New York and its neighbors, New Jersey and Connecticut, will welcome back crowds on May 19, state officials said Monday, a major step for a region that was once an epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
Restaurants, offices, retail stores, theaters, museums, barber shops, amusement parks and gyms and fitness centers will all be allowed to operate at full capacity for the first time since restrictions were adopted last year to prevent the spread of the virus.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced the easing of pandemic restrictions on Monday as part of broader efforts to increase economic activities, including lifting curfews for food and beverage service. New York City will also return to 24-hour subway service on May 17.
“Today is a milestone for New York State and a significant moment of transition,” Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said during a news conference in his Manhattan office.
Mr. Cuomo, in announcing the sweeping changes to pandemic restrictions, seemed to be trying to accelerate New York’s recovery and once again upstage his political rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio. Last week, the mayor had set a goal of July 1 for fully reopening the city.
Still, Mr. Cuomo acknowledged on Monday that immediately restarting operations might not make practical or economic sense for some businesses, such as Broadway theaters. Last week the Broadway League said theatrical performances there would likely not resume until September.
Businesses in New York will still have to abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines, which require a minimum of six feet of space between individuals.
So the size of crowds will still be limited by space constraints, but businesses won’t need to abide by the six-foot rule if they require that all individuals present proof of full vaccination or a negative coronavirus test result, Mr. Cuomo said. Restaurants can also get around the six-foot rule by erecting barriers between tables.
For people who have received the vaccine, Mr. Cuomo said, “life should be returning to normal. You’re vaccinated. And it’s an incentive to be vaccinated.”
The governor’s announcement came less than a week after Mr. de Blasio had announced that New York City would fully reopen by July 1, a proclamation that irritated Mr. Cuomo, who has the ultimate say over capacity restrictions in the state.
Mr. Cuomo’s announcement effectively fast-tracked the expected end to capacity restrictions by more than a month.
“As Mayor de Blasio declared, this will be the Summer of New York City,” Bill Neidhardt, the mayor’s press secretary, said after Mr. Cuomo’s announcement. “We look forward to seeing more details and are excited to have the city fully reopened in the summer.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subway system, initially shut down subway service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on May 6 last year as subway ridership plummeted in part as commuters avoided public transit and worked from home. M.T.A. crews were dispatched to deep clean and disinfect the subways during the closings.
But as recently as February, the M.T.A shortened the overnight subway closings to 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. and signaled that they soon planned to resume 24-hour service. M.T.A. officials said Monday that they planned to continue deep cleaning and disinfecting during subway operating hours. Recently, the C.D.C. acknowledged what scientists have been saying for months: The risk of catching the coronavirus from surfaces is low.