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'Let's vaccinate them at the schools': New York's vaccine push focusing on students

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York State

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York State will begin sending vaccines to SUNY college campuses, in an effort to get young people vaccinated. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

New York State is taking its battle to defeat COVID-19 to college campuses, offering direct delivery of vaccines for students and employing the public SUNY and CUNY systems as models for the program, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Cuomo also announced that outdoor and indoor graduations will be allowed starting May 1, with outdoor events or 500 people or more possible.

Speaking at a livestreamed event at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, Cuomo said the state is inviting colleges, including private ones, to help kill off what he called a "beast" by vaccinating students before they return home after the spring semester.

"The State of New York announces today we will be giving direct allocations to schools, colleges, universities, so they can vaccinate their students in their facilities, and let’s stamp this beast to death while we can," he said.

"This is the moment of opportunity," he added. "We have COVID on the run."

The state will allocate 21,000 doses of vaccine for SUNY residential and non-commuter students, and 14,000 for private colleges, Cuomo said later in a statement.

Some of the initial allocation on Long Island will be administered at mass vaccination sites located at SUNY Old Westbury and Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, Cuomo said. Students can make appointments through their schools.

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The state will use the initial total supply of 35,000 vaccine doses as it works with each school to develop a vaccination plan "that best suits the needs of its campus and student population," the state health department said in a statement.

Looking to restore normalcy

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said, "Vaccinating SUNY students before they leave for summer break is the key to restoring normalcy on our campuses when students return in the fall."

Maurie McInnis, president of Stony Brook University, which is part of SUNY, said, "This is a banner day for Suffolk County and for SUNY students, and I am so pleased all SUNY students will have access to vaccines."

Students also still have the option of signing up for a vaccination at a state-run mass vaccination center or a county-run site, the state health department said. The college program will continue as long as the federal supply of vaccine allows.

Recent increases in vaccine supply from the federal government — which allowed the expansion of vaccine eligibility to New Yorkers 16 and older — presented an opportunity to reach the young population through the state's higher education system, Cuomo said.

He noted that positivity levels are rising in young people in New York, going recently from about 9% to 14%.

"We are now focusing on students," he said. "Let’s use the schools as the base for the vaccine. It makes all the sense in the world. We have the staff at the school. We have the students at the school. Let’s vaccinate them at the schools."

While younger people may be less vulnerable to the coronavirus that has afflicted many state residents, causing severe illness and death over the last year, he said their inoculation can help reduce risk to themselves and others.

"We need herd immunity," Cuomo said. "We need every New Yorker vaccinated, and that includes New York’s young people and students."

Malatras said college students in New York generally have been eager to join the campaign against COVID-19.

"Our students have been a shining example throughout the crisis, with weekly mandatory testing, mask policies, and helping on the front lines — and the result is a low positivity rate on our campuses of 0.32% over the past week," he said.

He added that "our students have been crystal-clear on this issue: They want to get vaccinated."

Some got their jabs

Some Long Island colleges already have begun vaccinating students. Last week, Stony Brook University started vaccinating 1,400 of its 4,500 residential students.

Todd Wilson, a spokesman for Adelphi University, said the university obtained 400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — and soon will have at least another 100 — through the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

All enrolled Adelphi students are eligible for this vaccine regardless of their primary residence. The college began vaccinating its students Friday, Wilson said.

Ryan Kelley, a spokesman for LIU Post, said vaccinations are provided to members of the community, including students, faculty and staff, each week at the university’s vaccine clinic on campus in Brookville.

The doses are distributed through the Nassau Department of Health, where university health profession student volunteers administer the vaccine.

Help for funeral expenses on the way

The federal government will pay up to $9,000 for current or past funeral expenses for someone who died of COVID-19, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced Monday.

A claim by a loved one can be filed by calling 844-684-6333, a phone line run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with agents speaking different languages, Schumer said.

On Monday afternoon, the line rang busy.

"It’s just gut-wrenching to realize that there are thousands of people — bodies lying in morgues, not being buried properly. It’s just one of the many, many, many problems that average people face — poor people, working people — with this COVID disaster," Schumer said, appearing with Ocasio-Cortez in the Corona neighborhood of Queens.

To qualify for the government money, a person’s death certificate must list COVID-19 as the cause, or a contributing cause, of death, Ocasio-Cortez said. She noted that early on, before widespread testing, people died of COVID-19 without the disease being identified.

In that case, she said, a loved one can return to the issuing institution to get the death certificate edited. Schumer said: "In the early days, they didn’t even know what COVID was, so they didn’t list it."

Schumer said the reimbursement covers people who died beginning Jan 20, 2020.

Said Ocasio-Cortez: "We just want you know how sorry we are, and that this is the very least and just the beginning of what we’re trying to do for you as families."

She said that a person does not need to have been in the country legally to qualify for the money. The program will not be means-tested.

Also in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that the reduced shipment expected of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would pose a problem for the city’s mass vaccination efforts.

"That’s gonna be a problem in the weeks ahead," he said.

Johnson & Johnson is cutting back sharply on deliveries of its vaccine because of production problems at a plant in Baltimore.

Cuomo said Monday that the state is starting to see encouraging signs of COVID-19 numbers declining.

The statewide seven-day average in testing for positivity of COVID-19 in results Sunday was 3.2%, the lowest level in a month, he said. The seven-day average in New York City was 3.5%, the lowest since Dec. 1. The state reported another 4,926 positives on Sunday for a daily positivity rate of 3.75% out of 131,436 test results.

Long Island's seven-day average was 3.9%, dipping below 4% after spending weeks above that figure. Nassau reported 394 new positives and Suffolk had 449.

A total of 58 people died across the state on Sunday of causes related to the virus, including three deaths each in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

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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