City officials say events this weekend can proceed, as smoky haze clears out of NYC

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, city Department of Health and Mental Hygene commissioner.
Credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.

The city has given the greenlight for weekend events to move forward as smoky conditions that have shrouded the city in recent days begin to dissipate, officials said during a briefing Friday.

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s health commissioner, said weekend events such as the Governors Ball Musical Festival and the Belmont Stakes can proceed as planned. Vasan made the announcement Friday afternoon during a weekly briefing held by Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks. 

The announcement came as the level of air quality continues to improve across the city. On Friday, the air quality index (AQI) was in the mid 60s, significantly lower than earlier in the week, when an orange haze covered the city and the AQI rose above 400 at one point. The city typically has an AQI in the 50s, though it can rise above 100 this time of year.

Vasan also advised individuals in at-risk groups — children, seniors, those with breathing and heart conditions — to continue wearing high quality N95 or KN95 masks if they choose to go outside.

“Events can proceed as planned on public health grounds. We’d recommend that New Yorkers as individuals gauge their own levels of risk and comfort with being outside,” Vasan said. “If you have to be outside and you do fall into one of those high risk categories. Please wear a high filtration mask.”

Times Square is enveloped in smoke from the Canadian wildfires in New York City on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

The smoky conditions, which came from wildfires tearing across the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, arrived in the city on Monday and the air quality rapidly deteriorated late Tuesday. 

City public schools will also be reopening and resuming regularly scheduled programming over the weekend, the Department of Education announced Friday.

The city’s top doctor, however, did warn event organizers to think about who their events are serving and whether they should move it indoors or postpone it altogether.

“If you’re organizing an event that’s primarily serving the elderly or primarily serving the disabled, think about whether you want to try to move that event indoors or postpone it altogether,” Vasan said.

City Hall is also changing its public health guidance around the air quality overall going into the weekend, Vasan said. Instead of advising people to remain inside as much as possible, officials are now recommending limiting time and activity outside for vulnerable groups in particular.

“For all New Yorkers, listen to your body,” Vasan said. “If your eyes are watering, or your throat is sore or you’re out of breath, go inside if you can. If you cannot go inside, please put on a high-filtration mask. And of course, if you’re really having trouble breathing, if you’re suffering chest pain, if you’re suffering severe shortness of breath, if you’re feeling dizzy like you want to pass out, please call 911.”

City Office of Emergency Management (NYCEM) Commissioner Zach Iscol said his agency is monitoring one smoke plume that could move back over the city tonight, but it likely won’t be like what the city experienced over the past few days. A weather front arriving early next week is expected to push all of the smoke out of the area, Iscol added.

But Iscol warned that the effects of climate change could lead to the city going through similar poor air quality events in the future. 

“This is the new normal in this era of climate change,” he said. “The fires are still raging across Canada. And so we will continue to monitor this and make sure everybody has the information they need to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”