New Yorkers flock to public spaces despite pandemic


New Yorkers have descended on public spaces in droves for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, as spring set in and the mercury reached 25C on the weekend.

The Empire State was shut down by executive order 64 days ago, with 100 per cent of non-essential workers forced to work from home, and services including schools, beauty salons and retail stores closed.

The streets have long emptied with residents holed up inside their apartments to wait out the storm.

On the weekend, it appeared to have passed, but only on the surface. Two hundred and eighty people died in New York on Saturday lifting the state's confirmed cases to more than 312,00 and the total death toll to 24,198.

Meanwhile, New York City's Central Park, Domino Park and Chelsea Piers were buzzing with hordes of people soaking up the sunshine.

Many enjoyed picnics in groups while some sunbaked, read books, drank wine or played sports. Most people appeared to comply with social distancing measures but others appeared to disregard them altogether.



In Central Park, joggers moved past each other - sometimes coming to a complete halt in human traffic jams - as a steady stream of locals left tips for a trio working their way through a set of jazz standards.

"It's great to have an audience after all these weeks," saxophonist Julia Banholzer said on Saturday.

"All my dates have been cancelled through September, and I don't know if any will come back this year.

"New York is a tough place, but this is just another tough period we need to get through.

Chelsea Pier on the Hudson River was one of Manhattan's most densley crowded areas on the weekend.

"This is my first day out in f***ing weeks," local Faye Andrews, 28, told on Saturday.

"If I didn't get out today, I would have cracked."

People practice social distancing while enjoying the nice weather at Central Park's Sheep Meadow, Saturday, May 2, 2020, in New York. Picture: AP /Ronald Blum.
People practice social distancing while enjoying the nice weather at Central Park's Sheep Meadow, Saturday, May 2, 2020, in New York. Picture: AP /Ronald Blum.


The state is currently under stay-at-home orders but individuals are allowed to outside for exercise and essential services, as long as they practice social distancing and wear face masks.

But many critics turned to social media to slam "idiots" who dared venture out over the weekend, calling it irresponsible and alleging those who stepped out were "the reason America has this problem".



In Central Park, New York police officers dispatched to patrol busy areas lapped the grounds, using loud speakers to warn visitors to "keep six feet" apart and adhere to other health and safety regulations.

According to New York's state government: "Any concentration of individuals outside their home must be limited to workers providing essential services and social distancing should be practiced," while individuals should remain at least six feet apart.

It's also required time outside the home should be limited, and any outdoor activities should be "non-contact".

In his daily press briefing on Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo - who has received widespread praise for his handling of the crisis - warned that members of the vulnerable community should stay home until further notice but conceded that "you can't stay indoors forever".

"The weather is nice and getting outside, getting some exercise and fresh air is good," he said.

"Staying socialling distanced and wearing masks … should keep you safe.

"That assumes people around you are wearing masks (and) acting responsibility.

"It's not a situation where you can control yourself. What happens to you is dependent on what (others) do."


Pressed as to why he hadn't issued a stricter order which banned people from gathering in parks and other public spaces, Mr Cuomo said it was important to have realistic expectations.

"We're in New York State and we're operating in a state of reality," he said.

"Will you ever get 19 million people in a state to stay inside because you give them a summons? No."



Mr Cuomo said he "could have" issued an order of that description but that many residents would "have just not complied".

"Then what can I do? Give them all a summons? No.

"This is a new level of personal behaviour we're asking people to undertake.

"I think they will get it, not because of law enforcement, I think they have to understand it and they will get it.

"The best enforcers of social behaviour are other New Yorkers.

"If you walk down the street without a mask … other New Yorkers will let you know. If they do that within the bounds of decorum, I think that's a good thing."

New York state's mandatory stay-at-home order expires 15 May but is expected to be extended.



The divide in the US between those who want lockdowns to end and those who want to move more cautiously extended to Congress. The Republican-majority Senate will reopen Monday in Washington, D.C., while the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is staying shuttered. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision to convene 100 senators gives President Donald Trump, a Republican, the imagery he wants of America getting back to work, despite health worries and a lack of testing.




US leaders face immense pressure to ease virus measures as the economy has been hammered with tens of millions left jobless.

The country has the most coronavirus deaths in the world and President Donald Trump is keen for a turnaround to help reduce the economic pain.

Florida is set to ease its lockdown on Monday, as authorities in other states wrestle with pressure from demonstrators - some armed - who have rallied against the lockdowns.

There are signs that the pandemic is slowing down in some parts of the United States.

On Sunday, New Jersey reopened state parks, though several had to turn people away after reaching a 50 per cent limit in their parking lots. Margie Roebuck and her husband were among the first on the sand at Island Beach State Park. "Forty-six days in the house was enough," she said.

In New York City, the epicentre of the US outbreak, an emergency field hospital erected in Central Park is set to close, the Christian charity running it said Saturday, as virus cases decline in the city.

But authorities are wary of letting their guard down too fast, with fears the virus could wreak havoc in the most vulnerable communities nationwide.



A massive wave of infections is sweeping through America's prison population - the world's largest at 2.3 million - with coronavirus deaths on the rise in jails and penitentiaries across the country.

Riots over inadequate protection and slow responses by authorities have already broken out in prisons in Washington state and Kansas.

"Things are beyond breaking point at this facility," said Brian Miller, an officer at Marion prison in Ohio.

"Right now it's hell."


- With wires | @Megan_Palin

Originally published as New Yorkers flock to public spaces