Public high schools students returned to in-person classes in New York City on Monday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also removed cluster zones in the state, increased limits on outdoor gatherings and permitted indoor fitness classes to resume, with more reopenings likely to come this week.
The reopening news, however, comes as New York has discovered its first case of the Brazilian COVID variant, which was discovered in a 90-year-old from Brooklyn who has not traveled recently. The variant is believed to be more contagious and more resistant to antibodies in people who've previously had COVID.
Cuomo touted the state's progress in its vaccine rollout and its reduced hospitalization numbers since the holidays, but he warned that the Brazilian variant is "cause for concern."
"We're in a race to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as possible before the variants can disrupt the progress we've made, but the infection rate is also a function of our actions," he said Sunday via a news release.
The lowering infection rate prompted state officials to eliminate the cluster zones strategy implemented last year to contain coronavirus cases as they spiked in some neighborhoods. In so doing, Cuomo lifted restrictions in Washington Heights, the Bronx, Queens and Newburgh.
While high schools officially returned to in-person learning Monday, few schools will be anywhere near capacity with students. About 70 percent of New York City's 1 million public school students opted out of in-person learning in the fall when coronavirus cases were still perilously high.
Students and their families will have an opportunity to reconsider in-person learning this week, said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Late last week, federal authorities eased guidance on how many children can safely fit in a classroom. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that students can safely sit 3 feet apart in the classroom if they wear masks.
Students should maintain 6 feet of distance at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, however.
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