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Tentative Steps Toward Normal as South Fork 'Reopens' Along With State

Thu, 05/20/2021 - 08:33
Friends enjoyed a morning chat and coffee on Main Street in East Hampton.
Jamie Bufalino

On Wednesday for the first time since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo imposed an executive order 13 months ago requiring face coverings in public, people could go into a store or a walk down Main Street without a mask -- provided they were fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 no longer needed to wear masks or physically distance, either indoors or out, and on Monday the governor announced that New York would adopt those guidelines. Masks will still be required on public transportation and in schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters, and health care and correctional facilities. Private venues may impose additional requirements.

The change comes as the number of vaccinated people continues to grow and the infection rate across the state and here in Suffolk County drops to levels not seen since September and October. Statewide, the seven-day average of positive tests had declined for 43 straight days and on Monday was 1.07 percent. In Suffolk, the seven-day average that day was 1 percent, the lowest since Oct. 22. 

Hospitals are seeing encouraging signs as well. On May 11, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital had gone three days without any admitted Covid patients, though that has since changed and it has continued to see Covid cases in its emergency department on an outpatient basis. East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby told her colleagues on Tuesday that last week Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport also had no admitted Covid patients. 

Wednesday was the day Governor Cuomo has designated for a "major reopening" of many things in New York State and towns were following suit. Southampton Town on Sunday lifted an emergency order that had been in place since March 16 of last year. "The Town of Southampton is now fully open for business. It has been unprecedented in the history of the town that a state of emergency has existed for 14 months, but such was the insidious danger of Covid-19 that it had to be done for the health and safety of our employees and the community," Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said in a release. 

 As of yesterday, Southampton will no longer require fully vaccinated people to wear face coverings in town facilities. "This is a significant milestone in the path to bringing our lives back to normal after the pandemic. I hope this news will make people smile, and I look forward to seeing those smiles for the first time in over a year," the supervisor said. 

The town is also re-evaluating its reduced hours of operation and limits on visitors and will announce any changes soon. 

As of yesterday, all East Hampton Town Hall offices were open for in-person business, but people are still being asked to wear masks when visiting and to maintain social distancing. "We will take it kind of slow, just to keep everybody comfortable as we move forward," Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said Tuesday.

Children as young as 12 are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine following the C.D.C.'s emergency use authorization for that age group last week. Previously only those 16 and up could be vaccinated. 

As of Tuesday, just over 50 percent of eligible New Yorkers had at least one vaccine dose and just over 42 percent had completed their vaccine series. Among New Yorkers 18 and older, 62 percent had gotten at least one dose and 52.6 percent had completed their series. 

Speaking to the press from Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan on Monday, the governor and officials including James Dolan, the chief executive officer of Madison Square Garden Entertainment, sought to offer incentives to unvaccinated New Yorkers to join the 52 percent of New York adults who are now fully vaccinated by offering a glimpse of the perks it provides. 

At Radio City, for example, a "100-percent vaccinated, mask-free audience" will be able to see the closing selection in the Tribeca Film Festival on June 19. Those attending concerts, sporting events, and other large gatherings can be asked to present proof of vaccination, the governor and Mr. Dolan said, either the state's Excelsior Pass, digital proof of vaccination available via a smartphone app, or the C.D.C. vaccination record card given those to whom the vaccine is administered. 

Some venues are offering 100-percent capacity with no social distancing in sections for vaccinated people. 

"I encourage operators and venues to go higher than 50-percent vaccinated," Governor Cuomo said. "You can go to 100-percent vaccinated. That's in a private operator's control. From the state's point of view, we want to encourage people to get vaccinated. Yes, there are health reasons, but we're opening up and we're opening up with more opportu-nities for vaccinated people." 

Even as the mask mandate lifts in many settings for vaccinated people, immunocompromised and unvaccinated people should continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing, the C.D.C. said. 

Some people are still not comfortable with the lifting of masks and social distancing requirements and would like them to stay in place "a little bit longer, out of concern for those not vaccinated yet," Supervisor Van Scoyoc noted on Tuesday. 

A Covid vaccine may not receive emergency authorization for use in younger children until late summer or early fall, leaving them vulnerable even as grandparents, parents, and older siblings are able to shed their masks and gather again in groups.

But for older adults, who were most vulnerable at the height of the pandemic, life is beginning to look more normal. Wellness programs at the East Hampton Town Senior Citizens Center will resume, in modified form, next month.

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez told her colleagues on the town board on Tuesday that a healing circle, with exercises for flexibility and balance, will begin on June 1 at 9 a.m. outdoors on the center's grounds. Qigong will be offered on Thursdays at 10 a.m. starting on June 3. Meditation sessions will start on June 7.

The programs are free for those age 60 and over. Up to 24 people will be accommodated, with reservations and prescreening required.

"We're really excited about bringing the seniors back to the center," Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said. "We're all over the moon about it."


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