New York City, which one year ago was the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, will "fully reopen" for business on July 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. The announcement marks a stirring rebound for a city that lost more than 10,000 people in just the first month of the pandemic.
"We are ready for stores to open, for businesses to open," de Blasio said on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Offices and theaters, he said, would be able to operate at "full strength."
City officials are confident that they can get life back to the normal level it was before the pandemic, De Blasio said.
"This is going to be the summer of New York City," the mayor said. "You're going to see amazing activities, cultural activities coming back. I think people are going to flock to New York City, because they want to live again."
De Blasio acknowledged the threat of new variants — but he said the vaccines are proving very capable of quashing new outbreaks from those recently identified strains of the coronavirus. He attributed the progress to the "extraordinary" number of people who have gotten vaccinated against the coronavirus.
To date, de Blasio said, the city has recorded 6.3 million vaccinations, in a population of about 8.3 million.
"We've got to keep working hard at that," de Blasio said of the vaccination effort.
The mayor also noted that the American Museum of Natural History is hosting free vaccinations under its blue whale exhibit, adding that the museum is giving away four free admissions to people who get their shot.
New York City is currently reporting levels of new hospitalizations and positive-test rates that meet its benchmarks for reopening. It's either close to meeting or trending toward other "milestone" marks, according to the latest statistics. The city saw a large second wave of new cases around the start of 2021 — but thankfully, the rates of deaths and hospitalizations stayed far below the heights they hit last spring.
De Blasio's announcement comes one day after New York's embattled governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced that as of May 3, people will be allowed to sit at bars in New York City. On the statewide level, Cuomo plans to lift a midnight curfew on food and beverage service for outdoor and indoor areas by the end of May.
New York City has been steadily moving toward reopening. Last month, its restaurants and bars were allowed to offer indoor seating at 50% capacity. And the city started reopening schools to its youngest students in December. The phased-in process expanded to grades 6-8 in February, and 9-12 in March.
Despite its success in beating back the coronavirus, COVID-19 has taken a horrible toll on New York City. Overall, more than 920,000 residents have had confirmed or probable coronavirus cases. More than 100,000 people were hospitalized, and more than 32,000 people have died, according to the city's health department.
Both New York City and New York state were able to clamp down on the coronavirus' spread last spring, in a success that officials attributed to the public's adherence to social distancing and face mask requirements.
A statewide mask order took effect in mid-April of 2020. By the time summer arrived, New York was seeing a sustained drop in new cases, and states in the South and West had begun to be the main sources of new outbreaks.