New York City is back

new york city central park
As seen here in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, the spirit of NYC is alive and well.

  • New York City is back.
  • America’s biggest city is recovering as New Yorkers return and its economy reopens.
  • It’s not the same as pre-pandemic NYC, but it’s the beginning of the city’s next chapter.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I knew New York City was back when I found myself dancing on top of a booth in an East Village bar last weekend.

The night began with dinner out and ended with another bargoer’s drink on my shoe, eating pizza on the street, and an invitation from a six-pack-wielding stranger for my friends and I to drink beer and play “Mario Kart” at his apartment.

That is all to say: It was a normal Saturday night in NYC, one event in a weekend that felt very much like the Before Times. I also worked in the Insider office for the first time that Friday and hit the gym on Sunday.

Pfizer made all these adventures possible, and it seems that the vaccines are having the same effect on New Yorkers across the city.

For the past month, I’ve noticed the magical – and exhausting – things that make New York New York coming to life again: a stalled 1 train, a crowded 6 train, getting turned down by a full cab, tourists getting in my way of shopping on Fifth Avenue, trying four newly opened restaurants, the throngs of sunbathers and picnickers in Central Park, and the familiar murmurs of gossip and chatter over wine glasses on a rooftop. It’s not just a feeling: New York City’s economy is genuinely healing.

It’s also a far cry from a year ago, when New York became the center of the coronavirus in the US and everything that once lit up New York – the distant squares of office windows, taxi-cab lights, and Times Square – dimmed.

Even today, traces of pandemic NYC remain. My Saturday bar closed at midnight, and it took about four attempts to grab a late-night bite to eat at a restaurant not closing by 11 p.m. on Friday night, an insult in the city that never sleeps.

But the return of New Yorkers, lockdown lifting, and a financial boost have revived the city’s energy. NYC as we once knew it is gone, but the big city is back.

New Yorkers can’t stay away

NYC’s obituary was written countless times in 2020, prompted by shuttering businesses and the wealthy fleeing to upstate for more space or to the palm trees down south.

But the city “was just taking a nap,” Bella, a 28-year-old transplant New Yorker, told me. She joked she knew it was back after recently being catcalled by a gang of bicyclers.

Read more: Florida isn’t replacing New York after all

The data agrees with Bella’s diagnosis. The supposed mass exodus out of the city wasn’t so massive, according to recent data from USPS. According to Bloomberg, more Manhattanites moved to Brooklyn than anywhere else between March 2020 and February – 20,000 of them, compared with 19,000 Manhattanites who moved to Florida, 10,000 of whom plan to stay permanently. They’ll probably be back.

NYC also remains home to 7,743 ultra-high-net-worth individuals – more than any other city in the world, according to a Knight Frank and Douglas Elliman report from March. Mansion Global said the number of outward migrants from the NYC metro area ticked upward from 2019 to 2020 – a loss of 6.6 per 1,000 residents grew to 10.9 – but those who left for the suburbs were already returning.

Washington Square PArk NYC
New Yorkers hanging out in Washington Square Park.

City real estate, once plummeting, is rebounding. New Yorkers are upgrading to wealthier neighborhoods and fancier apartments, while there’s evidence that overseas buyers are starting to drive sales again, as are young professionals looking to buy for the first time. The number of sales in Manhattan increased by 28.7% from the last three months of 2020 to the first three of 2021, according to a Douglas Elliman report.

Brooklyn’s real-estate market is recovering the fastest, and the borough has become so popular, it now costs nearly as much to live there as it does in Manhattan, The New York Times reported.

“Whoever wrote off New York was wrong,” Kenneth Horn, the founder of Alchemy Properties, told Mansion Global. “This, of course, has been horrible. We’ve lived through a lot different, right. But people want to live in New York. People love the vibrancy.”

Late-night bars and subways

NYC hasn’t even reached its peak return of residents, but it already feels alive. A recent Bank of America Research note, from a team led by Head of US Economics Michelle Meyer, said this month would spark a dominolike return to the city, ultimately proving the mass exodus narrative was more myth than reality.

By the end of May, restrictions lifted include: most industry capacity limits, the limit on residential outdoor gatherings, the mask mandate for vaccinated people, and the midnight outdoor- and indoor-dining-area curfew for bars and restaurants.

Read more: The urban exodus out of New York City and San Francisco is more myth than reality

As a city dweller, I no longer have to order food with my Moscow mule, and I can resume my love-hate relationship with the subway again 24/7. I can book a ticket for Broadway in September, listen to crowds roar during a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden, and start checking out library books.

