SULLIVAN — The signs have been popping up on doors around the county: “Per CDC guidelines, if you are fully vaccinated you can enter without a mask.”
While some places are still requiring masks, it appears that going maskless is becoming a more common practice as things start to open up.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted once 70 percent of New Yorkers aged 18 or older have received the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccination series.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the statewide vaccination rate is 68.9 percent.
Capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening, and contact information for tracing will become optional for businesses such as retail, food services, offices and gyms, among other commercial settings.
Large-scale event venues, pre-K to 12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and healthcare settings must continue to follow the state's guidelines until more residents are vaccinated.
"The lifting of our COVID restrictions is a sign of how hard New Yorkers have worked to contain the spread of the virus and protect their communities," Governor Cuomo said. "With numbers trending at record lows, it is clear that the vaccine is effective and that it is an invaluable tool against the virus.”
Sullivan County Public Health Director, Nancy McGraw, announced on Wednesday that Sullivan County and partners have vaccinated 30,000 people against COVID-19 as of this week, with more being added daily.
“Our population is just under 76,000, and when you remove those less than 12 years old and thus unable to receive a vaccine dose, approximately 60 percent of our residents have fully completed their vaccinations,” McGraw noted. “And there are close to 5,000 more who are on their way to joining them in ensuring our communities are safe from this highly contagious virus.”
According to the county’s dashboard, as of Wednesday there were 25 active cases of coronavirus, markedly down from a high of around 300 in April.
Hospitalizations have also been trending down, with a current number of two people hospitalized. The number of deaths remains at 76.
“We’ve crossed the 50 percent threshold, which is significant, but we’re not done yet,” said District 2 Legislator Nadia Rajsz, who chairs the Legislature’s Health & Family Services Committee. “The goal is to get all of us protected against this virus, especially the new, more virulent strains. The science proves that vaccinated people are better protected.”
Masks in schools?
While restrictions in many businesses are being lifted, schools are still requiring that students and staff wear face masks.
Although the New York State Department of Health said an announcement was coming to drop in-school mask mandates, they walked back their decision, saying the CDC guidance calls for mask wearing in schools.
However Governor Cuomo then announced that school districts can choose to lift the requirement that their students must wear masks outdoors.
"The numbers show that the risk of transmission by children is extremely low, especially in this state, which has an extremely low positivity rate. We spoke with the CDC, and since they're not going to change their guidance for several weeks in New York State, we're going to modify the CDC guidance and allow schools to choose no mask outside for children," Cuomo said.
School districts in the county issued memos saying that they will follow the state and CDC guidance.
New York State Senator Mike Martucci (NY-42) has been adamant that schools should drop their mask mandates.
He urged Cuomo to ease the mask mandate “as temperatures rise while cases of COVID-19 continue to drop.”
He added, “State and local governments have the authority to lift mask mandates for our kids. The majority of states ended mask requirements in schools long ago. We should immediately do so now.”
The CDC recommends schools continue to use the current COVID-19 prevention strategies for the 2020-2021 school year.
It is expected it will make a nationwide decision on school guidance in several weeks.