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New York City’s road to recovery takes another significant milestone step on Monday when an estimated 80,000 municipal workers are scheduled to return to their offices for the first time in over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered most buildings last March.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced the May 3 return of thousands of city employees in yet another signal that the city hurtling toward a full reopening. It comes almost two months before the citywide reopening he hopes to see by July 1.
But not everyone is ready to head back. Hundreds of city employees protested outside City Hall on Saturday the decision to go back into the office.
“We as city workers are concerned that the mayor’s hasty return to office planning is all risk and no reward,” one employee shouted through a megaphone at the weekend rally. Alongside the group were state Senator Jessica Ramos and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Together, the protesters called for a delay to the return, until at least September, for all parties to create a collaborative plan for working together in person.
“City workers are also demanding the administration establish a permanent telework policy, establish broad exemptions and accommodations policies that err on the side of safety, provide transparency around the physical upgrades and policies related to offices, and reallocate resources to better support workers who have already been working in-person,” a release from the group said ahead of its protest.
New York City is aiming for a full reopening on July 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday, suggesting a total removal of COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for well more than a year by early summer. He did not specifically detail steps to achieve that goal, nor did he lay out which COVID precautions may stay in place through summer or any other requirements. Meanwhile, in Jersey City, in-person learning kicked off after months of remote learning. Andrew Siff and Gaby Acevedo report.
Through the criticisms and concerns raised of a return to office work, the mayor has leaned on his health advisers and the increasing vaccine success across the city, particularly in city employees. At last count, the mayor said some 180,000 city employees had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I have been at City Hall every day since March 1st. A lot of my colleagues have, 80 percent of City workers have been at their posts, even in the toughest times,” de Blasio said during his weekly WNYC radio appearance. “No, people need to come back because we have work to do, to bring this city back.”
The return to office work for so many employees will be staggered, with an emphasis on safe practices and social distancing, the mayor has said. A rotating schedule for workers will still keep some people out of the office some days. Ultimately, though, he said people need to get back to their offices to serve the city in the most productive way possible.
“We do not find that people are more productive at home. We find that people are more productive in the workplace and we are public servants,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio hit the halfway mark to his goal of fully vaccinating 5 million New York City residents by the end of June on Thursday, the same day New Yorkers of any eligible age got the walk-in option at all state-run mass vaccine sites.
The city’s seven-day positivity rate was 2.86 percent on Sunday, according to the mayor. Statewide, the rolling positivity rate was 1.93 percent, Cuomo said Friday — the lowest rolling average since Nov. 3.
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May 3 marks another reopening step for many of New York City’s bars and restaurants. Bar seating across the five boroughs can return Monday for the first time in more than a year.
The return of bar seating aligns with Cuomo’s rules for the rest of the state and will give New York City its biggest nightlife jolt in more than a year. The governor recently extended his indoor food and beverage service curfew by an hour, to 12 a.m. It will be lifted entirely for outdoor dining areas beginning May 17 and for indoor dining areas beginning May 31, he said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy made some reopening news across the river last week, too, announcing indoor capacity limits for weddings, proms, performances and more rises to 50 percent on May 10. Outdoor carnivals can return at 50 percent capacity the same day, while outdoor gathering limits will increase to 500, Murphy said.
Asked Wednesday, as he revealed new state guidance for day and sleepaway camps this summer, for a response to Cuomo’s latest move on bars, given the proximity between New Jersey and the city, Murphy said to expect developments this week.