Paterson schools have announced the first step toward reopening and welcoming students back to the classroom.
- This is an Eyewitness News special presentation, "The Year Everything Changed The Road Ahead."
- For so many in our area, this year of lockdown and loss has been the longest of their lives.
- But now with more and more people getting vaccinated there is reason for hope and hugging.
- Somebody special is here to see you.
- All the signs of reopening are everywhere. Of course, this pandemic is not yet over, and we must still be careful. But we are looking ahead and beginning to ask, what will life look like over the next year?
BILL RITTER: And once again, good evening, everyone. I'm Bill Ritter.
SADE BADERINWA: And I'm Sade Baderinwa. Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of looking back on the year we have all endured. In fact, just last night New York City held a remembrance ceremony marking one year since the first COVID classified death.
BILL RITTER: But tonight we're not going to look back. Instead, we are trying to look forward, asking and trying to answer some key questions. For example, what will schools look like as kids begin returning to class? When will offices reopen and we can start getting rid of Zoom?
SADE BADERINWA: And with so many businesses shut down, will our neighborhoods, downtowns rebound? And could this year of stress and change have a long term impact on our health?
BILL RITTER: So much to dissect, but any discussion about reopening and getting into the so-called new normal revolves around one thing, the vaccine. Yesterday the nation set a new record for vaccinations in a single day. But we still have a long way to go. Take a look at this. Here in our area, 22.5% of New York residents have gotten one dose. And more than 11% are fully vaccinated.
In New Jersey, nearly 24% of people have partial protection and 12% have completed their inoculation. And in Connecticut, with a high percentage of people with at least one shot at 26% or just under 14% are fully vaccinated.
SADE BADERINWA: ABC'S Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton begins our coverage. She has more on the vaccines.
JOE BIDEN: All adult Americans will be eligible to get a vaccine no later than May 1.
JEN ASHTON: It was certainly a bold prediction from President Biden and one that will require vaccine production to be ramped up. At this time last month, about 1.7 million shots were going into people's arms every day. While that number has increased to 2.3 million, there are still widespread frustrations over access to the vaccine.
- The problem is supply, supply, supply. It's not capacity here. It's supply.
- It's hard to get appointments anywhere else. I waited on my computer the day of.
- Everything is booked. And we tried to find something upstate but, you know, I have to work.
JEN ASHTON: President Biden is promising a national website and 800 number to help people get appointments. Locally, New York City is using firefighters to bring doses to the homebound. Vaccination sites have also been set up at houses of worship and community centers in minority neighborhoods, and there are dozens of large FEMA-run sites across the tri-state.
As more people get vaccinated, like right here at Citi Field, there's growing support for creating a so-called vaccine passport, which would allow businesses, airlines and others to know who is and who is not fully vaccinated.
- I know the state of Hawaii is considering just that. If you're able to show you have the test and the vaccine, they're going to eliminate the quarantine.
JEN ASHTON: Israel is already using something similar to a vaccine passport, calling it a green pass, which gives people access to concerts, gyms, and restaurants.
- We have it on the phone but here you can see.
JEN ASHTON: Here in New York, the so-called Excelsior Pass which shows a person's vaccination status was tested at Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center.
BILL RITTER: Dr. Jen Ashton joins us live now. Jen, thank you for joining us on this road ahead. Let's look ahead. A lot of people are very pumped about this and you have always urged caution. But there is some sense that we're returning to whatever it is, a normal life. What about other vaccines on the horizon?
JEN ASHTON: Well, Bill, I think when you talk about other vaccines, we have to realize there are dozens of vaccine developers working on a vaccine around the world. There's unprecedented global collaboration, particularly between the private and the public sectors.
Probably next up for us is Novavax and AstraZeneca from Oxford, both safe and effective in phase three clinical trials, although Europe right now is raising some concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine that the World Health Organization has found no evidence of increased blood clot risks.
But again, it underscores these vaccines go through meticulous and rigorous scientific testing. And they are not brought to market unless they are found to be safe and effective on a big scale. And even after they're brought to market and administered, they are followed very, very closely. No one is taking a chance on this rollout.
