New York, a city hit hard by COVID-19, readies for crowds, concerts as restrictions are set to lift. Why change can be 'hard.'

·7-min read
Times Square. On May 19, all pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, social distancing guidelines and venue capacities, were lifted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)
Times Square. On May 19, all pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates, social distancing guidelines and venue capacities, were lifted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

For months in 2020, the state of New York struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic. New York City in particular was an early epicenter of the pandemic, with 203,000 laboratory-confirmed cases reported during the first three months, according to the CDC. The fatality rate among confirmed cases was a shocking 9.2 percent, skyrocketing up to 32.1 percent in people who were hospitalized.

The state has enforced COVID-19 restrictions as a result for more than a year. And now they're about to be lifted. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that most remaining restrictions in the state will be lifted once 70 percent of adult New Yorkers have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Capacity restrictions, social distancing requirements, cleaning and disinfection, health screening and contact information for tracing will become optional for retail, food services, offices, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barbershops and personal care services, among other commercial settings. However, large-scale event venues, pre-K-through-12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes and health care settings must continue to follow the state's guidelines until more New Yorkers are vaccinated.

"The lifting of our COVID restrictions is a sign of how hard New Yorkers have worked to contain the spread of the virus and protect their communities," Cuomo said during a press conference. "With numbers trending at record lows, it is clear that the vaccine is effective, and that it is an invaluable tool against the virus. While we have come so far, it is still imperative that those who have not received the vaccine do so, so that they may enjoy the state's reimagined reopening to the fullest extent possible."

Cuomo stated on Twitter Wednesday that 69.1 percent of New Yorkers had completed at least one dose of the vaccine, making it clear that reopening will happen soon.

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The governor also tweeted a new ad campaign for the state, boasting "New York is back. New York is unbeatable. We want you to be a part of it." 

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Plenty of high-profile events were announced or planned around Cuomo's announcement, including a massive concert in New York City's Central Park in August. The show, which is being referred to as a "mega-concert," will feature eight stars, performing for three hours for 60,000 people in the audience, according to the New York Times

The Foo Fighters will also reopen Madison Square Garden to 100 percent capacity with a concert on June 20. Madison Square Garden has a seating capacity of 19,738, according to Inside Arenas, making this the first time the city has had a major indoor event in more than a year. The Foo Fighters concert will require people to show proof that they are fully vaccinated, which has been given the stamp of approval by many people on social media:

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Still, for a state that was hit so brutally, and so early on in the pandemic, it's normal that many residents will have reservations about all this freedom after a very difficult 15 months — and New Yorkers aren't alone as other states lift, or have already lifted, their restrictions.

If you're feeling wary about resuming some sense of normalcy, know this: If you're fully vaccinated, you should be just fine, public health experts say.

Reopening "is the right thing to do," infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. "The percent positivity of COVID-19 tests is very low," he says. "The vaccine has accomplished its goal — it's removed the ability of the virus to put hospitals in crisis."

Adalja says that "for the vast majority of people who are fully vaccinated, it's completely safe and fine" to resume normal life. However, if you're immunosuppressed, he suggests talking to your doctor.

Of course, there's a difference between something being safe and feeling OK about it. If you're nervous about resuming pre-pandemic life, you're not alone. It's "absolutely" normal to feel wary, Thea Gallagher, clinic director at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania's Perlman School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. "Change is hard," she says. "We're now wired to be afraid, and there is an awkwardness about doing something we haven't done in a long time. Once we adapt to a new normal, it can be hard to un-adapt."

The change back to normal life will take some adjustment for everyone, psychologist Alicia Clark, author of Hack Your Anxiety, tells Yahoo Life. "We all will have to adjust, and it's OK to have questions about what is and isn't safe."

Clark suggests reading information from trusted sources, like the CDC, to help make informed decisions about resuming normal life. But "if you find that you're doomscrolling, stop," Gallagher says. Clark also offers up this tidbit: "I've seen people who are nervous to go out or anticipate being nervous, and once they actually do it, they're fine. The anticipatory anxiety seems to be more than the anxiety in the moment itself."

To get back in the mix with minimal stress, Gallagher recommends going slow. "Start by seeing people in smaller social gatherings, and then build up to restaurants and other public places," she says. Consistency is important too, to remind yourself that this is OK. "It's like riding a bike," she says. "You've done all these things before with low anxiety and will probably be OK with doing them again."

Gallagher also recommends reminding yourself that having anxiety about certain situations doesn't necessarily mean they're dangerous. "It's hard because we've told ourselves that everyday places like the grocery store are dangerous," she says. "Feeling OK going there again without a mask will take time."

Clark suggests "honoring your anxiety and comfort level" and "thinking without shame about what you feel comfortable doing" while "baby-stepping" your way into a new rhythm. Still, "some people will probably never go to the theater or attend large indoor gatherings again — or, at least, any time soon," she says.

Ultimately, Gallagher recommends being compassionate with yourself about your comfort level while working to get back to normal life. "Don’t be too hard on yourself, but also challenge yourself and gently push yourself to do things again," she says.

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