Public Health

When Will NYC Reopen? Red, Yellow & Orange Zones

Khang T. Vuong, MHA
Khang T. Vuong, MHA20 Dec 2020

When Will NYC Reopen? Red, Yellow & Orange Zones


NYC Situation Awareness Updates- December 3, 2020

New York City is facing a rise in coronavirus cases as of December 3rd, 2020. NYC reopening guidelines are as follows:

Public Gatherings: Indoor and outdoor gatherings statewide at private residences will be limited to no more than 10 people beginning Friday, November 13, at 10 p.m. Existing non-essential gathering limits are in effect otherwise.

Bars, Restaurants, Gyms: Bars, restaurants, gyms, and fitness centers, as well as any State Liquor Authority-licensed establishment, must close in-person service from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily effective November 13 at 10 p.m.

Masks & Face Coverings: Individuals must wear face coverings when they are in a public and are: within six feet of distance from other individuals; or in a situation or setting where they are unable to maintain six feet of distance from other individuals; or in a public or private transportation carrier or for-hire vehicle.

Executive Order 202.16 directs employers to provide essential workers with masks free of charge to wear when interacting with the public.

Business operations: Executive Order 202.34 authorizes businesses to deny entry to individuals who do not wear masks or face-coverings. 

Movie theaters outside of New York City reopened on October 23, 2020, at 25% capacity with no more than 50 people allowed in front of each screen. Theaters can only open outside of New York City in counties that have COVID-19 positivity rates of less than 2 percent on a 14-day average and do not have any cluster zones.

School Graduations: Outdoor, socially distanced graduations of up to 150 people were allowed beginning June 26, 2020, subject to any outbreaks or significant changes in the metrics. Schools will also be permitted to hold drive-in and drive-through graduation ceremonies this year.

Higher Education: The State will issue guidance to colleges and universities to allow some in-person instruction and on-campus housing and for the fall semester. Campuses must develop a plan, which attests to meeting the guidance and file plans with the State.

Youth Sports: Low-risk youth sports for regions in phase three of reopening began on July 6, 2020, with up to two spectators allowed per child.

Veterinarians: Practices were permitted to open in all regions of the state on May 26, 2020.

Hospital Visitation: Hospitals and group homes were allowed to accept visitors at their discretion starting June 16, 2020. Any facility that chooses to allow visitors must follow state guidelines, including time-limited visits and requiring visitors to wear PPE and be subject to symptom and temperature checks. The prohibition on nursing home visitors remains in place as the state Department of Health continues to review.

These industries were already allowed to open in previous phases 1, 2, and 3 as well as yellow zones. They will remain open unless Governor Cuomo advises a yellow, orange, or red zone:

  • Commercial Building Management
  • Hair Salons & Barbershops
  • Outdoor and Take-Out/Delivery Food Services
  • Offices
  • Real Estate Services
  • In-Store Retail
  • Vehicle Sales
  • Retail Rental, Repair & Cleaning

Due to large numbers of people gathering outside restaurants and bars over the past weeks, Governor Cuomo amended Executive Order 202.43 (EO) to requires businesses selling or serving alcohol to inform their patrons comply with social distancing and face-covering guidelines, and open-container rules. Additionally, customers who buy alcohol must also buy food in an effort to decrease large gatherings.

Have more questions? Get them answered:


What Are Red, Yellow, And Orange Zones?

Each zone provides guidelines on gatherings, business closures, and schools. The state distinguishes geographical areas between four tiers depending on population. 

Yellow Zone

The least restrictive of the three zones, a yellow zone designated areas are to have a 25 people maximum of non-residential gatherings, indoor and outdoor. Residential gatherings are limited to 10 people, indoor and outdoor.

Houses of worship must run at 50% maximum capacity. Non-essential businesses can remain open. Indoor dining and outdoor dining is permitted with a four-person maximum per table. Bars and restaurants close at 10 p.m. for on-premises consumption.

