NEW YORK: After nearly three months of lockdown, New York City entered the first phase of reopening on Monday, 100 days since the city reported its first COVID-19 case.
"This is a powerful day," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday morning at a press briefing in Brooklyn. "It is the day that we start to liberate ourselves from this disease."
The mayor thanked New Yorkers for their cooperation in the battle against the coronavirus, urging people to remember the lessons while going forward.
"We got this far by the hard work and discipline. We gotta stick to it so we can get to the next phase," he said.
According to the phased reopening strategy designed by the New York state government, businesses permitted to reopen in phase one include construction, manufacturing, wholesale and curbside and in-store pick-ups for nonessential retail.
The mayor said last week that more than 30,000 construction sites will reopen during the first phase, and up to 400,000 non-essential workers in various sectors including construction, manufacturing, wholesale and curbside retail would go back to work.
As most people commute on public transit, the city will add 20 new miles of bus lanes to help some 750,000 New Yorkers to get around more easily with more frequent service and less crowding, de Blasio said on Monday.
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has taken a series of measures to ensure safety, including installing no-touch payment scanners and distributing masks and hand sanitizers.
Meanwhile, disinfection of train cars will continue every night between 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., and the MTA is using ultraviolet light lamps to kill the virus on subway trains, buses and stations.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo rode the 7 Train to Grand Central Station Monday morning. At a briefing later on the day, Cuomo, who grew up in New York City, said the subway cars "are cleaner than they have ever been in my lifetime."
He urged people to keep following necessary guidelines including social distancing and wearing face coverings, or there would be a resurge.
"New Yorkers bent the curve by being smart," he said. "Stay smart."
Cuomo said 35,000 coronavirus diagnostic tests will be done per day in New York City in phase one at over 240 sites across all five boroughs.
Meanwhile, more resources of testing, treatment and education will be distributed to the hardest-hit neighborhood with a majority of lower-income and minority populations.
The city will also prioritize 15 sites for those who have participated in recent protests over George Floyd's death, and the governor once again encouraged protesters to get tested for free.
New York City has been the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States partly due to a high level of population density in offices, residential areas and the public transit system. It faced critical shortages of medical supplies and personal protective equipment, as well as inadequate testing capacity during the peak of infections in March.
It is also the last of New York state's 10 regions to finally enter phase one of reopening after achieving all seven benchmarks including shares of total hospital beds available and ICU beds available.
So far, the city has reported over 207,000 COVID-19 cases, accounting for more than 10 percent of the country's total.
The positive rate of daily COVID-19 testing dropped from 59 percent nine weeks ago to 2 percent on Sunday, as a result of both expanded testing capacity and a slowing rate of infection, said Cuomo.
According to the state's strategy, a region must stay in each phase for at least two weeks, during which the city and the state will closely monitor the trend of the COVID-19 curve.
De Blasio said earlier this month that New York City could be ready for phase two by July.