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'This is about saving lives': NY opens Yankee Stadium vaccine site, expanding eligibility for at-risk health conditions

On Friday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday announced that, starting Feb. 15, coronavirus vaccine doses not used by hospital workers in group 1A will be reallocated to local health departments to be given to people with comorbidities. Credit: NY Goverrnor's Office

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

The latest incarnation of the House that Ruth Built took on a new and never-imagined mission on Friday: serving as a mass vaccination site to inoculate residents of the hard-hit Bronx against the coronavirus, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also announced eligibility for the shots will be expanded to people most at risk due to health conditions.

Former Yankees pitching star Mariano Rivera, who joined Cuomo during a livestreamed briefing, summed up the new mission at Yankee Stadium: "I used to pitch here and save games. Now this is about saving lives."

"Hope is the name of the game right now," the Hall of Famer added, as hundreds of Bronx residents lined up to enter the stadium and get their shots.

Cuomo announced that, starting on Feb. 15, the state is expanding the vaccination campaign to offer the shots to people with comorbidities, or health conditions that put them at higher risk of death from the coronavirus.

"We are going to open it up to people with comorbidities … The prioritization is to reach those people who are most at risk or most essential through this period of time," Cuomo said.

The conditions that will make people eligible for the shots include cancer, chronic kidney disease, pulmonary disease, intellectual and developmental disabilities, heart conditions, immunocompromised state, severe obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease or thalassemia, Type 1 or 2 diabetes mellitus, cerebrovascular disease, neurological conditions and liver disease.

"New Yorkers with comorbidities and underlying conditions exist throughout the state's population — they're our teachers, lawyers and carpenters, in addition to the doctors who keep us safe every day, and they are a highly affected population," Cuomo said.

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The opening at Yankee Stadium is part of Cuomo's campaign to target areas with the highest levels of COVID-19 infections, and to persuade more Blacks and Latinos to get the vaccine. He said Friday that those groups, among the hardest hit by the virus, also are among the most resistant to taking the vaccine.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Yankees Stadium has "been the host of a lot of really special opening days, and I would say this is the most special opening day."

Yankees president Randy Levine said the team will be offering Yankees trinkets to people who get shots at the stadium as a way to induce greater participation. Only residents of the Bronx can get vaccinated there.

"This stadium is historical. It’s built into the fabric of the city and the Bronx," he said. "We’re part of the Bronx community. And this is bigger than baseball."

Levine said he wished Cuomo could see the smiles on the faces of people lining up at the stadium. "It’s hope — we’re getting to the end of this," he said.

Cuomo also has announced the opening of short-term "pop-up" vaccination sites at churches, housing projects and community centers to try to target hard-hit populations. Two opened this week for a day at a mosque in Westbury and a Roman Catholic church in Hampton Bays.

The original Yankee Stadium where baseball legend Babe Ruth played was closed in 2008 and a new stadium opened in 2009. The original was torn down in 2010.

Targeting 'major factors' with vaccine

On the change in eligibility, Cuomo said 94% of people who have died from COVID-19 were identified as having comorbidities or other conditions, making them a priority in expanding the vaccination effort.

"Comorbidities and age are the major factors" in mortality from COVID-19, Cuomo added, saying the state often hears from other groups that want to be given access to the shots: "Why don’t we do this group of workers? Why don’t we do this group of workers? You do every group in the state when you do people with comorbidities."

While Cuomo said his administration is working to clarify some questions about health conditions that will be considered comorbidities for the shots, he said the state largely will follow guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're committed to vaccinating vulnerable populations that have suffered the most as we distribute a strictly limited supply of vaccines, and people with comorbidities are 94 percent of the state's COVID deaths," Cuomo said.

The vaccination campaign will be expanded to more people because the state has reached an important threshold in administering the shots to 75% of hospital workers as of Thursday, Cuomo said, getting in the range of the level of immunity to the virus that the state has been targeting to prevent outbreaks.

Starting on Feb. 15, he said, the state will be able to reallocate that majority of vaccine that had been set aside for hospital workers in the Phase 1A group to local health departments, so those shots could be given to people with comorbidities.

Cuomo said that 39% of New Yorkers are hesitant to take the vaccine, according to polls, but that the percentages vary greatly among ethnic groups.

Some 78% of whites say they will take the vaccine when it’s available to them, but only 39% of Blacks, 54% of Hispanics, and 54% of Asians.

At Yankee Stadium on Friday afternoon, Rivera, who was born in Panama, said he was lining up to get a shot in part to show people it is safe, and encourage them to do so also.

"Now it’s time to support you, and let you know it’s OK to be vaccinated. I’m on line. When my turn comes, I’m on line to get it," he said.

Cuomo tweeted an announcement in Spanish about the shots at the stadium. The Bronx has a large Hispanic population.

By early Friday afternoon, 13,000 of 15,000 available appointment slots had been taken, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

Cuomo said infection levels continue to decline statewide, though he called out Long Island again for having among the highest levels of hospitalization and positivity.

The daily percent of positives statewide from test results Thursday was 4.31% out of 203,627 results — the lowest level since Nov. 28.

The seven-day average of positives for Long Island was 5.56%, continuing a steady decline since a holiday season spike. The number of new confirmed cases was 757 in Nassau County, 771 in Suffolk County and 3,883 in New York City.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus statewide dropped by 30, to 7,937. A total of 153 people in the state died of coronavirus-related causes on Thursday.

Cuomo said 15 new cases of the "U.K. variant" of the virus, considered more contagious, have been confirmed in the state for a total of 59.

Caution urged on Super Bowl Sunday

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran sounded a hopeful note on Friday when she announced the county’s "good news" positivity rate, lower than 5% with cases and hospitalizations on a steady decline.

She struck a cautious tone, warning residents to keep up social distancing measures on Super Bowl Sunday, however.

"I think we were alarmed when we saw the numbers go up and everyone jumped back into using common sense — doing all of those things we know works — to help mitigate the spread of this virus," Curran said during her daily briefing outside the Yes, We Can community center in Westbury.

She said vaccine distribution has been going well despite the number of people eligible for whom there are no doses yet.

At the two vaccine sites run by the county, only essential workers in the 1B category are eligible for shots, including teachers.

By the end of the week, Nassau’s vaccine sites will have inoculated 2,500 teachers and other school personnel, Curran said.

"If we can’t get every single teacher in Nassau County, we will get as many as we can, just like we did with law enforcement, with fire service, with grocery store workers," Curran said.

With Super Bowl Sunday this weekend, Cuomo urged people to party safely, avoiding crowds and keeping gatherings to immediate family members.

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QUALIFYING HEALTH CONDITIONS FOR VACCINE

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state will add people at risk of severe coronavirus illness due to underlying conditions or comorbidities to the eligibility phases for vaccination. Starting on Feb. 15, adults of any age facing increased risk due to the following conditions will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Cancer, current or in remission (including 9/11-related cancers).
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Pulmonary disease, including but not limited to, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma (moderate-to-severe), pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, and 9/11-related pulmonary diseases.
  • Intellectual and developmental disabilities, including Down syndrome.
  • Heart conditions, including but not limited to heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, or hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system), including but not limited to solid organ transplant or from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, use of other immune-weakening medicines, or other causes.
  • Severe obesity (body mass index, or BMI, of 40 kg/m2), obesity (BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher but under 40 kg/m2).
  • Pregnancy.
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia.
  • Diabetes mellitus, types 1 or 2.
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood-supply to the brain).
  • Neurological conditions, including but not limited to Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
  • Liver disease.

Other eligible population groups can be found in the state's phased distribution guidelines.

SOURCE: New York State

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