Governors Promise Return to Normalcy Once States Hit Target Vaccination Rates

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Once 70% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday, life for residents there can return to normal.

“Or as normalized as you can be, post-Covid,” he added.

The announcement, made at a press briefing, came as vaccination rates across New York hover at 68.6%, a level Cuomo acknowledged was tantalizingly close to the goal.

“But this isn’t horseshoes,” he said. “We want to be at 70%. We have 1.4% to go, and then we can lift capacity restrictions, social distancing, the hygiene protocols, the health screenings, the potential tracing. Masks will only be required as recommended by the CDC. There'll still be some institutional guidelines—large venues, schools, public transportation, hospitals, nursing homes. But we hit 70%, we will be back to life as normal.”

New York is one of several states promising a return to normalcy—and a general relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions—based on vaccine rates. On Friday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made a similar announcement, outlining steps that state agencies would take to lift restrictions and “fully reopen the economy” once 70% of adults there receive at least one dose of the vaccine.

“I want to be very clear that we are able to reopen like this because of the efficacy of the vaccines. For those of you who are vaccinated, you’ve helped us reach this point — and you are protected from this virus,” she said in a statement. “This has really become a tale of two pandemics. If you are vaccinated, then you’re safe, you can carry on safely without wearing a mask and social distancing. If you are not vaccinated, this virus still poses a very real threat.” 

As of June 3, 66.2% of Oregon residents aged 18 and up had received one dose of the vaccine, leaving 127,308 more to reach the stated goal of 70%, Brown’s office said. When that happens, all health and safety restrictions will be lifted, including mask mandates, physical distancing requirements and capacity limits on gatherings, except as required by federal guidance (the CDC continues to recommend masks in airports and on public transit, for example). 

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said last month that his state would lift all Covid-related restrictions once vaccination rates hit 80%. Vermont’s reopening plan, released in April, predicted that those precautions would be repealed by July 4, but Scott said he would accelerate that timeline if vaccine rates continued to climb. As of Tuesday, 79.4% of the population has been vaccinated.

"We were in a much different place than we are today," Scott said of the original plan. "If we hit 80%, I'll lift any remaining restrictions and mandates that day."

Nationwide, vaccination rates have slowed, with the United States averaging fewer than 1 million shots per day, according to a data tracker from The Washington Post. That’s a decline of more than two-thirds from the country’s peak of 3.4 million shots per day in April, with slowdowns particularly prevalent in Southern and Midwestern states.

In New York, Cuomo announced plans to open 11 pop-up vaccination sites in places where ZIP code data indicate vaccination rates “significantly lower” than the state average. On Monday, he urged local health departments to direct their resources to those areas.

“That is where we have the greatest chance for advancement, and the local governments have the resources because the vaccination rate is way down,” he said. “We don't have enough people coming into vaccination centers to justify having the centers open right now. We have centers open all day, and two, three, four people show up. So, redeploy those assets to these ZIP codes, because that's where it can make a difference.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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