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Many NY restrictions lifted as vaccination benchmark met

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that 70% of adults in New York have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a threshold he said the state would celebrate by easing many of its remaining social distancing rules and shooting off fireworks.

“What does 70% mean? It means that we can now return to life as we know it,” Cuomo told an invitation-only crowd at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Effective immediately, he said, the state is lifting rules that had limited the size of gatherings and required some types of businesses to follow cleaning protocols or take people’s temperatures or screen them for recent COVID-19 symptoms.

Businesses will no longer have to follow social distancing rules, or limit how many people they can allow inside based on keeping people 6 feet (2 meters) apart.

Some rules will remain: New Yorkers, for now, will continue to have to wear masks in schools, subways, large venues, homeless shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, jails and prisons.

Cuomo, a Democrat, said there would be fireworks displays around the state Tuesday. He said in previous days that the fireworks would commemorate the 70% threshold, but said Tuesday the fireworks are to honor essential workers.

It’s unclear how many more people have to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which is when enough people have immunity that the virus has trouble spreading.

It’s unclear what that threshold is for the coronavirus, though many experts say it’s 70% or higher. Just half of all 20 million residents in New York are fully vaccinated, according to federal data as of Monday. About 58% of residents of all ages have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Over the past seven days, New York has been averaging around 450 new coronavirus cases a day, the lowest level since the pandemic began.

Vaccination rates are particularly low in parts of the state that were hit hard by the winter COVID-19 surge, including parts of New York City and rural counties in western and central New York.

About 30% of the population is vaccinated in Allegany County, compared with 37% in nearby Wyoming County.

In New York City, 38% and 40.6% of residents are fully vaccinated in the Bronx and Brooklyn, respectively. That contrasts with 58% of Manhattan residents and 51% in Queens.

Also Tuesday, health officials announced that nearly 900 people received expired COVID-19 vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Times Square earlier this month. The 899 people who received doses of the Pfizer vaccine at the former NFL Experience building in Times Square between June 5 and June 10 should schedule another Pfizer shot as soon as possible, the New York City Health Department said.

Statewide the vaccination rate for adults may have crossed the 70% mark, but it continues to lag locally. According to the state’s vaccine tracker, 56.5% of people over the age of 18 in Chautauqua County have received at least one dose, representing 60,177 residents.

The rate is even lower in Cattaraugus County, where 50.6% of adults have received at least one shot to date.

County officials did note previously that the rate is likely higher since many may have crossed state lines to get the vaccine and not report it locally.

Only two new cases of COVID-19 were reported Tuesday in Chautauqua County. There are currently only seven active cases, two people with the virus in the hospital and 37 in quarantine.

To date there have been 9,284 total confirmed cases, 9,120 recoveries and 157 virus-related deaths.

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