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Long Island towns praise governor's plan for low-vaccination ZIP codes

Nurse Jenni Jimenez gives Sonia Gonzalez, of Roosevelt,

Nurse Jenni Jimenez gives Sonia Gonzalez, of Roosevelt, a COVID-19 vaccination at the Roosevelt Health Center of Long Island FQHC on July 8. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Some towns on Long Island say they are doing what they can to get shots in arms as they praise a new $15 million program by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that targets communities with low vaccination rates but high numbers of new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Cuomo on Monday announced the program targeting 117 ZIP codes with low vaccination rates throughout the state — including 21 on Long Island.

Cuomo's plan comes a day before the nation’s top health agency is expected Tuesday to backpedal on its masking guidelines and recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in parts of the United States where the coronavirus is surging, according to The Associated Press.

New cases and positivity levels are rising throughout Long Island, New York State and the rest of the country as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, antivirus mandates are relaxed, and a substantial segment of the population remains unvaccinated.

"The Town of Hempstead has been closely monitoring vaccination and infection rates, and continues to be focused on bringing COVID-19 vaccines directly to communities across America’s largest township, with an emphasis on vulnerable populations," Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said.

'Vaxmobile' used in Hempstead Town

Hempstead Village and Elmont are among the ZIP codes named. Both are located in Hempstead Town.

Working with Mount Sinai South Nassau, the town has given out more than 5,000 shots through the "Vaxmobile," which Clavin said was the first mobile vaccination unit in the state and the second in the nation when unveiled at the Uniondale Hempstead Senior Center in March.

The program has been expanded to local schools, houses of worship, parks and pools, he said. The Vaxmobile has visited Hempstead Village and Elmont, officials said.

The Town of Hempstead EMS squad is also hosting a homebound vaccination program to provide free COVID-19 vaccines to those who cannot leave their homes, he said.

Riverhead Town officials said they were pleased with Cuomo's program.

"We are happy to hear that the Governor funded an outreach by allocating $15 million to promote those communities, who have been disproportionately vaccinated," Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. "The Town is also committed to supporting the outreach. We will also begin an outreach to the community."

Aguiar said she contacted the governor's office on Monday to help bring vaccinations directly to local seniors and to disproportionately vaccinated communities. "At the moment we have identified one specific community and await approval from the Governor's office," Aguiar said in an email. "We will also be conducting an outreach campaign."

About 61% of the ZIP codes Cuomo is targeting are in New York City, and 18% are on Long Island. The 117 ZIP codes account for 6.7% of the state population.

About 25% of adults in New York State — 3.5 million people — are not vaccinated against COVID-19, Cuomo said.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases in New York State has soared from 346 on June 26 to 1,679 1,679 in test results on Monday, Cuomo said.

Health experts praised his outreach program, saying vaccination is the key to bringing the pandemic under control.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that New York City would reconsider masking rules for indoors in light of the CDC’s expected announcement, but he said he didn’t want people to think that masking only was a substitute for vaccination.

"We will assess, and we will determine the next steps, but vaccination is really the whole ballgame," de Blasio said, speaking at his daily news conference.

To encourage vaccination, de Blasio said a forthcoming concert in Central Park on Aug. 21 — along with four others planned in each of the outer boroughs — would be open only to vaccinated attendees 12 and older with at least one shot.

"Go get vaccinated, cause there’s no way you’re getting in without it," he said, "and if you get vaccinated, that’s a good thing to do no matter what."

The premier concert, at Manhattan’s Central Park, will be on the Great Lawn, which can hold 60,000 people — without social distance, which attendees won’t need to follow, said the city’s events director, Dan Gross.

Earlier Wednesday, speaking on MSNBC, de Blasio suggested that the city could move toward a vaccine mandate for all municipal employees. The current requirement, going into effect in September, is for either vaccination or a weekly test for coronavirus.

Asked whether a vaccination mandate was in the cards, he said: "Yes, we are climbing a ladder. I'm not answering yes to your question yet."

He added: "We've got to shake people at this point and say, ‘come on, now.’ We tried voluntary. You know, we could not have been more kind and compassionate as a country. Free testing, everywhere you turn, incentives. Friendly, warm embrace. The voluntary phase is over. We can keep doing those things. I'm not saying shut it down. I'm saying voluntary alone doesn't work. It's time for mandates because it's the only way to protect our people."

COVID-19 indicators continued to rise or remain at relatively elevated levels compared to recent numbers on Long Island and throughout the state in the latest test results released Tuesday.

The number of new confirmed cases Monday was 162 in Nassau County, 130 in Suffolk County, and 902 in New York City.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus has risen on Long Island in the last three days from 2.23% to 2.27% to 2.36%. The average in the state has gone from 1.76% to 1.88% to 1.97%.

The number of people hospitalized in the state because of the virus increased by 39, to 585. Two people died Monday of causes related to COVID-19, one in Suffolk and one in Queens.

With Lisa L. Colangelo

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