This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.
Fully vaccinated municipal workers will no longer need to wear masks indoors or observe social distancing rules, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday, even as the World Health Organization recommends maintaining preventive measures.
The W.H.O. made the recommendation last week as the new delta variant of COVID-19 is now appearing in countries across the globe, while restrictions put in place to combat the virus are being relaxed on Long Island, across New York State and throughout the U.S.
The requirements for fully vaccinated municipal workers will end on July 6, de Blasio said. Masking and social distancing requirements remain in place for unvaccinated workers, and all city workers interacting with the public regardless of vaccination status must continue to mask.
Two health care experts on a Newsday Live webinar Tuesday urged precautions, saying that even for those who have been fully vaccinated, there are times where wearing a mask indoors is advisable.
The W.H.O. said the delta variant, first discovered in India, appears more highly transmissible than other variants of COVID-19. Experts believe continued safe practices can help stem the rise of delta and additional new variants.
“Every time someone gets infected, the virus learns new tricks,” said Dr. Susan Donelan, an assistant professor of infection disease at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “Some of those will die out, others will get better (at being variants). … The delta variant has edged out many of the new variants. It’s become better at evading the protection we get from the vaccines.”
The W.H.O. said the delta variant now accounts for about 95% of all new cases in the U.K. and has been found in at least 85 countries, including the U.S. — where its prevalence has doubled in the past two weeks alone.
“I’m impressed with the success of the vaccines. But, as long as people are getting the virus the virus is evolving,” said Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch, an infectious disease specialist at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research. “If the virus is active anywhere it has the chance to be active everywhere.”
The CDC said that while the delta variant accounts for just 3.1% of all new cases in New York, it accounts for 29.1% of all new cases in Missouri, 10.9% in Colorado and 7.4% in New Jersey.
In New York, 56.2% of all new cases remain the initial strain of COVID-19, which is B.1.1.7 or Alpha. About 8.5% are the P.1 Gamma or Japan / Brazil variant, 2.5% are the B.1.351 Beta or South African variant, 0.5% are the B.1.427/429 Epsilon or California variant — and 29.2% are “all other lineages” of the coronavirus.
“The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in development or have been approved are expected to provide at least some protection against new virus variants because these vaccines elicit a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells,” the W.H.O. said on its website.
The W.H.O. added that “stopping the spread at the source” remains key — and that’s why proven “current measures to reduce transmission” remain in place.
The webinar experts said those measures should be considered because many people still haven’t been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — and that if the status of those around you is unclear it simply makes sense to wear a mask.
With wearing a mask, continued safe practices and the protection of any of the approved vaccines, “you’re not as likely to get ill,” Hirsch said.
Meanwhile, de Blasio said he hopes that in September, all New York City office workers will be able to return in person to pre-pandemic levels — “back to normal,” as he put it — pending recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.
“I’ll tell you — so important, we know in city government when people come back to offices we get a lot more done. But also so many small businesses — and I hear it from small-business owners all the time — they’re so thankful to see the office buildings starting to come back. It means so much for the small businesses and the people who work there,” he said.
De Blasio brought office workers back in early May, though with social distancing, limited capacity and a masking mandate.
Throughout the state, COVID-19 indicators continued at low levels, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo saying New York is marching ahead in its campaign to crush the virus.
“New York State is getting closer to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic for good every single day, but vaccinations remain key to our success and we need New Yorkers to step up and take the shot,” he said.
The seven-day average for positivity in testing was 0.39% statewide, 0.36% on Long Island, and 0.41% in New York City.
The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Monday was 15 in Nassau County, 20 in Suffolk County, and 169 in New York City.
Three people died on Monday of causes related to the virus, including one in Suffolk.
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