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New York Relaxes Rules, Approving All Gatherings of Up to 10 People

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In an unexpected executive order issued Friday night, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York slightly loosened coronavirus restrictions, saying that gatherings of up to 10 people would be allowed “for any lawful purpose or reason” anywhere in the state — including New York City — provided that social-distance protocols were followed.

Cuomo issued the order after the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a suit that objected to Mr. Cuomo’s order on Thursday allowing groups of 10 people or less to gather for religious services or for Memorial Day celebrations. Mr. Cuomo’s order on Friday night modified the previous order.

The revision was swiftly condemned by Councilman Mark D. Levine, who represents Upper Manhattan and is chairman of the City Council’s health committee. He stressed that the order had not been made by health professionals.

“This shocking order, forced by a lawsuit, changes nothing about the risks associated with group gatherings — especially those held indoors,” he said in tweets posted about 8:45 p.m.

“We need the public to continue to be smart and use judgement about the risks of this virus, regardless of what the court has forced on us,” he added. “No one should interpret this as advice to change their behavior.”

In filing its lawsuit, the civil liberties union argued that Mr. Cuomo’s order allowing religious and Memorial Day events was unlawful because state rules still banned protests and other activities protected by the First Amendment.

“We’re glad to see the governor reverse course,” Christopher Dunn, the civil liberty group’s legal director, said in a statement late Friday.

Mr. Cuomo’s office did not immediately provide a rationale for the change or say what had prompted it.

Under the new orders, groups of up to 10 people may gather in any region of the state, even those that have not been cleared to enter the first phase of reopening.

Seven of the state’s 10 regions have begun to allow some nonessential businesses to reopen after having met the health and safety standards mandated by the state.

But New York City and most of its suburbs have not satisfied the state’s criteria for reopening, and those areas remain under the “pause” that, until Friday, had prohibited all nonessential gatherings “of any size, for any reason.”

Still, anyone choosing to do so must adhere to social distancing as well as the cleaning and disinfection protocols required by the state’s health department.

Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said Friday that the state would allow outdoor crowds of up to 25 people and let campgrounds reopen.

“I’m proud we are able to take this step today and add a little more hope and optimism to the start of summer,” Mr. Murphy said.

Social distancing would still be required at outdoor get-togethers, which had been limited to 10 people, and at campgrounds. Face coverings are not required outside, but state officials recommend them.

“If you were looking forward to gathering with your neighbors for a Memorial Day cookout, you may do so,” Mr. Murphy said, “so long as social distancing and personal responsibility remain the order of the day.”

Outdoor dining at restaurants remains forbidden in New Jersey, though Connecticut began allowing it on Wednesday; indoor events are still limited to 10 people, Mr. Murphy said.

New Jersey also reported 146 new virus-related deaths, bringing the state’s total to 10,985.

A 24-year-old man drowned in the ocean off Rockaway Beach in Queens on Friday while trying to swim with no lifeguards on duty.

Three men were pulled from the water by emergency medical workers, the police said, and one was taken to St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, where he was pronounced dead.

The drowning came on the same day that Mayor Bill de Blasio said that New York City was considering opening its beaches for swimming in June, should the pandemic continue to ebb. (Under a typical summer schedule, lifeguards would not have been working the city’s beaches until Saturday.)

Mayor de Blasio offered condolences to the man’s family in a tweet Friday afternoon, and reiterated his calls for people to stay out of the water at city beaches while no lifeguards are on duty.

The drowning underscored concerns over leaving beaches unattended by lifeguards. Corey Johnson, the New York City Council speaker, said that not having any on duty would create dangerous situations.

“I’m not sure it’s realistic to believe that people will not attempt to swim,” Mr. Johnson said, “and we don’t want to be arresting people in the midst of this pandemic.”

City lifeguards have been called into pools for their annual recertification, said Henry Garrido, executive director of the lifeguards’ union, District Council 37. “They’re being trained to get ready to open the beach early in June,” Mr. Garrido said.

Mayor de Blasio declined to give a reopening date at his briefing Friday morning, but a spokeswoman for him said the lifeguard training was in anticipation of a possible June reopening.

