Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo holds a coronavirus briefing in Albany on Wednesday. State...

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo holds a coronavirus briefing in Albany on Wednesday. State Attorney General Letitia James released a deeply critical report last month that indicated the state was undercounting the deaths of nursing home residents. Credit: Office of the Governor / Darren McGee

New Yorkers with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19 can sign up for vaccinations beginning Sunday morning, as the state’s seven-day positivity rate fell below 4% for the first time since Nov. 30, the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Saturday.

Long Island remained the region with the highest seven-day rate, although it also fell, to below 5%. Statewide, the percentage of tests that came back positive on Friday dropped to 3.46%, the lowest one-day number since the 3.2% rate on the day before Thanksgiving.

People with qualifying medical conditions are eligible for vaccinations beginning on Monday and can begin signing up for appointments at 8 a.m. Sunday using the "Am I Eligible" screening tool, the governor’s office announced.

Eligible health conditions include cancer, obesity, hypertension and other heart conditions, pulmonary disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and an immunocompromised state because of HIV and other causes.

Those with qualifying conditions must provide a doctor’s letter, medical information that shows evidence of the pre-existing condition, or a signed certification. Cuomo said Monday the state would conduct audits to prevent abuse, but the details of that are unclear.

The expansion to people with underlying conditions, first announced by Cuomo on Monday, greatly expands the number of New Yorkers eligible to receive vaccines and will strain a system in which demand for vaccination appointments already greatly outstrips the supply of vaccines, and residents complain of not being able to get through on phone lines and Internet sign-up sites.

Computer and telephone vaccination systems crashed after the governor last month expanded eligibility to all those 65 and older, and many essential workers, more than tripling the number of those eligible, to seven million.

As of Monday, more than 10 million residents will be eligible for vaccines, a state official said. That's more than half the state's population.

The governor’s office Saturday said that local health departments next week will begin receiving new vaccine allocations for those with underlying conditions, and new appointments at state sites will be released on a rolling basis over the coming weeks. The state’s allocation of vaccines from the federal government will be up by more than 20% over the next three weeks, the governor’s office said.

Millions of New Yorkers have qualifying medical conditions, including the nearly 28% of residents who are obese, according to 2018 state health department data. Some have been able to sign up for vaccines for weeks because they are 65 or older or are in other eligible categories.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran welcomed the expansion.

People arrive Feb. 5 at the Javits Center in Manhattan,...

People arrive Feb. 5 at the Javits Center in Manhattan, where the coronavirus vaccine is being administered by appointment. Credit: Craig Ruttle

"I am very happy to see the state’s eligibility requirements for the vaccine continue to expand, especially to a wide-ranging and necessary group who have proven to be more vulnerable to the virus," she said in a statement Saturday evening. "But the challenge remains an adequate supply of vaccines."

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for those 16 and older, and New Yorkers 16 and older with qualifying conditions can receive that vaccine, the state official said. The Moderna vaccine is for people 18 and older.

The state’s list of qualifying underlying health conditions is similar to a Centers for Disease Control list of conditions that put people at higher risk for severe COVID-19, although there are key differences. For example, smoking is on the CDC’s list, but not the state’s – although many smokers have lung diseases and other health conditions on the state’s list.

Nearly 92% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been of people with at least one underlying condition, with hypertension and diabetes the most common, according to state health department data. Obesity is not listed as among the pre-existing conditions in the state coronavirus fatality charts.

The state has administered nearly 2.7 million first and second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including 348,562 on Long Island, according to state data as of 11 a.m. Saturday.

The Northport VA Medical Center vaccinates eligible veterans with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines...

The Northport VA Medical Center vaccinates eligible veterans with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on Saturday. Credit: Northport VA

The decline in the statewide positivity rate – to 3.46% on Friday, from 3.54%, where it had stood Wednesday and Thursday – is part of a steady drop since Jan. 5, when 8.4% of the tests were positive. That had been the highest percentage since the devastating spring surge.

The 7-day positivity rate – which is often a focus because it smooths out daily anomalies – fell to 3.9%, the 36th straight day that saw a decline. Long Island’s 7-day rate was 4.86%, down from 5.08% on Thursday and 5.17% on Wednesday.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide fell, to 6,888, the lowest number since Christmas Day, and down by 916 in the past week.

"Hospitalization and infection rates are continuing to fall statewide and New Yorkers should be commended for all their hard work and sacrifice which helped make this a reality," Cuomo said in a statement.

Meanwhile, 125 New Yorkers died of COVID-19 on Friday, including eight Suffolk County residents and eight Nassau County residents.

The discovery of 11 more cases statewide of the more contagious "U.K. variant" of the virus, including two in Suffolk County, were an illustration of the risks that remain. There are now 70 confirmed U.K. variant cases in New York.

Overall, 8,763 people tested positive for the coronavirus Friday, including 840 in Nassau County and 724 in Suffolk County.

Adults of any age with the following conditions due to increased risk of moderate or severe illness or death from the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Cancer (current or in remission, including 9/11-related cancers)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Pulmonary Disease, including but not limited to, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate-to-severe), pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and 9/11 related pulmonary diseases
  • Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities including Down Syndrome
  • Heart conditions, including but not limited to heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, or hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) including but not limited to solid organ transplant or from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, use of other immune weakening medicines, or other causes
  • Severe Obesity (BMI 40 kg/m2), Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease or Thalassemia
  • Type 1 or 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Neurologic conditions including but not limited to Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia
  • Liver disease (Source: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Office)

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