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OpinionEditorial

Vaccines in, masks out

Pedestrians walk along a street in Brooklyn in

Pedestrians walk along a street in Brooklyn in October. Credit: Bloomberg/Mark Kauzlarich

It's time for everyone to see you smile again.

For the fully vaccinated, this is a moment to celebrate. If you've had your shots, and you're comfortable doing so, take off your masks and show us your smile.

Come Wednesday, New York will adopt the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that allow those who are vaccinated to remove their masks both outside and inside, with a few exceptions, including on public transit, in schools and at health care facilities. This is welcome news that comes as the state also will lift most capacity restrictions for restaurants, movie theaters and more on Wednesday, albeit with social distancing still in place.

The numbers support the state's moves. Long Island's seven-day positivity rate now hovers just below 1%, though the state's rate is slightly higher. And 52.2% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

We've come a long way. It's important to understand that these steps can be taken primarily because of the protection that comes with COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccination rates are slowing considerably, and getting more shots into arms must be the highest priority.

Some venues plan to require everyone be vaccinated. That makes a lot of sense, and should act as an incentive for those who want to go to a concert, playoff game or other event. More clubs, restaurants, theaters, concert venues and even arenas should consider it.

But even now, a cautious approach is warranted, as risks remain. If individual businesses allow unvaccinated individuals inside, and want to require masks of everyone, that's a reasonable request that should be respected. If vaccinated New Yorkers want to leave their masks on, that's OK, too. And if COVID-19 positivity rates start to tick up again even slightly, the state must be willing to change policies quickly and we must be willing to put our masks back on.

For the unvaccinated, this is an important moment. Except for the few medically unable to get the vaccine, there is no longer any reason to wait. Get the shot, before the return to normal passes you by. If you don't get the shot, do not pretend you did. Keep your mask on.

That's an issue state officials must watch carefully. The new masking policy relies on the honor system, where those who are not vaccinated must do the right thing and continue to mask. That's why it may make sense for some private business owners to continue requiring the mask of everyone until vaccination rates rise further.

Even more disturbing is the creation and distribution of fake vaccine cards. One potential response: State Sen. Anna Kaplan introduced a bill that would make falsifying COVID-19 vaccine records a class E felony.

Also key: making better use of the Excelsior Pass, the digital app individuals can use to show they've been vaccinated. The state must work out the kinks preventing some from using the pass, and advertise it more heavily so it's widely used.

For those not yet vaccinated, if you go today, you'll be fully vaccinated in time for summer. Then we'll all have reason to smile.

— The editorial board

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