Schools can remain open but must fulfill 20% weekly testing of in-person students and faculty.

Parts of Staten Island and other areas of NYC are considered Yellow Zones as of December 3, 2020.

Orange Zone

Orange zone areas limit non-residential and residential gatherings to 10 people maximum, indoors and outdoors.

Houses of worship can operate at 33% of maximum capacity or 25 people. Non-essential businesses like gyms, fitness centers and classes, barbershops, hair salons, and personal care services are closed.

Outdoor dining and takeout or delivery is only permitted. Tables have a four-person maximum and bars and restaurants close at 10 p.m. for on-premises consumption.

Schools are closed and operate on a remote-only basis.

Parts of Staten Island are currently in the Orange Zones.

Red Zone                          

Red zone designation is the most restrictive of the three. Non-residential and residential gatherings are prohibited, and houses of worship must run at 25% of maximum capacity or 10 people.

All non-essential businesses are closed, and dining is restricted to takeout and delivery only. Schools are closed and operate on a remote-only basis.


What happens to individuals, employers, restaurants, bars, gyms, and schools during each phase?


  • In phase 1, individuals will be permitted to go out in public while staying the maximum distance from others. It‚s highly suggested to not socialize in groups greater than 10. Non-essential travel should be limited.
  • In phase 2, individuals should still remain the maximum distance from others while in public and should avoid social settings greater than 50. Additionally, non-essential travel may resume.
  • In phase 3, individuals should consider minimizing social gatherings.
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  • In phase 1, telework should be encouraged and common areas should be closed. Non-essential travel should be limited. Special accommodations should be strongly considered for the vulnerable population.
  • In phase 2, telework is still encouraged as well as accommodations for the vulnerable population. Common areas should remain close.
  • In phase 3, unrestricted staffing may remain on worksites.

Vulnerable individuals

  • In phase 1, vulnerable individuals should continue following the shelter-in-place order.
  • In phase 2, they should continue to shelter in place and their family members must remain cautious in regard to their safety and health.
  • In phase 3, vulnerable populations can resume public interactions but should practice physical distancing, minimizing exposure to social settings.


Sitting down venues were allowed to start to operate with strict physical distancing guidelines in phase 2. While NYC has already entered phase 4, Governor Cuomo decided to prohibit indoor dining. Many outbreaks in other cities have been linked to crowded indoor dining and bars. Governor Cuomo recently announced that he believes it will be safe to reopen indoor dining by the end of September.


Gyms such as Equinox, NYSC, Blink, Crunch Fitness were given the green light to reopen beginning at the end of August. Gyms must adhere to strict policies upon reopening to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Many people are still not ready to go back to the gym yet. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to exercise at home! See our article on Home Exercise: How to Stay Fit During Quarantine.


Although schools were planned to reopen in phase 2, recent outbreaks in fully operating school districts may change protocols for the reopening of schools. It is expected that Governor Cuomo will allow schools to plan to reopen this fall. However, many schools will need to implement a mix of in-person and remote learning in order to be successful and mitigate the spread of the virus.


Bars were allowed to operate outdoors only in phase 2. Indoor bars are still mandated to stay closed, as they have been linked to large outbreaks in other cities and states.


When will the United States fully reopen?

As reopening the economy is an inflection point that could have many consequences to both the economy and the health and well-being of many, important measures cannot be taken lightly. Once the coronavirus vaccine is available on the market, reopening of the United States will be able to occur more quickly. 

Consecutive decline of COVID-like illnesses: there must be a downward trajectory of flu-like AND COVID-like illnesses within a consecutive 14 days period, these are cases that have similar symptoms to COVID-19 but are not tested and confirmed by a lab test.  This means that the cases have to go down consistently before we could decide that the risk for a second peak is unlikely.

Consecutive decline of confirmed COVID-19 cases: there must be a downward trajectory of documented Coronavirus COVID-19 cases OR a downward trend of people tested positive for COVID-19 in a period of 14 days.

