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NY: Long Island vaccine sites focusing on hard-hit areas; virus positivity declining

A Brooklyn resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine at

A Brooklyn resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine at Medgar Evers College on Wednesday. Credit: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo/Kevin P. Coughlin

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Matt Clark, Candice Ferrette, Joan Gralla, Bart Jones and David Olson. It was written by Jones.

The state's efforts to combat COVID-19 in hard-hit Black and Latino communities expanded this week to include temporary pop-up vaccination sites in Freeport and Brentwood, officials said Thursday.

Health officials injected shots Thursday at the Freeport Recreation Center, while they are scheduled to carry out a similar campaign on Friday at La Espiguita Soccer Academy in Brentwood.

They said they were targeting the communities because they have high rates of COVID-19 infection, but low rates of vaccination.

Brentwood has the most coronavirus cases per capita of any major community on Long Island, and Freeport has a per capita caseload above that of Nassau County, a Newsday analysis of Suffolk and Nassau County data shows. Latino and Black residents compose the majority in both communities.

"We need New Yorkers to trust the vaccine and actually take it," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. "We're tackling skepticism and distrust head-on through our local partnerships and pop-up sites and bringing the vaccine directly in the communities that have been hit hardest by this pandemic."

The two Long Island sites were among the 12 statewide this week that were part of an effort to ensure "social equity and fairness" in vaccinations, Cuomo said.

The state expected to vaccinate a total of 3,700 people at temporary sites, including three in New York City and others in upstate areas. Miguel Garzon, owner of La Espiguita Soccer Academy and La Espiguita Bakery in Brentwood, said about 400 vaccinations are scheduled for Friday, and all slots are taken at that location.

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No additional appointments were being scheduled at the two sites, a state official said.

The Freeport and Brentwood events are the 12th and 13th pop-up sites on Long Island over the last several weeks.

Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne said the focus is on communities "hard-hit by COVID, that have less access to health care generally and … lower rates of vaccination."

Unlike the large state vaccination operations at Jones Beach and Stony Brook University, which are open to anyone in the state, the pop-ups focus on vaccinating people in the surrounding communities, he said. They may be easier for residents to get to than the larger sites, he added.

Latino and Black residents of Long Island are significantly less likely to have received vaccines than whites and Asians, state data shows.

African Americans compose 10.9% of Long Islanders eligible for the vaccine but only 4.9% of those who have been vaccinated, according to data as of Wednesday on the state’s Vaccine Tracker website. Latinos represent 11.5% of those eligible, but only 6.7% of residents who have received the vaccine.

The host sites work with community organizations and leaders to identify local residents eligible for the vaccine, Sterne said. That helps build trust in the vaccines because "the community center or the church or whomever can say to their constituents or community members, ‘We’re putting this on because we trust the vaccine, and we think people should get it because it’s good for our community,’ " he said.

Polls show that Blacks and Latinos are less likely to say they plan to get vaccinated than whites. Current and past bias and abuse in the health care system are among the reasons for the gap, experts say.

So far, more than 46,000 people have gotten first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the temporary vaccine sites statewide, Cuomo said.

Mass vaccine site launched in Suffolk

Suffolk County’s mass vaccination site in Selden opened Thursday for municipal employees and residents with underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness, officials told county legislators. The site's launch was delayed a week because of bad weather pushing back shipments.

Nicole Amendola, county director of intergovernmental relations, said she expected about 900 people to be vaccinated Thursday at the site on the Suffolk County Community College campus.

The county has prioritized municipal employees, including those who work for the county and towns, because of a state executive order requiring local governments to inoculate essential workers, officials said. Eligible workers include those with underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancers or are chronic smokers, health commissioner Gregson Pigott said.

County officials said they invited eligible people to sign up in individual phone calls and emails. When they offered appointments using a link on the state’s website, "All of a sudden, in less than 15 minutes about 95% of the appointment slots are taken" because people from outside Suffolk County were signing up, Pigott said.

The Riverhead pod is used as a second-dose site. People with developmental disabilities who live in facilities are being inoculated at the Brentwood and Riverhead pods, health commissioner Gregson Pigott said.

County Executive Steve Bellone has said the county could vaccinate up to 51,000 people a week once it has sufficient vaccine supply.

The county plans to administer 10,670 first doses this week.

A steady decline in virus numbers

COVID-19 positivity levels continued a steady decline statewide since a holiday season spike, Cuomo said.

The statewide seven-day average was 3.34%, the lowest since Nov. 27, he said, while the daily figure was 3.14%. The average on Long Island was 4.17%, a slight uptick from the previous day, while New York City's level was 4.37%.

The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the state dropped by 173, to 5,703.

A total of 89 people died Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19, including five each in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The number of new confirmed cases in test results Wednesday was 695 in Nassau, 721 in Suffolk and 4,313 in New York City.

"The Biden administration has been increasing our doses each week and in turn we've been able to expand eligibility to even more New Yorkers," Cuomo said. "Now that the FDA has found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe and effective against COVID, larger shipments and a greater supply are on the horizon, putting us one step closer to becoming the first COVID-free state in the nation."

Curran: Add senior citizens for county shots

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Thursday pledged to push state officials to add senior citizens to the list of priority groups allowed for vaccination at the two county-run sites: Nassau Community College in East Garden City and the Yes We Can Center in Westbury. Republicans in the State Legislature also have called for seniors to be made a priority at county sites.

Health Commissioner Larry Eisenstein said he has advocated with state health officials for the move.

Currently, seniors without underlying medical conditions are not among the priority groups allowed at the county-run sites but are able to go to one of the state-run sites, such as Jones Beach.

Eisenstein said Nassau’s health department is expected to partner with local hospitals to provide the vaccine to seniors without underlying health conditions.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES IN NY

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.

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