Cuomo Relaxes Most Pandemic Restrictions, Retains Special Powers

On June 15, 2021, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the lifting of various COVID-19 restrictions.

Gov. Cuomo announced that 70% of adult New Yorkers have received at least an initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Because of New York’s progress in regard to vaccinations, and because of decreases in infection rates, the Governor asserts that it is now safe to relax various restrictions in regard to masks, gatherings, and social distancing. According to a press release from the Governor’s office, the State’s health guidance “and New York Forward industry specific guidelines—including social gathering limits, capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening, and contact information for tracing—are now optional for retail, food services, offices, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barber shops and personal care services, among other commercial settings.” The Governor called for fireworks and celebrations in response to this news.

However, the Governor has indicated that restrictions remain in effect for schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings. Furthermore, persons who have not been vaccinated are still required to wear masks pursuant to CDC guidance. Finally, in large indoor venues that hold more than 5,000 attendees, restrictions remain in effect unless an attendee produces proof of vaccination; in addition, unvaccinated persons must wear masks and present proof of negative test results.

According to the Governor, businesses are free to continue taking COVID-19 precautions should they so desire.

While the relaxation of these restrictions is welcome news, there are a few issues that should be addressed. First, as of June 16, the Governor has not yet issued an executive order that is consistent with his public statements. Second, as Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) noted, the Governor has failed to lift mask mandates on schoolchildren. According to Leader Barclay, “The Assembly and Senate Republican Conferences have repeatedly called on the governor to loosen the mask restrictions in our schools, particularly in light of recent high summer temperatures. Parents throughout New York state have asked for this decision to be left to local school districts, but these requests have fallen on deaf ears in Albany.” Third, the Governor continues to leave New York in a state of emergency, while the Democratic Majorities in the Legislature have failed to fully rescind the Governor’s extraordinary powers. If it is time to celebrate the ending of the pandemic with the pomp-and-circumstance of fireworks celebrations, then it is past time for the Governor to relinquish his special powers.