A Northwell Health registered nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot...

A Northwell Health registered nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot in Westbury. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Spring is coming.

And we're not just talking about the weather.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines released Monday on how fully-vaccinated residents can gather with one another and with others are welcome steps for the millions of people who've received their shots.

It's an opportunity for friends who've been vaccinated to share a meal, or for grandparents to visit with their grandchildren, if those younger family members are at low risk for severe disease. And perhaps more importantly, it's a chance for nearly 2 million New Yorkers, including hundreds of thousands of Long Islanders, who've been fully vaccinated to let go of some of the worry that's consumed them for the last year.

But getting your shots isn't a "get out of jail free" card. The CDC was rightly careful to note that being vaccinated doesn't mean that it's time to ignore all COVID-19 rules. It remains possible that vaccinated individuals could contract the coronavirus and get mild illness or be asymptomatic, and pass it on to others who aren't vaccinated. Caution is necessary. Vaccinated individuals still should avoid large gatherings, travel only if necessary and wear a mask and distance when in public. There is still the risk another surge could take hold.

To truly emerge from the pandemic, far more people must be vaccinated. In New York, 19.4% of the population have had at least one vaccine dose. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appropriately began to widen eligibility requirements, allowing those 60 and over, and more essential workers, to get their shots, and loosening restrictions so every location, except for pharmacies, can provide vaccines to those eligible. That's on top of the state's plans to run three new sites on Long Island. All of that is promising.

But millions more who don't yet qualify are still waiting their turn, and the CDC's new allowances for vaccinated individuals make that wait even harder. It would help for New York to follow the lead of other states, which have put forth a timeline, by age or other categories, of when everyone can expect their shots. Connecticut, for instance, has marked March 22 as the date when those 45 and older can be vaccinated, April 12 for those 35 to 44, and May 3 for those 16 to 34 years old.

Think about the dose of optimism and certainty such a timeline would provide for New Yorkers. Added relief would come if New Yorkers could make appointments a few months out. While we understand the state's argument that such planning should be balanced with the desire for providing accurate information, even if unforeseen circumstances required change, it's worth doing.

This is a critical moment. The end of this horrific pandemic is in sight, but only if we handle the next weeks and months correctly and carefully. In the meantime, to our vaccinated friends, keep those around you safe, even as you enjoy those first hugs.

— The editorial board