So close: Cuomo on verge of lifting most COVID-19 limits as New York vax rate nears 70%

Children receive Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New Hyde Park, New York
Thomas Lo (15) receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, U.S., May 13, 2021.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

New York is so close to lifting most remaining COVID-19 restrictions as the state’s vaccination rate has almost hit 70%, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday.

The Empire State gave 69.9% of New Yorkers at least one shot as of Monday — a tenth of a percent away from reaching the threshold that Cuomo previously pledged to lift coronavirus guidelines for most businesses.

“We are moving forward to our reimagined, post-COVID future at an incredible pace. A year ago, it was unfathomable to think we’d be at this point today,” Cuomo said in a statement on June 14.

More than 20 million total doses have been administered statewide including 11.1 million people who got at least one dose and 9.8 million who are fully vaccinated, according to the governor’s office.

Last week, the governor said that he would make restrictions optional like mask requirements and capacity limits for most businesses once the state passes the 70% benchmark. To mark the occasion, the Empire State Building and other New York state landmarks will light up in gold and blue.

The exceptions where the limits will remain mandatory are large-scale event venues, schools, public transit, shelters, jails, nursing homes, and other healthcare settings.

Other businesses will still be able to choose to keep restrictions in place as long as they don’t violate state and federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In New York City, officials registered the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate since the pandemic began on Monday at 0.59%, as more than 8.7 million vaccines have been administered, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

To get more shots to neighborhoods with low vaccine rates, the city launched on Monday the “NYC Referral Bonus” program which will award community-based organizations $100 for each person they refer to get their first dose at a city-run site.

“Through the NYC Referral Bonus program, we’re empowering New Yorkers in every neighborhood to be ambassadors for our city’s comeback by encouraging their friends and loved ones to get vaccinated,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The scheme is open to community groups, faith-based groups, public housing tenant associations, and mutual aid organizations who can sign up starting Wednesday at NYC.gov/VaccineReferralBonus.

Each organization can earn up to $20,000 and they will get the payments after the program ends, according to the mayor’s office.

The city and state continue an array of other incentives encouraging people to get vaccinated.

The city will raffle off 15 staycation packages every week for the next five weeks in partnership with local hotel groups. 

Cuomo is offering children between 12 and 17 who get a shot the chance to win a four-year scholarship to any public college of university in the state, which is worth about $100,000.