Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to loosen pandemic restrictions, but his latest directives leave out some areas and activities.
Joined on May 5 by his counterparts from New Jersey and Connecticut, Cuomo announced a May 19 date to reopen and increase capacity at retail stores, gyms and fitness centers, amusement parks, hair salons and barber shops, offices, Broadway theaters, museums, restaurants and bars.
What about beaches, and outdoor venues—and even Memorial Day parades? The directive was silent on those and it makes Nassau County politicians and others worried.
On Brian Lehrer’s radio show on WNYC on May 4, Stuart Markus of Malverne called to lament that he had no idea if he could organize his 16th annual “Wild About Harry” concert at the Eisenhower Park Theater. Held in honor of the late folk singer Harry Chapin, it raises moneys and collects food for the LI Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank. Markus noted that the concert usually draws about 2,000 attendees in a space meant to hold 7-8,000, and six-foot distancing should not be a problem.
Lehrer’s guest, Ben Yakas of the Gothamist digital publication, noted that the governor mentioned only baseball stadiums during his conference. The reporter said he followed up with the press office about other outdoor venues and was told that places such as Eisenhower Park Theater are still limited to 500 people, with the usual social distancing.
Regarding baseball stadiums, the governor had this to say: “For baseball, two different categories: not Yankees, Mets. Vaccinated, unvaccinated. Vaccinated people, normal capacity, normal seating for people who are vaccinated. Vaccinated families who have a child 16 under who’s not eligible, that child can be seated with the family. We ask them to wear masks, but you attend the ball game like you attended the ball game two years ago.
For unvaccinated people, the six-foot distancing applies with masks and that comes out to roughly 33 percent in those sections, capacity for unvaccinated people. So if you’re vaccinated, that’s one category. You’re unvaccinated, that’s another category, no testing.
But if you’re vaccinated, you have the Excelsior Pass, you have proof of vaccination and that will determine where you sit.”
The governor also said that the Bethpage Air Show will return this Memorial Day after the pandemic forced its cancellation in 2020. However, he limited attendance at Jones Beach State Park to 50 percent of capacity. The two-day show has drawn more than 400,000 people on several occasions, and 301,000 were on hand in 2019.
On April 28, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sent a letter to New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker urging him to open the municipal-owned beaches at 100 percent. State Department of Health regulations still in force from last year limit beaches to 50 percent capacity.
The letter, co-signed by area state senators and assembly members, stated, “Our beaches are crucial economic engines that support entire communities and after a difficult year, local businesses are more dependent than ever on beach-related revenue. With warmer weather rapidly approaching, local jurisdictions must plan for and make critical decisions concerning beach management and are therefore in need of your department’s revised guidance as soon as possible.”
Curran argued that the majority of eligible county residents had been vaccinated and last summer’s experience showed that the COVID-19 positivity rates drop in the summer months. In addition, the positivity rate in Nassau is now at its lowest level since November and on May 4 she announced that “Nassau’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity average has dropped to 1.64 percent.”
The letter continued, “Because so much of Long Island’s identity and economy is tied to the ocean, it is important to open beaches as widely as can be done safely in light of these factors. Accordingly, we urge you to promulgate revised beach guidance as soon as possible. With Memorial Day just around the corner, our local jurisdictions need to make hiring, budgetary, transportation and other decisions right now. We stand ready to help in any way and look forward to working with you on this vital issue for Long Island.”
A spokesperson for Curran said the county had not yet heard back from the DOH.
Fire departments and other civic groups are planning Memorial Day parades, but they may not get the all-important permit from the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD)in the absence of a directive from the governor.
According to a press release, “The Nassau County Legislative Majority has written to Governor Cuomo to issue guidance allowing municipalities to host parades on Memorial Day weekend. Current guidance from the state does not permit in-person parades and the NCPD is unable to approve permits from requesting municipalities.”
As with Curran, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello noted vaccination rates have gone up and the percentage of positive cases has dropped sharply.
“The brave men and women who lost their lives in service to our nation deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice,” Nicolello wrote. “If we can safely attend a baseball game or visit a museum or beach, we should be able to gather to honor those who have laid down their lives for our country.”
Added Legislator Bill Gaylor, a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army, “Not being able to gather together last year to honor those who have fallen certainly took a toll on our veterans and families. The governor should immediately issue guidance and make sure we can safely gather and honor these American heroes.”
The governor’s press office was contacted by Anton Media Group to inquire about possible changes in regulations. However, as of press time, there had been no reply.