This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Jesse Coburn, Bart Jones and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.
Long Island will receive 26,500 initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer as soon as this weekend as part of a first batch of 170,000 doses reserved for nursing home residents and staff and high-risk health care workers, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday.
New York City is slated to receive 72,000 initial doses. They are part of a wave of 6 million vaccines nationwide that the federal government is allocating to each state based on population, Cuomo said.
The vaccine requires two shots, with the second delivered 21 days after the first. The governor said more deliveries of vaccines will follow on a regular basis to expand the pool of people vaccinated and administer second doses.
The first vaccines "could arrive as soon as this weekend" in New York State, Cuomo said at a news briefing in Albany. "That assumes the FDA does act right away, the FDA does approve it, and the military turns around and ships it immediately."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could sign off on the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday, making it the first to gain approval in the United States. As soon as that happens, New York's own panel will convene to review the vaccine and approve it. That is aimed at diluting skepticism about the federal approval process under the Trump administration, Cuomo added.
A 90-year-old woman in England on Tuesday became the first person in the world to receive a fully vetted and approved vaccine for COVID-19 as Great Britain kicked off its vaccination program with Pfizer doses. COVID-19 has killed more than 1.5 million people around the world, including about 287,000 in the United States.
New York has designated 90 regional distribution centers that are capable of extreme cold storage to hold the vaccine as required by Pfizer.
Nursing home residents and staff will be vaccinated under a federal program that New York agreed to participate in, Cuomo said. The federal government is contracting pharmacy chains, including CVS and Walgreens, to do those vaccinations, he said.
Some of New York's initial batch of 170,000 doses will go toward the federally run program for nursing homes, Cuomo said.
"We do expect to have enough to cover all residents and all staff" at nursing homes, he said. Staff will be vaccinated on a rolling basis.
Next: Health care workers
The rest of the first batch will be devoted to covering about 90,000 high-risk "patient-facing" health care workers in emergency rooms, intensive care units, pulmonary departments and other areas, Cuomo said. That batch will cover about 40% of workers in that category, who total 225,00 in the state.
He said he expects all those in the high-risk category to receive their first vaccination shot by the end of the second week of the vaccination campaign.
New York has a total of 700,000 health care workers. Cuomo said the rest will be vaccinated after the high-risk category is completed.
After that, "essential workers" will receive the vaccine, followed by the general public — with those most at risk coming first, he said.
Infectious disease experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said they think New York State could have a critical mass of the population vaccinated sometime between June and September.
Staff at every hospital in the state will have access to the vaccine even if their hospital does not have the special cold storage, Cuomo said. Some other hospital in their region will have it, he said.
Each hospital will decide which workers among the high-risk category will be the first to be vaccinated, he said.
The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized across the state rose by 158 people on Tuesday for a total of 4,993 patients — 952 of them in intensive care units and 521 intubated. Ninety-five people died of coronavirus-related causes.
"More and more, it’s becoming a greater crisis for hospitals" to deal with the growing number of patients, Cuomo said.
New York reported a positivity rate of 5.44% from test results on Tuesday, including the "microclusters" or "hot spots," which are oversampled in testing. The microclusters tracked at 7.08% positivity.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said residents are "in this weird in-between phase right now" in the battle against COVID-19 — with vaccine allocations on "the horizon," while anxiety over the "known disease" continues to haunt everyday lives.
The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Tuesday was 708 in Nassau, 972 in Suffolk and 3,742 in New York City. The positivity level was 5.5% on Long Island, including 4.8% in Nassau and 6.2% in Suffolk. The level in New York City was 4.1%.
Meanwhile, immigrants lacking legal status will not have to provide identifying information such as Social Security, passport or driver's license numbers to officials to be vaccinated.
The federal government initially was requiring such information, said Cuomo, who had joined advocates in complaining about the policy. "These are all bells for people who are undocumented, alarm bells," he said. "It sounded like you were trying to use the vaccination to identity undocumented people" and possibly deport them.
Advocates and officials convinced the federal government to back off, Cuomo said.
"If undocumented people don’t get vaccinated, it compromises their health, and it compromises the whole program," he said.
In Plainview-Old Bethpage, a 'tipping point'
The Plainview-Old Bethpage school district is urging parents to keep children home if they show COVID-19 symptoms, following the death of a district employee who had the virus.
"Sadly, yesterday, one of our staff was buried," Superintendent Mary O’Meara said in a video posted online on Sunday. "He lost his battle to COVID-19."
A district spokesman on Wednesday shared an obituary for the staffer that described him as an 80-year-old man from Bethpage, a security guard for the district. He died Dec. 2.
O’Meara said the district is at a "tipping point" with the virus, and schools may not be able to stay open if cases continue to rise.
"I hear about and see pictures on social media of risky behavior," she said. "I watch cars with three to four teenagers in it, windows closed and masks off. Please, if me saying this causes a little sting, just stay home."
The district has reported 41 students and 26 staffers testing positive for the virus since September, according to state data. Of those cases, 18 were recorded since Dec. 2.
In Farmingdale, Woodward Parkway Elementary School and Howitt Middle School were closed for in-person instruction Wednesday because of positive COVID-19 cases.
In South Huntington, the Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center was closed for in-person instruction Wednesday, the district said.
Berner Middle School and Birch Lane Elementary School in Massapequa were on "full distance learning" Monday after positive test results over the weekend, officials said. Sixth-grade students at Berner Middle School remained on distance learning Tuesday and Wednesday.
Classes for the more than 7,000 students in the Massapequa district will be all remote on Dec. 21 through Dec. 23 — meaning schools will be closed for two weeks through Christmas break.