As he scrapped most of New York’s pandemic restrictions Tuesday with most adults now vaccinated for COVID-19, Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced intensified calls from upstate lawmakers to cast aside the extraordinary emergency powers handed to him 15 months ago.

Citing the fact that New Yorkers are again turning out for sporting events and concerts in large numbers, Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, said: “It’s clear to me in every way the emergency is over.

TESTAMENT TO THE PEOPLE

According to the latest state data, 70% of New Yorkers who are 18 or older have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccines. Cuomo cited the vaccination progress in dropping most of the restrictions he has imposed on businesses and residents.

His administration also organized fireworks displays in 10 locations — including Lake Placid, Niagara Falls, Binghamton and Albany — in what Cuomo called a “testament to the people of the state.”

Sens. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury; Pete Oberacker, R-Schenevus; and Ortt all noted that Republicans attempted 47 times during the legislative session to get a vote on canceling the state of emergency — a move that would have effectively stripped Cuomo from ruling by executive fiat. Democrats blocked each of those efforts, they said.

Stec said county health officials across New York have been unsung heroes in the effort to get vaccine shots into arms in an efficient manner. In contrast, he said, the state government’s approach to distributing the doses resulted in many people having to drive hundreds of miles in wintry weather to get to clinics.

Stec said he was also disappointed that Cuomo’s ending of restrictions stopped short of applying to the mask mandates on children enrolled in public schools.

“Let’s get the schools back to normal so we can have graduations without everyone having to worry about whether they’re all wearing masks,” he said.

MAKING ‘GRAND CLAIMS’

Oberacker said Cuomo’s declarations fell short of what New Yorkers needed to hear because the governor continues to cling to the special powers he could cancel were he so inclined.

“Once again, the governor makes grand claims and leaves everyone scrambling to sort out the details,” Oberacker said.

Responding to the demands for Cuomo to end the state of emergency, the governor’s spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, said: “This is a great day for New York and we are going to continue to follow the science, monitor variants and move heaven and earth to get as many shots in arms possible until we reach 100%. We’ll leave the politics to the partisans and the politicians.”

The mandates now eliminated include the pandemic limits on attendance at events, disinfection requirements and contact tracing orders. The changes mean businesses such as retail establishments, gyms, restaurants, barber shops, offices and amusement parks no longer have to abide by the pandemic orders put in place in 2020.

But some limitations and restrictions will continue for hospitals, nursing homes and public transportation.

Even while New York has made strides in getting millions of people at least partially vaccinated, the state has a long way to go to reach what experts describe as herd immunity.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, only 46% of the New York population is fully vaccinated. The statistics for those who have been at least partially vaccinated show the North Country (63.9%), Western New York (69.5%), and the Mohawk Valley (60.6%) remain below the 70% statewide average sought by Cuomo.

Before children less than 12 years of age can become eligible for the vaccines, the products must first complete clinical trials for use on youngsters.

Cuomo, who has been facing an Assembly impeachment inquiry as well as investigations by federal prosecutor and the state attorney general’s office, took no press questions at his event, streamed over the internet by his state aides.

PERCOCO SCANDAL

His administration faced another critical news story posted Tuesday afternoon by The New York Times. Several people in Cuomo’s inner circle, including his sister, Madeline Cuomo, have quietly raised money for the legal bills of Joseph Percoco, the governor’s former top aide who is now a federal prison inmate after being convicted of felony corruption charges, the Times reported.

The newspaper noted that people close to Cuomo and his late father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, had funded a legal appeal mounted by Percoco as well as a trust fund for Percoco’s children. Percoco, who was reported to have been on the brink of bankruptcy, owns a house in the Westchester County community of South Salem valued at more than $800,000.

Percoco refused to cooperate with federal investigators and maintains he is innocent.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com

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