Vaccines are critical if Long Island wants to avoid another...

Vaccines are critical if Long Island wants to avoid another masked and distanced beach season, as at Jones Beach in May 2020. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The sun is bright, the weather warming.

And Long Island's beaches are beckoning.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone understand the lure of the season and are hoping that come Memorial Day weekend, the beaches will be crowded with residents, potentially even at 100% capacity — a far cry from last summer's 50%.

But such a wondrous goal of an almost normal summer will only happen if Long Islanders continue to get vaccinated.

The region's efforts to date deserve applause. About 51.8% of Nassau residents and 44.7% of Suffolk residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 45.1% of residents statewide, and 42.7% of the United States. Looking at just the eligible population 16 and over, the percentages are even higher.

That bodes well. But we can't let up now. It's easier than ever to get vaccinated; you can walk in without an appointment at state-run sites like Jones Beach, and at many county-run sites. The easier it is to get the shot, the more people can just choose to lift their sleeves.

As President Joe Biden announced Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that fully-vaccinated individuals no longer have to wear a mask outside, while walking, biking, or even gathering in small groups of other vaccinated individuals. It's just another piece of the freedom we crave, and it's certainly an indication of the wide protection the vaccine provides.

Those who have not yet received shots must be careful. Masks indoors and while in crowds outdoors are still necessary for all of us. Some who are vaccinated might choose to continue to wear masks outdoors, despite the new guidance. We all should respect one another's comfort levels; those who keep masking, or limit interactions with others, should not be ridiculed or criticized.

We all have the same goal: to return to normal as much and as quickly as possible. And every day, we're reaching new milestones, like the state's announcements Tuesday that restaurant curfews will be lifted in the coming weeks, and more freedom in dancing will be allowed at weddings. But pockets of deep concern remain.

Inside our nursing homes, staff members remain reluctant to get the vaccine, and the Island's facilities have staff vaccination rates as low as 20%. That's dangerous for residents, staff and their families. This is a clear moment for the powerful health care union, Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, to use its clout and galvanize its members to get their shots just like it pushes members to vote, rally and donate in elections. Highlight members who've gotten vaccinated and push others to do the same. A louder, more public campaign of encouragement is needed.

We can do the same in our own communities. Let's celebrate our successes, applaud one another's shots and, together, get ready for the days of sand and sunshine to come.

— The editorial board

Newsday LogoSUBSCRIBEUnlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months