BILL RITTER: Just to get this accurate, this is all still under emergency authorization, right?
JEN ASHTON: That's correct. The terminology matters, Bill. The term is authorized, not approved. Authorization refers to the fact that the FDA reviewed two months of safety and efficacy data. Full FDA authorization can only be granted after they can look at six months at least. And those data are being collected, and they will continue to be collected at least up until the two-year mark
BILL RITTER: Dr. Jen Ashton always filled with sober optimism and a big dose of caution as well. We appreciate your participating today, Jen. Take care.
JEN ASHTON: Thanks Bill.
SADE BADERINWA: Well, Friday will mark a turning point of sorts in this pandemic as a large swath of the tri-state and its economy will reopen.
BILL RITTER: In New York, restaurants outside of the city can increase indoor dining capacity to 75%. Restaurants in the five Boroughs can now have 50% inside.
SADE BADERINWA: And on Friday, New Jersey will also allow 50% indoor capacity, not only in restaurants, but also bars, gyms, salons, casinos and other indoor amusement spots.
BILL RITTER: The state of Connecticut going even further, allowing full capacity 100% inside restaurants, retail stores, personal services facilities, houses of worship, and in office buildings.
SADE BADERINWA: And we can all debate whether this is too much, too quick. And we do debate that. But listen to what the director of the CDC said just a few days ago about reopening.
ROCHELLE WALENSKY: We have said at the CDC, schools should be the first place to open. And so if your schools are not open, I don't believe that we should be opening other places because we really do need to get our children back to school.
BILL RITTER: So what is the state of our schools? Dozens of districts in New Jersey and on Long Island are still remote only. New York City high school students return to class next Monday for the first time since September. But it's a very small portion of the students who go to high school. And the big question, could these months of Zoom learning and lack of classroom interaction have any kind of lasting impact emotionally, educationally? Here's our business reporter, Anthony Johnson.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: As the lights go back on in classrooms throughout the region, the challenge is not only getting kids back in safely, but dealing with the emotional and academic toll of the pandemic.
EILEEN SCHAFER: Teachers are going to have conversations with students. How do you feel? How you feel about being back? How do you feel about being out for a year? Once we get past that, then we can start putting in place addressing the learning loss and finding out exactly where students are.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: That's the focus of the current or upcoming session. But all eyes are on the traditional return in September.
MEISHA ROSS PORTER: This is not going to be a routine opening. This is going to be a comeback. And so we have to be really thoughtful about what we want our students to come back into. We should not be thinking about how we will reopen what we had. We should be thinking about how we reopen moving forward.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: Experts say grade school kids, those transitioning to middle school or into high school have had a tough time the last year. Efforts are underway to make sure kids are ready for the fall.
EILEEN SCHAFER: If they're in third grade, we're going to give them a third grade assessment and see where they are, see where the shortcomings are. And then we're planning a summer program.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: There will also be after school and Saturday enrichment programs in Paterson. But assessments show math is a subject where many kids have struggled. So much of the past year exposed the digital divide, a gulf between the haves and have-nots.
STEVEN FULOP: The end results of COVID in the lost year on learning is that you're going to have huge gaps that are going to impact students for the next 5 or 10 years of their school careers, which is really unfortunate.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: There is a monumental task ahead, calling for innovation, maybe adjusting the school calendar and some give and take. While parents want their kids to get back to learning, the kids themselves need more, meaning everyone will have to meet the students where they are after so much dramatic change.
RON CHALVISAN: We need to give kids this space to relearn how to be in school. We need to give kids the space to talk, to befriend, form relationships again.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: And we should share a positive note with the kids highlighting the year of computer learning did prepare them for the future.
RON CHALVISAN: Here's how you took advantage of those 11 months. Let's build on that now to accelerate some of the learning.
ANTHONY JOHNSON: In Paterson, Anthony Johnson, Channel 7 Eyewitness News.
BILL RITTER: So now we turn from trying to reopen the schools to trying to reopen the economy, which may be so much more difficult, right? We see it in every community across our area, empty stores. So many are out of business from big box stores to mom and pop shops. Blocks once bustling now turned into ghost towns.
