New York loosens guidelines as COVID retreats. What restrictions are still in place?

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  • COVID-19 is retreating as vaccinations increase, but some state guidance remains.
  • General guidelines like masking, social distancing and screening remain in place, coupled with specific guidance on sports, large venues and social gatherings.

With spring approaching and nearly a quarter of all New Yorkers on their way to being fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it would seem that the dark cloud cast by the global pandemic is lifting.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, embroiled in further crises surrounding sexual harassment allegations and his handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, has been steadily removing restrictions on public life since late January, when the holiday spike in COVID cases started to die down. 

But the pandemic is still evident in everyday reminders, like masks and social distancing in public spaces and testing requirements for work and travel. And those restrictions, put in place at the pandemic’s arrival in New York, are likely to be some of the last to disappear.

As COVID-19’s slow retreat continues, here are the restrictions that are still in place across the state, as of mid-March. 

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What restrictions should I expect everywhere?

Masks and social distancing

These restrictions are still in effect in all indoor public spaces, including schools, businesses, offices, restaurants, airports and mass transportation areas, except when eating and drinking. 

Capacity restrictions

These still apply in most public spaces, typically to maintain social distancing in indoor spaces. Classrooms, child care centers, churches, venues, restaurants and other spaces must adhere to restrictions at a percentage of their typical capacity. 

Capacity limits at most venues are at 50% as of mid-March. Restaurants can operate at 75% of their typical capacity outside New York City, where restaurant capacity remains limited to 35%.

Jazmine Mercauto, first grader, reads along with the class at Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School 19 in Rochester, NY on March 16, 2021.

Gatherings

Outdoor gatherings at private residences are allowed in groups of 25. Indoor private gatherings are still capped at 10 people. 

Outdoor social gatherings are capped at 200 and indoor social gatherings at 100. 

Hygiene and disinfection 

High-touch public spaces, vehicles, equipment and items must be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Hand sanitizer dispensers and/or handwashing stations should be provided. 

A contractor uses an electrostatic sprayer to disinfect subway cars to control the spread of COVID-19 in New York on July 2.

Screenings 

Employees, volunteers, students, teachers and in some cases, customers or attendees must be routinely screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure. 

Travel 

Starting April 1, those traveling domestically no longer have to quarantine upon return home, although the state still recommends a precautionary quarantine. International travelers are required to quarantine for 7 days with a negative test 3-5 days after returning from travel, or 10 days without a negative test. 

Ajeria Ash works on her social studies work in her third grade class at Dr. Charles T. Lunsford School 19 in Rochester, NY on March 16, 2021. Each student cluster of two has a see through barrier between them as part of a way to keep students safe from COVID-19.

Quarantine 

New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated (i.e. they are beyond two weeks past their final vaccine dose) and asymptomatic do not have to quarantine following exposure to COVID-19 in the first three months following vaccination.

Additionally, New Yorkers who have been infected with COVID-19 in the past and have recovered, and are asymptomatic after being exposed again, do not have to quarantine.  

Those who do not meet those criteria have to quarantine for 14 days, or 10 days if no symptoms are reported. 

What additional restrictions should I expect at specific venues? 

Restaurants and bars  

Live entertainment and theater 

  • Smaller venues will face a capacity limit at 33% with a cap of 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, starting in April.
  • Large, outdoor performing arts venues seating 2,500 people or more can open at 20% capacity starting in April.
  • Fans must show a negative test result or proof of full vaccination prior to entry.
Jason Liu, an employee at Chen Garden, comes out to give David Wyman his order after Wyman called the restaurant to let him know he arrived on March 25, 2020.

Movie theaters 

  • Capacity at 25% with no more than 50 people per screen at a time.
  • Assigned seating required.
  • Additional staffing required to control occupancy, traffic and seating to ensure compliance.
  • Enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards.
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Weddings

  • Venue capacity at 50% with no more than 150 people per event.
  • Guests must show a negative test result prior to entry.
  • Sign-in with contact information required to assist with potential contact tracing.
  • Venues must notify local health departments of large events, above the social gathering limit, in advance.
  • Ceremonial and socially-distanced dancing allowed under strict guidelines.

Sporting events 

  • Capacity limit of 20% in outdoor venues seating 2,500 or more. 
  • Capacity limits of 10% in venues seating 1,500 or more. 
  • Fans must show a negative test result or proof of full vaccination prior to entry. 

Religious buildings and churches 

  • No more than 50% capacity.
  • Social distancing of 12 feet when singing.
  • Provide hand sanitizer and handwashing stations.
Mets players walks to the dugout before a baseball game against the Miami Marlins Thursday in Miami. Major League Baseball says the Mets have received two positive tests for COVID-19 in their organization, prompting the postponement of the Subway Series against the Yankees this weekend at CitiField (LYNNE SLADKY/AP)

Sports and recreation 

  • Occupancy limit at 50% in any given area.
  • Limited class sizes.
  • Reduced service in some areas.
  • Prohibited use of small spaces like elevators.

Child care facilities and camps

  • Limit groups to 15 children or less.
  • No non-essential visitors.
  • Limit sharing of objects. 

Beaches 

  • Capacity restrictions at 50%.
  • No large gatherings or spontaneous sporting events.

Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network’s New York State Team. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or 585-258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.

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