New York state is loosening indoor and outdoor gathering restrictions this month, state officials announced during a Wednesday press briefing in Albany.
Beginning March 22nd, residential gatherings can expand to 25 people outdoors but shall remain at 10 people indoors, the state’s budget director, Robert Mujica, told reporters. Social hangouts at public places will increase from 50 people to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Building on previous field tests during the Buffalo Bills’ playoff games, meetups at arts and entertainment venues can also begin opening on April 2nd at 33% capacity—as long they don’t exceed those indoor and outdoor limits.
“All of those will still also require social distancing as well as mask requirements,” Mujica said.
Organizers for events at arts and entertainment venues have an option to hold gatherings with more people—if they require COVID-19 testing for attendees. With proper testing protocols, larger gatherings of 150 people indoors and 500 people outdoors would be permitted, Mujica announced.
Weddings are under a slightly different set of rules. Beginning March 15th, weddings with up to 150 people or 50% of the venue's capacity can resume, so long as all attendees have a negative COVID-19 test.
The state is launching an initiative called the Excelsior Pass program, which allows for your coronavirus test results to be reported via a smartphone application being piloted at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. The app, which will launch in the next week, can be used as proof of a negative COVID-19 test to get into large events, Mujica said. Test results on the app would expire in 72 hours for a PCR test and within six hours for a rapid test. Further details weren’t announced, and it is unclear how exactly it works.
Mujica announced the changes at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first public appearance in a week after calls for his resignation in the wake of three women coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations, including two who worked for him. When asked whether he should step aside—especially as state lawmakers and the governor must negotiate and finalize a budget this month—Cuomo said no. He reiterated that he’ll cooperate with New York Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation and that he finalized a budget during the exponential rise of infections last spring.
While announcing the loosening of gathering restrictions, the governor called the simultaneous reality of the vaccine campaign and coronavirus variants spreading a “critical moment.”
“Everybody wants all restrictions gone,” Cuomo told reporters. “But you also have to be smart about the reopening. In my opinion, some states are going too far, too fast. And that is a danger because COVID is still a risk.”
COVID-19 positivity rates in NYC remain among the highest in the state, at 4.02%, according to the state’s figures on Wednesday. (The city calculates the rates differently and reported Wednesday a 6.3% positivity rate over a seven-day average.) The Bronx has the highest rates of coronavirus at 5.14%, around twice as high as Manhattan. Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island had positivity rates of 4.39%, 4.26%, and 4.11%, respectively.