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State task force approves Pfizer vaccine

State group OKs vaccine, FDA decision expected soon

The state task force vote of confidence came hours after an independent U.S. government advisory panel endorsed widespread use of the vaccine from Pfizer and its partner, the German company BioNTech. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the panel’s recommendations, with a decision expected imminently.

"On the data that was presented to the FDA, the vaccine was really safe and effective," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine and one of the seven members of the state clinical advisory task force.

Cuomo created the task force in September to review data with the goal of instilling confidence in the vaccine among New Yorkers. President Donald Trump was pushing to get vaccine approval before the election, and polls showed many Americans believed research on vaccines was being rushed.

Nachman said committee members have been meeting regularly since, poring over data as it arrived from Pfizer and the FDA. She also listened to much of the federal advisory panel’s discussion Thursday on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, which clinical trials showed to be about 95% effective.

"The FDA tried to be as transparent as they can," said Nachman, adding that she trusts the expertise and independence of the federal panel.

Approval of the vaccine would only be for those 16 and older, according to the panel's recommendation.

Some questions remain unanswered by the current Pfizer data, including whether people who are successfully vaccinated are still infectious.

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"I think we need more time with those who have gotten the vaccine to get more information," she said. "Unfortunately, we are living that experiment right now."

Cuomo: NYC restaurants must stop indoor dining

Starting Monday, New York City's restaurants must stop indoor dining completely, according to Cuomo, who announced the order Friday as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise in the city.

Cuomo had said earlier in the week that he would implement the new restrictions if the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 didn't stabilize or drop in the next five days.

Restaurants in the city have been operating at 25% capacity for indoor dining.

"I feel tremendous empathy for restaurant owners … We need them to survive. We want them to survive," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing Friday before Cuomo's announcement.

But at the same time, he said spread of the virus has to be stopped.

"We have to fight it back to save lives and we have to fight it back to start our recovery," de Blasio said.

The number of new positives reported today: 759 in Nassau, 1,075 in Suffolk, 3,347 in New York City and 10,595 statewide.

The chart below shows the daily totals of COVID-19 hospitalizations across New York State in recent days.

Search a map of new cases and view charts that show the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

A surge in handgun applications

Long Island police report a surge in handgun applications this year, reflecting a nationwide trend.

Applications have risen 80% in Nassau County compared with all of 2019, and they’ve increased by 143% in Suffolk's five largest western towns, according to the counties’ police departments.

The move among some Long Islanders toward owning handguns began around March, when the coronavirus pandemic was peaking on the Island, and continued after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests, according to experts.

"Because they were sheltered at home, they were concerned with protecting their premises, protecting their families," said Milton Grunwald, a Garden City attorney who helps clients obtain gun permits in both counties. He added that "there were many marches that were taking place, many demonstrations, that accounted for people wanting to have protection in their house."

Woman donates burial plots to pandemic victims

When Deborah Salant tried to donate her family’s burial plots at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale to victims of COVID-19, her good deeds ran into red tape and an outstanding 70-year-old bill for $12,000.

Hempstead town code said she could only use the two burial plots purchased by her great-grandfather in 1916, to hold four graves, for blood relatives. She was also told she would have to pay $12,149 in outstanding maintenance fees to use the plots and the last payment was made in 1949.

"I was dejected and I started thinking we can do something. We must do something and help those less fortunate," said Salant, 66, of Franklin Square.

She wrote to Hempstead Town officials who operated the cemetery, asking to change the law to assist victims of the pandemic. She went to the Hempstead Town Board on Tuesday and delivered her impassioned plea, only to find out the board had just voted to grant her request and gave her a standing ovation.

Town Board members unanimously approved a law suspending restrictions at the cemetery and waiving fees for anyone seeking to donate their plots for the duration of the pandemic.

Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said the town’s cemetery nearly doubled its burials compared to last year, adding, "It shows you the magnitude of the loss."

Experts: COVID-19 slows progress in opioid crisis

Long Island, which appeared to be turning the corner on the opioid crisis, has seen progress largely evaporate from a confluence of anxiety, depression and financial stressors linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, treatment experts said Thursday.

Since the pandemic began, area hospitals, along with inpatient- and outpatient-treatment programs, have seen dramatic increases in patients in distress from drugs and alcohol, medical leaders said during a Newsday webinar moderated by columnist and editorial writer Lane Filler.

Dr. Patrick O’Shaughnessy, executive vice president and chief clinical officer at Catholic Health Services in Rockville Centre, said overdoses at his six hospitals are up 27% compared to 2019.

And the actual numbers are likely even higher, he said, as individuals continue to avoid hospitals for fear of contracting the virus.

"You can't keep kicking the can down the road. You need to seek help," he said. "There's still a fear of patients going to hospitals. I'll see urgent cares with lines down the block but yet I'll pull into one of our emergency rooms and its empty."

More to know

High-risk winter high school sports have been canceled in Suffolk, according to Section XI, the governing body for public school sports in the county.

The live events industry was expected to hit $12.2 billion in ticket sales this year, but instead it is projected to see losses of $30 billion.

The state is delaying funding to colleges, specifically 20% of its Tuition Assistance Program funding to public and private colleges, because of pandemic budget concerns, according to an internal memo, and the schools and the Cuomo administration fear it could become permanent.

News for you

Holiday shopping without Target or Kohl's? Imagine buying all the gifts on your list this season but avoiding all the big box retailers. That's what our business reporter set out to do with the "Shop Small Challenge" to support small businesses, which were particularly hit hard this year. See how she did and how you can take the challenge.

Cookies worth the wait. Would you wait on a long, socially distant line just for some baked cookies? What if they were stuffed? Customers say the baked creations, which include a popular Cookie-Monster-inspired variety, at this newly opened Long Island store are worth the wait.

Disney voices rejoice. On the 10th day of Christmas, Disney gave to fans, 10 "Star Wars" spinoffs, plus another 10 Marvel series … and 15 live-action, Pixar and animated movies. The Walt Disney Co. unveiled a galaxy's worth of new streaming offerings and signaled that while it will continue to be flexible during the pandemic in distributing its films and series, it still sees theatrical release as valuable.

Plus: Enjoy a holiday-themed "stroll by the bay," a drive-thru display or a socially-distanced brunch with Santa. Check out these events and more in our weekend guide.

Sign up for text messages to get the most important coronavirus news and information.

Commentary

How 2020 turned the store inside out. Sarah Halzack, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, writes: After the worst of the pandemic lockdowns in the spring, as the weather heated up and more people ventured outdoors to hit the golf links or hiking trails, Dick's Sporting Goods was in a prime position to benefit.

The chain notched two quarters of booming comparable sales growth, with e-commerce serving as a key driver. But undergirding the booming digital growth was the chain's most traditional retailing asset: its stores. Those outposts — not warehouses — fulfilled more than 75% of the chain's online sales in the second quarter and 70% in the third quarter.

It's a case study that illustrates a fascinating conundrum facing the wider retail industry. On the one hand, the pandemic has hastened the migration toward online shopping, a shift that even in pre-COVID times had forced chains to rethink their store footprints and consider paring back on physical locations.

This year, retailers announced a record 11,157 store closings through Dec. 1, according to CoStar Group — partly owing to retail liquidations but also reflecting this trend. At the same time, though, these last several months have proved that brick-and-mortar stores can have real utility in making e-commerce work better, complicating any decision about how many stores is too many.

Two retail heavyweights, Walmart and Target, have shown for several years the value of stores for e-commerce support. Continue reading.

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