During an interview with the AmNews, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said that if vaccinations continue, things could be back to normal by the end of the year putting the COVID-19 pandemic behind us.

As of this week, 44.2% of Americans are fully vaccinated and 53% have received their first dose of the vaccine. New York State hit a milestone this week reaching 70% of the state’s population either fully vaccinated or having received their first dose. The state also has the lowest COVID-19 positivity rate in the country.

Murthy said life is starting to return back to normal with workplaces, schools and businesses opening and COVID-19 restrictions being lifted across the nation. However, COVID-19 is still having an impact as the nation hit a grim milestone this week reaching 600,000 deaths from the virus.

“If we get more and more people vaccinated, we can see a life that looks fairly close to what it was pre-pandemic by the end of the calendar year, but it depends on what we do to vaccinate ourselves and our friends,” said Murthy.

President Joe Biden has a goal of reaching 70% of adults in the U.S. getting at least one vaccine dose by July 4. A report released by the Kaiser Family Foundation predicts that 65% of those ages 12 and older would be at least partially vaccinated by July 4 and that rates would be lower for Black people.

The foundation says in order to reach a 70% vaccination goal by July 4, the pace of vaccinations would need to increase substantially in many states, particularly for Blacks. As of June 7, Blacks make up only 12% of those vaccinated in New York State. Nationally, Black people makeup 9% of Americans fully vaccinated.

Murthy said his office and the White House are tracking the progress in the equitable distribution of the vaccine. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the Black community with higher infection, hospitalization and death rates compared to whites.

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The surgeon general said one strategy to reach the Black community is to work with people the community trusts. A few months ago the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the COVID-19 Community Corps, which brings in local organizations and people to get the facts out about the vaccine.

“Trust is very local, it’s about who you see, it’s about who you know,” Murthy said. “It’s often your local doctor or nurse, it’s often the places that you go, whether it’s barber shops, or beauty salons or other stores where you see people again and again. People we know and see who we trust and hearing from them can make a world of difference.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday as 70% of New Yorkers aged 18 or older have received the first dose of the vaccine or are fully vaccinated. Social gathering limits, capacity restrictions, social distancing, cleaning and disinfection, health screening, and contact information for tracing are now optional for most businesses.

Guidelines remain in effect for large-scale indoor event venues, pre-K to grade 12 schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings per CDC guidelines. Proof of vaccination can be used to eliminate social distancing and remove masks for fully vaccinated people. Masks are still required for the unvaccinated.

“What New York has done is extraordinary. Not only do we have the lowest COVID positivity rate in the United States of America, we have hit 70% vaccination ahead of schedule,” Cuomo said. “We successfully deployed the weapon that will win the war, and New York led the nation.”

In New York City, the COVID-19 positivity rate was 0.57% on Tuesday. New reported cases on a seven-day average are at 200. Mayor Bill de Blasio said 3.9 million New Yorkers are fully vaccinated and 4.5 million have received at least one dose. He said his office is keeping a close eye on the numbers as things open back up.

“We’re watching it very, very carefully,” de Blasio said. “We take it seriously, but to date, we’ve fundamentally believed the best way to address it is for more people to get vaccinated, and our overall progress has been so consistent that even with some new factors in the equation, I feel very confident in our position, and if we see a need to make some adjustments, of course we always will.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that while the state has reached its vaccination goal, COVID standards should not be relaxed. He notes that 60% of adults are fully vaccinated and some neighborhoods are still seeing low vaccination rates. In Canarsie, Brooklyn, for example, only 37% of residents are fully vaccinated.

“We need to reach more people with vaccines and ensure that New Yorkers get a second dose rather than let the governor’s shifting standards of safety threaten their own,” Williams said. “I know that the people of our city will continue to do their part to keep one another safe as we work toward recovery, and I’m happy to celebrate that spirit.”