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York wrote in a Tweet announcing some of these reopenings earlier this month, “NY is coming back!”

new york city subway
The subway is resuming its 24/7 service.

Now, while the state of New York officially reopened in May, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that he’s eyeing a full reopening for the city on July 1 and plans to eliminate remote learning come fall. But the Legislature unwinding many of the lifts has made it feel like city is already back in action.

Offices, too, have jumped on the reopening spree. Wall Street is preparing for its summer return in a matter of weeks, with both Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs asking their employees to come back to the office starting mid-June. Over in tech, Facebook is gearing up to bring its employees back to its New York City offices.

“I haven’t had hope for any return to actual normalcy until now, seeing people both indoor and outdoors without masks, and it’s really starting to hit me that this wasn’t actually going to be forever,” Kelsey Peter, a 27-year-old nonprofit worker who stayed in NYC when the pandemic hit, told Insider.

Cash is flowing

The boomerang migration, uptick in real estate, and economic reopening are all helping cash flow again in a city made of money.

Card spending was up by 38% in the NYC metro area compared with the previous year and 17% compared with two years ago for the week ending May 22, according to BofA Research.

Spending on brick-and-mortar retail in NYC by local households hovered around 70% by the end of 2020, as compared to a 74% pre-pandemic trend, indicating a minimal drop from outmigration, BofA also found, while in-person spending on restaurants has improved. As of mid-April, it was still down 30% compared with two years ago but a major improvement from the 70% drop at the end of January.

NYC’s finances are also in better shape than expected. While the state’s tax revenue collected over the past fiscal year was $513.3 million lower than the previous year, the state was fearing a $3 billion bigger drop, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli told Bloomberg, and a large chunk of that came from the city.

times square new york city
Crowds are back in Times Square.

And President Joe Biden’s stimulus package included $5.6 billion for NYC, which Insider’s Juliana Kaplan reported likely saved catastrophic cuts to the city budget. This sentiment was largely confirmed at a City Council hearing in March, when Department of Finance Commissioner Sherif Soliman said this federal aid had given the city a “shot in the arm” financially and his office was optimistic for a “full recovery.”

At the end of April, de Blasio announced a $98.6 billion budget, $10 billion higher than previously planned, to help jump-start the city’s recovery. “These investments are about bringing the city back, and they just can’t wait,” he said in a press briefing, according to the New York Daily News. “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.”

Read more: Millionaire New Yorkers are now set to pay the highest taxes in the country

However, long-term budget challenges still loom. Some experts have said there’s no guarantee NYC will be able to continue funding de Blasio’s budget, calling on him to do more.

But NYC is also set to get another injection of money beginning next year, now that Cuomo has finalized a budget that would have millionaire New Yorkers pay 13.5% to 14.8% in local and state taxes – the highest taxes in the country.

NYC’s next chapter

To say NYC 2021 resembles NYC 2019 would be inaccurate. Several aspects of the city still aren’t quite “normal.”

Tourism may not fully recover until 2025, plenty of the wealthy did permanently move or have yet to return, and central business districts like midtown aren’t their typical bustling selves. The amount of Manhattan office space available is the highest it’s been in 30 years, and rents also haven’t reached their pre-pandemic norms, signaling that NYC’s population still isn’t what it was. Urban areas stand to see an estimated 10% drop in spending from an economy where more workers are remote – and even more in cities like New York.

The city’s vaccination rollout could also pose a challenge to the progress made so far. While nearly 61% of NYC adults have at least one dose of the vaccine, that still leaves about 39% who aren’t vaccinated. Vaccination rates are slowing across the state as a whole, leading de Blasio to offer weekly incentives for getting vaccinated.

The contagious coronavirus variant spreading throughout India and other parts of Asia may also bring with it a risk of some form of lockdown returning later this year. On Thursday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the country’s full reopening could be delayed because of the variant, despite a successful vaccination campaign similar to America’s.

baby brasa's nyc
Brunch at Baby Brasa reviving that NYC energy.

And while NYC is never going to return to its 2019 economy, just as America itself won’t, that doesn’t mean that the city has lost its luster. Much like it did after the Great Depression and 9/11, NYC is entering the next chapter of its life – and that’s starting now, in line with the race for a new mayor come November.

BofA noted potential for some recovery in the near term, as NYC remains a “premier city for young renters given status as economic, financial, and cultural centers.” The pullback in rents, it said, has also helped make NYC living more affordable and enticing for young professionals.

Read more: It’s starting to look like New York City will be just fine

As the city was once America’s coronavirus center, NYC’s reopening serves as a metaphor for the country’s pandemic progress. It’s also revived the city’s intangible energy.

