Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, at a briefing Saturday at a public-housing residence in Brooklyn, urged Black New Yorkers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, amid polls showing Black Americans are among the most reluctant to obtain a vaccine. Credit: Governor's YouTube

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and two Black members of Congress traveled Saturday to a public housing residence in Brooklyn to urge Black New Yorkers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, amid polls showing Black Americans are among the most reluctant to obtain a vaccine, and COVID-19 death rates far higher for them than for whites.

"We are urging everyone to trust science and get vaccinated," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), speaking inside the New York City Housing Authority’s William Reid Apartments for seniors. "COVID-19 will kill you, and we have seen that, particularly with devastating consequence in Black communities, in low-income communities, and in traditionally underserved communities."

Black and Latino Americans are 2.8 times more likely than whites to die from COVID-19, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis, from Nov. 30.

Before speaking about vaccinations, Cuomo said the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate fell Friday to 5.26%, part of a steady decline since an 8.4% post-spring peak on Jan. 5. More than 2,500 Long Islanders tested positive. The number of hospitalizations fell to 8,802, down 44 from Thursday.

Sixteen of the 144 people statewide who died of COVID-19 Friday were from Suffolk County, and seven were from Nassau County, the state reported.

Vaccine sites set up

The Manhattan-based nonprofit health organization SOMOS on Saturday set up a vaccination site at the Reid Apartments. Cuomo said vaccinations will be given at all 33 NYCHA senior communities, as well as at 300 churches statewide, to help ensure equity in vaccine distribution.

"We will get the access," he said. "Our bigger problem is the acceptance, especially among the Black and Latino community."

Cuomo emphasized that a state-convened panel of expert physicians reviewed the two federally authorized vaccines — from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna — and determined they are safe.

The governor said he understood the hesitancy of some — particularly Black Americans — to get the vaccine, because of a tragic history of racism in health care.

But Cuomo said his mother and daughters will get the vaccine, something he wouldn't let them do "if I didn’t believe it was safe. It is safe."

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn) urged New Yorkers to tell those at high risk for COVID-19 to get the vaccine.


Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

"Call grandma, grandpa, auntie, uncle and let them know we have to get vaccinated," she said. "It will save their lives."

Acceptance of the vaccine has been increasing in recent months among Black Americans, but they are still less likely to plan on getting the vaccine than whites, polls show.

Cuomo said vaccinations of Black, Latino and low-income New Yorkers are being prioritized in part because, in the spring, white and wealthier New Yorkers had easier access to coronavirus testing.

Jeffries said a "community-based site is the best way to make sure the vaccine is administered to those who need it the most."

It’s a way, he said, "to make sure that the services are being brought to the people, as opposed to expecting the people to have to seek out with desperation and futility the services."

The state later announced that among eight churches statewide that will receive vaccination kits in the next few days are Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt and St. Hugh of Lincoln Catholic Church in Huntington Station. Appointments are scheduled by each church.

The scramble for supply, appointments

New Yorkers have been frustrated by an inability to get vaccine appointments. Cuomo again blamed the problems on an inadequate allocation from the federal government.

The governor's office said Saturday the state will get 250,400 doses in the coming week, even though, Cuomo said, "we could do 100,000 dosages per day, easily."

Meanwhile, some Long Islanders have been getting repeated cancellations for appointments made for the state vaccination site at Stony Brook University.

Gwenn Polansky, 69, said she and her husband, Rick Polansky, 73, of Riverhead, had appointments canceled three times.

The first was after they made vaccination reservations using what state officials later said was an unauthorized link. The state canceled up to 20,000 appointments.

After days of trying in vain to get through on the state vaccination hotline, Gwenn Polansky finally reached an agent Tuesday.

"She said absolutely you can get reinstated," Polansky said.

Then, on Friday, that appointment was canceled. Polansky called the hotline again and got that one reinstated as well — only to later receive an email notifying her of the third cancellation.

State Health Department spokeswoman Jill Montag said in an email that "in some limited" cases, appointments from the unauthorized link were incorrectly reinstated by phone. The system has been updated to prevent reinstatements from appointments initially made on that link, the health department said.

Polansky said it’s unfair for the state to cancel appointments the state made in error — especially because the couple’s appointments were not until March.

"If they said right from the beginning, ‘I’m sorry I cannot reinstate you, you have to make a new appointment,’ don’t you think I would have made a new appointment?" she said. "I lost out on all this time when I could have gotten an appointment. Instead I got reinstated and lost it all."

She blamed the vaccination chaos on the governor's decision to follow federal recommendations to expand eligibility to those 65 and older, even though they weren't mandatory.

"This was mishandled right from the beginning," she said. "He should have left it alone at 75 and older, just to see how it went, because we were getting a limited supply of vaccine."

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