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Cuomo: New York 'fully back' to lower virus levels from holiday surge

Demetrius Buttelman, a Local 28 Sheet Metal Worker,

Demetrius Buttelman, a Local 28 Sheet Metal Worker, gets the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday at a pop-up vaccination site inside the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project in Elmont. Credit: MARY ALTAFFER/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

New York is making progress in getting its COVID-19 levels down, registering figures in some categories that are the best since before a holiday season surge, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday, though the state continues to post higher rates of new infections than others of similar or larger populations.

The state's daily positivity level from Thursday was 2.81% out of 232,929 test results, while the seven-day average was 3.04%. The latter figure was the lowest since Nov. 25, around Thanksgiving, Cuomo said.

"You look at where we are now at 3.04, it’s a long way from January 4th," he said during a news briefing livestreamed from Buffalo. "So that is good news statewide."

The seven-day positivity level on Long Island was 3.46%, a notable drop from previous weeks when it remained well above 4%.

However, figures updated Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the larger states of California, Texas and Florida had lower rates of new COVID-19 cases over the previous seven days, but the neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut were doing worse than New York.

The state, excluding New York City, was tracking at 226.7 cases per 100,000 people. New York City was at 240.2 cases per 100,000. Those figures compared to a nationwide rate of new infections of 146.3 per 100,000 people.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus Thursday was 3,884, down 79 from the previous day and the lowest figure since Nov. 30, Cuomo said.

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That decline in coronavirus patients prompted Cuomo to declare: "We are fully back at this point before the holidays surge."

But he also noted that 43 people in the state died Thursday of causes related to the virus, including five in Nassau County and three in Suffolk County, that the battle is far from over, and that COVID-19 positivity levels vary greatly throughout the state.

He pointed out the Western New York region's positivity level of 4.9%.

The campaign to vaccinate as many New Yorkers as quickly as possible marches on, he said, with a total of 12,867,468 shots administered.

They include 8,031,460 first shots and 5,393,915 second shots.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Friday she was seeing hopeful signs.

"With approximately one third of Nassau County fully inoculated and almost two thirds of adults having received one shot, we are beginning to see the positive impact of our state-leading vaccination campaign," she said in a statement.

"COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths have steadily declined over the past three months, while the average age of those testing positive is trending younger. We must keep up our vaccination progress so we can soundly defeat this pandemic and fully reopen our economy."

The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday was 480 in Nassau County, 535 in Suffolk County and 3,426 in New York City.

Near a 'tipping point' on virus

Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer for Northwell Health, said the increasing percentage of New Yorkers who are vaccinated, and the adherence of many to preventive measures like wearing masks, are helping drive numbers down slowly.

"I believe what’s happened now is we’ve gotten a little bit to the tipping point where just enough public health measures are crossing with just enough vaccines to slowly bring it under control," he said.

But, Battinelli added, any further decline won’t be nearly as precipitous as after the spring 2020 peak, when COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations fell sharply, with the positivity rate at roughly 1% or below for much of the summer, and hospitalizations falling from nearly 19,000 in mid-April last year to under 1,000 by June and under 500 by August.

"You’re going to look at a very slow decline, so the slope of the line is not going to plummet like it did before, because there’s no way people are going to be locked down like they were in May," he said. "You’re going to have a slow burn until vaccine distribution gets to where it needs to be."

For those who remain unvaccinated, there remains substantial risk, he said. Although many people wear masks and take other precautions, others are less careful, he said.

He said he believes the positivity rate and hospitalizations "would have gone down a lot lower" were it not because "everybody is thinking, ‘Oh, we’ve got vaccines now and everything’s opening up.’"

"Now you have just enough vaccine to compensate for people letting up on their behaviors. But maybe this talk of variants has gotten people more careful again," he added.

Responding to a reporter's question, Cuomo said the midnight deadline for restaurants and bars to close and the 1 a.m. deadline for catered events could be extended later again if COVID-19 numbers indicate it is safe.

When another reporter noted that casinos such as one at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens' South Ozone Park can stay open until 5 a.m., Cuomo said the state is relaxing regulations as quickly as it safely can, with museums and art centers already open with capacity limits and other cautionary measures, for instance.

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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