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Cuomo lifts COVID-19 mandates after state reaches vaccination milestone 

Cuomo thanked supporters at the World Trade Center on June 15, 2021, after New York state reached his goal of 70 percent of adults receiving at least one vaccine dose.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY GOV. ANDREW CUOMO'S OFFICE

Cuomo thanked supporters at the World Trade Center on June 15, 2021, after New York state reached his goal of 70 percent of adults receiving at least one vaccine dose.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he’s lifting all remaining state COVID-19 restrictions, including requirements for masks, physical distancing, and capacity limits at events, now that New York has reached the governor’s goal of 70 percent of adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine.

Cuomo, in a campaign-style event held before a cheering crowd of union leaders and others at the World Trade Center, said the goal was reached sometime on Monday, according to numbers compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Seventy percent vaccination,” Cuomo announced to applause. “It is the national goal and we hit it ahead of schedule.”

The number of New Yorkers who are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received all of their required doses two or more weeks ago, is significantly lower, at around 50.3 percent, according to numbers from the State Health Department and the CDC. That’s far less than what scientists say is enough people vaccinated to reach herd immunity from the virus. Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for a vaccine. In some rural and urban low income areas, less than 35 percent are fully vaccinated.

Despite that, Cuomo said there will no longer be any state-imposed restrictions at restaurants, gyms, and hair salons or for concerts or social gatherings.

“The state mandates that have proven right and correct and brought us through this pandemic, are relaxed as of today,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo gave awards to union leaders for the essential work their members performed during the pandemic, while others were able to stay safely at home.

The governor said in celebration of New York’s milestone, all state-owned buildings will be lit in blue and gold  and there will be fireworks displays in cities across the state.

In his remarks, the governor recounted how New York went from the world epicenter of the coronavirus in spring 2020, to now having the lowest infection rate in the nation. He also listed building projects that his administration has completed in recent years, saying he hopes there will be more progress in the post-pandemic era.

There was no mention at the event of the over 2 million New Yorkers who were sickened by the coronavirus, or the over 40,000 New Yorkers who died from COVID-19, or of their grieving friends and families.

Not all of the pandemic-related restrictions are yet over. Even though New York no longer requires special rules to protect people from the virus, federal regulations still apply. Masks continue to be required on public transit and in health care settings. The CDC continues to recommend that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks. Children, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, will continue to wear masks inside the schools.

The governor acknowledged that things are not automatically back to normal. He said New York is still in the process of reopening from the months-long, mandatory lockdowns, and he says there are still dangerous variants of the virus that are spreading in other parts of the world.

In a statement, the business group Upstate United said it agrees that there’s more work to be done. They say 1.3 million New Yorkers are unemployed, and one-third of small businesses have not yet reopened.

The state’s restaurant industry called Cuomo’s announcement “a critically important step forward” on a long road to recovery. Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said more needs to be done to help struggling restaurants, including lobbying the federal government to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

The celebratory announcement comes as Cuomo faces multiple scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment, and in one case sexual assault, accusations that he and his top aides covered up the true number of nursing home residents who died from the virus, and allegations that he gave family and friends special access to COVID-19 tests and used staff to help him write a memoir. There are ongoing federal and state investigations, and the State Assembly is conducting an impeachment inquiry.

The governor could have been speaking about what he hopes is his own political comeback when he recounted the societal efforts needed to fully recover from the long pandemic.

“What do you do when you get knocked down? Do you stay down? Do you feel sorry for yourself?" Cuomo said, his voice rising. “Or, do you pull yourself up and say I’m going to learn, and I’m going to be better?”

Even though the governor said all COVID-related restrictions are over, he still holds the emergency powers granted to him at the start of the pandemic by the State Legislature. The Senate and Assembly did not act to rescind the temporary powers before they adjourned the legislative session for the summer.

Karen DeWitt covers Albany for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.
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