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As NY tops its vaccine record, hotel workers added to eligibility list

Kathleen King received her COVID-19 vaccine shot at

Kathleen King received her COVID-19 vaccine shot at a pop-up site in Brentwood Friday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

This story was reported by Bart Jones, David Olson and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

New York State broke its single-day record for the number of vaccines administered, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, while also announcing he is adding hotel workers to the list of people eligible for vaccines.

At the same time, health officials brought a temporary "pop-up" COVID-19 vaccination site to the hardest-hit major community on Long Island, administering shots to 400 people in Brentwood on Friday as part of a program targeting Latino and Black residents.

Cuomo lauded the record of 179,038 daily shots as the state receives a steadily growing supply of vaccines from the federal government, though the governor has said it still needs far more.

"Nearly 180,000 vaccinations in a single day is a major milestone in our ongoing efforts to ensure eligible New Yorkers, especially those in communities that were hit the hardest by COVID, have direct access to the vaccine," Cuomo said.

The governor said he was adding hotel workers to the eligible groups in part because many hotels serve as quarantine areas for COVID-19-positive people to isolate from their families.

That means hotel staff are exposed to COVID-19 regularly, he said.

Since the state’s supply of vaccine is increasing, it makes sense to allow local governments to add hotel workers to the 1B vaccine prioritization group, he said.

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Ten million New Yorkers now are eligible to receive the vaccine. Cuomo did not offer an estimate of the number of hotel workers who will now be added to that list.

Thankful for pop-up site

On Long Island, a gym at La Espiguita Soccer in Brentwood served as the vaccination site of the 13th pop-up location set up by state officials on Long Island. Another one-day pop-up site vaccinated 400 people in Freeport on Thursday, said Cuomo spokesman Jack Sterne.

Brentwood has the most coronavirus cases per capita of any major community on Long Island, while 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.

Some residents who got their shots Friday said the site was a godsend.

Kathleen King, 70, of West Sayville, who is Black and Native American, said she had spent weeks on multiple websites trying to get a vaccination appointment and finally got one — but not until late April and in Queens. She said she was "relieved" to get vaccinated Friday.

King, who chairs the Suffolk County Native American Advisory Board and is a retired regional manager with the state health department, said she wished there were vaccination sites in every community on Long Island.

"Not everybody can get to the bigger sites like Stony Brook [University] Hospital, like the Aqueduct [in Queens]. I think seniors want to go someplace in their community, someplace that’s convenient," she said. "There’s a certain amount of trust when they can do things in their community."

Black, Native American and Latino people are much more likely to become hospitalized and die from COVID-19 than other Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black and Latino Long Islanders eligible for vaccines are significantly less likely to get vaccinated than white and Asian residents, state data shows.

The state and La Espiguita worked with community-based organizations to sign up people for appointments.

One group, nonprofit Adelante of Suffolk County, focused on Latino seniors and bodega employees in Brentwood and nearby communities, said Maidaya Maldonado, the group’s operations director.

"These are the people who have to deliver the food and wake up at 4:30 in the morning and go home at 8 p.m.," putting themselves at risk of exposure to the virus, she said of bodega workers. "It’s very important to get all our employees vaccinated."

Maldonado said organizations like hers have built up credibility with their communities, so residents listen carefully to them when they talk about the importance of vaccines.

"They accept our invitation because we are people they can trust," she said.

Noemi Sánchez, 50, of East Hampton, said she got vaccinated more to protect the people she works with than herself. She helps provide services to farmworkers — including COVID-19 information, masks and hand sanitizer — as associate coordinator of Riverhead-based Rural & Migrant Ministry, and she volunteers for SEPA Mujer, a Patchogue-based nonprofit that helped identify people for Friday’s vaccinations."There are people I work with who have diabetes or other conditions, and I don’t want to infect them," she said in Spanish.

Cuomo also said Friday the state will partner with local health departments to create vaccination sites for people 65 years and older. Workers will help the elderly with transportation to and from the sites, and with paperwork for their vaccinations.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement that she was "thrilled" that the county next week can begin administering the vaccine to seniors, which is something for which she said she had advocated. The county health department is "ready to get needles into arms of our senior citizens," she said.

Nursing home visits lag

Meanwhile, as new state visitation guidelines for nursing homes went into effect Friday, executives for some of those facilities said the rules have not allowed them to begin permitting visitors.

The issue remains that nursing homes must be free of COVID-19 cases for 14 days.

"The 14-day COVID-19-free mandate overshadows every other requirement that would otherwise allow us to have open visitation," said Stuart B. Almer, chief executive of Gurwin Healthcare System, which operates Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack.

"We are prepared to welcome families in to see their loved ones as soon as the state helps to modify that restriction. There has to be a better way."

Gurwin has yet to reach the 14-day milestone. It tests its 800 employees twice a week and its 350 residents weekly. One positive test resets the visitation clock.

Huntington Hills Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Melville isn't at 14 days without a positive COVID test, said Ken Knutsen, administrator at the skilled nursing facility.

The Stern Family Center for Rehabilitation in Manhasset had staff test positive this week for COVID-19, which keeps the facility from being able to allow visitors, said Gerard Kaiser, executive director of skilled nursing facility services at Northwell Health, which operates Stern.

"The good news is we haven't had any positive tests on residents this week," Kaiser said.

COVID-19 positivity levels in tests continued to decline, with the state registering a daily level of 2.82%, the lowest since Nov. 21. The seven-day average was 3.22%, the lowest since Nov. 26. The seven-day average on Long Island was 4.08%.

The number of new confirmed cases from test results Thursday was 742 in Nassau County, 675 in Suffolk County, and 4,419 in New York City.

Hospitalizations declined by 77, to a total of 5,626. Statewide, 95 people died Thursday of causes related to the virus, including six in Nassau and seven in Suffolk.

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