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Historic first shot for LI nurse

'I want to instill public confidence,' nurse says

The long-awaited initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines has arrived in the region, and Sandra Lindsay, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, was vaccinated around 9:20 a.m. at the medical center.

The vaccine, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, is being touted as 95% effective against a disease that has killed almost 300,000 in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its final go-ahead for the vaccine Friday.

"I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history," Lindsay said. "I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe."

The arrival of the vaccine comes as the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in New York continues to grow and hospitals are seeing an uptick in patients. The vaccine is to be taken in two doses, 21 days apart.

Lindsay was vaccinated by Dr. Michelle Chester, director of employee heath services at Northwell Health, which operates Long Island Jewish Medical, during a livestreamed event in which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Northwell chief executive Michael J. Dowling participated. Cuomo called hospitals during the pandemic a "modern day battlefield" and thanked Lindsay for "stepping up to serve" magnificently.

The number of new positives reported today: 739 in Nassau, 1,087 in Suffolk, 3,029 in New York City and 9,044 statewide.

The chart above shows the number of new coronavirus cases confirmed in Nassau and Suffolk each day. Search a map of new cases and view charts showing the latest local trends in testing, hospitalizations, deaths and more.

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A worrisome trajectory

New York State's positivity rate grew to 5.66%, hospitalizations increased by more than 300 and the governor warned that a shutdown could loom if the trajectory doesn't change.

To stem the tide, Cuomo in his coronavirus briefing on Monday renewed his directive for hospitals to balance their patient loads and increase capacity by 25%, as well as calling for New Yorkers to cut down on the small gatherings that state contact-tracing data shows to have caused 74% of COVID-19 exposures.

"If we do not change the trajectory, we could very well be headed to shutdown, and shutdown is something to worry about," Cuomo said. "That is really something to worry about because all these businesses close. We go back to where we were. All nonessential businesses close."

Long Island's positivity rate stands at 5.70% over a seven-day average, according to the governor, and there are 935 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Nassau and Suffolk as of Sunday.

Convincing vaccine skeptics a challenge

When the long-awaited vaccines to stamp out the pandemic become widely available next year, Mae Geddis of Roosevelt plans to forgo taking the shots.

"I'm torn. I don't trust it," Geddis, 53, an administrative assistant at Washington Rose Elementary School, said in a text. "There hasn't been enough time to see what the side effects are."

The goal is to inoculate enough Americans by spring to end the pandemic. But with just months until the general public's turn to get vaccinated, government officials and disease-control experts are strategizing how to overcome a common reaction on Long Island and across the United States: No thanks.

Only about half of Americans are willing to get a coronavirus vaccine, according to a new survey. That's short of the 75% to 80% immunity that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, estimates to be necessary for "herd immunity" to stop the virus from circulating. Incredulity is most pronounced among certain racial minorities: While 53% of white Americans say that they will get vaccinated, the survey found, only 24% of Black Americans and 34% of Hispanic Americans do. A poll by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside found similar results.

There are pockets of deep distrust of coronavirus vaccination, particularly among Black Americans, borne of a long history of unethical medical research on Black people — such as the infamous, 40-year Tuskegee experiment.

Age cutoff for vaccine, at this point

The FDA's emergency use authorization on Friday for the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is only for people 16 and older.

It's unclear when younger teenagers and children will be eligible, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine.

In October, Pfizer received FDA authorization to include children as young as 12 in its vaccine clinical trials.

But, Nachman said, "From my perspective, we need to worry about all of the children."

The FDA limited the vaccine to those at least 16 because 12- to 15-year-olds were added to the trials too late to obtain adequate safety data, said Nachman, one of seven members of the state's clinical advisory task force, which late Thursday unanimously approved the vaccine.

Local school districts' COVID expenses adding up

School costs related to COVID-19 are expected to exceed more than $105.5 million for 2020-21 on Long Island, with districts spending upward of $31 million on technology and hiring more than 5,000 staffers, a survey found.

The survey broke down expenses based on the wealth of school districts, finding that low-wealth systems — those among the largest in enrollment — are spending more ($42.6 million) compared with high-wealth districts ($10.7 million) for coronavirus expenses.

The survey was conducted in October by the Long Island Education Coalition. It covered what districts already have spent and what they anticipate spending this school year, said Julie Lutz, its author and legislative chair of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

Total COVID-19 expenses will come in much higher, she said, considering that only half the Island's 124 school districts responded.

More to know

The Country Music Association, which held its CMA Awards ceremony indoors in November, says it is not to blame for 86-year-old Lifetime Achievement honoree Charley Pride contracting the coronavirus that led to his death on Saturday.

The Clintons led off New York State's formal casting of its 29 Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden on Monday, depositing old-fashioned paper ballots in a wooden box. The electors gathered in a socially distanced manner in Albany.

After news that White House staff would receive the vaccine early drew criticism, President Donald Trump tweeted late Sunday night, "People working in the White House should receive the vaccine somewhat later in the program, unless specifically necessary."

Classic cars, racing trucks, firetrucks and even Santa made an appearance Saturday as about 60 to 70 vehicles drove through several Nassau communities for a car parade to celebrate the holiday season.

News for you

No need to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas tied to stove. If your idea of celebrating is letting someone else do the holiday cooking, Long Island restaurants offer plenty of options this year.

Planes, Trains & COVID-19. Can you travel safely for the holidays? Check out Newsday Live's event Tuesday at 1 p.m. Newsday's Steve Langford reported on how the virus is affecting Long Islanders' holiday plans in this video.

Plus: Online shopping because of the pandemic? You can still elevate your gifts with creative and whimsical wrapping.

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Commentary

It's time to scare people about COVID-19. I still remember exactly where I was sitting decades ago, during the short film shown in class: For a few painful minutes, we watched a woman talking mechanically, raspily through a hole in her throat, pausing occasionally to gasp for air, Elisabeth Rosenthal writes for the Hartford Courant.

The public service message: This is what can happen if you smoke.

I had nightmares about that ad, which today would most likely be tagged with a trigger warning or deemed unsuitable for children. But it was supremely effective: I never started smoking and doubt my horrified classmates did either.

When the government required television and radio stations to give $75 million in free airtime for anti-smoking ads between 1967 and 1970 — many of them terrifyingly graphic — smoking rates plummeted.

As the United States faces out-of-control spikes from COVID-19, with people refusing to take recommended, often even mandated, precautions, our public health announcements from governments, medical groups and health care companies feel lame compared with the urgency of the moment. They are virtuous and profoundly dull.

But Mister Rogers-type nice isn't working in many parts of the country. It's time to make people scared and uncomfortable. It's time for some sharp, focused, terrifying realism.

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