New York lifts coronavirus restrictions as companies look for staff

Businesses can operate at full capacity and masks are no longer required

Pat Whelan was about to put on his mask, like he has done every morning for more than a year, as he entered his favourite bagel shop in New York City. Then he realised he no longer needed to.

On Wednesday, the state of New York lifted most of its Covid-19 restrictions. Fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks and businesses can open fully.

“This is the first time I walked in the store without a mask in I can't tell you how long,” said Mr Whelan, the president of Sahadi Fine Foods. “It's weird.”

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted: “Today marks a milestone in our fight against Covid.”

Wednesday was a classic late spring day in New York City. The temperature hovered in the high twenties and the sun beat down on the concrete.

New Yorkers flocked into the streets, many keeping their masks on.

Audrey Pallmeyer sat on the steps of the city's Public Theatre chatting with colleagues. She and friend wore masks while another colleague was maskless.

Ms Pallmeyer, who works in the theatre's costume department, said she hoped the city’s lifting of restrictions would restart the struggling arts scene.

“I think its going to really bring the morale up for the people of New York City,” she told The National. “I’m happy to see life [coming] back into the city.”

Audrey Pallmeyer wearing a mask on the steps of the New York public theatre on May 19, 2021. Willy Lowry / The National 
Audrey Pallmeyer on the steps of the New York public theatre on May 19, 2021. Willy Lowry / The National

But some New Yorkers are not ready for restrictions to be lifted.

Russell Jackson is the owner and chef at the restaurant Reverence in Harlem. He said reopening to full capacity is not worth the risk.

“We're at 50 per cent until 2022. We're staying locked in this position," he said.

Mr Jackson said he was concerned that variants could cause the city to reimplement restrictions in the future.

“Let's not joke about it: India's imploding, Europe is imploding,” he said. “You know, the variant is going to come here. Irrespective of the fact that there are vaccinated people, you still get sick.”

Throughout the city on Wednesday, store windows were still plastered with “masks required" and limited-capacity signs.

A sign outside a New York City restaurant states maskless patrons will have to show proof of vaccination, starting May 19, 2021, the first day businesses didn't have to abide by mask mandates or capacity limits since the pandemic hit the city. Willy Lowry / The National 
A sign outside a New York City restaurant states maskless patrons will have to show proof of vaccination, starting on May 19, 2021. Willy Lowry / The National

Some restaurants have struggled to find staff to accommodate their increasing capacity.

“Everyone is having a hard time,” chef Alex Raij said.

Ms Raij attributed the staff shortage to people's perspectives shifting during the pandemic.

“I think this is hard work and people have really reconsidered doing a super-demanding job as we all re-evaluate what’s important,” she said.

But Mr Whelan blamed the state’s generous unemployment benefits on the shortage in the workforce.

“You know, you pay people to stay home, they don't work,” he said.

Mr Whelan said he had about 90 per cent of the staff he needed.

A "Help Wanted" sign posted outside of a Five Guys location in New York City on May 19, 2021. Willy Lowry / The National 
A help wanted sign posted outside a Five Guys location in New York City on May 19, 2021. Joshua Longmore / The National

Updated: May 20, 2021 02:58 AM

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