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Cuomo: State pushing toward reopening, agreeing to limit COVID-19 powers

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a press

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks during a press briefing Wednesday, where he sought to push his coronavirus agenda forward, even as he agreed to limit his emergency powers. Credit: Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Domestic travelers to New York will not be required to quarantine if they are vaccinated, gathering limits will be relaxed across the state, and events at more entertainment venues will be allowed to resume with limited numbers.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the moves Wednesday as he continued reopening the state's battered economic and social life, even as he agreed to limit his emergency powers and apologized over sexual harassment accusations. He has been on the defensive amid a firestorm related to those allegations and decisions concerning the placement of nursing home residents through the pandemic.

After about a week largely away from the limelight, the governor held his first briefing in days to push his coronavirus agenda forward, trying to highlight the progress made against the virus.

"Whatever order I put in place, the legislature can repeal it in 24 hours or whenever they choose," he said of an agreement to limit his emergency powers to manage the COVID-19 crisis.

He said those emergency powers to issue executive orders will be extended "to the point where the federal government declares an end to the pandemic."

Cuomo announced that the state is adjusting limitations on residential and public gatherings.

Starting March 22, the limit on outdoor residential gatherings will go from 10 to 25 people, he said. The indoor limit of 10 people per gathering will remain the same. The limit on gatherings at public spaces will go from 50 to 100 people indoors, and from 50 to 200 people outdoors.

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All gatherings will continue to require virus prevention measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.

Starting April 2, entertainment venues with a capacity of under 10,000 people will be able to reopen at 33% capacity for indoor events, up to a maximum of 100 people. The maximum for an outdoor event will be 200 people, said Robert Mujica, the state's budget director.

If a venue puts in place testing requirements, those limits will be more permissive: 150 indoors and 500 outdoors.

The state has allowed, since Feb. 23, limited attendance at arenas with a capacity of 10,000 people or more.

Cuomo also said domestic travelers to New York who have received their COVID-19 vaccinations will no longer be required to quarantine or test out, within 90 days of their full vaccination, though international travelers must do so, following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Third vaccine arrives on Long Island

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 arrived on Long Island on Wednesday morning, with deliveries confirmed for two area hospitals, and more expected.

One batch went to Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre, run by Catholic Health Services.

"It's another item in our toolbox, and it gives us a lot more flexibility, because this vaccine is easier to store and because it's one dose," said Mark Macchia, pharmacy director at Mercy Hospital.

The vaccine is the third one now available to Americans to combat a pandemic that has made many people sick, devastated the economy, shuttered schools and killed more than 38,000 people in New York State alone. The first vaccines that were authorized for use in the United States are produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, both of which are given in two shots and require special cold-temperature storage.

Those two vaccines have been given to more than 3 million New Yorkers. The Johnson & Johnson version is a one-shot vaccine that can be stored in a regular refrigerator.

Macchia said the state is suggesting the Johnson & Johnson doses be used for patients in the hospital.

"If there aren't enough patients, then we can go to the outside community." Macchia said. "We have a lot of underserved communities in the area."

Other Long Island hospitals said they, too, will receive the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine this week.

South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, which is part of Northwell Health, received a shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine Wednesday as well. The hospital administered its first one-dose shot on Wednesday afternoon to Susan Maxwell-Trumble of Babylon, a patient being discharged.

Maxwell-Trumble was surrounded by hospital officials as she received the shot.

"I have compromised health and I haven't been out, hardly ever, and this will afford me that opportunity, so I'm very thankful," Maxwell-Trumble said. "I'm excited … because I've been wanting to get the shot. I wasn't really sure where to go and get it."

Having the third vaccine "adds another weapon to the arsenal in fighting COVID-19," said Stephen Bello, regional executive director of Northwell’s Eastern Region. "In preparation for this over the last 48 hours, we’ve been thinking about the last year in which we’ve battled COVID-19 every day. When this started there was really only one weapon to fight this virus; the hard work, knowledge and dedication of the health care community."

Catholic Health expects most of the six hospitals it operates on Long Island to receive a shipment by Thursday, the health system confirmed.

Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside expects a shipment later this week, spokesman Damian Becker said.

Medical experts have played up the ability to easily store the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and its effectiveness in keeping people from developing severe symptoms.

It's "extremely effective" in helping COVID-19 patients avoid hospitalizations and deaths, said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

Northwell said that because it is a one-shot vaccine, Johnson & Johnson will "boost our capacity to vaccinate twice the number of people over the same period of time."

Cuomo said New York State is expected to receive 164,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week in the first tranche. Those numbers will then drop for several weeks due to manufacturing issues, before steadily increasing, he said.

The state will use the first tranche at mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium, the Javits Center and the New York State Fair site in Syracuse.

The state’s level of positivity in testing for the virus continued to decline, making a significant drop since hitting a peak in January amid a holiday season spike, Cuomo said.

The statewide seven-day average between Jan. 4 and March 2 dropped from 7.94% to 3.18%, Cuomo said.

The daily statewide average from 218,069 test results from Tuesday was 3.53%, state data showed. Long Island’s positivity level was 4.18% over seven days, making it the highest region with the highest level in the state. New York City was at 4.02%.

Hospitalizations have dropped significantly, from 8,991 on Jan. 21 to 5,433 on March 2, Cuomo said. Statewide, 75 people died Tuesday of causes related to COVID-19, including four in Nassau and seven in Suffolk.

The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Tuesday was 600 in Nassau, 569 in Suffolk and 4,315 in New York City.

King Kullen, Stop & Shop offer shots

Long Island supermarket chain King Kullen said Wednesday that the Moderna version of the COVID-19 vaccine is available at eight pharmacy locations. In a statement, King Kullen said supply is limited and that "you must be at least 65 years of age to be eligible."

To check for appointment availability, go to ZocDoc.com. Appointments are not being scheduled directly at the store or over the phone.

Stop & Shop said its pharmacies are administering the vaccine at a limited number of locations on Long Island by appointment only.

In a statement, Stop & Shop said customers should visit the state's vaccine site, covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov, to check eligibility. Qualified customers can visit stopandshop.com/covid-vaccine to register for an appointment.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said a COVID-19 vaccine pop-up distribution site at St. Hyacinth church in Glen Cove on Thursday will target the vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities, including seniors.

The vaccination day, in partnership with Northwell Health, aims to inoculate 500 eligible members of the Glen Cove community, she said.

Long Island Cares will provide 300 boxes of food to be distributed at the event to combat food insecurity in the community, she added.

With Cecilia Dowd

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