The Biden stimulus money supposed to go to business owners to help ignite one of the engines that drives the economy but will this work? Here's Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne.
KRISTIN THORNE: Empty, boarded up, closed, it's a harsh reality of what COVID has done to our main streets like here in Huntington Village.
VITA SCATURRO: We are all concerned. Businesses moving out doesn't look good for the village because you have empty buildings.
KRISTIN THORNE: After 13 years in business, Alejandro Gonzalez shut down his restaurant Quetzalcoatl. That happened early on in the pandemic.
ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ: Without the ability to fill the restaurant, the 100% will be very hard to keep it open.
KRISTIN THORNE: It's not just small business owners here. National clothing chains Ann Taylor LOFT and Jos. A Bank closed as well recently. One of the co-owners of Huntington's popular entertainment venue, the Paramount, tells Eyewitness News they do not have plans to reopen at this time.
According to a report commissioned by Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Long Island retail businesses were expected to bottom out right about now, the second quarter of 2021 Long Island restaurants, it said, would not recover until late 2023.
And a new survey by Siena College Research Institute found that one in four Long Island CEOs say they're not sure their businesses will survive. However, at the same time, the pandemic also seems to be ushering in some new businesses. The turnover in Huntington is everywhere.
PETER RAIMONDI: Yeah, we've been very lucky. It was a slow opening, but as soon as we opened, we were busy the first day.
KRISTIN THORNE: Business owners are trying to remain hopeful, something they've gotten good practice at the last year.
VITA SCATURRO: I think it'll take a little bit of time, but we will see Huntington better than what it was or rejuvenated.
KRISTIN THORNE: In Huntington, Kristin Thorne, Channel 7 Eyewitness News.
SADE BADERINWA: And from downtown Huntington to midtown Manhattan. One of the biggest post pandemic questions, when will Broadway reopen? This industry has and crippled by COVID. The arts are so important, not only to New Yorkers, but also the city's economy and tourism industry.
On April 2, arts and entertainment venues can reopen but with reduced capacity, up to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Venues are already planning to reopen, like Lincoln Center, which will open 10 outdoor performance spaces on its Plaza starting April 7.
But for now, Broadway will remain dark. Theaters on The Great White Way not part of the initial reopening plan. Want to bring in Eyewitness News entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. And Sandy, any idea when we can expect to see Broadway shows again?
SANDY KENYON: Sade, I live in the theater district, and it's upsetting to look down on two theaters that have been dark for more than a year now. It's likely they will remain closed until the late summer at the earliest.
A series of pop up events like the one in Times Square last Friday have brought much needed employment to Broadway performers, who've been hit hard like so many others. But reopening theaters is a much bigger deal. One producer told me Broadway will need some lead time to rehire everyone on stage and off.
But first, deals with unions will have to be made. There will have to be general agreement about the protocols to keep everyone safe. The producer, who asked for anonymity so as to speak candidly, told me the first shows to return would be those like "Hamilton," which are not dependent on tourists and are so popular with folks in our area.
The flow of tourists has slowed to a trickle, so there are real risks to reopening before they return, because Broadway can't make money with partial occupancy. They need to fill those houses. That's why the seats are always so close together when we do return. The very popular shows like "Hamilton" could resume in the middle of the summer.
Other musicals and plays likely not until after Labor Day. Now, Matthew Broderick told me at the Times Square event that he expects to open in a revival of Plaza Suite early next year, a move my source calls smart and a pretty safe bet for others, Bill and Sade.
BILL RITTER: Come on early next year. That's what we're hoping for. Sandy, thanks for that insight. We are just getting started on this special edition of Eyewitness News. And another big question on so many people's minds, when will office buildings reopen, or will they reopen? Coming up, we're going to show you how businesses are changing to welcome people back to work plus.
- It took a severe, severe mental toll on my family, on myself.
BILL RITTER: And he's not alone. We're going to take a look at the mental toll this pandemic has taken on so many people after lockdowns and losses, why it won't be a seamless transition back into our social lives. That and more when we come right back.