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Cuomo: COVID-19 positivity rate falls again in NY, but variant cases on the rise

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a news conference Friday, in this image taken from video. Credit: AP / Office of the Governor

New York’s COVID-19 positivity rate fell to its lowest level in nearly three months on Friday, the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said — but 54 new cases of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus signal the risks that remain.

The 3.06% single-day positivity rate is the lowest since Nov. 23, three days before the Thanksgiving holiday, which experts say — along with December holidays — helped fuel a rise in infections because of an increase in at-home gatherings.

The positivity rate likely will begin to rise again in March or April, as the U.K. variant spreads, predicted Dr. David Hirschwerk, an infectious disease expert and interim chairman of medicine at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the variant, which British scientists say appears to be more deadly as well as more easily transmissible, may become the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States by late March. In Britain, the variant led to a surge in cases that overwhelmed hospitals and led to a spike in deaths.

How widely it spreads in New York depends in part on how much residents adhere to mask wearing, social distancing and other precautions, and on the effect of the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions, Hirschwerk said.

Cuomo has in the past 10 days announced relaxing visitation rules at nursing homes, reopening amusement centers and parks, allowing professional sports at 10% capacity, and increasing the maximum capacity at New York City restaurants.

Hirschwerk said the restrictions accompanying the reopenings indicate "they seem to be opening up in a careful way," but, he said, "it will be critical to monitor the cases in our area as these things open up, and if we see that cases are starting to rise, it may very well be necessary to pull back these openings."

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U.K. variant in NY rises 66%

The number of confirmed New York cases of the U.K. variant rose 66% on Friday, from 82 to 136. Two of the 54 new cases were in Suffolk County and one was in Nassau, with 46 in New York City.

But Hirschwerk said that with only about a half-percent of positive coronavirus tests being sequenced for the variant nationwide, "I don’t think we have any idea whatsoever how many individuals have the variant at this point."

Meanwhile, the state's seven-day positivity rate — which epidemiologists often focus on because it smooths out daily anomalies — dropped for the 43rd consecutive day on Friday, to 3.53%, the governor’s office said.

Long Island had the second-highest seven-day rate of New York State's 10 regions: 4.31%. New York City’s was highest, at 4.4%. Positivity rates during the summer were often below 1%.

Hospitalizations dropped below 6,000 for the first time since Dec. 14, to 5,977, down 178 from Thursday.

"Our ability to beat back COVID is entirely dependent on our actions, and the post-holiday reduction in positivity and hospitalizations demonstrates that New Yorkers are continuing to do the right things to stay safe," Cuomo said in a statement.

Another 97 New Yorkers died of COVID-19 on Friday, including nine Suffolk County residents and eight Nassau County residents.

Some minorities less likely vaccinated

Demographic data posted by the state Friday showed that Black and Latino New Yorkers are still less likely to receive vaccines than other residents, based on their share of the population eligible to be vaccinated.

The state has set up pop-up sites in areas of the state with large Black and Latino populations to increase vaccination levels there.

On Long Island, 10.9% of the eligible population is Black, but only 5% of those receiving the vaccine by Friday were Black. Latinos represent 11.5% of the eligible population but only 6.8% of those getting the vaccine. Asian residents were more likely to be vaccinated: 8.4% of those getting the vaccine were Asian, who are 5.6% of the eligible population.

More than 83% of those vaccinated have been white, compared with about 82% of the population that is categorized as white.

The vaccination numbers add up to more than 100% because the state collects data by both race and ethnicity, so, for example, a Latino resident who identifies as white will show up in the "Hispanic or Latino" and "white" categories.

As vaccination sites in New York await vaccine shipments that were delayed by winter storms across the country, the state announced that 90% of the 3.6 million first and second doses of vaccines that had been received as of 11 a.m. Saturday had been administered. Both vaccines that are currently authorized — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — require two doses.

On Long Island, 410,367 doses had been administered — 91% of those received.

Nassau Executive Laura Curran said in a statement Saturday that 15.6% of Nassau residents have received at least one vaccine dose, a proportion that she said is the highest among downstate counties.

"With continued vigilance and a growing number of residents getting vaccinated, we're well on our way to defeating this virus," she said.

Of the 7,692 people whose test results were positive on Friday, 602 were in Nassau, with the same number testing positive in Suffolk.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

New York State expanded the list of qualifying residents to encompass people 65 years of age and older as well as others with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk. The state had previously expanded its vaccination program to include essential workers and people 75 years of age and older in addition to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, among others. The supply of vaccines is limited even as more groups are added. Hospitals will continue to prioritize unvaccinated members of the first phase, focusing largely on health care workers. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on Feb. 9.

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.

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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