For some, this part of NYC never died. Even when the city felt empty, Peter said, there were so many people looking out for each other.

“You would get used to seeing the same vendor’s face at the wine store or at the coffee shop when you’re getting to-go,” she added. “That was all during the worst of it, and things only got better from there. It was always a community.”

As someone who also rode out the pandemic out in Manhattan, I agree with Peter. My local bodega owner, the friendly parking-garage attendant on my street, and a fellow parkgoer and his five poodles became the faces I’d typically see during my pandemic routine. With endless options to experience the city again, I’m back to encountering strangers and forgotten faces on the regular, from my waiter at Lil’ Frankie’s to my hairstylist and colorist, so much so that it’s getting somewhat exhausting.

That can mean only one thing: New York is back.

Read the original article on Business Insider

7 tech tips for outdoor dining safely in the remaining months of the pandemic

Outdoor dining
You can use these tech tips to ensure your safety while outdoor dining.

  • Outdoor dining can have an extra layer of safety from standard COVID precautions with the assistance of several tech tools.
  • COVID exposure notifications, social distancing apps, and Google Maps can help keep you stick more closely to CDC guidelines about personal and social activities.
  • Restaurant apps like CareFull, QR codes, and contactless payment can help you stay alert and abiding by social distance guidelines.
  • Regardless of what tech you use, you should always follow established COVID-19 safety precautions when outdoor dining.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

As your list of vaccinated acquaintances grows, so, too, may the urge to eat with them.

Of course, outdoor dining has been an option for some during the pandemic, and it still is. But with warm weather around the corner and loosening COVID-19 restrictions, opportunities for al fresco dining might be more frequent and tempting. That’s why staying safe if you choose to dine outdoors (or order for pickup) is more important than ever.

Research published by the CDC has shown that opening restaurants to on-premises dining, including outdoor spaces, was linked to increased COVID-19 rates in the months following. Another investigation of 11 US healthcare facilities in 2020 found that COVID-19 positive adults were twice as likely as those who tested negative to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks before their illness cropped up.

Still, there are ways to stay safer when choosing outdoor dining.

Outdoor dining safety tips

Not dining out is the safest option of all, and sure enough, the CDC recommends avoiding events and gatherings altogether. But they also break down the safety of dining scenarios by varying degrees of risk.

Drive-thru, takeout, and delivery options are considered the lowest risk, while the highest risk goes to indoor dining on-premises with seating spaced less than six feet apart. Eating outdoors with tables spaced apart six feet falls somewhere in the middle.

While having food delivered to your home is safer than ordering for pickup or outdoor dining, if you opt to do outdoor dining or curbside pickup from a restaurant, here are some additional tools to help you stay safe.

Get COVID exposure notifications when outdoor dining

Covid exposure notifications
Use your smartphone to get COVID exposure notifications while you’re outdoor dining.

Several states have opted into partnerships with Apple and Google’s technology for COVID-19 contact tracing. Health authorities that use this application programming interface (API) have made their own Android apps, which you can find in the Google Play Store, if available in your area. Apple users have a more streamlined system thanks to the built-in COVID exposure notification tool for iOS devices.

If you download the app for your area or enable notifications on your iOS device, you must opt-in to the notification system. Once that’s done, your phone and the phones of others who have opted-in to the service communicate through Bluetooth using random, frequently changing IDs. The app continuously checks its list of IDs against the random IDs associated with positive COVID-19 cases.

When someone with an ID linked to a positive COVID-19 test is in your immediate area, you’ll be notified of your exposure with further guidance on how to stay safe. This is useful for knowing if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 before making plans to eat out, as well as being alerted if you come into contact with someone during an outing.

Use social distance apps when waiting in a line for pickup or outdoor dining

Social Distancing
People in protective face masks social distancing while waiting in a line.

From the beginning of the pandemic, health authorities and experts have maintained that individuals not from the same household should remain six feet apart at all times. But what is six feet, anyway?

A handful of Android and iOS apps aim to help make that clearer, so while you’re waiting in line or even dining at a table, you know whether you’re keeping a safe distance – and others are keeping a safe distance from you. One such app for iOS users is Social Distance Training. Designed for students and teachers, this app can give a clearer picture of your proximity to someone, using a holographic person to create a virtual distance simulation. It won’t tell you in real-time how close you are to someone, but it does offer a sense of how far away six feet feels for when you are standing in a restaurant’s pickup line.

Android users may prefer to use Sodar by Google, which relies on WebXR on Chrome and your smartphone’s camera. Available only through Chrome on Android devices, this augmented reality tool creates a two-meter radius ring around you – using the recommended distance of at least six feet – to help you follow social distancing guidelines. Just go to the Sodar by Google website, use your phone to scan the QR code, and you’re ready to head out.

