Fifteen months after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of New York’s economy and recreation to a standstill, almost all related restrictions on businesses, gatherings and masks can now been lifted.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that the state has surpassed the 70% partial vaccination rate, the threshold recommended by health officials to safely relax pandemic-era rules in the biggest step forward yet to returning to normal life. The CDC data showed the state reached the milestone Monday afternoon.

“This is a momentous day. And we deserve it. Because it has been a long, long road," Cuomo said.

Now that nearly three-quarters of adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, capacity restrictions, social distancing rules, cleaning protocols, health screenings and contact tracing requirements will become optional for most places, including retail stores, restaurants, offices and gyms.

Unvaccinated people are still recommended to wear masks and maintain social distancing. 

Some restrictions may still be in place at large venues, schools, public transportation, hospitals and nursing homes, and masks will still be required in certain situations, including mass transit, to align with CDC guidance.

To celebrate the milestone, Cuomo will hold a coordinated fireworks display across New York state Tuesday evening. It will include locations as far north as Lake Placid, but also down in New York City and Rockland County, right above the Mario Cuomo Bridge. Those  are set to begin at 9 p.m. 

The state’s 7-day average COVID-19 infection rate was near 8% in January and is now below 0.5 percent. And once the COVID-19 hotbed of the country — the state still leads in total death toll — there are still many other states that have not reached the 70% threshold that President Joe Biden’s administration wants to see nationwide by the July 4 holiday.

“Where are we today? We have the lowest COVID positivity rate in the United States of America," Cuomo said.

State officials are continuing efforts to administer vaccines, particularly of 12-to-17-year-olds, the age group with the lowest vaccination rate. The governor added that the state will focus on vaccinating residents living in ZIP codes with the lowest vaccination rates.​​

Zack Fink contributed to this report.

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