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Amid a new COVID-19 surge, police on LI await the vaccine

Suffolk police officer and EMS worker Thomas Teufel

Suffolk police officer and EMS worker Thomas Teufel is given the vaccine Tuesday in Stony Brook. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau and Suffolk County police departments — along with other local law enforcement agencies — are awaiting detailed direction from state health officials to greenlight COVID-19 vaccinations for thousands of officers, inoculations that could begin "later this month," authorities told Newsday.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said officials anticipate police will begin receiving vaccinations later in January, following Phase 1A, a group that includes health care workers and EMTs, according to a statement released Friday afternoon.

"Once we finish vaccinating the 2.1 million New Yorkers under Phase 1A, we will begin to vaccinate essential workers such as police officers as well as elderly New Yorkers under Phase 1B. We anticipate beginning to vaccinate the Phase 1B population later this month," said Jack Sterne, a spokesman in Cuomo's administration.

The development from state officials occurs while multiple law enforcement agencies on Long Island report a surge of COVID-19 infections in their ranks.

Representatives and county officials with Nassau and Suffolk — along with New York State Police, Southampton Town Police and the Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Office — said this week that most, if not all, of their officers have not been vaccinated.

Although Suffolk cops said some officers who are certified emergency medical technicians began receiving vaccines Tuesday and Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the department wrote in an email: "The department is awaiting a clear timeline from New York State regarding the eligibility of police officers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine."

A Nassau police department spokesman said most of its officers have not received the vaccine. However, some police medics, who are not among its 2,436 sworn officers, have begun receiving the vaccine, according to a statement from Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick J. Ryder.

"Our department’s Police Medics who have responded to approximately 85% of COVID-19 calls throughout Nassau County have already begun receiving the vaccine," Ryder said.

Nassau police said they have 161 police medics in the department. Officials were unable to say how many police medics have received vaccinations. Similarly, Suffolk police could not provide how many officers who are certified EMTs were vaccinated. Suffolk police have about 2,400 officers.

Both county police departments said vaccinations for their officers are voluntary.

PD cases on the rise

Cops, who are first responders, are waiting for the vaccine while officers with both Nassau and Suffolk — the largest departments on Long Island — report infection rates among their officers exceeding, or approaching, the highest levels since the onset of the pandemic.

Nassau police said as of Thursday, 107 officers were sick with COVID-19. An additional 73 officers also were in quarantine awaiting COVID-19 test results. Suffolk police said as of Tuesday, 94 officers were sick with COVID-19. In August, Nassau officials said 108 officers tested positive.

A statement from Suffolk police said: "The current numbers are slightly higher than those in the spring. Some of this increase is reflective of the county’s commitment to testing employees on a regular basis to identify asymptomatic individuals who could unknowingly affect others."

In April, there were 84 Suffolk police officers who tested positive for the virus, officials said.

Some smaller departments on Long Island are also experiencing an uptick in officers who have contracted COVID-19.

Southampton Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki said Thursday that 10 of his department’s 100 officers have fallen ill with the virus since the fall. Only two officers contracted COVID-19 during the onset of the pandemic, he said.

"The resurgence is clearly impacting us more than the initial surge," Skrynecki said. "Our officers are exposed to potential COVID in everything they do, from responding to an aided care [call], to responding to a motor-vehicle accident."

A State Police spokesman said 36 troopers from Troop L, headquartered in Farmingdale, have contracted COVID-19 since March, and five were quarantining after recently testing positive.

A spokeswoman with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office said Friday that 18 correction officers and four deputy sheriffs were out sick with COVID-19. Since the pandemic, 55 correction officers and 21 deputy sheriffs have contracted the virus, the spokeswoman said.

Authorities on Friday said Long Island’s COVID-19 seven-day average positive rate was 8.42%. State figures showed 1,556 new coronavirus cases in Nassau, with a daily positivity rate of 8%, and 1,874 new cases in Suffolk, for a daily positivity rate of 9.7%.

Waiting for the vaccine

Vaccinations in New York started on Dec. 14 with high-risk health care workers. Cuomo said on Twitter this week about 203,000 New Yorkers had received the first of the two doses.

NYPD cops anticipated they would be among the state's vaccinated. Officials said officers expected on Tuesday to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations, but instead they learned they had to wait while officials began inoculating city firefighters.

Police on Long Island are also waiting.

At a news conference Thursday in Hauppauge, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said he expects to have "vaccination pods" operating next week and "law enforcement will be a top priority."

The county’s vaccination plan, he said, is constantly evolving and conversations occur daily with the state and Northwell Health, the region’s vaccination coordinator.

"We don’t have an exact schedule, but we should be able to report that at the beginning of next week," Bellone said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Thursday complimented the local vaccination rollout but added there was room for improvement.

"It’s been going smoothly on Long Island. I want to ramp it up. I want to get it going and get it going more quickly. That’s my goal," Curran said.

With Robert Brodsky, Cecilia Dowd and David Olson

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