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Governors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut plan to ease limits on businesses beginning May 19. States in other parts of the country have already gone further unwinding pandemic-era rules.
New York, New Jersey and Connecticut all plan to roll back coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and gatherings later this month, although precautionary measures like distancing and mask requirements will remain in effect.
Beginning May 19, New York and New Jersey will remove percentage capacity limits on most businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, gyms and barber shops, Govs. Andrew Cuomo, of New York and Phil Murphy, of New Jersey, said Monday. Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont in mid-April announced that his state would take similar steps.
Cuomo and Murphy made clear that their states will, for the most part, still call for businesses and people in public settings to adhere to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline calling for six feet of distance between people in different groups.
New York officials noted that eateries there can skirt the distancing rule if they have physical barriers between tables.
And Cuomo suggested businesses, including baseball stadiums, theaters and restaurants, could relax the distancing requirements if they have systems to confirm whether people are vaccinated. "If you have an operating plan for vaccinated people, then you can operate at less than six feet," he said.
"There are benefits to being vaccinated," Cuomo added.
In Republican-led states, officials have already substantially or entirely lifted pandemic-related restrictions. Texas' Republican governor moved to do so in March. On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order suspending all remaining local government mandates and restrictions related to the Covid-19 crisis.
States with Democratic governors have been slower to make these shifts. The announcements out of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are a sign of how restrictions are melting away across more states as the number of vaccinated Americans rises and cases and deaths remain down compared to earlier stages of the outbreak.
Still, vaccination rates are slowing and public health experts say that hesitancy among many people to get the shots is a threat to the "herd immunity" required to end the pandemic.
While the updated guidelines in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are a notable step, restrictions will still be in place, with the specifics varying between the states.
For instance, under New York's rules, large indoor event venues, like theaters and arenas, will be able to operate at 30% capacity, up from 10% beginning May 19. The limit for large outdoor venues will be 33%. For now, requirements with social distancing, masks and that attendees show proof of a vaccination or recent negative Covid-19 test will remain in effect at the venues, according to Cuomo's office.
New Jersey plans to completely remove outdoor gathering limits beginning on the same day—while maintaining six-foot distancing requirements. The state will also raise a general indoor gathering limit for events like birthday parties at homes to 50 people, from 25, while commercial indoor gatherings, like conferences and job trainings, will be capped at 250 people.
For large indoor venues, New Jersey will up the capacity limit to 30%, from 20%, and change the definition for these facilities to apply to places with 1,000 fixed seats, instead of 2,500.
In Connecticut, Lamont said last month that if Covid-19 infection rates remain down, the state would mostly eliminate business restrictions on May 19. The state's health department updated its reopening guidance on Monday, providing details and noted that indoor mask requirements will continue.
Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.