Cuomo relaxes some COVID restrictions with J&J vaccines set to arrive

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo will relax some of the state’s limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings as officials prepare to receive the first shipments of the new Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, which they hope will dramatically speed efforts to inoculate New Yorkers.

The scandal-rocked governor announced the tweaks to the Empire State’s social distancing regulations as he made his first public remarks since two more women came forward with detailed allegations of unwanted advances from Cuomo — all of which unfolded as his administration continues to battle questions about how its policy directives exacerbated the COVID outbreaks in nursing homes last spring.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight, but we can’t stop driving now,” Cuomo told reporters during his 20-plus-minute lead-up to his remarks addressing the harassment scandal.

“Everybody wants all restrictions gone, everyone does,” he added.

Groups of up to 100 people will now be allowed indoors and 200 people outdoors, provided guests wear masks and are spaced apart under the new state guidelines, which were outlined by top Cuomo aide Robert Mujica, the state’s budget director.

People eat outdoors at the Carbone restaurant in the Greenwich Village neighborhood in New York.
The easing of restrictions in New York comes as the state expects to receive 164,000 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
Amir Hamja/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Those limits would be boosted to 150 people indoors and 500 people outdoors if attendees submit evidence of a recent coronavirus test.

The looser limits take effect April 2.

Additionally, Mujica said state health officials have teamed up with technology giant IBM to develop a new smartphone app that will allow New Yorkers to prove to venues that they tested negative for the coronavirus recently.

Officials said the app would also track vaccination status but were not able to provide a specific date for its launch. It will be available for both Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices.

IBM’s system, being called “Excelsior Pass” by Cuomo, has had two successful test runs so far — at a Brooklyn Nets game at the Barclays Center and at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.

The new details came as state officials confirmed they were expecting 164,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson inoculation to arrive in the first round of deliveries.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks in New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that groups of up to 100 people will soon be allowed in indoor spaces.Seth Wenig/AP

Cuomo aides told reporters the boost in supply would allow two of their vaccination sites in New York City — the Javits Center and Yankee Stadium, which is run in coordination with City Hall and a nonprofit — to start offering appointments 24 hours a day. Those new slots will become available in the coming days.

The Johnson & Johnson shots are far simpler to store, transport and administer than the first two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, each of which requires two doses.

All told, 3 million New Yorkers — about 15 percent of the state’s population — have received at least one dose of the first two vaccines.

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