In New York, mixed reactions as pandemic restrictions lift
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With some 70% of adults in their states receiving at least one COVID vaccine shot, the governors of New York and California have lifted restrictions on crowd sizes, mask wearing and social distancing. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it an opportunity to “return to life as we know it,” though some mask rules still apply, on public transit, for example. It’s a big change — how are New Yorkers taking it all in?
There was a time when Ninth Avenue in midtown Manhattan was empty and silent, except for sirens every few minutes all day and all night. On Wednesday, it could not be busier.
At a midtown gym, employees had started to scrape away the stickers on the floor where people used to wait in line, 6 feet apart.
“There’s no more need for these stickers here,” said Kevin Sung, who works at the front desk. “Like, businesswise, business has been booming. Everyone’s feeling safer to come back.”
A block away, there’s a high school where Sandra Portella works as a speech therapist.
“I definitely feel comfortable. I feel like many people I know, if not everybody, is vaccinated,” Portella said. “And honestly, the rent in a lot of places went down throughout the city, so yeah, I’m definitely doing really well.”
But it’s been a hallmark of the pandemic that different people have processed and experienced risk in different ways. And that hasn’t changed.
Nineteen-year-old Kressy Mills was waiting for the E train at a subway station to get to her job with the city. She’s not vaccinated and wears a mask. They’re still required on mass transit.
“I feel like it’s moving too fast, like seeing people outside with no mask. They really don’t care,” she said. “People walk in to my job, no mask, and they’re smiling. And I’m like, ‘Why are you smiling? You should be wearing your mask.'”
Businesses can and sometimes do still require masks. The inconsistency frustrates people like Christy Saxton, who works for the parks department.
“They’re confusing everybody. One place is saying you don’t. Then the other place you get to, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, no. You have to put your mask on or no service.’ It’s annoying,” Saxton said.
A lot of offices are still not open, but a park on 50th Street was packed with people on lunch break. William Develez was there. He’s a chef, and his industry is seeing a serious labor shortage.
“There’s a lot of places offering really ridiculous amounts of money just to get people to come back to work,” he said. “There’s a place on 42nd Street offering people $18 [an hour] just to flip burgers.”
Gabriel Marquez is a waiter at a Peruvian restaurant a few blocks away. The business has opened a second restaurant closer to Times Square.
“This is my life, this is my business, and now I feel like everything I’ve been through is worth it. We survived, and now we’re ready for the future,” Marquez said.
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