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More Restrictions Lifted as New York Vaccination Rates Reach New Heights

Tue, 06/15/2021 - 14:27
On Saturday in East Hampton, signs on the corner of Cedar Street and North Main Street in East Hampton still urged people to wear masks and stay six feet apart.
Durell Godfrey

With 70 percent of adult New Yorkers having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lifted most of the remaining pandemic restrictions on retail stores, restaurants, offices, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment centers, hair salons and barbershops, and personal care businesses.

Mask wearing is voluntary for those who have been fully vaccinated, the governor said, and those who have not been vaccinated are responsible for their own mask usage. Masks and other health protocols are still in place, however, for large-scale indoor event venues (defined as those that accommodate more than 5,000 people), schools, public transportation, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care facilities. Private businesses may also choose to continue requiring masks and social distancing.

The announcement came one year, three months, and one week since Suffolk County's first Covid-19 patient was admitted to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, and for many months, the county was a Covid hot spot, with a daily infection rate that in January of this year climbed as high as 11 percent.

Already many local retail shops and restaurants have relaxed mask-wearing rules for vaccinated people, though some grocery stores in particular, such as the Stop and Shop in East Hampton Village, have kept them in place.

Jesse Bartel, the manager of BookHampton in East Hampton Village, said having the restrictions lifted takes some stress off the store's employees, who previously had to limit customer traffic and police their mask wearing.

"It's still a weird time to work, for sure. You still don't feel 100 percent safe," he said. "You can't exactly know if someone is vaccinated unless you ask, which we're not doing. Luckily, vaccination rates are super high, and especially here more so than up the Island. We feel good about that as a staff — a feeling that we are moving toward normalcy as much as we can."

Municipal and school boards, including the East Hampton Town boards and school districts in East Hampton, Montauk, and Amagansett, have begun announcing a return to either fully in-person sessions or hybrid meetings with call-in options available and a preregistration system that will allow for contact tracing; the town's decision is covered separately in this week's Star.

On May 4, President Joe Biden set a goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults in the United States by July 4. The New York Times reported Tuesday that 65 percent of people ages 18 and up have received at least one vaccine shot. Other states meeting the mark are Vermont (84 percent), Hawaii (82 percent), and Massachusetts (81 percent), with 12 other states and Washington, D.C., coming in with at least 70 percent.

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

About a year ago, on June 12, 2020, Suffolk County officials were touting having gone 24 hours without a Covid fatality, whereas more recently, the county has gone a few days at a time without a Covid-related death. The death toll in Suffolk now stands at 3,400. On June 21 of last year, there were just under 100 Covid-19 patients in the county's hospitals. Hospitalizations increased dramatically, however, after the fall and winter holiday season, but as of Tuesday, the most recent date for which information is available, there were 62 people hospitalized in Suffolk.

The state's Covid-19 infection rates are the lowest in the nation, Governor Cuomo said Tuesday. In Suffolk County on Monday, just 28 new cases of Covid-19 were reported among the 4,227 people tested. The county's seven-day average of positive test results was just .4 percent.

"Congratulations to New Yorkers because they are the ones who did it," Governor Cuomo said. "We're no longer just surviving — we're thriving. The state mandates that have proven right and brought us through this pandemic are relaxed as of today, effective immediately."

This story has been updated since it was first published.

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