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Cuomo: COVID-19 vaccine 'is the weapon that is going to win the war'

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday opened a box of vaccines and demonstrated how they work. A drive-thru testing site opened in Jericho. Long Islanders in Carle Place spoke with Newsday's Chelsea Irizarry about their feelings concerning the vaccine. Credit: Howard Schnapp; Facebook / Governor Andrew Cuomo, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone; File Footage; Photo Credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Joan Gralla and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

One day after announcing that New York will receive its first batch of vaccine to counter the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo showed off a box with dry ice, vials and trays to demonstrate how the effort to deliver the dosages is crystallizing.

The governor put on the display as the daily number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 leapt for a second straight day in Suffolk County, surpassing 1,000 for the first time since April 23 and pulling the county back into the realm of the pandemic's most dire days.

In Albany, Cuomo said the process of delivery, storage and distribution of the vaccine is complicated, but that the state is preparing and training its workers to make it happen.

"It’s real and they are being manufactured and they are going to be shipped," Cuomo said of the Pfizer vaccine, expected to arrive in the state by Dec. 15.

"And we are working very hard to be ready for the distribution and training people," he added. "But this is the weapon that is going to win the war and that is the light at the end of the tunnel, right? So it’s not tomorrow, it’s not a short tunnel. But we know the way through this. We just have to get there. And we have to get there with as little loss of life as possible."

Cuomo detailed how the vaccine transportation boxes work, explaining that they have GPS tracking and thermal measuring devices to ensure the temperature remains extremely cold to preserve the vaccine.

He said the dry ice must be replaced every five days, and that each box contains about 5,000 doses, since each vial holds five doses.

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The boxes can be opened only twice a day, and for 60 to 90 seconds each time, he said. The vials remain frozen in the box, thaw at room temperature for 30 minutes, then get diluted and stand for two hours. Health workers have six hours to administer the vaccines before they are no longer usable.

He noted that the vaccines, and the vials holding them, are being produced by two New York-based companies, Pfizer and glass manufacturer Corning.

The first of successive batches this month will be dedicated to up to 170,000 nursing home residents and staff, and front-line workers. News of their impending arrival comes amid a spike in new positive cases that Cuomo says is being fueled by holiday gatherings, starting with Thanksgiving and expected to last into at least mid-January.

Suffolk surges above 1,000 cases

Suffolk County reported 1,111 positives over the last 24 hours, according to new health data issued Thursday. That compares to the county's peak of 1,569 new cases on April 8, according to state figures.

Nassau reported 757 new confirmed cases in data released Thursday. That county hit a peak of 1,938 on April 7, though its second-highest day was 1,592 on April 8.

On Wednesday, Suffolk and Nassau combined reported a total of 1,792 new confirmed cases, numbers that also were comparable to some days in April. On Thursday, the reported number went up to 1,868.

The positivity level on Long Island was 5.6% on Wednesday, up from 5.5% the previous day and 4.7% the day before that.

The statewide level was 4.84% from test results on Wednesday. That figure included the state's "microclusters" or "hot spots" which are oversampled. Long Island's microclusters, tracked on a seven-day average, registered positivity levels of 4.47% in Great Neck; 6.61% in Massapequa Park; 5.73% in Hampton Bays and 3.97% in Riverhead.

Cuomo said a looming challenge is managing the increased need for hospital beds, as more of those positive cases lead to hospitalizations.

The statewide number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients rose by 139 Wednesday to 4,063, with 783 of them in intensive care units and 377 intubated. Sixty-one people died of coronavirus-related causes in the state on Wednesday.

Long Island saw its number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients grow by 188 last week, while New York City had 249 more. For Long Island, the 605 people currently hospitalized represent 0.02% of the population. In New York City, 0.01% of residents, or 1,255 patients, are hospitalized with the virus.

The state has about 53,000 hospital beds, with 35,000 currently occupied — 4,063 of them by COVID-19 patients, state figures show. At the peak of the pandemic in the spring, the state had about 19,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, Cuomo said, adding that the state and hospital systems are prepared to act to free up beds.

Among options, he cited ending elective surgeries and expanding the system to increase capacity as was done in the spring.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Thursday he is concerned about the potential for more cases if residents give in to COVID-19 fatigue.

"We are working to address this second wave of COVID-19 as proactively as possible," he said. "I cannot stress enough again the concern about small indoor gatherings where individuals, and this is almost naturally, let their guard down a little bit."

That wave of new cases has brought the county to a 6% positivity rate. Suffolk tracked 287 patients with coronavirus-related ailments in hospitals, 50 of them in intensive care units.

Cases linked to restaurants

Visitors to two Suffolk restaurants may have been exposed to COVID-19 shortly before Thanksgiving, county health officials said.

At Señor Taco Mexican Grill & Bar in Mount Sinai, the possible exposure was on Nov. 20 and 24. At Phil's Restaurant in Wading River, the possible exposure was on Nov. 20, 21, 23 and 24.

People potentially exposed should monitor themselves for coronavirus symptoms for 14 days after visiting the restaurants, said the Suffolk health department, which encouraged them to get tested.

Carol Munar, co-owner of Señor Taco, said the group’s four restaurants have converted almost entirely to curbside delivery and undertaken other safeguards, including shifting to contactless payment devices.

"We are very vigilant," Munar said by telephone. "This is a family-owned business," which her parents founded 25 years ago, with a lot of sweat, she said.

"We’re doing everything we can to keep our customers and employees safe."

A spokesman for Phil’s was not immediately available.

A third establishment, Tellers Restaurant in Islip, also may have exposed patrons on Nov. 16 and 17, the county health department said on Nov 25.

Sheila Haile, marketing director for Islip-based BRG, which owns Tellers, outlined precautions it instituted for its four New York restaurants, including on-site testing of employees every week, and installing MERV 13 air-filtration systems.

"We did everything possible … so everyone can stay as safe as humanly possible."

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