NEW YORK – New York City began a gradual restart of its economy Monday, three months after shutting down all but the most essential businesses in order to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a powerful day,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at an outdoor news conference at the Brooklyn Navy Yard marking the launch of Phase One of the city’s restart. “Day 100 of the coronavirus crisis and it is the day we start to liberate ourselves from this disease.”
He said he expects between 200,000 and 400,000 workers will start returning to their workplaces in the construction, manufacturing, wholesale supply and non-essential retail sectors. Shoppers will still have to pick up their purchases curb side, on-site shopping is not slated to return until the second phase of the four-stage reopening in approximately two weeks. Local hospitals have also been given the go ahead to resume elective surgeries.
Multani Singh, owner of J&M sneakers, talks about keeping his business alive during nearly three months of shutdown, June 8, 2020, in the Sunset Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York.
The city of 8.6 million has been one of the hardest hit anywhere in the world. There have been more than 200,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and nearly 22,000 deaths attributed to it.
“We have been the epicenter of this crisis, this is the place where it was going to be the hardest to make a comeback, and yet, New York City is so strong and resilient we are making that comeback,” de Blasio said.
He urged residents not to forget lessons learned, including the need for face coverings and social distancing.
Indicators the city uses to gauge the rate of transmission are all dramatically down, but the health commissioner cautioned that the virus is still in what she characterized as a “moderate” transmission phase.
Most New Yorkers rely on public transportation to get to and from work and many are still jittery about taking the subway. Pre-pandemic 5.5 million people rode the subway in often overcrowded cars each day, making it an ideal super spreader of the virus. The transit system has remained open for essential workers with scaled-back service throughout the pandemic, but saw ridership plummet nearly 90% and the transit agency has sought billions of dollars in federal aid.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo took a ride on the subway Monday to raise rider confidence. He wore the mandatory face covering.
If it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t ask anyone to go on the subway.
Remember: If you’re riding, you MUST wear a mask. It’s mandatory & shows respect for fellow riders. pic.twitter.com/IH0Ue3p7Cr
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) June 8, 2020
John Stonbely, a public defender from New Jersey, took the subway Monday for the first time since March. At a station in Brooklyn, he said the train he rode seemed clean and was not very crowded and most passengers wore masks.
“I’m expecting that as the city opens up it will start getting crowded again, and that’s really what I’m more concerned about,” he said.
Many retail shops around the train station remained closed, despite the green light to reopen. Some were boarded up to prevent looting, which the city faced a week ago during protests of the killing of George Floyd.
Dominique Simonneaux, owner of Les Petits Chapelais, works to fulfill online orders at her store in the Soho neighborhood of New York, June 8, 2020.
In Manhattan, major retailers including Macy’s at Herald Square and Saks Fifth Avenue did not reopen on Monday.
Construction was also allowed to resume and trucks and workers in hard hats appeared busy at several local work sites.
There will be at least two weeks between phases as the city aims to reopen a wider range of businesses in the next phase, including financial and real estate companies. In the third phase, the hospitality sector will return to full service —restaurants will be allowed to have indoor diners, and hotels, which are considered essential and have remained open, will be able to expand their services.
In the final phase, schools, museums and entertainment are expected to reopen. But the smooth progression of the four phases is contingent on the virus indicators remaining at or below acceptable levels.