New Yorkers Flattened the Curve. Now They’re Dropping Their Guard.

The critical indicators surrounding the coronavirus crisis in New York have clearly turned a corner: Deaths have slowed to a trickle, new cases have declined sharply and the numbers of hospitalizations and intubations have eased.

But over the weekend, a more ominous sign emerged. Throughout New York City, many people openly disregarded social-distancing rules, prompting state officials to threaten to reinstate restrictions in the city to guard against a second wave of infections.

“We have 22 states where the virus is increasing,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said at a news conference on Monday. “It’s a dramatic national turnaround. We don’t want the same plight of these other states.”

Mr. Cuomo sounded the alarm after a weekend’s worth of videos and reports of people violating social-distancing rules, including on Friday in Manhattan’s East Village, a neighborhood with many bars and restaurants, and on Saturday in Hell’s Kitchen, where gay pride celebrations were underway.

The governor singled out bar owners and patrons in Manhattan and the Hamptons on Long Island for flouting the rules, and he warned that if local officials did not crack down on such behavior, the state authorities might suspend or roll back reopening plans for those areas.

Such a move could be financially devastating for business owners who were forced to close for most or all of New York’s almost three-month shutdown, and for the tentative recovery in the city, where municipal coffers were decimated as nearly a million people lost jobs.

“There is a very real possibility that we would roll back the reopening in those areas,” Mr. Cuomo said on Sunday, suggesting that a second wave of infections was almost inevitable if people gathering outside bars and others violated rules. “It will come. And once it comes, it’s too late.”

Mr. Cuomo’s warning came as state officials touted the minuscule rate of new positive virus cases in New York — just over 1 percent of more than 56,000 tests conducted on Sunday, according to the governor — and as other states grappled with surges in infections.

The number of virus cases has been rising in many of the states that reopened earlier, and in a broader fashion, than New York: Arizona, Florida and Texas all recently reported their highest numbers of cases yet. The governors of Oregon and Utah have taken the drastic step of pausing reopenings in their states as a result of similar spikes.

Without a vaccine for the virus, experts have warned, about 70 percent of the population will need to be infected and develop immunity to halt the spread of infection. New York has had about 390,000 confirmed cases, or about 2 percent of the state’s population.

As of Monday, about 1,600 people in the state were hospitalized because of the virus, the fewest since March 20 and a huge decline from a peak of over 18,000. The daily death toll has hovered below 50 for the past five days, compared with the nearly 800 in one day that were recorded at the outbreak’s peak.

But health officials have cautioned that the number of cases could rise as businesses fully reopen, people return to work and commuters take mass transit again, especially in New York City, which has tallied more than 20,000 virus-related deaths. The city began a limited reopening on June 8 that allowed construction and manufacturing to resume, while also permitting curbside and in-store pickup for retail businesses.

Another concern is the recent mass protests against police brutality that have, at times, clogged the city’s streets with tens of thousands of people. Although they have encouraged participants to wear masks, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mr. Cuomo have fretted about the possibility the protests could fuel the virus’s spread.

There have also been conflicting messages from the state leaders about social gatherings. Such gatherings are still technically limited to 10 people, although Mr. Cuomo said on Monday that the New York regions in the third phase of reopening — most of the state from the Hudson River to Lake Erie — could allow gatherings of up to 25 people.

The mixed messages on gatherings, along with a weekend of warm weather, may have contributed to a false sense of security among those who were seen flouting social-distancing guidelines.

Jennifer Charlera, 19, a college student who lives in Harlem, said she was concerned that fewer New Yorkers she had seen outside lately were wearing masks.

Ms. Charlera, who has self-quarantined in her family’s apartment since March, said it was difficult to balance respect for social-distancing rules with the desire to see friends and relatives after many weeks of isolation.

She said she had recently begun to get together — outdoors, with masks — with friends who themselves had quarantined at home. Family outings have included walking homemade dinners to relatives, to eat together outside.

“I’ve gotten more lenient now,” she said. “I go out more than I did in March and April.”

On Sunday, Mr. Cuomo said that the state had been deluged with around 25,000 complaints about businesses that were “in violation of the reopening plan.” He warned that bars and restaurants could lose their liquor licenses if they failed to comply, noted that State Liquor Authority inspectors had been dispatched to problem areas and said that he had called several establishments himself.

But he emphasized it was ultimately up to local governments to enforce the state’s reopening policies, and he publicly urged mayors and county executives to target establishments that were found to be flouting rules.

“They don’t want to enforce them because they’re not popular,” Mr. Cuomo said on Monday. “Nobody wants to go to a bar and say, ‘You guys have to wear a mask. You guys are violating social distancing.’ I get it, but they have to do their job.”

  • Updated June 12, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, the governor’s fellow Democrat and frequent rival, took issue with Mr. Cuomo’s remarks, saying in a statement that city employees had worked over the weekend to disperse large groups, distribute face coverings and help business owners keep patrons at an appropriate distance from one another.

“We must balance safety with people’s need to reopen their businesses,” the statement said. “These businesses are allowed to be open per the governor’s guidelines, and we don’t believe imprisoning people or taking away their livelihood is the answer.”

But even partial reopenings are riddled with uncertainty.

“There’s no way to predict what’s coming,” said Philip Binioris, the owner of the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights, a 59-year-old coffeehouse that reopened in early May for takeout service only. “You try to tell your employees when you’re going to bring them back, you got to be honest and tell them you don’t know when that day is.”

Monday was also the start of the second stage of New Jersey’s reopening. Across the state, outdoor dining was allowed to resume with restrictions, and retail businesses swung their doors open for limited indoor shopping for the first time in months.

“Our goal is to not experience the spikes that other states are now seeing because they rushed to open too much, too soon,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy said. “We have lost too many lives in too short a period to not heed the lessons of this virus.”

Not every public official was pleading for caution.

Steven McLaughlin, the Republican county executive of Rensselaer County, N.Y., just east of Albany, has been encouraging local businesses to fully reopen against state’s guidelines, saying that county officials would not enforce the restrictions.

Mr. McLaughlin has criticized the governor’s shutdown as unnecessary, arguing that it was hurting small businesses despite there being few active cases in the county.

“Ignore him and his stupid ‘phases,’” Mr. McLaughlin wrote of the governor on Twitter last week. “Every day he proves they are arbitrary and based on nothing but his maniacal need for power.”

Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said Mr. McLaughlin was a “conservative extremist who always puts politics over science.”

“Look no further than the 22 states experiencing spikes to see what happens when you do that,” he added.

Corey Kilgannon and Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

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