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Long Islanders scramble for COVID vaccine appointments on first day of 30-plus eligibility

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said 800 doses

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said 800 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine would be given over three days at Zion Cathedral in Freeport. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale, Ted Starkey and John Valenti. It was written by Reich-Hale and Jones.

Long Islanders scrambled for vaccine appointments on Tuesday, the day state residents 30 and older became eligible for the shots.

In many cases, appointments lasted minutes before being snatched up.

CVS posted appointments for Saturday at locations on Long Island, including Patchogue, Bay Shore, Glen Cove and West Islip — but the slots were taken quickly.

"As we receive vaccine supply, we will add new appointments and open additional locations," said Tara Burke, a CVS spokeswoman.

Walgreens also had sporadic appointments that were quickly booked.

The new eligibility expansion is "a monumental step forward in the fight to beat" the coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

Supermarket chain Stop & Shop said it, too, was adding vaccine appointments as doses became available.

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"All appointments must be made online, and if you do not see any appointments currently available in your area, we encourage you to check back regularly as additional appointments open up," said Stefanie Shuman, a communications manager for the supermarket chain.

She added that all the Stop & Shop Long Island pharmacies are cleared to vaccinate eligible individuals.

Northwell Health is updating its site routinely with new appointments, said Holly Koehler, the health system's vice president of patient access services.

"We typically update it at least once per day, but it depends on supply," she said. "We typically post at least 500 new appointments, but the other day we posted 7,000. As you can see, it varies."

Northwell, the largest health system in the state, operates about 20 vaccination sites from eastern Long Island to Westchester County, Koehler said.

State officials did not respond to a request for comment on how the first day of eligibility went for the new age groups trying to sign up.

But at the same time the groups became eligible, positivity levels in testing for COVID-19, along with new confirmed cases, remained stable in New York, underscoring how the state has stalled in its efforts to eradicate the virus.

As President Joe Biden and other federal officials were warning that the country is slipping in its efforts to control the virus and the United States may face a "fourth surge," area infectious disease experts called the COVID-19 numbers a concern.

"If you're not immune, the virus will find you," said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious diseases at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill. "It's a race against time, where it's immunity vs. the virus. I think we will be better off when summer rolls around, but right now, yes, it's a concern."

Dr. Bruce Polsky, chairman of medicine at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island and an infectious disease specialist, said "the suspicion is as we've started to liberalize in terms of gatherings, and in addition seen a significant amount of variant virus circulate, the numbers have plateaued, and perhaps even crept up."

The statewide daily positivity level in test results Monday for COVID-19 was 4.28%, while the seven-day average was 3.43% statewide and 4.34% on Long Island.

Nassau and Suffolk continue to have among the highest positivity levels in the state. During the summer, the levels had dropped to about 1% both statewide and on Long Island.

The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Monday was 516 in Nassau, 612 in Suffolk and 3,118 in New York City. During the summer, the daily number in Nassau and Suffolk was well below 100.

Across the state, a total of 61 people died Monday of COVID-19-related causes, including eight each in Nassau and Suffolk.

Biden on Monday warned that too many Americans are declaring virus victory too quickly, appealing for mask requirements and other restrictions to be maintained or restored to stave off a "fourth surge" of COVID-19.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said during a virtual White House health briefing that she had a feeling of "impending doom" if people keep easing off.

The double dose of warnings came even as Biden laid out hopeful new steps to expand coronavirus vaccinations, with all adults to become eligible over the next five weeks. Biden announced plans to expand the number of retail pharmacies that are administering vaccines, and investments to help Americans get to vaccination sites. But the optimism was tempered by stark warnings about the potential for another wave of cases.

"This is deadly serious," Biden said, urging governors to reinstate mask mandates and other restrictions that some states have been easing.

Suffolk jail visits postponed

Inmate visitation at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility, which was scheduled to resume April 6, has been postponed indefinitely due to a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases among staff members and throughout the county, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday.

Citing the "health and safety" of inmates, visitors and staff, Sheriff Errol D. Toulon Jr. said the decision was made in an effort to keep the virus out of the county jails.

"We have been very successful in keeping the virus out of our jail population so far," Toulon said in a statement. He added that "these measures will remain in place until this most recent wave is stemmed."

While available records show the number of new COVID-19 cases — and the 7-day average — is down from January highs, Suffolk County officials said new cases were on the rise again in recent weeks, with the weekly average up about 100 cases per day in March.

About 29% of the county's population — which totals about 1.48 million — had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of 11 a.m. on Monday, according to state data.

Pop-up site at Zion Cathedral

Nassau will vaccinate 800 Freeport residents between Tuesday and Thursday at Zion Cathedral, a pop-up site on Grand Avenue, as part of the county’s effort to distribute the vaccine in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The vaccines are being distributed by Northwell Health officials.

"We know there is an issue of vaccine hesitancy," said County Executive Laura Curran at a news conference Tuesday outside the Cathedral.

Bishop Frank White of Zion Cathedral said the pandemic has been "devastating" in communities of color.

Just over 36% of Nassau residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine — the highest percentage in the state — while the county expects to surpass 500,000 people vaccinated by as early as Wednesday, Curran said.

Curran said the county is growing its vaccine infrastructure to handle the expected influx of people seeking shots.

Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau’s health commissioner, said high schoolers 16 and older will only be eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, while individuals 18 and older can get any of the three approved vaccines. The county does not immediately expect to administer the shots in public schools, he said.

With AP

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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