Mayor Bill de Blasio expects up to to 400,000 New York City residents to head back to work in the first half of next month, as the city prepares to begin lifting some of its most stringent coronavirus restrictions. That's the upshot of the mayor's news conference Thursday at City Hall, during which he laid out what to expect from a city that emerged weeks ago as the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S.
"Because we're in the great unknown — we've never been through a pandemic like this, certainly not in the last hundred years — we can only give you a range to begin, but we're going to know really soon what the truth is," de Blasio said. "But even if you say 200,000 people, that's a lot of employees coming back to work. So we want to make sure it's done the right way, and we want to emphasize safety throughout."
To date, New York City has reported nearly 200,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and a death toll north of 16,600 — more deaths linked to COVID-19 in just New York City, in other words, than all but six countries around the world.
Even as regions throughout the rest of New York — including neighboring Long Island, which officials are treating separately from New York City in this instance — have begun the first phase of the state's reopening plan, the city of some 8 million people remains behind the starting gate not having hit the necessary benchmarks to open.
But de Blasio doesn't expect the city to need much more time to satisfy the criteria, such as reduced infection rates and ramped-up testing capacity. He told reporters Thursday that "all indicators suggest it'll be announced in the first or second week in June."
After that, four principal sectors of the city's economy will be able to return to work, de Blasio said: construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail that to this point has been deemed nonessential. These include sellers of clothing, furniture and other items, provided that sales are done through pickup.
"These sectors, as you can imagine, tend to be the sectors where you need people in person. But on top of that, they were chosen because there are sectors where you can create a lot of physical separation," he said, noting that social distancing regulations will remain in effect. "You can make sure that people are safe."
At a separate news conference Thursday in Brooklyn, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he had signed an executive order allowing businesses statewide to refuse entry to people not wearing face masks. And he made clear that ultimately, the decision about when New York City will reopen will be made in Albany.
"We're on totally the same page, because there's only one page: There's state guidelines, period," Cuomo said of himself and de Blasio, adding: "The mayor has his schedule. I have my schedule. I talk to him all the time. But there's only one page."