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New York vaccine sites stay open through snow; virus positivity declines

A health care worker administers a dose of

A health care worker administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in late January at Nassau Community College in Garden City. The vaccination effort continued through various federal, state, county and pharmacy sites in the region. Credit: Bloomberg/Johnny Milano

The latest winter storm shut down some vaccination sites across Long Island on Thursday and led to the early closure of a major coronavirus testing site, though the state-run vaccination sites at Jones Beach and Stony Brook University plowed ahead with operations through the snow.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced late Thursday that winter weather had caused a delay in federal COVID-19 vaccine doses scheduled for delivery to New York between Feb. 12 and Sunday.

"This delay will undoubtedly pose a logistical challenge for New York," Cuomo said in a statement. "… we will continue to work with our federal partners to expedite the delayed shipments and will keep New Yorkers updated over the coming days."

Earlier Thursday, Cuomo announced that COVID-19 indicators continue to decline across the state, even as New York grapples with a lack of vaccine.

The sites at Jones Beach and Stony Brook continued to vaccinate people Thursday as officials kept a close eye on the weather.

"The vaccine is the weapon that will win the war against COVID, and as long as conditions remain safe, we will not let winter weather slow down our efforts to vaccinate as many people as humanly possible," Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Cuomo, said Thursday afternoon.

He said that any New Yorker concerned about making it to their appointment through the snowstorm should call the state's vaccine hotline (833-NYS-4VAX) and workers will try to come up with a solution.

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Infection levels and hospitalizations dropped again in the state following a holiday season spike, Cuomo said. Statewide, the seven-day average for positivity in COVID-19 tests fell for the 41st day in a row, to 3.61%, he said.

The level on Long Island fell to 4.39%, marking the first time in days the region has not claimed the sole spot for the highest percent of positives in the state. The mid-Hudson region clocked in at 4.4%.

Cuomo repeatedly has pointed out and lambasted Long Island for its level of cases and related hospitalizations in recent weeks, chiding it on Wednesday as the "number one loser."

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients dropped, declining by 140 to a total 6,434 patients in the state.

The daily positivity rate for the state was 3.15% from 215,731 tests results on Monday. New York as a whole had hit positivity lows of about 1% during the summer.

"New Yorkers fought through the holiday surge of COVID-19 and came out on the other side, and now that the numbers are decreasing, we're able to loosen the valve and increase economic activity," Cuomo said.

The death toll from the virus on Wednesday was 114 people statewide, including five victims in Nassau and 12 in Suffolk, according to the state.

The number of new confirmed cases was 514 in Nassau, 461 in Suffolk and 3,438 in New York City. In recent weeks, amid the holiday surge, Nassau and Suffolk often were each surpassing 1,000 new confirmed cases a day.

Cuomo said the state is in a footrace between new infections spreading and getting enough people vaccinated to bring the virus under control.

He urged the public to "double down" on measures to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Some vaccination efforts affected by snow

Suffolk County was not taking appointments for first vaccine doses at its Brentwood and Riverhead vaccination sites Thursday and postponed opening a new center in Selden due to weather-related complications, but was honoring second-shot appointments.

Nassau County had announced on Wednesday impending closures and postponements, while New York City anticipated delays on vaccine shipments.

"This is the fifth winter storm that's been thrown at us, and I'm pleased that Nassau County's Department of Health has remained nimble and continues to successfully reschedule vaccination appointments as needed," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

Stony Brook University said its COVID-19 testing site closed at 1 p.m. Thursday due to the snowstorm. It will have a delayed opening Friday, with a time yet to be determined, a university spokeswoman said.

No appointments for first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were scheduled at any Suffolk County-run mass vaccination sites Thursday because inclement weather delayed their delivery, said Derek Poppe, a county spokesperson. Since none was scheduled, none had to be canceled, he said.

Second-dose appointments were scheduled for Thursday, and county officials communicated directly with each person to ask if they wanted to keep their appointment or reschedule because of the weather, Poppe said.

"People who still want to get the shot today will be able to," Poppe said Thursday of those with second-dose appointments.

The county operates two mass vaccination sites, at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood and Riverhead.

Suffolk had planned to open the Selden vaccination site Thursday specifically for employees and residents with underlying medical conditions, but said Wednesday the opening would be delayed if vaccine delivery was delayed as well.

At Nassau County-run sites, second-dose appointments scheduled for Thursday and Friday will be shifted to Monday, Curran said.

People who were scheduled for Thursday and Friday will receive email notices advising them of the delay, she said, and if Monday is inconvenient, there will be other options.

Vaccine sites should be operating on Saturday and Sunday, she said.

Cuomo said New York State has received 2,335,250 first doses, and administered 2,109,690 of them, or 90%. It has received 1,284,300 second doses, and administered 984,100 of them.

Stony Brook University on Thursday said the state-run vaccination site on its campus has vaccinated 25,000 people. The site opened Jan. 18.

On Thursday, New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, recommended doubling up on masks — one surgical, one cloth mask — to further reduce transmission of the coronavirus. The prior recommendation had called just for one mask. He also said older people and those otherwise at added risk for the virus should consider wearing KN95 masks, which provide additional protection.

With Matthew Chayes and David Reich-Hale

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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