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'New York is back': Cuomo makes pitch for a return to full life after COVID-19

A couple takes luggage out of a yellow

A couple takes luggage out of a yellow cab stopped by Penn Station in Midtown Manhattan on Friday, just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo invited tourists and people in the state to return to social and economic life, but urged them to get vaccinated for COVID-19 first. Credit: Getty Images/Michael M. Santiago

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Michael Gormley, Bart Jones and David Olson. It was written by Jones.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a pitch Wednesday for a return of New York as a hub of commerce, culture and social activity, boasting that the state has one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 positivity in the country and is, again, open for business.

After months of shutdowns, domestic travel bans and even calls for international restrictions, Cuomo declared "New York is back, and New York is the best and we want people to be part of it."

He encouraged international tourists to return, without any quarantine or limits for entry.

"Our arms are open, we welcome international tourists," he said, adding they would just need to "follow the guidelines" of venues they visit.

His promotional push came as he said that the state went from having the highest positivity level in the nation to the lowest seven-day average at 0.64%.

"Our message is simple. It’s time to reenter society … there’s no place better to do that than the State of New York," said Cuomo, speaking from the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.

He appealed to residents to get vaccinated so they can enjoy all the state offers.

Underscoring that push, he announced the first 10 winners of a scholarship raffle among 12- to 17-year-olds who get vaccinated. Winners get four years of free room, board and tuition at any state college or university. One was a Long Islander, Hannah Lee, of Westbury.

He also announced the New York International Auto Show will come back this year, from Aug. 20-29. He said he hopes the event, canceled last year, will attract 1 million visitors.

More entertainment venues, restaurants and other businesses will require proof of vaccination for access, another incentive to get the shots, he said. That will be good for business, since full capacity means more customers and more revenues, he said.

The Mets, for example, are expanding to allow 90% capacity, with 29,500 seats set aside for vaccinated fans and only 3,000 for the unvaccinated, starting June 11, he said.

Cuomo praised Radio City Music Hall for requiring that 100% of its patrons show vaccination proof.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, called on Cuomo to end the mandated use of masks by school children.

"If Governor Cuomo would trust the science and use basic common sense, he would lift the mask mandate on New York's school children today," Zeldin said Wednesday. "Our kids have suffered too much already throughout this pandemic in so many destructive ways, developmentally, mentally, emotionally and physically."

Cuomo responded, "We follow the CDC guidance," referring to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It’s very rare that we differ with the CDC. I have raised before that the mask mandate outside for students seems a little extreme to me, and we’re talking to the CDC about it."

Cuomo said the state is focusing on vaccinating more children ages 12 to 17, since that is the group with the lowest vaccination rates.

He said 9.5% of children in that age group have been fully vaccinated, compared with 79% of people ages 65 to 74, who show the highest vaccination rates.

One promising development, he added, is that since the state announced its scholarship raffle, 45,883 children in the 12- to 17-year-old range got their shots.

NYC to vaccinate children in schools

Students will receive COVID-19 vaccination shots while in school, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. The pilot program starts Friday at four Bronx middle schools, and will expand to the other four boroughs.

Giving shots in school will "open up a world of possibilities," de Blasio said.

About 118,000 children 12 to 17 have been vaccinated against the virus in the city, he said. That amounts to 23% for that age range. The national average is 22%, he said.

The program will extend into the summer, the mayor said, when the city plans to open summer school to all students to help make up for any learning loss.

Mark Levine, a city councilman representing Upper Manhattan who chairs the health committee, said schools are ideal spots to vaccinate children since they maintain records of kids’ ages and are adept at obtaining parental consent.

"There are many families that are busy with work and family obligations, and they might not have time to travel to a vaccination site after school to get their young person vaccinated," Levine said. "But if you bring vaccination to them in their school buildings — well, that’s a game changer."

De Blasio said the city plans to host vaccination block parties and other events to urge people of all ages to get vaccinated. He also said Wednesday that he may allow parades to resume after they were canceled indefinitely last spring due to the pandemic.

Expert: Broadway should require vaccinations

Meanwhile, a public-health adviser to Broadway owners and managers said Wednesday that vaccinations of patrons and employees should be required when Broadway theatres reopen, beginning in August.

Jack Caravanos, an expert in environmental and occupational health and a clinical professor in the NYU School of Global Public Health in Manhattan, said during an online NYU discussion that the "vaccine is the ultimate, the ultimate protection we have there.

"So absolutely I believe it should be mandatory, a vaccination, especially of the crew and the actors and the stagehands and the performers. I would also at this point restrict sales to vaccinated people first and then observe as time goes on to open it up further."

Broadway theaters have yet to announce a vaccination policy. Radio City Music Hall will reopen this month at full capacity, with proof of vaccination required, except for children under 16, who can also present a recent negative coronavirus test result. Masks will not be required for vaccinated people.

Caravanos, a special adviser to the Broadway League on public health, air quality and ventilation, said he expects a no-mask policy for Broadway patrons. Many big Broadway productions will resume on Sept. 14, but one play, "Pass Over," will begin on Aug. 4.

Some theaters have posted signs of improved ventilation, including 100% fresh air coming into the theater rather than recycled air, Caravanos said. New technology now being tested but not yet approved in New York — such as antimicrobial air treatments — could increase safety further, he said.

Caravanos said there are discussions occurring on whether to ban or suspend food service, or to institute "density requirements," such as at Radio City, which will begin bringing ticket holders into the theater 90 minutes before showtime, to limit crowding.

COVID-19 indicators remained at low levels in Tuesday test results, with daily positive results at 0.61%, out of 71,019 reported tests.

The seven-day average was 0.59% on Long Island and 0.50% in New York City. The number of new confirmed cases was 21 in Nassau County, 27 in Suffolk County and 168 in New York City.

Statewide, a total of 11 people died Tuesday of causes related to the virus, though none were on Long Island.

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