This story was reported by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes and Candice Ferrette. It was written by Brodsky.
Beaches and pools across New York State could open at 100% capacity by July Fourth if COVID-19 infection rates continue to decline, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.
State regulations currently stipulate that beaches and pools can open in time for Memorial Day with at least 6 feet of social distancing between visitors and without a hard capacity cap on each location.
But with the state's positivity rate falling Tuesday to just over 1% — and half of all New Yorkers 18 and older statewide completing their vaccination series — Cuomo said the state is on track to lift limitations at all summer hot spots.
What to know
Beach and pools across the state could open at 100% capacity by July Fourth if COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall, the governor said.
COVID positivity rates continue to decline across New York. The statewide infection rate Tuesday was 1.1% — the lowest since Oct. 17.
Half of all New Yorkers 18 and older statewide are fully vaccinated, but the data also shows vaccine hesitancy among younger residents.
"We need to get ready for a great summer," Cuomo said during a briefing in Buffalo. "The weather is turning. The winter is over. We need to get on with life and we want to have a great summer."
Long Island lawmakers, including Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), have urged the state to consider opening beaches at maximum capacity, citing CDC guidance that shows the transmission of the virus on the beach is exceedingly rare.
"I have called for a full reopening of our beaches, and today’s guidance is an important step toward that goal," Kaminsky said Wednesday. "Envisioning a normal summer on the beach means that we can expect businesses and coastal economies to thrive again, and for families to enjoy the beautiful, natural resources that make Long Island special."
Curran said "we can get to 100% sooner rather than later given our high vaccination rate, the low risk of outdoor transmission, and importance of the beach and recreation to our local economy."
Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said he's ready to reverse course on limiting the town's three beaches in Point Lookout and Lido Beach to Nassau residents once Cuomo lifts capacity limitations.
"We always planned for operations at full capacity and we’re ready to welcome all residents to our beaches," Clavin said. "We’re expecting huge crowds because people are getting vaccinated and we know we can open safely."
Long Beach officials said expanded capacity could increase the city’s revenue by $696,000 and potentially lower city taxes. The city’s proposed budget anticipates $4.2 million in revenue from July through June 2022, contingent on increasing capacity and beach fees. Last year the city had to limit beach access to residents only on weekends while capacity was limited to 50% and city beaches were closed.
"Until July 1, we are comfortable we can manage the beach with 6-foot guidelines without having to restrict passes," said city spokesman John McNally.
Calls to reevaluate school guidance
Curran also is calling on the state to "immediately reevaluate and overhaul school guidance, including mask protocols and hybrid learning," in a letter sent to Cuomo's office Wednesday.
"Our students, teachers and families have been doing an incredible job adapting, but as we continue to beat down this virus and reopen New York, the state must reevaluate the protocols in our schools," said Curran, noting that 55% of Nassau’s total population has received at least one dose of vaccine. "I have heard from numerous parents who are worried about the effects that these protocols are having on their children’s quality of life and their education."
Meanwhile, COVID positivity rates continue to decline statewide.
The statewide infection rate Tuesday was 1.1% — the lowest number since Oct. 17 — while the seven-day average fell to 1.28%, according to State Health Department data. Hospitalizations dropped to 1,928 and deaths to 26, including one in Suffolk. Nassau has not had a COVID death for four consecutive days.
Long Island's seven-day infection rate was 1.16%, with 116 people testing positive in Nassau on Tuesday, and 119 in Suffolk, the data shows.
Vaccine hesitancy among young New Yorkers
On the vaccine front, more than 17 million doses have been administered, Cuomo said.
Nearly 49% of all New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 40% are fully vaccinated, according to the Health Department. The numbers are better on Long Island, where 55.9% of all Nassau residents and 50.1% of Suffolk residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, the data shows.
But the data also shows vaccine hesitancy among younger New Yorkers. Less than 26% of residents ages 16-25 are fully vaccinated, and 36.3% of young adults ages 26-34, compared to 74% of New Yorkers ages 65-74.
"We have to change that mindset," Cuomo said. "Just because a younger person tends to be less affected by COVID; they can transmit COVID just as easily as anyone."
The Centers for Disease Control’s vaccine advisory committee Wednesday endorsed the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, further clearing the way for states to start administering it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the emergency use authorization of the vaccine Monday to include those ages 12 to 15.
Incentives in NYC
New York City will begin offering gift cards to anyone who’s willing to get the vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.
The gift cards, redeemable at public markets like Chelsea Market, are sponsored by Google, and there are more incentives to come, de Blasio said — "all different kinds, for every kind of New Yorker."
"Incentives continue to be rolled out," de Blasio said. "Today, we’re announcing gifts cards. Everyone likes gift cards."
The gift card program comes as supply of appointments outstrips demand, a reversal from the early months when the vaccine first became available.
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