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State: New York's COVID-19 infections decline to level before the holiday surge

People arrive at the Javits Center in Manhattan

People arrive at the Javits Center in Manhattan where the vaccine was being administered by appointment on Feb. 5. Credit: Craig Ruttle

This story was reported by Matt Clark, Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones and Laura Figueroa Hernandez. It was written by Jones.

Daily COVID-19 infection levels statewide have dropped to their lowest points since just before Thanksgiving, even as New York struggles to get enough vaccines, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday.

The daily positivity level in test results from Wednesday was 3.54%, the lowest since Nov. 25 — the day before Thanksgiving, when the figure was 3.2%.

Infection levels went on a steady rise after that, partly fueled by social gatherings throughout the holiday season. But since mid-January, the rates have been steadily dropping — good news for the state even as contagious and dangerous variants of the virus begin to multiply throughout the nation.

"Across the state, from hospitalizations to infection rates, our numbers are continuing to decline — a sign of hope to all and proof of the dedication New Yorkers have shown to defeating this beast," Cuomo said.

However, Long Island continues to have the highest infection level in the state, something Cuomo has lamented repeatedly in his briefings on the coronavirus response.

The seven-day average from test results completed on Wednesday, tracked at 5.17% for Nassau and Suffolk combined, was still part of a sustained decline in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The seven-day average was 4.95% in New York City and 4.16% statewide.

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"We are headed in the right direction, but we are not at the end of the tunnel yet," Cuomo said. "Until the day the war is won and everyone who wants one has the vaccine, we must continue to practice the guidelines we know work — washing your hands, wearing a mask and avoiding gatherings."

The number of new confirmed cases was 919 in Nassau, 828 in Suffolk and 5,193 in New York City.

Long Island's seven-day daily average of new COVID-19 cases reached 1,593 Wednesday, a decrease of 1,872 cases, or 54%, in the last 30 days, according to a Newsday analysis of state data. The daily average for the region peaked Jan. 11, when 3,465 new cases were identified.

Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, said he could not point to one specific reason why the number of COVID-19 cases in the state has declined, but said it is likely a number of different factors.

"Anecdotally, people seem to be taking the advice to use a mask and socially distance more seriously," he said. "There are also more people getting the vaccine, so there could be less opportunity for transmission."

Glatt also said there is a natural waxing and waning to the spread of viruses. A spike in cases after gatherings during the holiday season has flattened out in more recent weeks.

"We are past the holiday peak, but I hope the Super Bowl and the Presidents Day holiday do not add to the spread," he said, noting that people should remain vigilant and follow safety protocols such as washing their hands, wearing a face covering and socially distancing from others.

Statewide, 122 people died on Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19. The number of people hospitalized because of the virus dropped by 251 on Wednesday, to a total of 7,342.

The decline in hospitalizations and infection levels came a day after Cuomo announced that fans will be able to return to professional sports games, concerts and other major events in limited numbers starting later this month.

He also announced this week that the state and federal government are opening on Feb. 24 the two largest mass vaccination sites in New York, at York College in Jamaica, Queens, and Medgar Evers College in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

Each site will inoculate up to 3,000 people a day. The mass vaccination sites are part of an effort to increase inoculation levels among the Black and Latino populations, which have been the hardest hit by the pandemic. Any resident of those boroughs also will be eligible for vaccination at the sites.

More vaccine on the way

Earlier this week, Cuomo had announced the state would receive a 5% boost in vaccine distribution from the federal government for at least the next three weeks. He did not specify how many additional doses the 5% increase would bring to New York. But a White House official estimated it could be an additional 15,000 to 20,000 doses per week, based on the previous weekly allotment of 300,000 doses that Cuomo has referenced.

Along with that 5%, pharmacies across the state and federally qualified health centers also will receive more vaccine doses to distribute.

A new poll issued Thursday by the Long Island University Steven S. Hornstein Center for Policy, Polling & Analysis showed that 74% of Americans want to receive the vaccine, up from 28% in October and 71% in December.

The national survey asked people whether they would agree to be vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine approved by the Federal Drug Administration were available. The Hornstein Center is housed at LIU Post in Brookville.

That level of interest in the shots seems to be reflected in New York.

Cuomo said Thursday that 106,017 doses of the vaccine were administered across the state in 24 hours.

As of 11 a.m. Thursday, health care distribution sites had received 2,002,055 first doses and administered 89%, or 1,787,189 first doses, and 81% of first and second doses combined, since the vaccine rollout started about two months ago.

"We've hit a significant milestone in the COVID war. Our infection rate continues to come down and more than 10 percent of New Yorkers have now received the first dose of the vaccine," Cuomo said in a statement. "That's due in large part to our expansive vaccination network of providers, pop-up and mass vaccination sites that improve access and equity in the vaccine distribution process."

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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