On Friday evening, the mayor’s spokeswoman softened her original comments, saying that it was “too premature to assume, June but we’re preparing to open as soon as the indicators allow.”

The city traditionally opens its beaches for wading and swimming on Memorial Day weekend. But this year, the ocean had been declared off limits, with crowds on the sand also sharply restricted.

Mr. de Blasio has warned New Yorkers not to take mass transit to the beach and said that for now, beaches are intended only for those who live near them.

New York City’s neighbors are taking a different approach. Most beaches on Long Island and in New Jersey are open this weekend, including for swimming, though social distancing rules will be in effect everywhere.

Friday morning at 7:15, the doors opened at Aliya Institute, a synagogue in the Hasidic stronghold of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Exactly 10 men filed in — no more, by order of the governor, and no fewer, by order of a higher power. And the morning prayer known as Shachrit began.

The synagogue shut down voluntarily on March 10, days ahead of the statewide stay-at-home order, as the virus spread through the community, said Rabbi Moishe Faiglin, who leads the congregation.

On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo declared that religious gatherings of up to 10 people could resume if attendees wore masks and maintained social distance. (Late Friday, he updated that guidance, announcing that any gathering of 10 people was permissible, provided individuals used masks and social distancing.)

The number is significant for Jewish congregations, where a minyan, defined as 10 people over the age of 13, is required for a worship service.

Normally, Schachrit at Aliya draws a crowd of 20 to 30, Rabbi Faiglin said.

“It was kind of tricky to do the service,” the rabbi said. “To rely on 10 is very difficult because one person always doesn’t show up. Now if you have any more than 10 you have to turn them away. And you don’t want to turn anyone away from synagogue.”

For the congregation of about 35 families, lockdown has been a stressful time.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air that we’ve even been able to come out of our houses,” he said. “Some people have been praying in their kitchen with six to 10 kids around them at the same time. This is a huge relief.”

In Hasidic synagogues, women pray in a separate room from the men. Women will not be able to return to the synagogue until restrictions are lifted further.

Long Island and the suburban counties north of New York City could begin reopening next week if virus-related deaths kept falling and local officials set up strong contact-tracing programs, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Friday.

Anticipating the trends would hold, Mr. Cuomo said that construction companies could start staging building sites on Friday in both Long Island and the Mid-Hudson region, which includes Westchester and Rockland Counties. Construction cannot resume until the regions are cleared to reopen.

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As of Friday, all of the state’s 10 economic regions had started the reopening process except for New York City and the two suburban regions, which have yet to meet seven health-related criteria set by the state.

Both Mr. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have said that New York City was unlikely to begin reopening until June. The city has met four of the seven metrics.

It still needs to have at least 30 percent of its hospital beds and intensive-care beds available. As of Friday morning, it had 27 percent of hospital beds and 26 percent of I.C.U. beds available.

Mr. de Blasio has pegged the city’s path to reopening on three different but related metrics: the number of new hospital admissions for illness resembling Covid-19, the number of patients in critical care and the percentage of positive coronavirus tests.

Mr. de Blasio said Friday that the city would not reopen until it saw a 10-to-14-day period with under 200 daily hospitalizations, fewer than 375 patients in intensive care in public hospitals, and a positive-test rate under 15 percent.

The number of those intensive-care patients was still well above the threshold, at 451, Mr. de Blasio said, but the city was meeting the other two criteria.

Both city and state officials have said that their metrics were likely to go hand in hand, and that they would coordinate their decisions on reopening. But on Friday, Mr. Cuomo suggested that the state’s guidelines took precedence.

“It’s not up to the local officials,” Mr. Cuomo said of reopening. “It’s a statewide decision across the board.”

Mr. Cuomo also announced 109 new virus-related deaths in the state, marking a fifth straight day that fatalities were just above 100.

When Iesha Sekou began passing out surgical masks and disposable gloves in Harlem early in the pandemic, some people laughed and said she was taking things too far. For many, it was an unfamiliar role for Ms. Sekou, the founder of a nonprofit that usually works to prevent gang violence.

But as deaths from the virus mounted in predominantly black neighborhoods like the one where Ms. Sekou’s group operates, people started chasing her and her workers down the street to get supplies, she said.

