In the United States, this weekend – the Memorial Day holiday weekend – is considered the unofficial start of summer. To coincide with its arrival, some of the country’s 50 states are easing the lockdown restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, while others are lifting them altogether, writes Katie Macleod.
New York City, however, remains in lockdown. The city has been at the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the USA, with 20,422 deaths and 199,392 confirmed cases. At the height of the crisis in March, hospital tents were erected in Central Park, mass graves were dug on an island in the Bronx, and the Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, arrived to support the city’s coronavirus response.
A “PAUSE,” or lockdown, was put in place across New York State on 22nd March, with all but essential businesses closed. Seven requirements, including a 14-day decline in hospitalisations and deaths, need to be met in each region of the state before the restrictions can be lifted. This means that while more rural parts of the state, like the Finger Lakes (which borders Canada), are slowly reopening this week, New York City remains closed.
The urban area of New York City also spreads into the neighbouring states of New Jersey and Connecticut (known as the Tri-State region, or the Greater New York City area), but these states are taking a slightly different approach.
In New Jersey, which has had more than 10,700 coronavirus deaths and over 150,300 positive cases, the restrictions are being altered state-wide, rather than county to county; the same rules apply in both the dense urban neighbourhoods that border Manhattan, and the farming areas that give New Jersey the nickname “the Garden State.”
Initial restrictions were lifted on 2nd May, opening golf courses and State Parks, and as of this week, shops can offer “curbside pick-up” and non-essential construction projects can resume, although residents are still advised to stay at home.
Connecticut is taking yet another approach: the state’s “Stay at Home” order ended on 20th May, with restaurants open for outdoor dining, and some shops and offices also reopening.
Beaches in all three states will open in time for the holiday weekend on 22nd May. Social distancing and mask-wearing are strongly recommended, but it is up to local council officials in each town – not the state or national government – to enforce those rules.
With New Yorkers in small city apartments already heading to the parks to make the most of warmer weather, the holiday weekend may be a sign of how easy it will be to lift restrictions safely in the weeks and months to come.