It’s been a year and a half since New York first locked down to stop COVID-19, turning Times Square into a ghost town, sending children from schools to learn at home, shuttering the 24-hour subway, and causing untold numbers to flee the Big Apple. Along with all that came millions of people infected and tens of thousands dead. On Tuesday, though, this chapter seemed to close, hopefully for good.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo told a packed, maskless room at One World Trade Center that nearly all of the state’s restrictions had been lifted, because 70 percent of adults in New York have been at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus. Once the epicenter of the global pandemic, Cuomo said the state has dropped from the highest test-positivity rate in the country, 48 percent at the height of the pandemic, to one of the lowest, at 0.4 percent. On the same day, New York reported 160 positive cases and five deaths. “This is a momentous day and we deserve it,” he said. “What does 70 percent mean? That means that we can now return to life as we know it.”
Effectively immediately, the state will no longer require most businesses to use measures meant to mitigate the spread of the virus. The state will cease to enforce capacity limits that forced restaurants to space out tables and theaters to leave open seats. Partitions and disinfection protocols for other businesses will no longer be enforced. Mandatory temperature checks to enter commercial buildings will also end, as will contract-tracing forms and mask mandates. Businesses may choose to still ask patrons to space out or wear masks, but they won’t have the force of law behind them.
Masks will still be required on public transit, in schools, and in health-care settings, Cuomo said, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. But as soon as the agency updates its guidance, those requirements will be tweaked, he said.
To cap what amounted to a victory speech, Cuomo confirmed rumors that the New York City area will get surprise fireworks on Tuesday to commemorate the milestone. Early next month, the city will throw Mayor Bill de Blasio’s long-promised ticker-tape parade for health-care workers and other front-line workers.