In his first news conference since a sexual harassment scandal engulfed his administration, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York would ease restrictions on residential and social gatherings later this month and begin to allow more people inside arts and entertainment venues.
The loosened rules, announced as New York approaches one year since Mr. Cuomo first issued shutdown orders that brought social and economic activity to a halt, mark a step forward in the state’s reopening process.
But the announcement was overshadowed by questions about the allegations against Mr. Cuomo. Since last Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo, 63, has been accused of sexually harassing two former aides and making unwanted advances at a wedding with a third woman. He has also faced a torrent of criticism in recent weeks over his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.
At the news conference — the first time that the governor answered questions from reporters since a coronavirus briefing on Feb. 22 — Mr. Cuomo acknowledged that he unintentionally “acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable” and said he was “sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone.”
Still, he said multiple times that he “never touched anyone inappropriately,” as two women have described, and focused largely on the intent of his actions.
Mr. Cuomo had been silent in recent days, even as Monday marked the anniversary of the state’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, a crisis that put Mr. Cuomo and his daily briefings in the national spotlight.
On Tuesday, the Democrat-led statehouse moved to add limits and oversight on Mr. Cuomo’s pandemic-era powers, though he would retain the ability to issue executive orders that are deemed crucial to the state’s coronavirus response.
Those orders include the loosened limits that Mr. Cuomo announced in his news conference on Wednesday.
Starting March 22, New York will raise the maximum capacity on outdoor gatherings at private residences to 25 people from 10, though indoor gatherings will remain capped at 10 people. The limits on social gatherings in public spaces will be raised to 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors from 50 for both. Masks and social distancing will remain required.
The state will also begin to allow events at sports, arts and entertainment venues with fewer than 10,000 seats starting on April 2, after first allowing events at larger venues last week.
Smaller spaces will be allowed to reopen at 33 percent capacity, with limits of 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Venues that require attendees to show proof of a negative coronavirus P.C.R. test can boost their capacity to 150 indoors and 500 outdoors.
A handful of venues immediately said they would begin holding live performances, which, with a handful of limited exceptions, have not taken place in New York since Broadway shut down last March 12.
As of Wednesday, the statewide positive test rate over a seven-day average was at 3.18 percent, Mr. Cuomo said, down from a high of 7.94 percent on Jan. 4, when cases were surging after holiday gatherings and travel.
But New York, along with New Jersey, has been adding new coronavirus cases at the highest rates in the country over the last week: Both reported 38 new cases per 100,000 people. (The nation as a whole is averaging 20 per 100,000 people.) And New York City is currently adding cases at a per capita rate roughly three times higher than Los Angeles County.
The governor urged residents to continue to adhere to guidance on face coverings and social distancing.
“In my opinion, some states are going too far, too fast,” Mr. Cuomo said. “And that is a danger because Covid is still a risk. And you relax those restrictions too far, you will see the beast rise up again.”