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New York eases ban on gatherings

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A person walks by the water during the coronavirus outbreak, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at Jones Beach in Wantagh, New York. As pandemic lockdowns ease across the United States, millions of Americans are set to take tentative steps outdoors to celebrate Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer. But public health officials are concerned that if people congregate in crowds or engage in other risky behaviors, the long weekend could cause the coronavirus to come roaring back. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

NEW YORK – New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped the state’s absolute ban on gatherings of any size Friday, issuing an executive order saying up to 10 people are now allowed to be together as long as they abide by other social distancing guidelines adopted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The order, issued on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, represents one of the biggest steps yet the state has taken to loosen rules adopted in March that have barred anyone but essential workers from getting together unless they live in the same household.

It doesn't necessarily pave the way for the backyard barbecues and group picnics that are a staple of the holiday. The order still requires people assembling to follow “social distancing protocols and cleaning and disinfection protocols required by the Department of Health.”

That means people still need to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, or wear a face covering when they cannot maintain that distance in public.

New Jersey has adopted similar rules, allowing groups of up to 25 outdoors and indoor gatherings of up to 10 people. Connecticut has allowed restaurants with outdoor seating to reopen.

Cuomo had earlier in the week signed an order allowing gatherings of as many as 10 people only for religious services and Memorial Day commemorations.

That restriction drew a lawsuit from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which said if it was safe to gather for the purpose of honoring veterans and practicing religion, the Constitution requires the same right be extended to people gathering for other reasons.

The NYCLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of New York City resident Linda Bouferguen, who the group says was twice arrested outside City Hall for protesting the state’s shutdown. She wants to organize another protest Saturday.