Starting today, groups of up to 50 may gather

Previous limit was 25; houses of worship can allow more people, too

Starting today, gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed in the North Country region, and houses of worship can allow a few more people.

As part of Phase 4 reopening, residents will be able to have social gatherings of up to 50 people, up from 25 people in Phase 3, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday. Religious facilities such as churches, synagogues and mosques can allow up to 33% occupancy, up from 25% occupancy allowed in Phase 2.

Today the seven-county North Country region joins Central New York, the Finger Lakes, the Mohawk Valley and the Southern Tier in Phase 4 reopening. The new phase allows the reopening of low-risk arts and entertainment, film and TV production, higher education and professional sports without fans — all for the first time since March, when the coronavirus prompted widespread shutdowns. Malls, movie theaters, performance theaters, gyms and bowling alleys will remain closed as the state continues to work on guidance for how to reopen those businesses safely. Cuomo said these latter exceptions were made out of worry that their ventilation systems might spread the coronavirus.

“Our approach has been vindicated, and the phased reopening based on facts is working,” Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday. “I said from day one that the theory the virus should be handled politically can’t be done. The virus doesn’t respond to political theory — it responds to science and data. We’re going ahead with our metrics and our phased reopening, and five regions are set to enter Phase 4 on Friday. The numbers continue trending in the right direction as we went from one of the highest infections rates to one of the lowest in the country, so we will also allow slightly larger social and religious gatherings, but people need to continue wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands frequently to stay safe.”

Statewide, there were 749 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 581 new positives the day before. There have been at least 390,415 confirmed positive cases since March. As of Wednesday, more than 3.9 million New Yorkers had been tested for the disease.

As of Thursday, there were three active cases of COVID-19 reported in Franklin County, no change from the day before but an increase of one case since Tuesday. At least 8,975 COVID-19 tests have been administered in Franklin County since March.

In Essex County, there were two active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, no change from the day before but two more than were reported on June 17. At least 5,683 COVID-19 tests from Essex County have been administered since March.

Statewide, at least 24,800 COVID-19 deaths have been reported. Neither Essex nor Franklin County have reported a death from COVID-19.