Even young skeptics who “had their little theories” about the virus dropped their resistance after Ms. Sekou and her volunteers warned them that they might get infected and unwittingly pass the disease along to their grandmothers.

“That’s a soft spot that we were able to hit and get them to know that if you don’t want to do this for you, you don’t like the way it looks, do it for who you live with, whose couch you sleep on,” Ms. Sekou said.

People like Ms. Sekou are known as “credible messengers” or “violence interrupters” in their line of work, and city officials say they may be critical to overcoming resistance to social distancing rules in neighborhoods where there is distrust of the authorities.

Violence prevention groups, like Ms. Sekou’s Street Corner Resources, are part of a broader effort by City Hall to use civilians to encourage people to follow social distancing rules.

Mayor Bill de Blasio made that effort a priority after viral videos of heavy-handed arrests in black and Hispanic neighborhoods prompted public outrage and enforcement data showed stark racial disparities in arrests.

New York City will ramp up efforts to fight de facto outdoor parties outside the city’s restaurants and bars, after photos of crowds spread across the internet last weekend, Mayor de Blasio said on Friday.

“Take out, don’t hang out,” Mr. de Blasio said at his daily news briefing.

Bars and restaurants have been closed except for takeout and delivery, and under New York State’s stay-at-home orders, all nonessential gatherings are banned.

But with warm weather arriving and traffic on city streets diminished, residents have been grabbing food and drinks to go and then consuming them outside businesses.

Mr. de Blasio said that the Police Department would increase its presence in neighborhoods where people improperly congregated last weekend.

The city will also provide more open space for pedestrians and cyclists across the five boroughs, closing 13 more miles of streets to traffic on Saturday.

A Manhattan man lied on applications for more than $20 million dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds, saying they were needed to support hundreds of employees he did not have, federal prosecutors said.

The man, Muge Ma, 36, a citizen of China, was accused of bank fraud and wire fraud, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Thursday in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

According to the complaint, Mr. Ma claimed he operated two businesses that paid millions of dollars in wages. One was identified as a “patriotic American firm,” while the other asserted it would “help the country reduce the high unemployment rate caused by the pandemic,” the complaint said.

Mr. Ma applied for loans earmarked for small businesses through programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, meant to help companies meet their payroll during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, the complaint said. But Mr. Ma appeared to be the only employee of either company.

“Ma’s alleged attempts to secure funds earmarked for legitimate small businesses in dire financial straits are as audacious as they are callous,” Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.

Mr. Ma also falsely claimed his company New York International Capital was working with New York State to acquire Covid-19 test kits and personal protective equipment to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the complaint said.

Mr. Ma’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Earlier this month, two New England men were charged with fraud tied to the small business loan program as part of the Justice Department’s effort to prosecute coronavirus-related crimes.Some N.Y.C. beaches may open for swimming in June.

New York State is investigating 157 cases of a severe inflammatory syndrome that is linked to the virus and affects children, a 53 percent increase in the past nine days, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Thursday.

“The more we look, the more we find it,” Mr. Cuomo said at his daily news briefing. On May 12, the state was investigating 102 cases.

The condition, which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, often appears weeks after infection in children who did not experience first-phase virus symptoms.

Instead of targeting the lungs as the primary virus infection does, it causes inflammation throughout the body and can severely damage the heart.

Most the children found to have the illness in New York so far have tested positive for the virus or antibodies to it, Mr. Cuomo said.

New York City health officials said on Thursday that there were at least 89 cases of the syndrome in the city that met the C.D.C.’s criteria. As of Wednesday, officials were investigating 158 potential cases. Twenty-six did not meet the C.D.C. criteria, and 43 were still being investigated, officials said.

As The New York Times follows the spread of the coronavirus across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we need your help. We want to talk to doctors, nurses, lab technicians, respiratory therapists, emergency services workers, nursing home managers — anyone who can share what’s happening in the region’s hospitals and other health care centers.

A reporter or editor may contact you. Your information will not be published without your consent.

Reporting was contributed by Maria Cramer, Michael Gold, Corey Kilgannon, Andy Newman, Joel Petterson, Dana Rubinstein, Luis Ferré Sadurní and Katie Van Syckle.





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