Vaccination center at NYCHA Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville, Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 19, 2021. (305002)
Credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the city is at 1.1%, but Mayor Bill de Blasio and city health officials want that number even lower. As more people are getting vaccinated and capacity limits are raised, the city is getting back to some form of normalcy. America hit a milestone this week when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that half of U.S. adults are now fully vaccinated.

In New York State, 45.4% of residents are fully vaccinated. New York State has seen a steady drop in COVID-19 cases over the last 50 days. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that 16 people died from COVID-19 and 1,350 people were in hospitals statewide.

“The hard work of New Yorkers combined with the vaccine have helped us prevent the spread of COVID and keep our state’s numbers trending in the right direction,” Cuomo said. “While we are containing the COVID beast, our fight is not over. I want to encourage all New Yorkers to take advantage of our greatest tool against COVID—the vaccine.”

However, with the continued push for vaccines, the CDC is investigating cases of heart problems in teenagers and young adults. Vaccines are currently available for anyone 12 and up.

Reports indicate that a small number of young people who took the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine developed myocarditis, which causes irregular heartbeat, chest pain and fatigue. Symptoms appeared four days after the second vaccine dose was administered. The cases have been mild.

“Myocarditis is usually the result of a viral infection, and it is yet to be determined if these cases have any correlation to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, especially since the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. do not contain any live virus,” said Dr. Mitchell S.V. Elkind from the American Heart Association. “We remain confident that the benefits of vaccination far exceed the very small, rare risks.”

Meanwhile, a new study has uncovered where the COVID-19 pandemic started in the city. Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine say Queens and Brooklyn likely served as the major hub for the COVID-19 virus when it spread last spring.

“Our findings appear to confirm Queens’ role as the early epicenter of coronavirus transmission throughout the rest of the New York metropolitan area,” said study co-senior author Ralf Duerr, MD, PhD. “Now that we understand how viral outbreaks can spread between neighborhoods, we can better plan for future contagions and prioritize testing in the most vulnerable areas.”

COVID-19 capacity limits are lifted and mask mandates are now eased for vaccinated New Yorkers. A major sign the pandemic is near an end occurred Sunday at Madison Square Garden when the New York Knicks played the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA playoffs to a crowd of 15,000.

The event was the largest indoor gathering since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crowd consisted of 90% of fans being fully vaccinated and not having to wear masks. Those who were unvaccinated were required to wear masks.

Anyone attending the game was required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Seating was separated between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Vaccination proof could become the norm in the city in order to be admitted to events and venues. In March, New York State rolled out the Excelsior Pass phone app, which allows vaccinated businesses and venues to verify vaccination or a negative COVID-19 status. So far, 1 million people have downloaded the app with an 80% increase in downloads this week.

Questions about the legality of businesses requiring proof of whether or not someone is vaccinated are coming into play. There are also questions about whether private businesses can only admit vaccinated people into their establishments.

Civil right attorney Joshua Blane of the Gray Law Firm says vaccination rights are new legal territory and expects that those rights will be tested.

“Private businesses are able to set whatever sort of requirements they want regarding dress code and things like that in their establishment,” said Blane. “But once you’re wading into health information, they tread on dangerous territory. People can have many reasons for not being vaccinated whether it’s a religious reason or health reason.”

Blane added that businesses could run the risk of discriminating against people based on religious or health reasons, which in many jurisdictions is a protected category. Even segregating people based on vaccination status, due to religious or health reasons, could be a legal argument. He points out there are separate laws for government vaccine requirements versus business requirements.

“I think we’ll definitely see litigations and I’m sure cases are already working their way through the courts,” Blane said. “The question is whether they’ll ever be decided or not because these are temporary restrictions that may end before they ever get the chance to be heard before a Supreme Court or the New York State Court of Appeals.”