Find parks using Google Maps “Explore” to switch up your outdoor dining location

For those inclined to take “outdoor dining” literally, Google Maps is good for so many things – including finding a park to eat in safely once that pickup order is paid for.

If you’re in an unfamiliar place, Google Maps “Explore” feature can locate general categories of places nearby like “gas stations,” “post offices,” and yes, even “parks.” You can use it on the desktop site, or Android and iOS apps.

This feature isn’t available everywhere, but it can be a quick way to get out of a crowd for a quiet and socially distanced meal surrounded by nature. Here’s how to use it.

Use delivery apps and apps like CareFull

Carefull App 1
The CareFull app lets you sort restaurants by filter location and other filters, like outdoor dining availability.

If you’re lucky enough to live in the Greater Boston or NYC area, the newer CareFull app – available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store – can help. Designed with COVID-safe eateries (and diners) in mind, CareFull lets you search for local establishments, see what safety precautions they’re taking, and read and leave safety reviews for any given restaurant. The user-friendly layout makes it easy to select a restaurant based on safety.

Carefull App 2
The CareFull App offers safety ratings for establishments you may visit.

If you don’t live in either of those two areas, consider ordering pick-up with a restaurant-friendly service like ChowNow. This platform doesn’t receive a commission on orders like other popular delivery apps, meaning more of your money goes directly to the local establishments you’re ordering from.

New Yorkers also have Spread, a newer commission-free food delivery service that saves for customers and restaurants. The app sends you texts with exclusive promotions from takeout and delivery restaurants in your neighborhood. You can then enter those promotions on the restaurant’s site – cutting out the extra service fees that come with delivery app alternatives.

Use QR codes to order while outdoor dining

Menu QR Codes
Women use a QR code to order lunch with their smart phone while outdoor dining.

Many might already be familiar with this kind of barcode, which a smartphone can scan for many purposes. Restaurants have put them into action on outdoor tables or in storefront windows for would-be diners to read menus – no contact with a physical menu passed through other’s hands needed. Some restaurants even allow for ordering right from the menu.

Newer models of Android and iPhone have QR scanners built into their camera apps. Here’s how to use it.

Choose contactless payment options while outdoor dining

Contactless Payment
A bar owner uses a contactless payment method to charge customer.

QR codes are handy, and contactless payment options with them are even handier. Some restaurants allow ordering and payment straight from the menu you’ve pulled up on your phone.

That includes credit cards like Apple Card or online payment systems like PayPal or Google Pay. Contactless payment minimizes the surfaces touched by a server handling a credit card or cash, keeping both parties safer. It’s also a precaution, like several of those listed, that you can verify ahead of time with a quick phone call.

Use UV light sanitizers to keep your outdoor dining flatware clean and avoid using plastics

Samsung UV C Phone Sanitizer
A Samsung UV Sterilizer can sanitize your phone, earbuds, glasses, and more.

If you want to cover all your bases in reducing risk while dining at a restaurant, you can take sanitization to the next level with a UV light sanitizer. It’s perfect for small items – cards, keys, sunglasses, even silverware – while you eat.

Enclosed, battery-operated UV light boxes meant for phones are generally the most effective and safe, with UV wands being less so.

How to scan QR codes with your Samsung Galaxy phone in 2 waysHow to order food from Google Maps for pickup or delivery, using a computer or mobile deviceHow to set up and use Apple Pay on your iPhone to make contactless payments at thousands of storesHow to set up and use Google Pay on your Android phone to make contactless payments at thousands of stores

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Restaurants are setting up tents and temporary structures to extend outdoor dining during the winter. But they come with their own hazards, and in some cases, could be riskier than eating indoors.

Outdoor dining tent
Outdoor dining tents in New York City in October.

  • Bars and restaurants have set up tents and other temporary structures to prolong outdoor dining as temperatures drop in many parts of the US. 
  • But Jaimie Meyer, an infectious disease physician at Yale Medicine and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider that enclosed outdoor spaces could be risky for customers. 
  • “When you’re making those outdoor spaces look a lot more like indoor spaces — so if they have, all of a sudden, three-and-a-half walls, or the air flow’s not great, or there’s lots of people still at a table, then you kind of get rid of all of the potential benefits of outside,” Meyer said.
  • Several cities and states have put rules in place for outdoor structures, mandating that 50% of the sides open and banning totally enclosed structures. In places like New York City, enclosed tents must be treated like indoor spaces and limited to 25% capacity. 
  • Totally enclosed tents and temporary buildings might even be riskier than dining inside a restaurant since they lack built-in ventilation systems to increase airflow, Meyer said. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As the temperature drops in many parts of the US, restaurants are coming up with creative solutions to allow for outdoor dining. But in some cases, these solutions may increase diners’ coronavirus risk. 

