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New York will 'opt in' to let federal government administer first COVID-19 vaccinations

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Friday announced the #WeCanDoItNassau campaign, which hopes to inspire confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Deborah Egan-Chin

This story was reported by John Asbury, Candice Ferrette, Michael Gormley, Bart Jones and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

New York is ceding to the federal government the job of vaccinating nursing home residents and staff when the COVID-19 vaccine arrives in the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, appearing to move toward closer cooperation with the national effort to curtail the virus.

The federal government is offering the initiative, which involves using contractors for medical services to conduct the vaccination in states that want the help, he said.

"We are going to opt in to that program. So the federal government will be vaccinating nursing home residents and nursing home staff," Cuomo said during a telephonic briefing with reporters.

The change in plans came as new coronavirus cases continued to rise this week, with Nassau and Suffolk counties surpassing a combined 2,000 cases Thursday.

On the availability of vaccines for front-line workers, Cuomo said that only about a third of the state's 700,000 health care staff is considered at higher risk, treating COVID-19 patients in emergency rooms, for instance.

"Within the next two weeks, we should have enough vaccine to vaccinate about one-third of that one-third … if the federal government delivers as they say they will," he said.

Cuomo did not explain whether putting the federal government in charge of vaccinations at the state's nursing homes would free up some of the dosages New York expects to receive this month so they could be used for health care workers.

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Underscoring how the virus is making a second surge after a devastating spring, the state reported Friday that Long Island surpassed 2,000 new confirmed daily cases for the first time since April. On Nov. 25, Long Island surpassed 1,000 new confirmed cases for the first time since April.

In test results from Thursday, Nassau had 916 confirmed new cases, while Suffolk had 1,171. That made a total of 2,087.

It appeared to be part of what Cuomo has warned would be a spike starting with the Thanksgiving holidays and lasting through mid-January, at least.

The governor had announced Wednesday that New York expects its first delivery of vaccines to arrive on Dec. 15 — a total of 170,000 doses from Pfizer. That will be followed by another 170,000 doses for the required second dose to the same people 21 days later. Other batches will start to come in simultaneously as well, including from Moderna.

Cuomo had said the first deliveries will be prioritized for the state's 215,000 nursing home residents and staff, as well as front-line health care workers.

The number of doses that will come to New York beginning this month remains on track and hasn’t changed because of reported distribution problems by the manufacturer, said Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s senior adviser. Azzopardi said the staffing and distribution concerns by Pfizer were "baked in" to the federal allocation to states based on population.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Pfizer faced obstacles to the timely supply of raw materials that could cut its projected dosage distribution in half. But Azzopardi said the disruptions were factored into distribution plans to the states.

On Thursday, Cuomo showed how the vials with the vaccine will arrive and described what measures will need to be taken to administer them.

Cuomo repeatedly had criticized President Donald Trump and his administration for a vaccination program, saying it would leave the states carrying the costs of administering the effort.

Statewide, the infection level in testing from results Thursday was 5.4%, including "microclusters" or "hot spots" of higher positivity, which are oversampled. The level was 4.7%, excluding the microclusters. The level in the microclusters themselves was 7.3%.

The infection level was 4.8% on Long Island and 3.8% in New York City. Sixty people died Thursday in the state of causes related to COVID-19.

Cuomo said he was stopping elective surgeries in Buffalo because of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases so that hospitals have sufficient beds for people infected with the virus.

Appealing for 'unity' in vaccine campaign

Separately, Nassau County is launching a new public health awareness campaign promoting confidence in the new coronavirus vaccine and urging residents to participate.

"We need 75 to 85 percent of the public to take the vaccine so we can get back to normal," County Executive Laura Curran said Friday. "But polls show that half of Americans are skeptical of the vaccine — they have doubts, they have reservations about getting the vaccine."

Curran said the vaccine is the key to returning to activities that are now restricted to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

She said in conversations with public health and state officials as well as other county executives and hospital executives that she has started planning ways to safely store and distribute the vaccine. Curran said she did not know yet when the county health department would be deployed to vaccinate the public.

"Trust me, there is a lot to sort out," she said.

In likening the manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine to efforts during World War II, Curran said her "We Can Do It, Nassau" vaccine campaign will use the famous image of Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon representing women who worked in the factories.

The multilingual campaign will emphasize "unity," Curran said. "In order for us to succeed, we’ve got to first build confidence in the vaccine so we can win this war, get our lives back and get our economy roaring again."

The campaign will "win the trust of the public," she said, and "dispel false rumors with facts."

Meanwhile, the Westhampton Beach school district has seen 16 positive cases of COVID-19 at its high this school year — including 12 within the past two weeks — though it has remained open, district officials said.

A note from Superintendent Michael Radday dated Thursday said three students had tested positive, one at the high school and two at the middle school. Another note dated Wednesday reported four students at the high school tested positive.

And a note dated Tuesday reported that one student tested positive at the high school. An earlier note dated Monday reported three students at the high school and one at the middle school tested positive.

Those who tested positive or were close contacts to them will be isolated or quarantined, Radday said.

He added that "data from case investigations has shown that virus transmission is generally occurring through contacts outside of school."

In Long Beach, city hall was closed Friday for a COVID-19 sanitation and cleaning. City officials said a few employees tested positive, and "due to the rise in COVID numbers" in the city "and for the safety of our employees and the public."

The city’s Recreation Center and Ice Arena will close at a future date for sanitizing.

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