Tuesday, June 15, 2021, marked more than 14 months since New York shut down and sealed itself off from normal life, in a valiant effort to beat back what was then a still-novel coronavirus. It also marked the day the death toll of COVID in the U.S. surpassed 600,000.
But June 15 marked yet another important milestone — the day more than 70% of adult New Yorker have received at least one dose of the life-saving vaccine.
That number, the magic 70%, was the benchmark Gov. Cuomo set for when most of the remaining COVID restrictions would be lifted. Reaching that number means we can begin “resuming our reimagined normal,” the governor said Tuesday.
But, even as hospitalization and death rates have plummeted, things are not back to normal, nor should they be quite yet, not with the highly contagious Delta strain now spreading fast. Many restrictions, including masking requirements, correctly remain in effect for large indoor events spaces, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, many schools, public transit and health-care facilities. These are places where, with one in three adult New Yorkers yet to get a shot, the deadly virus can still spread easily.
Some disparities are especially stark. In the Bronx and Brooklyn, only 57% and 59% of adults have gotten one shot. Rates are even lower in rural Allegany, Steuben, Lewis and Fulton counties Upstate. With both Pfizer and Moderna’s shots on track to receive full FDA approval in coming months, states like New York can, and should, make the shots mandatory for sensitive workplaces and schools. If carrots like free snacks and cash prizes aren’t working, we’ll have to resort to the stick, with only narrow medical exemptions, like those in place for other vaccination requirements.
But Cuomo’s lifting of a wide raft of restrictions should force New York to ask and answer the question: With most regulations rescinded, what justifies the continuation of the state of emergency that undergirds Cuomo’s extraordinary COVID-era executive superpowers?
— New York Daily News/TNS