed horrid conditions, with residents suffering from bed sores and nurses wearing kitchen aprons and trash bags for personal protective gear.

The city is adding 360 emergency staffers to nursing homes after previously placing about 240 staff across the city, according to the mayor. Another portion of the plan will include ten so-called “Outbreak Response Teams.” The teams will consist of an epidemiologist and mental health and infection control experts to be deployed for a quick response to future outbreaks within nursing homes or other types of assisted living facilities.

“[T]his is for nursing homes, and it's also for other congregate settings that serve our seniors, like assisted living facilities,” de Blasio said. “So, the second there's any sign of a problem, this team can go and can oversee the response, can help control infections, make sure the PPEs are where they need to be and the supply is right, and people are using the right way. Make sure that retesting is done in the facility. That everything is handled so that the outbreak is contained, and people can move forward safely.”

The city will explore ways to move older New Yorkers with their families for care at home to reduce how many people are living in congregate settings, the mayor said.

More Than Half A Million Freelancers And Gig Workers Have Received Unemployment Payments In New York

The New York Department of Labor building in Downtown Brooklyn.

3:10 p.m.: More than 560,000 applicants for the federally-funded unemployment benefits program for freelancers and gig workers have been paid out in New York State, according to the state labor department.

A total of 562,766 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) applicants got their payments since the federal CARES Act passed—up by more than 230,000 since last week.

Under PUA, freelancers and gig workers are able to qualify for unemployment assistance—a sector of the workforce that doesn’t qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.

But throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, independent workers faced difficulties getting their payments, which the state says was due to a complex two-step process that required workers to apply for unemployment, get rejected, and then apply to the PUA program.

The state streamlined the process, but the backlog still piled up as hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were put out of work when the economy came to a standstill under the state stay-at-home policy. Some told Gothamist they hadn’t been paid for nearly two months.

Nearly 1.2 million applications submitted before April 22nd have been paid out, according to the Department of Labor.

Tens of thousands who applied before that date are still waiting for payments.

But the DOL says the backlog of applications that are not able to move forward in the process has dropped to 7,580 claims. Those claims are held up due to it being abandoned, containing incorrect or missing information, or being a duplicate.

Another 20,801 haven’t been paid because they haven’t been certified, a federally-required weekly step that people must do to continue receiving payments.

And 15,831 applications are going through a fraud check in the final stage of processing. They have not been paid, but the DOL Says they would be payable in the “coming days” or otherwise flagged for more security review.

The state has paid out nearly five times as much unemployment benefits during the coronavirus crisis as it did during the entirety of 2019 to more than two million New Yorkers.

“To date, we have paid out over $10 billion dollars during this crisis, compared to just $2.1 billion in total last year,” Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said in a statement.

New York State Will Allow Religious Gatherings Of 10 Or Fewer To Resume

Man stops to read an announcement at Congregation Divrei Yoel in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, in New York. The synagogue is closed to gatherings due to the coronavirus.

1:30 p.m. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said religious gatherings of 10 people or fewer could begin statewide on Thursday provided that congregants wear masks and socially distance.

The announcement comes after the governor was asked on Sunday whether the state would consider allowing limited ceremonies upstate for Jewish congregants wishing to observe Shavuot, a major holiday that marks the spring harvest and the granting of the Torah by God on Mount Sinai.

During his press briefing in Albany, Cuomo said the state was convening the Interfaith Advisory Council to discuss ways of bringing back religious ceremonies. He acknowledged that religion is a source of comfort to many, especially during the current climate of stress and anxiety.

"But we need to find out how to do it, and do it safely and do it smartly," he said. "The last thing we want is having a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected."

The first identified coronavirus hotspot in the state was in New Rochelle, where numerous infections were traced back to a synagogue member.

But in what has become a routine lack of coordination between city and state officials, it was not clear whether Cuomo alerted New York City officials about the change. A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio did not immediately respond to inquiries about the order and whether the city was prepared to enforce it. The mayor did not address the issue during his morning briefing.

The city has struggled to get members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to comply with social distancing rules. On Monday, New York City police officers ordered the closure of a Yeshiva in Brooklyn that had approximately 60 students inside the building. Afterwards, the mayor tweeted that the school had been issued a cease and desist order.

Prior to that, the NYPD broke up several heavily-attended Hasidic funerals, including one in Williamsburg that the mayor personally helped dispersed.

Childhood Vaccination Rates Plummet In NYC

Vaccination rates among New York City children have dropped by 63 percent, an alarming decline that has health officials worried about a rise in illnesses among the city's youngest residents that could lead to coronavirus infections.

The pandemic has upended many routines, including doctor's visits. Many pediatrician offices have closed, and families have been reluctant to venture outside for fear of exposing themselves and their children to the virus.

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced the statistics during his morning press briefing, urged parents to get their children vaccinated. Unvaccinated children become vulnerable to other illness, including influenza and especially measles. That, in turn, can make them prone to coronavirus.

"We know that anyone with a pre-existing condition is more susceptible to COVID," he said.

"Getting your child vaccinated is a reason to leave your home," he added.

Connecticut Lifts Stay-At-Home Order Today, Offices, Stores And Restaurants Cleared For Limited Reopening

Couple of residents wearing face masks to protect from the coronavirus window shop at a closed clothing store on Main Street in downtown in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In the first major test for the tri-state region, Connecticut lifted its stay-at-home order on Wednesday. Offices, stores and restaurants can resume operating, but only at 50 percent capacity and with social distancing and cleaning measures in place.

The state, which has far fewer cases than New York and New Jersey, has been plotting a faster and more aggressive reopening. As of Tuesday, the state has had 38,430 confirmed cases and more than 3,400 deaths attributed to the virus. New York, meanwhile, has had about 353,000 cases and more than 22,000 deaths. Similar to New York, the Connecticut has set health and testing benchmarks for reopening.

The governors of the three states had initially said they could coordinate their reopening plans, but over the last few weeks, their policies have diverged. In New York, construction and manufacturing are the main business sectors that are eligible to reopen in certain regions.

For the first time in two months, Connecticut workers can return to offices, although companies have been encouraged to allow employees to continue working from home. Employees must wear a mask in the office unless they are in a separated workspace like an individual office.

Retail stores have also been given the green light to reopen. Social distancing markers will must be installed and all employees and customers must wear masks. Some malls in the state have announced they would reopen, but common areas would be off-limits. In Stamford, the department stores Macy’s and Saks Off 5th, which are both located inside a mall, announced that they would welcome back shoppers beginning on Friday.

In another shift toward normalcy, restaurants can serve customers again but only outdoors and at half capacity. Seating must be six feet apart, and hours are restricted: they must close by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on other nights. Menus must be disposable or written on chalkboards or whiteboard. Bars are still prohibited from reopening.

In Norwalk, about 50 miles north of New York City, officials said on Tuesday that 31 businesses had applied for outdoor permits, according to the Connecticut Post.

“Our lunches will be pretty normal to what we saw for traffic in a pre-corona world,” Jeff Hardy, owner of Sedona Taphouse, told the Post. “If anything, it may be a little bit busier. I think dinners are going to be pretty active.”

But given the extra restrictions and limited capacity, some restaurant owners have said that the partial reopening does not make financial sense and that they would wait until they can resume full indoor service.

Museums, zoos, and other cultural attractions are also allowed to reopen with restrictions in place, although some, like Norwalk's Stepping Stones Museum for Children, have opted to wait.

Looking ahead, the state will allow hair salons and barber shops to reopen on June 1st. Day camps can start operating on June 22nd. However, overnight camps are not allowed.