Since the onset of the pandemic, outdoor dining has allowed restaurants and bars to stay open while offering customers a way to continue eating, drinking, and socializing in a low-risk environment. Outdoor dining has become so popular and lucrative that it’s becoming a more permanent fixture everywhere from Milwaukee to Boston.

But in the winter months, restaurants will be hard-pressed to convince diners to sit outdoors, exposed to chilly temperatures, wind, and possibly even snow. 

Enter: tents, enclosed patios, and even curbside cabanas. 

City and state governments across the country seem somewhat split on what types of structures are safe. In Chicago, for example, the city mandates that temporary outdoor structures must have 50% of the sides open in order to ensure air flow. New York City has the same rule, but will allow fully enclosed structures – they’ll just be regulated like indoor dining and capped at 25% capacity. Cities in Connecticut and Colorado have similar mandates. 

State and local laws aside, however, infectious disease experts say this type of dining comes with clear risks that customers should take into account before dining in one of these structures. 

Jaimie Meyer, an infectious disease physician at Yale Medicine and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider last month that while she applauds businesses for thinking creatively about how to prolong outdoor dining, some are going too far and essentially creating an indoor space.

“When you’re making those outdoor spaces look a lot more like indoor spaces – so if they have, all of a sudden, three-and-a-half walls, or the air flow’s not great, or there’s lots of people still at a table, then you kind of get rid of all of the potential benefits of outside,” Meyer said.

Meyer said the two keys to safe outdoor dining are the ability to physically distance and airflow. But structures like four-sided tents lack air circulation that restaurants have – businesses aren’t installing ventilation systems in a temporary curbside hut, meaning dining in an enclosed space like that could be even riskier than sitting inside at a restaurant, Meyer said. 

“You don’t want air to essentially be stagnant,” Meyer said. “That’s especially true in the winter because when there’s less humidity in the air the droplets can actually disperse farther.” 

Meyer suggested bars and restaurants add a fan if they’re going to have an enclosed outdoor space, or just lift a tent flap or leave a window open – anything to keep air circulating throughout the structure. 

Beyond the inherent risks associated with little air flow and close proximity to other people, Meyer warned that outdoor dining structures may give people a false sense of security. Since they’re not technically inside the restaurant, diners may relax social distancing measures, move around without their masks on, or otherwise treat it as an outdoor space, even if, for all intents and purposes, it’s more like being indoors. 

In many parts of the country, especially in places that experience wintry weather like New York or Chicago, restaurants have set up igloos and greenhouses that allow customers to dine, essentially, in a bubble. While those individual tents carry the same risks – namely, no ventilation – Meyer said they’re a better solution as long as you only dine with people in your household. 

“Some virus particles can be aerosolized and kind of hang in the air, and they like to stick to surfaces like tables and chairs and potentially the inside of this bubble,” Meyer said. “There need to be precautions in place for a little bit of downtime between customers and good cleaning and disinfecting practices in between in order to make that safe.” 

social bubble dining
A social distancing bubble at Cafe Du Soleil in New York City on September 29, 2020.

The US faces a dire COVID situation nationwide

Regardless of the precautions restaurants are taking with tents, igloos, and huts, Meyer said it’s possible dining could be shut down again soon anyway as cases continue to rise.

Robert Mujica, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget director, said during a press conference on Wednesday that bars and restaurants are the fastest-growing source of COVID infections in the state now that it’s getting colder. Indoor dining is prohibited in parts of the state that have been deemed COVID “clusters,” and Cuomo has warned that indoor dining could be shut down in New York City by Monday. 

Other parts of the country are placing limits on restaurants as well. Both California and Michigan have shut down indoor dining, and Baltimore has closed all types of dining at restaurants, including outdoor service.

Last week, the CDC warned against spending time in “nonessential indoor spaces and crowded outdoor settings,” calling those spaces “a preventable risk to all participants.”

These measures amid a devastating COVID situation across the country. The US reported over 220,000 new COVID cases on Tuesday, and more than 104,000 people are currently hospitalized as a result of complications from COVID-19. The US has now seen more than 288,000 deaths since of the onset of the pandemic. It’s difficult to measure which part of the country is currently the hardest hit by the virus – as The New York Times notes, several parts of the country could be considered the biggest hot spot depending on how you measure it. 

Read the original article on Business Insider