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Cuomo: NY must 'dramatically increase' vaccination capacity to meet Biden's goal

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared to

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared to be administered at a joint state and federal vaccination site in Buffalo. Credit: Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo / Darren McGee

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Bart Jones, David Olson and Nicholas Spangler. It was written by Jones.

The state will have to increase its vaccination capacity to meet a goal set by President Joe Biden making all adults eligible for COVID-19 shots by May 1, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, calling the ramp-up "a logistical undertaking" unlike any his administration has faced.

More than 6 million initial doses have been administered to date in New York, but opening up eligibility to all adult residents would expand the pool of qualifying residents to approximately 15 million people, he said.

"We're going to have to dramatically increase our capacity to do that because we are not at that capacity now," Cuomo said.

His comments came Friday as he faced growing calls for his resignation amid an investigation over sexual harassment allegations.

Biden’s announcement Thursday night "is going to have a major ramification on states’ vaccination capacity," Cuomo said, during a telephonic briefing with reporters.

"The president is now talking about May 1," he added. "We need to have a tremendous increase in our capacity to vaccinate."

While Biden did not promise that everyone would get a vaccine on that day, Cuomo said, "once you tell people they are eligible, then eligibility suggests, 'Now I should be able to get it.' "

De Blasio: Removing travel restrictions 'wrong'

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday called on the state to restore its mandate that domestic travelers arriving in New York must quarantine to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Cuomo on Thursday announced that people traveling from other states or U.S. territories into New York no longer will be required to quarantine, starting April 1.

"I don't know if this is the state's idea of an April Fool's joke, but it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do," de Blasio said of removing the restriction.

The governor said the move was possible because the number of COVID-19 cases in New York is steadily declining or stabilizing, and more people are getting vaccines. International travelers will remain under the mandate.

While it will not be mandatory for travelers from other states to quarantine, officials are recommending it as a precaution, Cuomo said.

Jennifer Givner, a spokeswoman for Cuomo, said Friday that New York is following recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that other states including Pennsylvania are doing likewise. She noted that while self-isolating will no longer be mandatory, the state recommends domestic travelers do so.

DeBlasio rejected Cuomo's reasoning immediately on Thursday, and said the city was not consulted even though it is "one of the biggest cities in the world and 43% of the state’s population."

On Friday, DeBlasio and his team continued their attack on Cuomo's plan.

The mayor's senior adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Jay Varma, said that between 5% to 10% of city cases come from travelers. "That may not seem like a lot, but as we know with this disease, even one case can lead to an outbreak and spread," he said.

Flexibility in quarantine rules

Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island and an infectious disease specialist, said Friday that with more and more New Yorkers vaccinated, and the number of new coronavirus cases lower than in the past, "it’s reasonable" to lift the 10-day quarantine on travelers entering New York.

"It’s possible these recommendations may be a little out front of where we are," Polsky said. "That’s one of the concerns that have been raised by some local elected officials. I think we’ll have to see. It’s pretty hard to be terribly critical of this move. Should things increase in terms of COVID cases, you can always go back."

The quarantine hasn’t applied to states that border New York, and travelers could exit the quarantine early with negative coronavirus test results within 72 hours of arriving in New York and on the fourth day of the quarantine.

Polsky said it is key that even though it won’t be required for travelers from other states to quarantine, the health department is still recommending it as a precaution, and mandatory quarantine remains for travelers arriving from abroad.

"There’s still the recommendation that it is prudent to quarantine," he said. "So rather than mandating it, it’s being recommended."

State positivity at 3.11%

Cuomo said the daily average for COVID-19 positivity was 3.11%, out of 299,278 test results from Thursday. The seven-day average on Long Island was 4.2%.

Statewide, 74 people died Thursday of causes related to the virus. The number of new confirmed cases from test results Thursday was 779 in Nassau, 798 in Suffolk and 5,081 in New York City.

Cuomo's office said 21% of the state's population has received at least one vaccine shot, and 10.7% have received two shots and are fully vaccinated.

Cuomo also announced an expansion of the New York Forward Rapid Test Program aimed at helping businesses and catered events safely reopen.

He said 26 new sites will open within the next week, for a total of 38 statewide so far. Two of the new sites are on Long Island: the Quest Diagnostic labs at 146 A Manetto Hill Rd., Plainview, and 91 College Plaza in Selden.

The public-private partnership makes low-cost rapid testing available as the state seeks to reopen sectors of the economy including weddings and catered events on March 15 and event, arts and entertainment venues on April 2."

"As more New Yorkers are vaccinated and rapid testing becomes more widely accessible, we can start to reopen the economy and give New Yorkers a semblance of normalcy while sticking to the same disciplined, data-driven approach that we've maintained throughout the pandemic," Cuomo said.

Northport VA offering vaccine clinics

The Northport VA Medical Center will for the first time offer the COVID-19 vaccine to qualified veterans under 65 at walk-in clinics scheduled Saturday and next week.

"We are still actively calling and scheduling for veterans 65 and older, but if we have a veteran under age 65 who is enrolled and eligible, we will not turn them away and they will receive a vaccine," said Chad Cooper, a spokesman for the facility.

Eligible veterans must have visited the VA or one of its operating clinics within the last two years and must have an active VA account.

The clinics are scheduled to run 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES IN NY

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

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.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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