NEW YORK - In a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a slew of changes as the state continues the long path towards fully reopening after the coronavirus pandemic.
Another group of essential workers became eligible for the vaccine on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people eligible for the vaccine in the state to over 12 million.
All of the state's remaining cluster zones will also be brought to an end, Cuomo said, while indoor fitness classes will once again be allowed in New York City at 33% capacity on March 22. On April 5, there will be no more curfews for bowling alleys and movie theaters, but a curfew for restaurants and bars will remain in effect.
New York has one of the highest rates of new cases per person of any state, and cases and deaths aren't declining as quickly as in the nation as a whole, according to federal and Johns Hopkins University data.
But as a growing number of New Yorkers get vaccinated, "we are reaching the light at the end of the tunnel," said the Democratic governor, who on Wednesday became one of the roughly 4.7 million New Yorkers who have gotten at least one dose. About 2.4 million of the state's more than 19 million residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state.
For Ai Tong, whose husband Romeo died from COVID-19 last year, the news is bittersweet.
"He worked in a restaurant in Manhattan. He got home sick and he died alone in a hospital," Tong told FOX 5 NY.
The Massapequa Park mom was four months pregnant with their second child. Now, she’s part of the new group of New Yorkers eligible for the vaccine.
"So today, a year later, I got this vaccine. I was so excited, but I was thinking the whole time, if he recovered, we could be here together," Tong said.
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Public-facing workers are now eligible for the shot, including government and non-profit employees, building service workers, social service workers and election workers.
"It’s a little easier to walk around now knowing that I am not as much of a transmitter, I feel a little more comfortable going out," said Connor Hartman a beach maintenance department worker in Long Beach.
"I’m a building inspector. I go into people’s homes and I’m dealing with citizens and contractors and workers, I will feel so much safer," said Bill Byrne, a building inspector.
With more New Yorkers now eligible, new vaccine sites are opening across the state, including three mass vaccination sites set to open on Long Island this coming Friday.