‘A Momentous Day’: New York and California Lift Most Virus Restrictions

Wawo Takahashi, 10, left, and James Coniglio, 6, held signs on Tuesday in San Francisco as they celebrated the loosening of restrictions in California. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
[nytimes.com – 2021.06.15] The governors of New York and California, the states hit earliest and hardest by the pandemic, triumphantly announced on Tuesday that they had lifted virtually all coronavirus restrictions on businesses and social gatherings as both states hit milestones in vaccinating their residents.

In New York, where 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the order from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo means that restaurants will no longer be forced to space tables six feet apart; movie theaters will be allowed to pack their auditoriums without spacing seats apart; and entering commercial buildings won’t require a temperature check.

“This is a momentous day and we deserve it because it has been a long, long road,” Mr. Cuomo said at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, adding that the changes meant a “return to life as we know it.”

In California, where 72 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Gov. Gavin Newsom called Tuesday “reopening day,” as he lifted similar capacity limits on businesses and social distancing requirements, with some exceptions.

Businesses in both states, however, will still have the option of requiring health precautions on their premises.

Customers in restaurants in New York State are no longer required to be separated six feet apart. (Calla Kessler for The New York Times)

For all the celebration, however, the nation was also poised to reach 600,000 dead from the coronavirus. More than 63,000 have died from the virus in California, while in New York that number has reached nearly 53,000 — the two highest totals in the country.

Washington D.C. and 13 other states besides New York and California have all reached the same threshold, according to the latest federal data, with Vermont topping the list at 84 percent. Maryland will lift most virus restrictions on July 1, the state announced on Tuesday.

Both states 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 and employees to feel safe.

Despite the cause for celebration, it will likely be months before New York City’s commercial corridors in Manhattan resemble anything like the hustle and bustle before the pandemic. Just 12 percent of workers have returned to their offices as of late May, about the same rate it was last fall, according to Partnership for New York City.

Dr. Kitaw Demissie, the dean of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, said that reaching a 70 percent vaccination rate represented a real public health success.

“Seventy percent is really good in my opinion,” he said, estimating that at least another 10 percent of people in New York City had immunity from prior infection. “So that will take us probably to 80 or 85 percent immunity.”

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