More States Relax Rules On Persistent Viruses As Vaccine Rates Rise
PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) – Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, more US cities and states are ignoring continued COVID-19 restrictions as vaccination rates rise and the number of infections decrease.
Massachusetts lifted a mask requirement on Saturday, a day after New Jersey relinquished its mandate. In New York and Chicago, authorities have reopened public beaches, although winds and cool temperatures have kept crowds away.
“Welcome back, Chicago,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a video announcement. “The lakeside is open.”
Chicago’s Navy Pier has also reopened retail stores and restaurants, carnival rides, tour boats and cruises after the pandemic forced months-long closures at the busy tourist destination.
It’s a further sign of progress that reflects increasingly positive health data. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 802 new confirmed and probable infections on Saturday, the second-lowest single-day total in the past six months.
For businesses across the country, the improved outlook and the long holiday weekend have kept customers coming back to shopping in person.
The Midtown Scholar bookstore in Harrisburg, Pa., Opened to customers for the first time in nearly 14 months on Friday. Masks are still needed.
The company had switched to internet orders, sidewalk sales and virtual author events to survive the pandemic.
“We had to get creative, we had to pivot,” store manager Alex Brubaker said. “Our readers and customers have been amazing. It’s a rainy weekend, but the bookstore is full. ”
Minnesota lifted all statewide coronavirus restrictions on bars and restaurants on Friday, although local governments may maintain their own social distancing and mask rules.
About 50% of the U.S. population has now received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 40% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Vermont has the highest vaccination rate in the country, with nearly 70% of its people having received at least one dose. The governor is expected to drop all restrictions related to the pandemic once 80% of Vermont’s eligible population receives at least one dose, a milestone the state expects to reach next week.
In neighboring Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker lifted a mask warrant effective Saturday, though masks are still needed in some places, including on public transportation. The state also encourages unvaccinated people to wear masks in indoor or public spaces.
CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky threw the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park before the Red Sox played against the Miami Marlins on the first day Massachusetts relinquished crowd size limits. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said about 24,000 tickets have been sold.
“It’s such a bright moment right now,” Walensky told reporters, urging people to get vaccinated. “It’s been a really long year, and we’ve seen some really, really dark times back to where we are now.
According to Massachusetts officials, 78% of all adult residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
“New cases have fallen 94% since their peak in January,” Baker said Friday, announcing the end of restrictions. “Hospitalizations are down about 90% since their peak. This progress has allowed us to lift all remaining COVID restrictions in the Commonwealth.”
Virginia eased its distance and capacity restrictions on Friday. President Joe Biden celebrated the progress by visiting a climbing gym in northern Virginia.
Millions of Americans were planning to travel over the long weekend, and airports reported some of their highest traffic since the start of the pandemic.
Associated Press freelance writer Ken Powtak in Boston contributed to this report.