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Cuomo: Local governments can give vaccine to restaurant workers, taxi drivers and people with developmental disabilities

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday announced that local governments in New York will decide whether they have enough supply of COVID-19 vaccines to offer shots to taxi drivers, restaurant workers and residents in facilities for people with developmental disabilities. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones, David Olson, David Reich-Hale, Yancey Roy and Joie Tyrrell. It was written by Jones.

Taxi drivers, restaurant workers and residents in facilities for the developmentally disabled now become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines — if local governments decide they have enough doses for them and other priority groups, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.

The expansion of those who could qualify under Phase 1B came as Cuomo said the state will receive an increased supply of shots from the federal government to be allocated to local governments and pharmacies.

"Some localities have already done a large percentage" of their police, teachers and firefighters who qualify for shots as essential workers, and governments can move on to other key segments of the population "if they believe, in their local circumstance, they want to prioritize" those other groups, he said.

It will be up to the local governments "if they think it makes sense," Cuomo said at a news briefing.

The state is also opening a mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx, "which is only for Bronx residents" as part of a strategy to target areas with high levels of coronavirus spread, Cuomo said.

The changes adding more people to the qualified list are possible because the federal government will augment its supply of the COVID-19 shots to New York. The state will see a recent increase in its direct allocation go from about 16% to about 20%. The state will then supply those extra shots to local governments.

The additional 20% total increase is good for at least the next three weeks, Cuomo said.

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Bhairavi Desai, executive director of NYTWA, a union of taxi and Uber drivers that has more than 25,000 members, praised Cuomo's latest move.

"It feels like drivers have been forgotten and left second priority in so many aspects of the recovery," Desai said in a statement. "Today brings some light of hope into what's been a tunnel of darkness."

Suffolk County officials said they were still reviewing Cuomo's order to determine if they will include the new groups in those eligible for shots.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement that "as new populations become eligible, we stand ready to incorporate them into our rigorous vaccination program. We have put 100% of doses into eligible arms, and we will continue to do so."

While staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities had been included in Phase 1A of vaccinations, this would be the first time local governments could allocate their shots to them, said Derek Poppe, spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The federal government will distribute an additional 10% of the state's allocation, amounting to about 30,000 shots, directly to pharmacies, which are tasked with vaccinating people who qualify because they are 65 or older.

New York State's average weekly allocation is 300,000 doses, but even with the new increase, the total falls far short of the number needed to quickly vaccinate the majority of the population. About 7.1 million people are eligible to receive shots, not counting the new potential group.

New York's total population is about 19.5 million.

Cuomo said the state's problem is not the capability to administer vaccines on a mass scale, but a vast lack of doses.

Though Cuomo said pharmacies will have more shots available for people over 65, the impact may not be immediate.

CVS Health said its pharmacies in 11 states — including 32 locations in New York — will start offering the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible people, starting Feb. 11, under the federal government’s new program.

CVS sites in New York expect to receive about 20,600 doses that would be offered to people who register in advance via CVS.com, the pharmacy’s app or by calling 1-800-746-7287. The Long Island locations include Mattituck and Bethpage.

Stop & Shop, which operates 51 stores on Long Island, 30 of which have pharmacies, said late last year it expected to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The Massachusetts-based chain said Tuesday it hasn't received the vaccine yet.

State-run vaccination sites at Jones Beach, Stony Brook and other locations will reopen on Wednesday, Cuomo said during an interview with 1010 WINS. Canceled appointments will be rescheduled via emails or text messages.

"I don't want anyone to think after everything they went through, the torture to get an appointment, that it's not going to be honored," Cuomo said. "It will be honored, and that's a state order, whether it's a city site, or a private site, or whoever's running it."

Most New York City vaccination sites remained closed Tuesday, with the exception of health and hospital sites, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

In total, the city has vaccinated 823,670 people, including about 4,000 during Monday’s storm, but could dramatically pick up the pace if it receives more doses.

The mayor also advocated for restaurant workers to be added to the vaccination eligibility list as the city prepares to open establishments for indoor dining beginning Feb. 14.

Cuomo said the seven-day average of new cases on Monday statewide was 4.95%, the first time since Dec. 6 it was below 5%. The daily positivity rate for Monday was 5.47% out of 150,199 results.

Long Island's weekly level was 6.03%, still the highest in the state, he said. "Long Island, Long Island, Long Island," Cuomo lamented. "Long Island has been problematic for a period of time."

Overall, "The holiday surge has tapered off, and we are on the decline" in the state, he said.

More than 2 million people in the state have received vaccinations, he said.

Cuomo said he and other members of the National Governor’s Association spoke with White House officials Monday morning to discuss vaccine distribution, and got the good news about the increased allocations.

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.

Suffolk County officials said they received more doses on Tuesday and expect to vaccinate people at their distribution centers from Wednesday through Saturday.

The county, which is required to focus on essential workers, received 2,700 doses for people in that category. It also received 500 doses for residents and staff of facilities for people with developmental disabilities.

In addition, Suffolk received 2,500 second doses. All are expected to be administered by late Saturday.

Nassau officials said any appointments scheduled for Tuesday at its vaccination centers — Nassau Community College in Garden City and the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury — are being rescheduled for later this week.

Statewide, a total of 149 people died of causes related to COVID-19 on Monday, including six in Nassau and 11 in Suffolk. The number of people hospitalized with the virus in New York increased by 64, to 8,067, according to state data.

The number of new confirmed cases from test results Monday was 732 in Nassau, 778 in Suffolk, and 4,192 in New York City.

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