ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will relinquish the emergency powers he’s held for the past 15 months during the COVID-19 pandemic as infection rates continue to drop and vaccination rates slowly climb.
Those powers gave Cuomo the power to close schools and businesses, require masks and social distancing, and regulate how many people could gather at one time, even in private homes.
“The emergency is over,” said Cuomo, who added that the state of emergency will end Thursday. “It will not be renewed.”
Cuomo’s wide-ranging powers became controversial in recent months as he faces a number of scandals, including sexual harassment allegations and the accuracy of nursing home death numbers during the pandemic. In early March, the Democratic-led State Legislature moved to curb some of those powers.
Republican lawmakers have argued for months that the emergency authority was no longer needed and should end.
In a statement, Republican Assembly Leader Will Barclay called it “welcome news” while Senate GOP Leader Robert Ortt said it was “long overdue.”
While many of the governor’s emergency rules were unpopular, one that was well-received — the ability of bars and restaurants to offer takeout alcoholic beverages — also expires Thursday. Bills in the Legislature to extend the rule or make it permanent failed.
Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, said a survey done by her group finds 78% of New Yorkers wanted the rule to be made permanent.
“Only in New York would elected officials ignore an overwhelming majority of the public,” she said.
Restrictions still remain in effect for the more than 45% of New Yorkers who are not yet fully vaccinated. They still have to wear masks in public and social distance. Face coverings are still required for everyone in health care settings, nursing homes, prisons, homeless shelters, and on public transit.
The governor’s announcement comes as the positivity rate for the virus, at 0.36% statewide, dropped for the 79th day in a row. There are 474 New Yorkers still in the hospital, and six died of the disease.
Vaccination rates have stagnated. On June 15, Cuomo announced that 70% of New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine. On Tuesday, that rate was 71.2%. Meanwhile, 52.3% of New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, which is below the number needed to reach herd immunity.
The governor said efforts are now focused on getting younger people vaccinated, and said a weekly college scholarship giveaway, which continues for one more week, has resulted in tens of thousands more teenagers getting vaccinated.
He said his administration will continue to monitor the disease.
“We’re still watching COVID; it would be irresponsible and reckless not to be wary and vigilant,” said Cuomo, who added new variants, including the Delta variant, are spreading quickly.
He said post-pandemic challenges include rebuilding the economy. There’s also a worker shortage in the service industry, including restaurants, and other businesses needed to help welcome back tourists. The state’s cities also are experiencing growing gun violence.