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Cuomo: NY vaccine allocation expected to increase, but long slough ahead

On Friday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Long

On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Long Island has the lowest level in the state of hospital workers who have been vaccinated for COVID-19. The state expected to run out of its weekly allotment of vaccines before the end of the day. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Alfonso A. Castillo, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Nicholas Spangler. It was written by Jones.

Long Island has the lowest level of hospital workers who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, as he urged institutions and those in the medical profession to get inoculated and prevent staff shortages.

The state anticipated running out of its weekly allotment of vaccines before the end of the day Friday, Cuomo said, though new supplies started arriving for next week.

Under stepped-up production of vaccine promised by President Joe Biden, New York can expect its weekly allocation to increase from about 250,000 shots to 420,000 a week, Cuomo said. That would still mean it would take the state about 17 weeks — or until late June — to vaccinate the 7 million people who are currently eligible.

Cuomo warned residents to prepare for a long slough, unless any breakthroughs occur with production. The state has about 19.5 million residents.

"All this to say, this is going to be a long several months in distribution of this vaccine and the anxiety that has been created" by rapidly expanding the categories of those eligible, Cuomo said.

But he also said he remains "hopeful … that the Biden administration can figure out how to increase production and shorten that 17" weeks. He mentioned, for instance, employing the Defense Production Act to force companies to help.

In brighter news, Cuomo said "high risk" high school winter sports, including basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, volleyball and football, can resume as early as Feb. 1, with a reduced one-month season.

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"I’m excited to get our kids back on the fields, courts and ice rinks they love so much. Let’s play ball!" Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

State figures show that among hospital workers, 61% on Long Island and 67% in New York City have gotten a shot for the coronavirus, a lower-than-expected level that Cuomo said creates a risk, as new virus strains gain ground and can lead to new surges.

He likened the staff shortage potential in hamstrung hospitals to someone standing on the beach and seeing a wave build on the horizon.

"What accounts for that?" Cuomo asked. "We need our hospital staff vaccinated," and that was why they had been included in the first priority group for vaccinations.

The statewide vaccination average of hospital staff is 67%, he said.

In a statement, the New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health system said the effort to vaccinate workers continues.

"As New York State’s largest health system and private employer, Northwell Health remains focused on vaccinating our front-line workers — and each day we inoculate hundreds more of our team members," the statement said. "We do not make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory and expect the rate of vaccinated staff to vary from facility to facility."

The health network said it is "continuing to educate" staff "about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine."

Michael J. Dowling, Northwell's president and chief executive, said about 43,000 of 75,000 employees have been vaccinated since Dec. 14. Northwell doesn't break out how many are front-line medical workers.

Long Island, along with the Finger Lakes region, also has the highest percentage of COVID-19 patients hospitalized among the regions, with 1,613 patients representing 0.06% of people in hospitals in Nassau and Suffolk counties, the state reported.

Running short on vaccines

Cuomo, speaking shortly after noon, said the state had 28,246 doses left, and they would be used up shortly.

Northwell had closed most vaccination centers because of a lack of vaccines.

"We have one location still open in Manhattan," Dowling said. "I don't know when we are going to get more vaccine, and when we find out, we don't get a lot of lead time."

He said Northwell has the infrastructure and staff to administer 10,000 doses per day.

"We are averaging somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500" doses, Dowling said. "We can't give what we don't have. This is a little like having a contractor and a plumber waiting to build a house, but if the truck doesn't show up with supplies, they're just going to sit there and twiddle their thumbs."

In East Meadow, Nassau University Medical Center is stressing that vaccine-seekers make appointments online or call the hospital in advance or they would be turned away, said Dr. Anthony Boutin, president, CEO and chief medical officer of NuHealth, the entity that oversees the hospital.

Boutin on Friday said patients had been showing up without appointments, delaying others who had booked a time slot.

"It's become a little more crowded than we anticipated," Boutin said.

Boutin said NUMC has enough vaccine to get through weekend appointments. "But we don't know what we will get next week," he said.

NUMC didn't disclose how many doses it received from the state.

"I can tell you that if we open up 50 slots, they're gone in two seconds," he said.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

New York State expanded the list of qualifying residents to encompass people 65 years of age and older as well as others with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk. The state had previously expanded its vaccination program to include essential workers and people 75 years of age and older in addition to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, among others. The supply of vaccines is limited even as more groups are added. Hospitals will continue to prioritize unvaccinated members of the first phase, focusing largely on health care workers. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on Feb. 9.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

Cuomo said the state has used 97% of the 1.3 million doses delivered to New York as of Friday afternoon.

He said it was a mistake by the administration of former President Donald Trump to recommend vastly expanding the pool of people eligible for the vaccination. In New York, that meant the number jumped from about 2 million to 7 million in a matter of days.

However, the federal recommendations were not obligatory, and some states have decided not to follow some of them.

Despite the vaccine scarcity, New York appears to be stabilizing in its number of new COVID-19 cases and people hospitalized with the virus, according to state figures.

The statewide level of positivity in test results from Thursday was 5.65%. The seven-day average was 7.31% on Long Island, among the highest in the state, though it continued to decline after a post-holiday spike.

New confirmed cases on Thursday were 1,364 in Nassau County, 1,439 in Suffolk County, and 6,307 in New York City.

The number of people hospitalized dropped by 209, to 8,846 statewide. Cuomo said hospitalization numbers have been steadily dropping from an average daily high of 165 a day in late December to five a day in the last week.

Northwell said it had 1,318 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Friday, down from 1.374 on Monday.

A total of 165 people died of the virus on Thursday across the state, including eight in Nassau and 19 in Suffolk, according to state data.

Masking up, even on the water

President Biden's executive order requiring face masks on "certain modes of travel is expected to have little effect in New York, where state law requires face coverings in most public settings, including trains, buses and airport facilities. State law carries a potential $50 fine for violators.

Still, the federal mandate appears to expand the requirement to vessels at sea.

Fred Hall, vice president and general manager of the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat company, welcomed the regulation, although he said his company had been requiring masks all along.

"We want people wearing masks on the trip, and that covers the terminals on both sides of Long Island, as well as the boat ride itself," Hall said. "People are very good about complying."

Balloons and music for vaccines

Desiree Krajnyak-Baker, executive director of Whisper Woods of Smithtown, an assisted-living and memory-care facility, said the first of three vaccination sessions for staff and residents was held Friday.

All but three of 104 residents had signed up, along with 65 of 120 staffers, she said. Some staffers may have gotten shots elsewhere, though vaccinations are not required, she said.

A clinic is scheduled next week for a sister facility in Woodbury.

Pharmacy chain CVS administered the Pfizer-BionNTech vaccine in the facility’s activity room, decorated with balloons and playing music, Krajnyak-Baker said.

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