Hospital capacity and readiness: hospitals must be able to treat all patients without having to utilize crisis mode AND must have a robust testing program in place to test health workers for COVID-19, including the use of antibody (blood) test.

White House and CDC's gating criteria for reopening


How about testing and social distancing?

Because the coronavirus spreads locally and in communities, reopening plans will also have to be hyper-localized. For example, in New York City, reopening could happen first in Lower Manhattan where the Coronavirus has less of an impact compared to Queens and Brooklyn.

To ensure there will not be another crisis, before reopening, each state and city must have three things in place:

  1. Be able to test and trace contacts for COVID-19 cases: there must be accessible test sites for symptomatic individuals and have the capability to conduct contact tracing for those with positive results. See our article for where you can get coronavirus tested in NYC!
  2. Have enough PPE and hospital beds: state and local governments must be able to supply enough PPE for care facilities and hospitals and have enough ICU beds to handle dramatic surges.
  3. Have a plan in place to protect essential workers: cities must have a mitigation plan to protect health and public workers. Citizens are informed to practice physical distancing and face covering.

Core preparedness of responsibilities for each state


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What are the phases of reopening?

There are three phases of reopening specific to each state and city depending on the level of readiness:

Phase 1: states and cities that meet three criteria for the first time could proceed to the initial reopening. All high-risk individuals should still be shelter-in-place, visits to senior care are not recommended, telework and strict social distancing are still enforced. The crowd size is limited to 10 people.

Phase 2: if there is no evidence of a rebound, cities could proceed to phase 2 and relax stay at home orders. In this phase, most businesses could start to operate again with strict physical distancing protocols. The crowd size is limited to 50 people.

Phase 3: if there is no evidence of a rebound for the third time, vulnerable individuals could resume public interactions, and businesses could restore to a normal level of staffing.


How long will each reopening phase last?

New York City is currently in phase 4 of reopening. The lengths of each phase depend on the state and local government. According to the White House's guidelines, each observation period is 14 days. This means each phase could last up to a month or more.

From phase 1 to phase 3, we have seen a gradual transition from strict social and physical distancing to widespread mask-wearing in a period of 3-6 months contingent on whether there will be a second peak.

Reopening phases


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When will NYC reopen?

Current cases in NYC

In NYC, there have been a total of 323,000 cases and 24,297 deaths. The Bronx and Staten Island have the highest number of cases adjusted to their population size. The most hospitalizations and deaths have been in the age group of individuals 75 and older. It is likely that the actual statistics are higher than these numbers, as there are many unreported cases and individuals who are not getting tested.

The current state of hospital utilization

According to data collected by, as of June 19th, The United States had its peak resource use on April 14th, 2020. New York had its peak resource use on April 15th. Hospital utilization is increasing as of December 2020.

The current state of testing readiness

The state of New York has 28 testing facilities that are testing thousands of people each day. Additionally, all New York residents are currently being advised to get tested if possible, whether or not they have symptoms. You can call the COVID-19 hotline at 888-364-3065 or see our article on Where and How to Get Tested for Coronavirus COVID-19 in NYC for more information.

There is also a newly developed antibody test that checks for immunity to the virus. This test is currently given to individuals who had symptoms of tested positive for COVID-19. It is important that these tests are given at least 3 weeks after symptoms begin since it can take a few weeks for the body to produce IgG antibodies.


What should I do in the meantime?

Life could be disruptive during quarantine, not being able to see your family and friends is hard. It is necessary to practice social distance, observe shelter-in-place order, and try to maintain your emotional health.



Khang T. Vuong, MHA

Khang T. Vuong received his Master of Healthcare Administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. He was named Forbes Healthcare 2021 30 under 30. Vuong spoke at Stanford Medicine X, HIMSS conference, and served as a Fellow at the Bon Secours Health System.