New York City, the global epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, is taking its first tentative steps to reopen 100 days after the pandemic began.
Retail stores as well as construction and manufacturing sites welcomed back between 200,000 and 400,000 workers as the city began the first of four phases in its reopening. A nearly week-long curfew imposed during protests over the death of George Floyd ended Sunday.
For retail businesses, only curbside or in-store pickup will be available, but full operations are expected later this summer. Larger public venues like concert halls and Broadway theaters will remain shuttered for the next few months and will be part of the fourth and final stage of reopening, based on medical data and further progress.
“This is a powerful day,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference held at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “It is the day that we start to liberate ourselves from this disease. … All New Yorkers should be proud, that you got us to this day.”
More than 21,000 New Yorkers have died from COVID-19, a bit less than 20% of the total in the U.S., which leads the world in that category. More than three months after the pandemic ripped through New York, straining medical resources and upending the lives of millions, the rate of infection has continued to decline. As of Monday, city officials said, just 3% of city residents tested positive for the virus, down from a high of 71% in March. The city’s first diagnosis came 100 days ago, following that of a Westchester County resident.
Like many U.S. cities, New York is also reeling from more than a week of protests after the death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Many retail businesses were hit by looting and other damage during the protests. De Blasio has come under heavy criticism over his handling of the protests and on Monday a number of current and former employees held a demonstration to make demands that he cut the city’s police budget, among other things.
Transportation is one of the key variables for life being able to return to pre-virus form. Subways and buses returned to normal schedules, though the subway will continue to shut down between 1AM and 5AM each night for extensive cleaning. Social distancing on the subway will be a challenge, as it will be in many other facets of the high-density city. De Blasio said he “absolutely will” take the subway, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo also did Monday, to demonstrate his comfort level.
The city has lost billions of dollars in revenue due to COVID-19, with the independent budget office estimating that revenue will not return to 2019 levels until 2022. California’s film and TV production sector, which will be allowed to restart Friday (though likely not yet in LA County). New York’s previously thriving production business doesn’t yet have a firm sense of when cameras will roll in the city, which accounts for the majority of statewide production.
Before the pandemic, film and TV production generated nearly $9 billion in annual economic activity in the state. Newer production facilities like Steiner Studios, have joined Silvercup, Broadway and others racing to keep pace with an overall boom paced by subscription streaming.
The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment has said it will not issue any film permits through at least June 15.