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Free pass to state parks offered to unvaccinated who agree to get a shot 

click to enlarge A staffer preps an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS
  • A staffer preps an injection of the COVID-19 vaccine.
New York state is offering a new incentive to get more people vaccinated — free passes to state parks this Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, appearing at Jones Beach on Long Island, said Monday that unvaccinated New Yorkers going to a participating state park this weekend will be able to get a shot at a pop-up vaccine clinic. In exchange, they will receive a free two-day pass to all state-run parks in New York.

“Stop, get a vaccine, you get a two-day free pass to come into any state park,” said Cuomo, who added the shots will be available at all 16 of the state’s parks that are participating.

It’s the second time in recent days that the governor has offered incentives to the unvaccinated. Those who get vaccinated at state-run sites through this coming Friday get a lottery ticket to become eligible for a $5 million drawing.

Among New Yorkers 18 or older, 54.9 percent have received all of their required doses. But when children are counted, the total number of New Yorkers completely vaccinated stands at 44.1 percent, and the rate of vaccinations has stalled.

Early Monday evening, the New York State Office of Children & Family Services and the NYS Health Department issued a statement rolling back the mandate for young children to wear masks. The move came after Legislature Republicans called on their Democratic counterparts to rescind the mandate.

Up until the now-modified mandate was issued, children not yet in kindergarten did not have to wear masks. The May 19 order required children over the age of 2 will have wear face coverings while at day care centers.

The directive came as other rules on wearing masks and social distancing were eased for the fully vaccinated.

On Monday, before the state departments changed the mask requirement, Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said the order was impractical and was upsetting many of his constituents.

“My office has been inundated with phone calls from parents, with phone calls from providers,” Ortt said. “Parents are angry, the parents are frustrated, the parents think this is ridiculous.”

Ortt said day care providers were confused and wondered if they would have faced fines if a small child took their mask off.

The Office of Children and Family Services and the Health Department announced the rollback of the masking requirement for children in a statement released early Monday evening.

"Both agencies understand how difficult it is to require the youngest children to wear masks, and have jointly agreed to revise guidance allowing child care providers to continue the practices and protocols that have been in place since the start of the pandemic by encouraging, not requiring, children aged 2-5 to wear masks, effective immediately," the statement read.

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

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