Health experts say the next two months are crucial in returning to some form of normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic as officials announce several restrictions are being lifted this month. This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that most capacity restrictions will be lifted beginning May 19. The decision is based on the progress of the number of COVID-19 vaccinations. As of April 5, 36% of New York State residents are fully vaccinated.

Restrictions set to be lifted include capacity limits being replaced with space available to maintain social distancing, the outdoor social gathering limit increasing to 500 and indoor gatherings to 250, and subway resuming 24-hour service on May 17.

Masks will still be required indoors and on public transit.

“The key is smart reopening,” Cuomo stated. “Reopening is not a light switch. We said this from the beginning, it’s not fully closed. Close the light switch, fully open the light switch. It’s a smart reopening. It’s a measured reopening. It’s a phased reopening, but we are at a point now where we are going to take a major step forward in reopening.”

Getting more people vaccinated remains an issue. Everyone who was eager to get a vaccine has been or is able to receive one. Vaccination rates in the state went down at the end of April. Cuomo said the recent pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine continues to garner hesitancy.

“Some people hypothesize, well after the J&J pause, maybe that made people rethink,” Cuomo said. “Nobody has any data on that. I think the J&J pause should have shown people the exact opposite. If they pause the vaccine because one person out of a million had a reaction that means they’re studying these vaccines very carefully and you should take comfort in that fact, but we’re seeing the number drop.”

Everyone 16 and older is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Focus is now turning toward getting people even younger vaccinated.

This week, Pfizer announced that the Food and Drug Administration could authorize its vaccine for people ages 12-15 as soon as next week. Studies by Pfizer are currently being conducted to give the vaccine to young children and seek FDA authorization by the fall.

In the city, COVID-19 cases continue to drop. On Tuesday, the daily number of people admitted to local hospitals for suspected COVID-19 was 95. The seven-day rolling average is 2.7%.

The city’s Health Department reports that eight neighborhoods are seeing COVID-19 rates beyond 5%. The neighborhoods include Flushing, Murray Hill and Queensboro Hill in Queens. In Brooklyn, Cypress Hill, East New York, Sunset Park and Gravesend are also seeing over 5% infection rates.

One factor for increase is access to the vaccine. Reports indicate that many people in certain neighborhoods can’t take time off from work to go get the vaccine. Another factor is transit deserts. Many vaccination appointments are made in the neighborhoods where people don’t live and getting to them via public transit can be difficult.

As the city continues to reopen, 80,000 municipal workers are back at the office from remote working. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the workers would be going back last month, however, many of the workers are pushing back raising several safety concerns.

Workers protested May 1 outside City Hall at a demonstration organized by City Workers for Justice. Workers are demanding a more healthy and safe return to the office. They also want a permanent telework policy.

“To send public servants back into the fray without a viable plan is disrespectful to their sacrifice and work, and especially disrespectful to the public servants who have already been working in person and are made safer by the telework policy,” said City Workers for Justice in a statement.

Demonstrators highlighted safety concerns including commuting on crowded subways, compromising the health of people in their households who are not eligible to be vaccinated, and a lack of childcare for students in blended learning.

“It’s not safe, it’s not equitable, it’s not healthy,” said Jeremiah Cedeño of City Workers for Justice in one report. “These buildings are old, these buildings don’t have good ventilation systems. So, you’re sending people back into these very bad, bad working environments.”