Thirteen months ago, New York became an international red zone. Positive rates of COVID-19 infection were so high that the state’s healthcare system threatened to buckle under the sheer demand. But after over a year in lockdown (in collaboration with the New Jersey state government), mandatory closures of non-essential businesses, and heavy social distancing guidelines, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel.
As of May 16, 41.3% of the total New York population had received both vaccine doses -- and that number grows to 49.6% if you include patients who have received at least the first dose. That’s a whopping total of 9,892,698 people.
Meanwhile, positive testing rates continue to decline -- on May 15, only 1,561 people tested positive -- that’s just 1% of test subjects.
The vaccination progress and reduced infection rate have led New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to announce the state’s new quasi reopening plan -- the ultimate goal to be virtually “back to normal” by July 1st.
The plan includes a hopeful Broadway reopening, as well as lifted capacity restrictions and business curfews. This is big news for businesses including, but not limited to:
- Retail Establishments
- Fitness Centers
- Barber Shops
- Amusement parks
There will, however, still be some regulations in place -- and some new laws and procedures adopted in the COVID-19 era may never quite go away. So what can businesses expect in the coming weeks?
How Will the Reopening Plan Roll Out?
The most significant changes to COVID-19-based regulations and mandates will begin rolling out before July 1st. These mostly involve lifting capacity restrictions and hours-of-operation curfews on various industries. Many of these restrictions will be slowly rescinded on a tiered schedule leading up to July 1st, allowing time for the market to acclimate.
The schedule will be as follows:
May 15: Casinos, Office-Based Workplaces, and Fitness Centers
- Casino/gaming establishment capacity raised from 25% to 50%.
- Office capacity raised from 50% to 75%.
- All gyms outside of the New York City area increase capacity to 50%.
May 17: Outdoor Food & Beverage
- Outdoor food and beverage curfews are completely rescinded, now subject only to area ordinance.
May 19: Indoor Catering, Residential Gatherings, Stadiums
- When COVID-19 testing or proof of vaccination is present for all attendees, indoor catering capacity increased from 250 people to 500 people.
- Residential gathering capacity increased to 50 people.
- Large venues and stadiums permitted to operate at 33%.
May 31: Indoor Food & Beverage
- Indoor food and beverage hours of operation curfew rescinded, now subject only to area ordinance.
July 1: Reopening
- Executive-ordered capacity and curfew restrictions rescinded.
This schedule means that only large-scale indoor and outdoor venues, and large-scale indoor/outdoor social gatherings will be restricted by curfews and capacity limits. Exceptions will still be made for events where all attendees have legitimate proof of a negative COVID-19 test or immunization.
This also means Broadway will be permitted to open on July 1st, and The Broadway League has praised the reopening -- but in the meantime has not announced a schedule or plans. It may take some time for new shows to come together and new operating procedures to be put in place.
There are Still Considerations Employers Should Make
While many are eager to see New York return to normal, that still may take some time. Even though curfews and capacity limits will be a thing of the past, many other mandates are here to stay for the indefinite future. Additionally, Governor Cuomo recommends all businesses make their own economic decisions in regards to operating practices and safety procedures. Below, we’ll take a look at the COVID-19 considerations employers will still have to observe.
Six-Foot Social Distancing Guidelines
The CDC’s six-foot social distancing guidelines remain in place, and may still result in businesses only functioning at a limited capacity in order to accommodate the space. Restaurants, however, are allowed to put up barriers for patrons which function as a replacement for social distancing.
Face Covering Guidelines
Thanks to CDC recommendations, face coverings are still mandatory for employees who work in direct contact or routine close contact with members of the public. Employers are still required to provide face coverings for employees, though they have options when it comes to material including:
- Cloth (homemade, sewn, quick cut, bandana)
- Surgical masks
- N-95 respirators
- Face shields
Industry specific requirements will remain in effect longer including health screenings, air filtration, and contact tracing.
Some workers can’t wear masks due to certain health conditions (severe asthma for instance). Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” in these circumstances. It should be part of your standard practice to collect and file documentation of the medical condition before providing accommodations. Then, if possible the employee should be offered remote work -- or barring availability, potentially a more isolated position.
One of the biggest changes to consider is that businesses are no longer required to mandate customers wear masks -- though they can choose to enforce this rule independently if they like. Most health and human resources advocates insist that customer mask-enforcement should still be standard practice -- not only does it help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it also shows your employees that you truly care about their well being in the pandemic.
“Matilda’s Law” exists to protect uniquely vulnerable employees (those with co-morbidities, immune conditions, etc). Employers must take special precautions for these employees -- allowing them to work from home if possible, or offering other accommodations including
- Mandatory PPE
- Alternate work locations
- Fewer interactions with the public.
New York Sick Leave Laws:
New York Sick Leave laws still require employers to provide sick leave, paid family leave, or disability benefits to employees who are subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantine as a result of COVID-19. These benefits also apply to employees with minor children subjected to quarantine.
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