A fireworks display across New York state on Tuesday evening celebrated almost all COVID-19-related restrictions on businesses, gatherings and masks being lifted, 15 months after the worst of the pandemic brought much of the state's economy, recreation and society to a standstill and killed tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

The celebrations came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced earlier in the day that the state had 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 still will 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, there was a coordinated fireworks display across New York Tuesday evening to celebrate and honor essential workers. Displays were held in Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Binghamton and Nyack; in New York Harbor; at Niagara Falls; at Lake Placid; and at Jones Beach on Long Island.

Landmarks like the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center and Niagara Falls were also lit in blue and gold.

“It was probably the most frightening moment that we have probably gone through, and a moment we will never forget. It was a moment that changed us," the governor said.

The state’s 7-day average COVID-19 infection rate was near 8% in January and is now below 0.5 percent.

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

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.

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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