New York City’s Phase 4, Explained

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Finally, New York City has made it to Phase 4 of its reopening.

It is the last phase in the methodical march to recovery from the pandemic, which just three months ago was killing hundreds and infecting thousands in the city every day. While much of the rest of the state has been in Phase 4 for weeks, getting to this stage in a teeming metropolis like New York City has always felt like a challenge.

[New York City is easing into Phase 4 of its reopening, but indoor limits remain.]

On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called Phase 4 a “hallmark.”

“There are no more phases,” he said. “We are all in the final phase of reopening. And that’s great.”

It does sound great. But New York City in Phase 4 hardly feels like a place on the cusp of normalcy. Instead, wary officials have taken a warning from other states reaping the consequences of opening up too quickly and are keeping a lid on a number of eagerly anticipated activities.

So what does Phase 4 really look like? Here’s a breakdown of what has and hasn’t changed.

Broadly, some cultural venues, like zoos and botanical gardens, can open for outdoor activities at 33 percent of the venues’ total capacity. That has been welcome news for some: Four city zoos and the New York Botanical Garden have announced they will open to the public by the end of the month, while the Brooklyn Botanic Garden will open to the general public in early August.

Updated 2020-07-20T10:16:25.157Z

Professional sports can resume, but without fans. Media production also gets a green light, bolstering the industries involved in making movies, television and music.

That’s in addition to all the things that have opened in previous phases, such as outdoor dining, offices and personal care services, including hair and nail salons.

Indoor dining is still not permitted. Originally, it was an activity that would have been allowed under Phase 3, but officials have linked the reopening of indoor dining — and indoor bars — to the outbreaks raging elsewhere in the country.

[What bar and restaurant owners have to say about being left behind.]

In fact, restrictions have gotten even tighter: Officials last week banned the sale of alcohol to customers who do not also buy food, in an attempt to crack down on crowds of outdoor drinkers.

Also left out of Phase 4: the reopening of gyms, malls, movie theaters and museums.

There’s no clear timetable for when and how those venues might reopen.

Governor Cuomo made it clear on Friday that the state is bracing for the “potential for a second wave,” as outbreaks in the nation’s West and the South threaten to spill into the state.

After partygoers swarmed Steinway Street, a lounge in Astoria has been suspended from a city program that supports improved outdoor seating. [Gothamist]

More than one-fifth of the 515 attacks on transit workers from April 15 to June 30 stemmed from requirements to maintain social distance or wear face masks. [New York Post]

Alex Vadukul writes:

Colin Huggins, the piano man of Washington Square Park, sat at his Steinway baby grand the other day playing one of Claude Debussy’s frolicking arabesques. A few onlookers wore surgical masks and listened from benches.

Mr. Huggins, 42, stood on top of his piano stool to address his sparse audience.

“This next one is by Franz Liszt,” he said. “I’ll be back tomorrow. After that, I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure things out these last few weeks.”

That afternoon, just a few people slipped $1 and $5 bills into his donation buckets, whereas normally Mr. Huggins can make a decent sum in a couple of hours.

For the last 15 years, he has been a superstar busker in the park, performing to big crowds who fall under the sway of his balletic playing and the striking sight someone performing outdoors on a Steinway. With his act, Mr. Huggins has earned enough money to survive modestly in New York for years. But that livelihood is held together by a delicately calibrated system, and the coronavirus pandemic has obliterated it.

Mr. Huggins is now facing the stark uncertainty that every street performer is reckoning with: no tourists, and the audiences that do show up are thin, hesitant and socially distant. His bills have piled up. He’s late on his rent. And his income, he said, is less than half of what it used to be.

The other burden in Mr. Huggins’s life weighs 900 pounds: his 1959 Steinway baby grand. Playing it requires him to heave it to and from Washington Square Park. He has long hauled it like a boulder through city streets with an intricate assemblage of ropes and dollies. Recently, he had to find it a new home.

[Read about how Mr. Huggins stores and transports his baby grand.]

In late June, Mr. Huggins posted a message on Instagram announcing that he might have to leave New York. Since then, Venmo donations have streamed in, buying Mr. Huggins some time.

“I’m thankful, but I can’t rely on charity forever,” he said.

This month, Mr. Huggins finally got some good news: Judson Memorial Church, which is conveniently located opposite Washington Square Park, offered him temporary storage in its basement.

“No one else here plays as beautifully as Colin does,” Jimmy Pearl, a fellow musician, said. “I don’t think the park will let him leave New York.”

It’s Monday — play on.

Dear Diary:

I moved to New York City from Toronto in 1984. One day while I was shopping at Macy’s, I lost track of the time. I wasn’t wearing a watch and I didn’t see a clock on the wall, so I worked my way through the crowd to the information counter.

“Excuse me,” I asked politely, “Do you happen to know the time?”

A short, middle-age man behind the counter looked at me blankly.

“Yes,” he replied.

That was it.

After an awkward pause, I tried again.

“Can you tell me the time?”

His expression didn’t change.

“Yes,” he said flatly.

Our eyes locked.

“What time is it?” I demanded.


After that, I knew how to ask a question like a New Yorker.

— Brenda Nielson

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