Tuesday, July 27, 2021

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    ‘A Momentous Day’: New York Lifts Most Virus Restrictions

    Officials made the move after more than 70 percent of adults in the state had received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

    Restaurants will no longer be forced to space tables six feet apart or use physical partitions; movie theaters will be allowed to pack their auditoriums without spacing seats apart; and entering commercial buildings won’t require a temperature check.

    With 70 percent of adults in New York having received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the state took a major step toward normalcy by eliminating nearly all restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Tuesday.

    The changes, which will take effect immediately, mark yet another milestone in the economic recovery of a state that was once an epicenter of the pandemic, and are expected to bring back the type of scenes familiar to most New Yorkers in prepandemic times.

    With the order, the state, in most cases, will end capacity limits and no longer require social distancing, disinfection protocols and health screenings, instead making it optional for businesses to impose such health precautions on their premises.

    “This is a momentous day and we deserve it because it has been a long, long road,” Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, said at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday. He added: “We can return to life as we know it.”

    In addition to the changes in protocols at restaurants, movie theaters and commercial buildings, barber shops and hair salons won’t need to ask their customers for contact tracing information and gyms and fitness centers won’t need to abide by strict disinfecting protocols to clean their exercise equipment.

    Mr. Cuomo set the 70 percent threshold that triggered the end of the restrictions last week as a way to spur on the state’s reopening and incentivize people to get vaccinated, saying “virtually all” coronavirus rules would expire. Fourteen other states and Washington, D.C., have all reached the same threshold, according to the latest federal data, with Vermont topping the list at 84 percent.

    On Tuesday, California also lifted nearly all of its restrictions — “reopening day,” as Gov. Gavin Newsom called it — including capacity limits on businesses and social distancing requirements, with some exceptions, just as 72 percent of adults there received at least one dose of the vaccine.

    Even so, the move in New York comes as health officials remain vexed by low vaccination rates in ZIP codes across the state, and in pockets of New York City.

    About 65 percent of adults — those 18 or older — have received at least one dose in the city, while 54 percent of city residents of all ages have gotten one dose, according to city data. Some of the lowest adult vaccination rates in the city are in the Bronx (57 percent with a first dose) and in Brooklyn (59 percent).

    New Yorkers should still expect to see signs of pandemic life even with the restrictions lifted.

    Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

    The state will still abide by mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has advised that unvaccinated people should wear masks indoors and maintain social distancing. Some stricter restrictions will remain in correctional and health care facilities, as well as in schools, public transit and homeless shelters.

    And the decision to end many of the precautions, such as allowing vaccinated customers to walk around without masks, will be up to individual businesses. Some may decide to keep them in place in order to allow their clientele to feel safe.

    Over the past few months, as the virus positivity rate has reached record lows, Mr. Cuomo has lifted an array of pandemic-era rules.

    Twenty-four-hour subway service resumed last month. Bars and restaurants were allowed to operate at 100 percent capacity and remain open past midnight. State officials have also loosened capacity limits to allow more people in concert halls and sports stadiums.

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