NEW YORK • New York City residents, gradually emerging from more than 100 days of coronavirus lockdown at the epicentre of the pandemic, celebrated an easing of social distancing restrictions by shopping at reopened stores, dining at outdoor cafes and getting their first haircuts in months.
But even as New Yorkers returned to some semblance of normality on Monday, alarming spikes in coronavirus infection rates elsewhere around the United States worried public health experts.
New York City, the nation’s most populous metropolitan area, was the last region to move into phase two of New York state’s economic reopening plan.
Restaurants and bars began offering outdoor service and many retailers started to allow patrons back into their stores. Barber shops and hair salons welcomed customers for the first time since mid-March.
Playgrounds also reopened on Monday in New York City, which still accounts for more than a quarter of all US lives lost to Covid-19, more than 120,000 to date, as the number of known infections nationwide rose above 2.3 million.
At the height of the outbreak, the city’s usually bustling streets were largely deserted, echoing around the clock with the wailing of ambulance sirens. New York state as a whole was losing 1,000 lives a day and hospitals were overwhelmed.
On Monday, the state reported 10 additional deaths from Covid-19.
The usual traffic jams clogged city streets, and the sound of honking cars brought a welcome sense of a return to the ordinary.
Customers wearing face coverings lined up outside Clementine Bakery in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant on Monday, and a few enjoyed the summer morning sipping coffee at scattered tables on the sidewalk.
“It feels like my life is starting to get back to normal a little bit. It feels really nice, the fact that I can sit and have a coffee,” said teacher Arden Katine, 34, who lives nearby.
However, recent outbreaks in distant parts of the country worried New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said he was talking with neighbouring states about placing restrictions on travellers from places such as Arizona and Florida.
Earlier this year, Florida ordered arriving New Yorkers to self-quarantine for two weeks.
“It’s more effective if we act as a regional collaboration, and I’m talking to them about putting in guidelines so we don’t have people coming from these other states,” Mr Cuomo told MSNBC.
Florida was one of the last states to impose stay-at-home restrictions and one of the first to begin lifting them. It reported nearly 3,000 new infections over the previous 24 hours. Arizona, meanwhile, had almost 2,200 additional cases since Sunday. The two are prime examples of a troubling trend, mostly in the South and West, where the percentage of positive test results among all people who are screened – a metric called the positivity rate – has climbed.
That is a consequence of people venturing back into public spaces without wearing masks and not practising safe social distancing, said Dr Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security in Baltimore.
“Wherever people mix, wherever people have person-to-person contact, there will be spread of the virus,” Dr Toner told Reuters.
“The question is not whether it will spread – that’s a certainty. The question is how big that increase will be, and that’s largely a function of what government and individuals do.”