The move comes as a key threshold is met, with 70% of residents having had at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We can now return to life as we know it,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a briefing held at the top of the World Trade Center. He called the building, which rose from the rubble of the original Twin Towers “a symbol of resilience. … We rise as New Yorkers, that’s our motto.” He added a shoutout to the Tribeca Film Festival, whose first edition was held in 2002, just a few months after terrorist attacks brought down the towers.
“This is a momentous day, and we deserve it because it has been a long, long road,” Cuomo added.
The decision means that, for example, residents can enter commercial buildings without temperature checks or other health screening. Such protocols are now optional for businesses. People can gather without social distancing or disinfection being the norm. Movie theaters, music venues, museums and a number of other public spaces will officially be able to return at peak capacity as a result of the decision.
Federal guidelines will continue to be observed at health care facilities, schools and public transportation, but state restrictions are disappearing as of today. The announcement comes on the same day that California also ends most of its Covid measures.
New York has now administered 20.2 million vaccine doses, more than any big state, Cuomo said. California has a higher vaccine rate, though, at 72%. Fourteen states have now hit the 70% threshold, which President Biden has pledged to have the country at by July 4.
In his remarks, Cuomo recalled the dark days early in the pandemic. “Everybody looked at New York like it was just a New York phenomenon,” he remembered. The positivity rate in New York reached a peak of 48.16% in early 2020, which was then the highest rate in the world. Today, Cuomo said, it is 0.40%, lowest in the U.S. About 2.1 million New York residents have contracted the coronavirus and nearly 53,000 have died.
“We were ambushed by Covid. We had people dying of Covid before we knew Covid was here,” the governor said. “It was like living through a science-fiction movie.”
Fireworks displays commemorating the milestone are planned in various parts of the New York City area. A ticker-tape parade for front-line health care workers and other first responders is also set for New York City’s “Canyon of Heroes” in Lower Manhattan in early July.
A small but vocal crowd representing various parts of state government and public agencies stood and applauded numerous times during the speech. While the room was small, Cuomo’s emphatic tenor resembled that of a speaker at a large convention hall.
The governor did not take questions from the media at the end of the 40-minute event. Now in his third term, he has been under intense fire in recent months after numerous staffers came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault, as well as bullying. Cuomo has denied the accusations.