Half of New York's adult population has completed their COVID-19 vaccine series, days before the state is set to end most capacity limits set to curb to spread of the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday.
The percentage of New Yorkers 18 and older who have completed their vaccination series rose to 51.5%, according to the state's tracking of inoculations. That number is slightly lower for all eligible New Yorkers, 41.3%, which now includes anyone 12 and older.
"Even as we continue to reopen and adjust to a new normal, we need to remember that this virus is still out there and the vaccine is the best weapon we have to defeat it," Cuomo said Saturday. "The vaccine works, and we are continuing to do everything we can to make it accessible in every community. If you still need to get your shot, you just need to show up at one of our sites and roll up your sleeve."
The number of New Yorkers to get vaccinated continues to rise, although its pace has slowed in recent weeks. Eligibility has expanded to everyone 16 and older, and most sites across the state and in New York City now offer walk-ins for the first dose.
New York's rolling positivity rate has fallen for 40 days straight, Cuomo said, now down to 1.18%. It's the lowest 7-day average the state has seen in October, but it shows signs the virus is still making its way through New Yorkers as most capacity limits lift on Wednesday and stores prepare to ditch mandatory mask policies following the latest CDC guidance.
Cuomo has yet to announce a decision for New York as it relates to this week's CDC mask guidance that says people who are fully vaccinated don't need to wear face coverings except in certain situations. Late Thursday, he issued a statement saying New York's top health officials and its partners in surrounding states were reviewing the CDC guidance on masks and social distancing for the vaccinated and would develop their own conclusion.
Nationwide stores, like Walmart and Costco, said Friday that customers who are fully vaccinated will not need to wear a mask in its stores and clubs, unless one is required by state or local laws. Walmart said employees can also skip a face mask starting Tuesday, if they are fully vaccinated and verify that with a "yes" or "no" during a daily health assessment.
While all businesses can reopen at 100% capacity next Wednesday in New York and New Jersey, the governors have said social distancing is still the rule in cases where there are non-vaccinated people inside. That minimum 6-foot distance essentially does put a capacity cap on spots like sporting venues and theaters.
Should that minimum change as the CDC has indicated it might (to 3 feet), Cuomo and Murphy would likely both adopt the change. In New York, Cuomo has worked with pro sports teams like the Yankees, Mets and Islanders to debut vaccinated-only fan sections, where social distancing isn't required and capacity can be higher.
Cuomo has said New York state will pilot reduced social distancing at indoor venues -- like Broadway theaters -- by June 19 to try to boost capacity as well. Previously, he announced Broadway would return at 100% capacity by mid-September.
Later on Friday, Murphy announced that New Jersey will look to end the COVID-19 public health emergency by mid-June. The measure has been in place since March 2020 and has been renewed every month since, but the governor said if legislation aimed at recovery and vaccination efforts is finalized ahead of the renewal date next month, then the order will be allowed to expire.
The Garden State passed its own vaccine milestone over the weekend, getting at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of at least 70% of the state's adults. Federal officials say the state is just the seventh to reach that record.
Even as the CDC eased its guidance, some federal mask rules remain in effect. The mandate still applies when within airports or on planes, over-the-road buses and commuter buses and rails, according to the TSA. The agency has previously said its mask mandates would remain in effect at least through mid-September.