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The city reawakens: What tourists need to know about visiting New York City during the pandemic

By Natalie B. Compton Washington Post

In the early days of the pandemic, New York was the focal point of the outbreak’s wrath. After shutting down for months to flatten the growth curve of the novel coronavirus, the city is opening up again for residents and visitors alike.

“Things have been really nice (these) past couple months, especially with our numbers dropping,” said Benjamin Liong Setiawan, a lifestyle writer who has lived in New York for more than 20 years. “It’s been nice to be able to enjoy the city again.”

That doesn’t mean New Yorkers want visitors to expect business as usual. While attractions are reopening and indoor dining is set to return at 25% capacity on Sept. 30, much of New York City is still closed or struggling to remain open with coronavirus precautions. Not to mention, its residents are still experiencing an emotional toll.

“I think a lot of people probably did experience PTSD,” Setiawan said. “All that we ask as New Yorkers is that you respect the people that live here and the rules that have been put in place so that we can keep everybody safe.”

Before you plan a trip to New York, familiarize yourself with restrictions by checking the state’s coronavirus website. Chris Heywood, executive vice president for global communications at NYC & Company, said people from about 30 states are required to quarantine for 14 days on reaching New York, whether they’re arriving by plane, car or bus.

Here’s what else to know if you’re considering traveling to New York during the pandemic.

Where you can stay

Whether New York City hotels stayed open throughout the pandemic or are only just beginning to reopen, many are offering packages to bring in more business, Heywood said. They’re also carrying out enhanced cleanings, putting up sneeze guards at front desks and sometimes suspending amenities (such as restaurants and fitness centers).

“It’s definitely ‘safety first’; that’s kind of the ethos of the city right now,” Heywood said.

Setiawan recommends finding a hotel based on what you would like to do on your trip. If your primary focus is visiting museums, find an accommodation uptown.

“If you want to be by the water, there’s 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge. It’s beautiful and has a pool, and you can explore Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo and Cobble Hill,” he said.

What you can do

If your ideal New York visit includes going to a Broadway show, dancing at nightclubs or going to a concert, you will want to hold off on a trip. The government, however, is allowing more and more businesses to reopen.

To navigate the ever-changing status of businesses, the city’s tourism board is keeping an updated website of what’s open and how to get tickets if needed. “There is a bevy of things to see and do right now,” Heywood said.

To reopen as safely as possible, attractions have tweaked their operations in a number of ways. For example, visiting the High Line trail requires getting a free timed-entry pass ahead of time. The Empire State Building is limiting its visitor capacity by 50% and is performing enhanced cleaning. It also advertises that during its recent renovation, the building installed “state-of-the-art air purification” systems.

Like the High Line, guests must have reservations and will have their temperatures checked before they are permitted to enter. They also must wear a face covering and observe social distancing throughout the experience.

As museums, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reopen, “many of them obviously are following all of those social-distancing rules and (doing) pre-ticketing and limiting how many people can come in,” Heywood said.

Setiawan is a fan of simply walking around the city and spending time in its parks, like Madison Square Park, Prospect Park and Washington Square Park.

He recommends setting aside hours to explore Central Park and take advantage of the free audio guides available at notable sites. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus narrates information about Bow Bridge, for example, and actress Isabella Rossellini explains the Ramble.

“If you’re uptown, there is Riverside Park, which is really beautiful and along the Hudson River,” Setiawan said. “There’s places to ride your bike. There’s places to picnic. There are some tennis courts up there.”

What you can eat and drink

New York City’s bars and restaurants have been deeply wounded by the pandemic, and the list of permanently closed establishments is still growing. As you visit places to eat and drink, whether you’re staying there or taking your order to go, be mindful of the hospitality industry’s trauma.

“You’re watching someone drown – try and be a little bit more empathetic,” said Sother Teague, the beverage director of the bar Amor y Amargo.

Teague’s advice to visitors who want to be respectful bargoers includes tipping well – fewer customers means fewer tips for employees who rely on the gratuities to pay rent. Plus, employees are doing extra work to set up safe sidewalk accommodations.

Teague also recommends getting to bars early. The city’s coronavirus restrictions require guests to leave establishments by 11 p.m., so bars need more business earlier in the evening. Finally, consider ordering bottled cocktails to go if they’re available.

“You can get your cocktails to go and walk around the city; you couldn’t do that prior to the pandemic. The open-container laws were different,” Setiawan said. “It’s nice that that’s been relaxed a bit so you can support your favorite bars, try to help people out and also have a great cocktail to go. Who doesn’t want that?”

Setiawan’s favorite places to grab takeout during the pandemic have been Tappo Thin Crust Pizza and restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown, “since they were the first restaurants to be affected due to misplaced fear and racism,” he said. He recommends two restaurants: Tasty Hand-pulled Noodles and Noodle Village, the latter for soup dumplings.

Setiawan also recommends checking out a self-guided food crawl hosted by the coronavirus relief organization Send Chinatown Love. Through September, the crawl highlights 13 restaurants, cafes, bakeries and other businesses in hopes of bring tourism back to the neighborhood. For outdoor dining, Setiawan has enjoyed Marea across the street from Central Park for pasta and seafood and Rezdora.

“Whenever I go there, I feel like I’m going to a friend’s house because everybody’s just so lovely,” he said. “The food is great, but also the people are great. So it makes you want to go back, and you feel like a local.”

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