If successful, New York could offer a plan for other states on how to safely reintroduce large-scale events and reopen major entertainment venues even before the country is fully vaccinated and reaches the so-called collective immunity. It’s a bridge, say New York City leaders, to a post-Covid world. “The show will continue,” Cuomo said last month. “The fans will be back. And New York will be New York again. “
But everything is a big if. The plan will work if vaccines are being rolled out as quickly as planned. Yes new variants of the coronavirus can be selected. Yes the rules set out in the New York plan are really being followed to the letter. Yes the cost of administering the tests is not too great a burden. And even then, there’s a big assumption behind it all: that the results in Buffalo and the next upcoming event aren’t just an anomaly.
Since the start of the pandemic, Public health experts have warned of overreliance on testing. Different tests have varying sensitivity and precision. And the faster the results, the less accurate the test.
The Trump administration has learned this the hard way. For months, the White House has mainly relied on rapid testing to screen Covid staff and visitors, and does not need face masks, distancing or other precautions. Despite the testing, the White House eventually staged a mass-market event with the president that led to dozens of infections.
“Testing is a really powerful tool, but let’s not fall for the White House of seeing it as a panacea,” said Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “Because it isn’t.”
State officials compared their efforts to security measures adopted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with reopenings under the new test model being conducted in stages and in accordance with federal guidelines. In the first phase, large arenas and stadiums can reopen with limited capacity. Like Buffalo fans, anyone attending events at such facilities should get a negative PCR test – the most accurate but slowest test – within 72 hours of the event’s start time. In addition to negative tests, participants must also wear masks, submit to temperature screens and engage in social distancing.
Then: New York City food halls and other event venues can resume weddings at 50% capacity – up to 150 guests – with the approval of local health officials, starting March 15. All guests must show proof of a negative rapid Covid-19 test. And outdoor sports stadiums – like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field – are likely to be among the first large-scale theaters to see a return from fans once the next baseball season begins. From there, the state will consider when to allow the lights to come back on in Broadway theaters and other darkened performance spaces, most of which face challenges posed by their size constraints and airflow. .
Already, New York has launched a public-private partnership to host hundreds of pop-up shows and arts events in outdoor and “flexible” venues across New York City that Cuomo described as a way to “migrate to reopening venues. for the arts ”. The premier NY PopsUP event, featuring jazz musician Jon Batiste, dancer Ayodele Casel and opera star Anthony Roth Costanzo, was held for healthcare workers and New Yorkers getting vaccinated at Javits Manhattan Center.
“Opening up sites with testing is something New York wants to lead the way,” Cuomo said earlier this month. “You have venues like the Shed, the Apollo, the Harlem Stage, the Alice Busch Opera Theater that we can start to reopen with testing.”
Politically, Cuomo could use a win; While praised at the start of the pandemic for his leadership, he has been severely pummeled in recent weeks by accusations he has helped hide the death rate from Covid in nursing homes across the state. So he’s eager to reopen, and testing is at the heart of his plans. In recent weeks, Cuomo has pushed even harder in that direction, offering to allow New York commercial real estate companies to join a partnership in which they commit to making Covid-19 diagnostic tests available to tenants in their homes. buildings. And he raised the possibility that New York could develop a mobile app to help sites reopen completely through “confidential transfer and verification” of test and vaccine data for participants.
Decisions on the corporate side could complicate efforts to reopen events such as live theater, including labor agreements with theater staff and the costs of reopening at reduced capacity – for example, if testing fees would be integrated into the price of the tickets and how this would be organized and confirmed. Another unknown: are the public ready to come back and, if so, how much are they willing to fork out for such experiences? The Broadway League, the trade association for the Broadway theater industry, has suspended Broadway performances in New York City until the end of May – more than a year after Cuomo ordered theaters to close. . The group declined to comment on the governor’s reopening strategy.
The state is still trying to sort through the challenges posed by small venues before making a final decision on when and whether its test-based model will work for theaters. “Whether you’re at a wedding or sitting at a seat in the theater, what’s the difference? That’s what we’re working on now, ”Cuomo said this month.
Go too fast to ease the restrictions, especially on higher risk activities like indoor weddings, which often include sit-down meals and may have older or more at-risk participants, might backfire – testing or not testing. Any failure is likely to generate negative attention and negative reactions. And the emergence of new, more virulent forms of Covid-19 could increase the risk of such an event.
“I see testing as a way to dramatically reduce risk, but the question is how bad is the risk in the first place? And in high-risk situations, testing alone is not enough. But in medium to low risk situations, testing helps a lot, ”Jha said.
While New York has pinned its first Covid-19 reopening strategy on more precise PCR tests, they can be more expensive – Bills fans paid $ 63 each – and take several days to process. This delay could mean that people who test negative two or three days away from an event, such as an NBA game, may be contagious with Covid-19 by the time they take their seat. Rapid antigenic tests, like those used by the White House, can give results in minutes and are often less expensive, but can be less sensitive. “There will always be a compromise,” said Jon Cohen, executive chairman of BioReference, a lab that has partnered with the state to perform PCR testing on Bills fans.