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'A Momentous Day:' New York Relaxes Most COVID-19 Restrictions After Reaching 70% Vaccination Rate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo relaxed the statewide COVID restrictions Tuesday, calling it "a momentous day."

The announcement came as a result of more than 70% of adults receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, reminding us the state that once had the highest rate of infection now has the lowest in the country.

"It is the national goal and we hit it ahead of schedule!" Cuomo said, adding, "We can now return to life as we know it. The state mandates that have proven right and correct and brought us through the pandemic are relaxed as of today, effective immediately."

WATCH: Gov. Cuomo Relaxes COVID Restrictions Across New York State

Social distancing requirements, capacity restrictions, health screenings and cleaning protocols are no longer mandated by the state for retail, food services, offices, gyms and salons, but may be required by individual businesses. CDC guidelines remain in place for schools, public transportation and health care settings.

On Tuesday, a group of parents statewide sent a letter to Cuomo, asking him to remove the mask mandate for minors, writing there's no longer a justifiable reason to mask public school children, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported.

"Parents are confused. Teachers are vaccinated. It's safe for kids to take off their masks. There's such low transmission and schools have been the safest place to be. The governor has said it, the mayor has said it," New York City public school parent Natalya Murakhver said.

Cuomo responded by saying, "We're following the federal guidance on that. CDC sets rules for all schools in all states."

"But it's guidance, though. A lot of the parents say it's unfair," Grymes pointed out.

"Well, we asked CDC specifically if in this state with these facts we could lift masks in school and outside of school. CDC said it would be a mistake to remove the mask mandate in schools, but they said we could lift the mandate out of schools, which is what we did," Cuomo said.


Landmarks were lit in blue and fireworks displays were held throughout the state Tuesday night to celebrate the health care heroes and other essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.

"Remember June 15, remember today. Because it is the day that New York rose again," he said, adding that June 15 was also his father's birthday.

Earlier Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he, too, was ready to reopen, though fully vaccinated residents account for only 46.8% of the city's population.

"I think we are ready, bottom line," he said. "See the decline in positivity rates."

Vaccination rates still fall well below the goal in some communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and Washington Heights, however.

"I think we have some more work to do in certain neighborhoods," de Blasio said.

The mayor says the city will keep working to get shots to people in those pockets.

WATCH: Mayor Bill De Blasio Holds Daily COVID Briefing 

Throughout the city Tuesday night, restaurants were busy, sidewalks and shops were packed, and the even the box office at a movie theater on Broadway was buzzing.

Something the governor said really resonated with a lot of people who spoke to CBS2's Jessica Layton -- it's no longer about just surviving, it's time to get back to living.

Becca Williams and her best friends toasted her 21st birthday and the first night of New York's new life.

"It was like, the greatest birthday present ever," Williams said.

"It feels so surreal. This has been my second time at a restaurant in the past six months," Hofstra student Eddie Fitzgerald said.

But a lot of people say it's not like switching a light back on. They'll need to ease back into pre-pandemic ways to feel comfortable again.

"Some kind of semblance of normal, but I don't think after the past year and a half we had that anything is gonna actually be normal again," Brooklyn resident Kiara Flores said.

"It's been a really long and sad year, but I'm glad that we're back ... I went to my first indoor bar experience two weeks ago. Definitely was a little bit like, whoa, but I feel good with the 70 percent benchmark," Chelsea resident Krishna Shah said.

"It's a little bit scary, but it's also really exciting," Williams said. "I'm trying to wean myself out of being nervous."

A self-proclaimed "new" New Yorker named Daniel told CBS2's John Dias he just moved to the city last month from Phoenix, Arizona. Now, he's ready for the change.

"It was a nice transition, because it wasn't quite as busy as normal," he said of moving during the pandemic. "I'm excited for it to be the New York that we have come and visited before."

In another sign the pandemic-end is near, what used to be a mega vaccine site at the Javits Center on Manhattan's West Side has scaled back significantly. New Yorkers were still streaming in, including a mother who brought her twin 12-year-old daughters.

"So they, too, are protected and protecting the rest of the community," Gemma Postlethwaite told Dias.

Many recent vaccine recipients said they chose to wait to see if others would have adverse reactions.

"To play it safe. But I did it, so it's done," said Blake Marshall, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

"Johnson & Johnson reacted a little differently than Pfizer and Moderna, so that's why I hesitated," added Danny Murillo of Richmond Hill, Queens.


Hesitancy remains an issue in several zip codes, such as 10456 in the Claremont section of the Bronx, where the fully vaccinated rate is barely 32%, one of the lowest in the city. At 33.5%, zip code 10039, of Central Harlem and Washington Heights, isn't doing much better.

This comes as the Delta variant becomes an increasing danger. It now makes up 10% of new cases in the country and is doubling every two weeks. The strain originated in India and could take a significant toll on those who are not vaccinated.

CBS2's Andrea Grymes and Jessica Layton contributed to this report

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