New York lifts most COVID restrictions as vaccination rate hits 70%

Joseph Spector
New York State Team
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ALBANY – New York hit its goal late Monday of reaching a 70% first-shot vaccination rate for COVID-19, meaning the state will lift many of its remaining safety restrictions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday afternoon the state has surpassed the 70% benchmark for adults, which triggered a pullback on some safety precautions, such as those that were still in place for social distancing in restaurants.

It means retail stories, restaurants, offices, gyms, amusement centers, hair salons can now make it optional to have capacity and social distancing restrictions, as well as ease COVID disinfection protocols.

"Congratulations to New Yorkers because they are the ones who did it," Cuomo said at a celebratory event at One World Trade Center in Manhattan.

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Hitting 70% of residents with a first shot outpaces the national rate of 52.5%, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which indicated Monday afternoon that New York had hit the 70% mark.

New York is the 16th state to hit a 70% vaccination rate, according to CDC data posted by the New York Times. Vermont ranked first at 82% with a first dose administered.

In New York, the CDC data indicated Monday that 61.3% of New Yorkers had completed their vaccine series.

The 70% mark won't end all restrictions.

Steven Morgan, a 30-year-old firefighter from Waddington, St. Lawrence County, receives his COVID-19 vaccination at SUNY Potsdam on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

Large-scale event venues, pre-K to 12th grade schools, public transit systems, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes and health care settings must continue to follow existing state's guidelines until more New Yorkers are vaccinated.

For example, guidance continues to change: Schools last week were allowed to no longer require masks outside, but still have to inside.

Even with the 70% vaccination rate, unvaccinated people will still need to wear masks when social distancing is not possible, pursuant to CDC guidance.

The changes make it clear that businesses can still require masks and six feet of social distancing for employees and patrons.

Previously, New York had lifted its capacity limits on restaurant and other businesses, but only to the point where social distancing could be maintained for unvaccinated people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, June 15, 2021, that most remaining COVID restrictions were lifted as New York hit a 70% vaccination rate.

New York also has rules that require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for events that exceed 250 people indoors or 500 people outdoors.

But Cuomo said Tuesday the lifting of the measure is reason for New Yorkers to celebrate how far it as come: COVID positivity rates were nearly 49% in the first weeks of the pandemic in March 2020 as New York was the epicenter of the virus.

On Monday, it was a mere 0.4%

Cuomo said the recovery is not dissimilar to the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan, saying New York had to build back better than before, saying One World Trade Center is a site of resilience.

"We have to capitalize on this moment and seize on this moment to remake New York," Cuomo urged.

He added, "We rise as New Yorkers."

To commemorate the 70% vaccine rate, Cuomo said all iconic state buildings will be lit blue and gold Tuesday night to honor essential workers.

And firework displays will be held at 10 sites across the state beginning at 9:15 pm., including at Binghamton University M Lot; Memorial Park in Nyack; the Rochester Dome Arena; and in downtown Utica.

Business groups praised the lifting of the COVID restrictions.

“The lifting of pandemic restrictions is great news for all New Yorkers," Justin Wilcox, executive director of the Rochester-based Upstate United, said in a statement. 

"Having weathered this historic health crisis, focusing on the ongoing economic crisis must be Albany's top priority."

Cuomo and health officials still warned that COVID is prevalent in communities, as well as variants, and precautions should remain.

Bonnie Litvack, past president of state Medical Society who served on Cuomo's vaccine task force, said New Yorkers' resolve should continue.

"The fight is not over," she said in a statement.

"My hope going forward is that as cases continue to decrease, more New Yorkers will see what can happen when we work together to get vaccinated. As variants increase, it is more important than ever for every eligible citizen to roll up their sleeves—and get the COVID-19 vaccination."

Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany

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