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Officials: Queens and Brooklyn sites will give COVID-19 vaccine to thousands a day; NY arenas and stadiums to reopen

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn is seen here.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that sports arenas that seat more than 10,000 people could host fans at up to 10% capacity as long as COVID-19 guidelines were followed and they had negative test results. Credit: NY Governor's Office

New York fans will be allowed to return to professional sports games and other major events in a limited capacity, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday, while state and federal officials are opening two mass COVID-19 vaccination sites in Queens and Brooklyn that will inoculate up to 6,000 people a day.

The vaccination push aims to make inroads by improving access in minority communities.

The Brooklyn Nets will kick off the reopening of major venues with a game Feb. 23 against the Sacramento Kings at the Barclays Center. Stadiums and venues allowed to reopen must be able to accommodate at least 10,000 people and will be permitted to operate at 10% of their capacity, while spectators must test negative for the COVID-19 virus within 72 hours before games or events.

They also have to socially distance, wear masks and take assigned seats.

The new vaccination sites will be the largest in the state, with each inoculating up to 3,000 people a day. They will dwarf operations at state-run sites such as the Javits Center, which administers about 1,000 shots a day.

The massive vaccine operations, part of a joint campaign with the federal government to target underserved Black and Latino communities, will be located at York College in Jamaica, Queens, and Medgar Evers College in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

"These two new sites are going to make a dramatic impact on some of our hardest-hit communities and further bolster the work we've already been doing on the ground to get shots in arms," Cuomo said.

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While the goal of the effort is to get people in minority communities vaccinated at higher rates, any resident of those boroughs is eligible to get their shots there, state officials said.

They are set to open Feb. 24 and run for eight weeks.

The sites will receive a special allocation of doses from the federal government that will be in addition to at least 250,000 vaccines the state is already receiving each week. The added 6,000 doses a day should have a notable impact statewide, freeing up more doses for other people.

Similar sites targeting minority communities will open in other areas of the state, providing about 1,000 shots a day at each site, Cuomo said.

The new centers, jointly staffed by state and federal workers including some military personnel, are part of a push by President Joe Biden's administration to reach "socially vulnerable communities" across the state.

"COVID created low tide in America, and all the ugliness, structural racism, injustice and disparity lurking beneath the surface was exposed," Cuomo said, adding that it revealed a health system that leads to higher mortality rates among Blacks and Latinos.

"COVID exposed injustices, fundamental injustices that existed all across the country," he added. "When the tide is high, the tide covers all sorts of problems that lie underneath … issues that were always there."

Feds: Getting 'shots in arms'

Jeff Zients, the Biden administration's coordinator for COVID-19 response, appeared at Cuomo's livestreamed briefing, to lend the federal government's support.

Zients said the new vaccine sites fit within "a comprehensive national strategy to fight the pandemic" and increase the vaccine supply for all.

"First, we are taking steps to increase the vaccine supply and get it out the door" as fast as the manufacturers can make it, Zients said.

"We are organizing teams to get shots in arms … we are moving quickly to get more vaccinators on the ground" across the country, he said. That push will continue with the federal government "creating more places where Americans can get vaccinated … building new community vaccination centers from the ground up."

Cuomo also had leaders from the Black community attend his briefing virtually, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said he plans to get a shot at one of the colleges in the city, in part to convince skeptical residents it is safe.

Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, expressed confidence in the vaccination push under Biden.

"Having someone in the White House who knows which end is up, and a partner in New York who is fighting for vaccine equity, is a recipe for success. It makes all the difference in the world — a matter of life and death," Sharpton said.

Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, who also attended the briefing, said "Decades of structural racism in our health care system have fed a deep distrust in that system among Black Americans."

Cuomo and the Biden administration, Morial added, "not only are committed to overcoming both racism and distrust, they are matching that commitment with resources. I'm proud to work with leadership that puts public health over politics. Together, we will defeat the pandemic."

The state and New York City have also opened mass vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Jones Beach and Stony Brook University.

Seeking 'balance' in reopening

Cuomo said the decision to reopen large venues to sports and other events follows successful Buffalo Bills playoff games last month attended by 7,000 fans who were tested for the virus beforehand.

The new policy could allow football, basketball, hockey, soccer, baseball, music, shows or performances to resume. Each site’s reopening plan must be approved by the New York State Department of Health.

"This hits the balance of safe reopening," Cuomo said, noting it is part of his plan to reopen the economy safely.

Cuomo had hinted at the move earlier this week, and indicated it could eventually include a limited reopening of Broadway.

In Nassau County, Executive Laura Curran is asking Cuomo to extend the 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants by two hours, noting coronavirus safety measures that have been put in place.

"These establishments have proven to operate safely — spending many months implementing health and safety protocols, acquiring and requiring the proper PPE [personal protective equipment], and ensuring social distancing is maintained. And the proof is in the numbers," Curran wrote in a letter to the governor on Tuesday.

Data presented by Cuomo in December indicated that restaurants and bars accounted for 1.4% of coronavirus cases, which matches the findings of county contact tracers, Curran said.

Curran also cited the income lost by restaurants and their workers because the current curfew prevents restaurants from seating diners after 8:30 p.m.

A federal judge upheld the curfew Tuesday.

New vaccine site coming to Nassau

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran on Wednesday announced the opening of a third county-run vaccine distribution center, this one on the campus of LIU Post in Brookville, which faculty and students in the health professions will help manage.

A limited opening is scheduled for Friday, focusing on essential workers in the 1B category, including law enforcement, fire service, teachers and school staff, college professors, restaurant workers and taxi drivers.

Beginning Feb. 15, residents with existing health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness will become eligible for the shots, Curran said. Appointments will not yet be available for LIU on Friday, allowing the site to gear up.

More than 21,000 people have been vaccinated at county-run sites at Nassau Community College in Garden City and the Yes We Can Center in Westbury. A total of 150,000 vaccines have been administered in the county, including state and other sites such as hospitals.

Curran noted that Cuomo has repeatedly pointed out in recent days that Long Island has the highest infection level in the state, even though positivity has been dropping here and statewide after a holiday season spike.

She said Nassau's positivity level "has a few times been lower than the state average."

"I’m very proud of Nassau County. I’m very proud of Long Island," she said.

The state's positivity rate was 4.02% out of 176,750 test results on Tuesday. The seven-day average for the positivity level was 5.29% on Long Island, 5.08% in New York City, and 4.31% in New York State. The number of new confirmed cases in test results from Tuesday was 566 in Nassau, 539 in Suffolk and 3,318 in New York City.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus dropped by 282, to 7,593. Statewide, 136 people died of coronavirus-related causes on Tuesday.

With Joan Gralla

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES

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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