With 70% of New York adults with 1 COVID shot, Cuomo lifts restrictions

With 70% of adults in New York having at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted all state-mandated restrictions "effective immediately." 

Speaking to an invitation-only crowd at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, Cuomo said what New York has done is "extraordinary." At 0.4%, the state has the lowest COVID  positivity rate in the United States.

"We went from worst to first," Cuomo said.

The restrictions lifted include those on the size of gatherings, some types of cleaning protocols for businesses, taking people's temperatures, and screening them for recent COVID-19 symptoms.

Businesses will no longer have to follow social distancing rules or limit how many people they can allow inside based on keeping people 6 feet (2 meters) apart. However, businesses can choose to continue health and safety precautions as long as they follow existing laws.

Some rules will remain: New Yorkers, for now, will continue to have to wear masks in schools (including pre-K), subways and other public transit, large indoor venues, homeless shelters, hospitals, health and medical offices, nursing homes, jails, and prisons.

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"What New York has done is extraordinary. Not only do we have the lowest COVID positivity rate in the United States of America, we have hit 70% vaccination ahead of schedule," Cuomo said. "We successfully deployed the weapon that will win the war, and New York led the nation."

Several local leaders were generally supportive of the developments. Although New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke to reporters before the governor's briefing, he said was expecting the announcement.

"That's great news. We expect that today. That means we've got to open up even more," de Blasio said. "That means we've got to keep moving forward and that means the summer in New York City is even closer. So, that's good news is all around."  

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran called this "historic day."

"We've traveled a long journey as New Yorkers, and I'm proud that Nassau has helped lead the way," Curran said in a statement. "Life is returning to normal, businesses are reopening and thriving again — progress we’ve achieved together. Our comeback has only just begun."

Nassau County, which has a population of nearly 1.4 million, has a higher percentage of adults with at least one vaccine dose than the state as a whole.

To celebrate, fireworks were displayed across the state Tuesday night and landmarks were lit blue and gold. The firework set off at ten sites at 9:15 pm.

A day earlier, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID vaccine tracker had indicated the state had already reached the crucial benchmark

The milestone doesn't mean the pandemic is over or that vaccinations should stop.

"The recovery itself is going to be challenging and it's going to take time," Cuomo said.

In a statement, the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, said that vaccinations are forcing the virus to retreat.

"New York went from being one of the hardest-hit states in the country to being one of the leading states in its effort to combat the virus," Zients said, "because of a vaccination program that made it easy and convenient for New Yorkers to get vaccinated, state and community leaders who worked hard at the local level, and millions of New Yorkers who rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated."

It's unclear how many more people have to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which is when enough people have immunity that the virus has trouble spreading.

It's unclear what that threshold is for the coronavirus, though many experts say it's 70% or higher. Just half of all 20 million residents in New York are fully vaccinated, according to federal data as of Monday.

Over the past seven days, New York has been averaging around 450 new coronavirus cases a day, the lowest level since the pandemic began.

Governor's Office Statement Regarding Businesses

"With the removal of the State's minimum standard for reopening, businesses are free to choose to lift all or some restrictions, continue to adhere to the State's archived guidance, or implement other health precautions for their employees and patrons. Businesses are also authorized to require masks and six feet of social distancing for employees and patrons within their establishments, regardless of vaccination status. Any mask requirements that businesses choose to implement must adhere to applicable federal and state laws and regulations, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act." Source: governor.ny.gov

With The Associated Press