America reaches a grim milestone this week in the COVID-19 pandemic as 500,000 people have died from the virus. In New York City, nearly 29,000 people have died. However, as the epidemic continues, new variants of the virus are emerging in New York as cases continue to go down and the number of people being vaccinated goes up.

This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that there are 154 known cases of the U.K. variant in New York State. A second South African variant has been identified in Nassau County. According to the Center for Disease Control, the new variants of COVID-19 spread more easily and quickly. They may also increase the risk of death.

Cuomo said that COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates are on the decline in the state but there’s still a long way to go.

“As our rates continue to decline, we are opening back up our economy and proving that vaccine distribution can be fair and equitable,” he said. “The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter and brighter each day, but we’re not there yet.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo continues to battle a scandal over the reporting of COVID-19 nursing deaths. Earlier this month, one of his aides, Melissa DeRosa, revealed that Cuomo delayed data about nursing home deaths over fears that former President Donald Trump’s administration would use it against him. The FBI is investigating.

In January, State Attorney General Letitia James concluded that the Cuomo administration undercounted nursing homes deaths by as much as 50%.

Cuomo blamed the delay on the ongoing pandemic and that his office was busy.

“In retrospect, should we have given more priority to fulfilling information requests? In my opinion, yes, and I think that’s what created the void,” he said. “But do I understand the pressure everyone was under? Yes.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins advanced legislation this week to improve oversight and care at nursing homes. Reforms include establishing a direct patient care spending ratio for nursing homes, creating a taskforce to deliver long-term care, and allowing personal care visitors.

“The tragic situation in our nursing homes remains a heartbreaking reminder of the toll this pandemic has taken and has made it clear that real reforms are needed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “The Senate Majority is taking action to deliver meaningful results by increasing transparency and raising the standard of care provided at these facilities.”

State Sen. Jamaal Bailey said nursing homes were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and families need to know they are safe.

“Far too many families dealt with the painful loss of a loved one,” he said. “The Senate Majority is ensuring with this legislative package that our nursing homes are better equipped to handle a health emergency and that there is more transparency between these facilities and the State.”

As the city takes steps to come back from the COVID-19 pandemic, sports areas opened back up this week starting with Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks on Tuesday. Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center welcomed back a limited number of fans. The areas are only permitted to operate at only 10% capacity.

Fans were required to have a negative PCR test, their temperatures checked, an antigen test and they must wear a mask.

Along with sports arenas, movie theaters in the city are set to reopen for the first time in nearly a year starting March 5. Theaters will operate at 25% capacity with assigned seating and only 50 people will be allowed per screening.

As the vaccine effort in the city continues, vaccine distribution is catching up after winter storms across the country delayed them from coming to the city. Officials said that 170,000 doses arrived in the city this week.

Criticism mounted over who is getting vaccinated when the city revealed the number of people getting vaccinated by zip codes. Areas of the city with high Black populations, including Harlem, Central Brookly, the South Bronx and Southeast Queens, are seeing first dose vaccination rates as low as 3%. Over 1.5 million New Yorkers have been vaccinated so far.

On Wednesday, two vaccination megasites opened at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and York College in Jamaica, Queens. Vaccines at the sites are only available for qualified residents living in those neighborhoods. The sites can administer 3,000 vaccines per day.

“Slowly, the vaccine is becoming more widely available even though there is nowhere near enough to meet demand right now,” said Brooklyn State Sen. Zellnor Myrie. “And case rates in New York have continued to decline. However, the virus and its variants are still very serious. Our actions over the next few weeks will determine the trajectory of this pandemic.”