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COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen, as leaders work to reach vaccine holdouts

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday urged all

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday urged all NY entities to apply for the recently released federal funding that will help pursuade people to get the coronavirus vaccine. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Larger groups of New Yorkers can gather outside starting Monday as pandemic restrictions continue to loosen and elected officials search for new ways to reach people who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, the number of new COVID-19 infections across Long Island and the state remains low, according to figures released Sunday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The seven-day average of new positive cases on Saturday was 1.45% statewide and 1.33% on Long Island.

Of the 171,287 COVID-19 test results reported to the state on Saturday, 2,269 were positive. Suffolk County accounted for 121 of those new cases and 86 were in Nassau County.

The limit on outdoor social gatherings will go to 500 from the current 300 starting Monday, according to state guidelines. And starting May 15, capacity for offices increases from 50% to 75%. Gyms and fitness clubs can go to 50%. and casinos and gambling venues can go to 50% capacity, up from 25%.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday urged nonprofit organizations and local governments in New York State to apply for federal funds to educate residents on the importance of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Before we get more jabs in people's arms, we need to get more facts in their heads," said Schumer (D-N.Y.).

According to the state, 60% of New Yorkers ages 18 and older have at least one vaccine dose and 48.4% of New Yorkers 18 and older have completed their vaccination series.

But the rate of new vaccinations in the state and throughout the nation has slowed as the people most eager to be inoculated have received their shots, leaving many who are reluctant or opposed to the getting the vaccine.

Data on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website shows 34.4% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated — far below what many experts believe is needed to reach "herd immunity."

Herd immunity, also known as population immunity, is the point where most people are considered protected against a disease such as COVID-19. The exact percentage to hit that mark is still unclear but some experts have said about 80% of the population would need to be vaccinated.

"Even here in New York City, which has been doing phenomenal work to get shots in arms, vaccination rates have fallen from 100,000 a day in April to below 40,000 on some days this month," Schumer said. "We have more work to do, and the feds should be a resource for getting that work done."

The Department of Health and Human Services has $250 million available for COVID-19 vaccine outreach and education, Schumer said during a news conference in midtown Manhattan, but local governments and nonprofits must apply for the funds by May 18.

Schumer said the funds can be used to hire community workers in vulnerable and medically underserved communities to help with vaccination appointments and transportation to vaccine centers.

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced a vaccine incentive program titled "Lift Your Spirit, Take Your Shot," which offers a free drink at select businesses to anyone 21 and over who gets vaccinated through May 31.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran is hoping to vaccinate 500 teens a day through a Student Vaccination Initiative starting Thursday at Nassau Community College. The four-day event is focused on students 16 to 18. Teens who receive their vaccination as part of this program will receive six hours of community service credit.

There are three COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the United States: Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, which each require two doses, and the one-dose from Johnson & Johnson.

Of those three, only the Pfizer-BioNTech has so far received emergency use authorization by the federal government to be administered to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could decide as early as this week whether to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use on children ages 12 to 15.

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