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Cuomo: New York increasing testing and vaccine efforts to 'calibrate reopening'

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo again defended the state's

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo again defended the state's actions on nursing home deaths during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: NYS Governor's Office

This story was reported by Candice Ferrette, Joan Gralla and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

New York State is expanding capacity for New York City restaurants, allowing a return to visits at nursing homes, increasing rapid testing so people can attend plays and movies, and setting up guidelines for colleges and universities to reopen for in-person instruction, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Friday.

It was all part of his latest big push to reopen the economy, even though the state lacks enough COVID-19 vaccines to rapidly inoculate the majority of the population.

COVID-19 indicators are steadily dropping since a holiday season spike, he said, so the state can move more aggressively to reactivate its economy and other sectors of society.

"You watch the gauges, so you calibrate reopening," he said.

New York City restaurants can expand capacity for indoor dining from 25% to 35% starting next Friday, he announced. That level is the same allowed across the Hudson River in New Jersey. Long Island's restaurants can operate at 50% capacity.

Cuomo indicated it was important for the city to remain in sync with New Jersey — otherwise, patrons will just eat there.

He called on school districts to get students back to in-person classes five days a week quickly, and said vaccinating teachers is key.

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Five days a week in-person is possible "if the school doesn't have an infection spike and if the school is safer than the surrounding community," Cuomo said.

Cuomo dismissed remote learning through computers as a poor substitute for a live teacher in front of a classroom full of students.

The governor also laid out guidelines for colleges and universities to reopen.

He said that if at least 25% of their total on-campus students, faculty and staff test weekly, the institution will not be required to go on pause, unless the positivity rate exceeds 5% during a rolling 14-day period.

If colleges are not testing at least 25% of their population weekly, they must go on pause if they have 100 individuals test positive during a rolling 14-day period.

The state is launching a push for more rapid testing to speed a return of its economy, Cuomo said. Eleven rapid-testing sites opened Friday in New York City, charging less than $30 for the antigen test.

The test takes 30 minutes or less, and could be used by people attending a movie theater or a play, for instance, he said.

It is a continuation of his plan to reopen certain events through rapid testing that started with a Buffalo Bills playoff game last month and went on to include catering halls hosting weddings.

Rapid testing "will accelerate our economic reopening prior to reaching herd immunity where everybody has a vaccine, which is June, July," he said.

COVID-19 indicators continued to drop statewide, with a seven-day average of 3.6% positivity in test results marking the 42nd day in a row of declines, Cuomo said. Long Island's level was 4.36%, no longer the highest in the state, as it was outpaced by New York City and the mid-Hudson region.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus dropped by 279, to a total of 6,155. It was the lowest level since Dec. 17.

The number of new confirmed cases in test results Thursday was 729 in Nassau County, 714 in Suffolk County, and 4,872 in New York City. The state's percent positive was 3.49% for the day, out of 249,248 test results.

A total of 116 people died of the virus on Thursday, including eight in Nassau and 13 in Suffolk.

County vaccination sites affected by weather

COVID-19 vaccination sites in Nassau County were closed Friday because of the snowstorm, but will resume operations on Saturday, though only for second doses, a spokesperson for County Executive Laura Curran said.

The county will not do first doses this weekend because it did not receive its allocation from the federal government due to delays caused by the storm, spokesperson Vicki DiStefano said. The Nassau-run vaccine sites are at the Yes We Can Community Center in New Cassel and Nassau Community College in East Garden City.

All appointments on Thursday and Friday were for second doses and canceled because of the storm, she said. They have been rescheduled for Monday.

Nassau will schedule its next first-dose appointments at the sites as soon as the county receives those doses, DiStefano said.

Sites in Brentwood and Riverhead in Suffolk County were only partially open on Friday, since the county did not receive first doses either, a spokesperson for County Executive Steve Bellone said.

But about 2,700 second doses were administered as scheduled on Friday, spokesperson Derek Poppe said. The county already had those doses in its possession.

Mass vaccination sites run by the state at Jones Beach and Stony Brook University were open Thursday and Friday despite the snowstorm.

In a statement Friday, Cuomo said the state was "informed that shipments of the Pfizer vaccine that should have been delivered already but were delayed due to weather are scheduled to arrive by Monday, and orders placed within the last 48 hours will be sent after, with expected arrival on Tuesday and Wednesday."

In addition, delayed shipments of the Moderna vaccine "should arrive by the middle of next week, with orders placed within the last 48 hours expected to arrive next Thursday and Friday."


Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

New York State expanded the list of qualifying residents to encompass people 65 years of age and older as well as others with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk. The state had previously expanded its vaccination program to include essential workers and people 75 years of age and older in addition to health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, among others. The supply of vaccines is limited even as more groups are added. Hospitals will continue to prioritize unvaccinated members of the first phase, focusing largely on health care workers. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on Feb. 9.

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.

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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