NEW YORK, NY — Houses of worship will be able to open ahead of scheduled at a reduced capacity across New York State due to the state's improving coronavirus infection numbers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.
Temples, churches, mosques and other religious buildings will be considered part of the state's "phase two" reopening plan starting Saturday, Cuomo said. Houses of worship that reopen will be limited to 25 percent of the building's normal capacity, the governor said.
"Yes 25 percent occupancy is not as easy at 100 percent occupancy, but 100 percent occupancy is a mass gathering. You really can't do social distancing... Be smart. Be smart. It doesn't mean you go to a temple or a mosque and you sit right next to a person. You still have to socially distance," Cuomo said during his Saturday press conference.
New York State is seeing a downward trend in coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Cuomo said. Social distancing measures were put in place in March to curb the spread of the deadly virus in order to "flatten the curve" of infections to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Cuomo said Saturday that New York — which saw one of the worst outbreaks anywhere in the world — has effectively "bent the curve."
Only 35 New York residents died of coronavirus Friday, which was New York's lowest recorded number since the disease's exponential spread in March. At the peak of the disease, New York recorded more than 800 deaths on some days.
New York's counties are relaxing social distancing restrictions in four phases. Counties must meet seven benchmarks set by the state that measure metrics such as coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths, available hospital capacity, contact tracing capacity and the percentage of positive coronavirus tests.
Seven upstate New York counties have entered phase two, with Hudson Valley set to enter phase two on Tuesday and Long Island set to enter phase two on Wednesday. New York City is expected to enter phase one on Monday. Other economic activities cleared to return in phase two include many office-based jobs, in-store retail, real estate services and salons. Offices and activities that promote close physical interactions such as salons and barber shops will be limited to 50 percent capacity.