On May 3, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced a significant easing of COVID-19-related capacity restrictions on businesses in their respective states. Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut, who joined the other two governors in the announcement, had previously ordered a comparable lifting of capacity restrictions in his state.
Specifically, effective May 19, New Jersey and New York will remove most capacity limitations on businesses, which are currently based on a percentage of maximum capacity, and replace them with limitations based on the space available for individuals to comply with the social distancing mandate of six-feet; Connecticut’s easing of restrictions will also be in place by May 19. It is not yet clear how the new social-distancing requirement will be enforced, since, as of this writing, only Governor Murphy has issued an executive order regarding the removal of capacity limitations for businesses, and it does not contemplate enforcement. Additionally, no other formal guidance has been issued.
The New York and New Jersey announcement provides that “this new distance-based maximum capacity will apply across commercial settings,” including retail stores, food services, gyms and fitness centers, amusement parks, museums, and beauty salons. As Governor Cuomo stated in the press conference accompanying the announcement, the new standard applies to office-based businesses as well, although the text of the announcement does not explicitly reference offices.
Governor Cuomo cited increased vaccination rates and the general decline of COVID-19 cases in New York when announcing the easing of the capacity restrictions, which he characterized as a move “towards returning to normal.”
The current announcement comes on the heels of Governor Cuomo’s announcement last week that, effective May 15, office capacity in the state would increase from 50 percent to 75 percent. Governor Murphy also made a similar announcement last week that, effective May 10, indoor room capacity for certain events would increase to 50 percent, with a maximum of 250 individuals. These decisions now appear to be superseded by the most recent announcement.
Epstein Becker & Green is continuing to monitor these developments and will provide further updates as they become available.
Christopher Shur, a Law Clerk – Admission Pending (not admitted to the practice of law) in the firm’s New York office, contributed to the preparation of this post.