A pharmacist gets ready to administer a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine...

A pharmacist gets ready to administer a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Northport VA Medical Center. Credit: U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Catherine Carrera, Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette, Joan Gralla, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

New York State has surpassed 40,000 deaths from causes related to COVID-19, according to state data released Tuesday.

The 53 people who died of coronavirus-related causes on Monday brought the state total to 40,023. The total deaths reported by the state on Long Island rose to 3,021 in Nassau County and 3,209 in Suffolk County, counted among the top 20 counties in the country for loss of life through the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

New York's toll began to evoke comparisons to other grim milestones, such as the many thousands of Americans killed in wars and terrorist attacks.

At the same time, officials offered one hopeful sign on Tuesday: as the state battles to curb the virus, a mass vaccination site opened at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale and other efforts continued in the region.

Despite that, the latest COVID-19 numbers showed New York continuing to stall in its fight against the virus, with levels of new cases and positivity plateauing rather than dropping.

The statewide seven-day average for positivity was 3.33%, a slight increase from the last few days, while the level on Long Island was 4.37% — similar to previous days.

The daily statewide positivity was 4.74% out of 143,521 tests from Monday, a lower number of results than in recent days. The positivity rate remains lower than the levels reached during a holiday season spike, but higher than lows last summer, when the percent of new positives hovered around 1% statewide, and on Long Island.

The number of new confirmed cases in test results Monday was 533 in Nassau, 529 in Suffolk and 3,492 in New York City. During last summer, the daily numbers of new positives in Nassau and Suffolk fell typically below 100 for each county.

The latest deaths included four people in Nassau and two in Suffolk.

Still, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday expressed optimism over the state’s direction.

"As more New Yorkers get vaccinated every single day, we're working toward a future in which COVID is left behind, and we can settle into the new normal. We have a ways to go until that happens, so New Yorkers need to stay vigilant and continue practicing safe behaviors," he said in a statement.

He said increased supplies of vaccines should be arriving, though at the same time new variants of the virus are spreading. Tuesday was the first day of an expanded eligibility criteria for vaccines in the state, including people 50 and above, with appointments for the new group starting the same day.

Coliseum opens for hundreds of shots a day

Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday opened as a COVID-19 vaccination site. County Executive Laura Curran says the coliseum will be able to vaccinate more than 1,000 residents a week. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The vaccination site at the Nassau Coliseum opened Tuesday with the capacity to give shots to 1,000 people daily "if it comes to that," County Executive Laura Curran said.

"The demand is still higher than the supply at this point, but it’s getting closer together," Curran said. "We are hearing from the state, we’re hearing from Sen. Schumer and the federal government that we will be getting a lot more vaccine in the coming weeks."

It is the fourth location run by the county’s Health Department and likely will vaccinate about 350 to 400 people, Curran said, with the ability to scale up to 1,000. The other county-run sites are: Yes, We Can Community Center in New Cassel, Nassau Community College and LIU Post in Brookville.

The Coliseum site will distribute vaccine Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Appointments can be made through the county’s vaccine scheduling portal.

In Nassau, 32% of residents had received at least one shot on Tuesday, while in Suffolk that figure was 27.5% of the county's population. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses spaced out over weeks, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is delivered in one shot.

Suffolk officials have launched a new online portal to preregister eligible people for vaccine appointments at county sites, County Executive Steve Bellone’s office said Tuesday.

Residents can go to the Suffolk County COVID-19 Appointment Scheduler to fill out a survey, ensure they are eligible and provide contact information, said Derek Poppe, a Bellone spokesman.

Those who preregistered will receive an email or text message to sign up when appointments become available, Poppe said.

The county operates vaccine sites at Suffolk County Community College campuses in Selden and Riverhead. The tool and the sites are open to eligible people beyond county residents.

National pharmacy chain CVS said it had appointments for vaccine shots at locations throughout Long Island early on Tuesday. Many of those appointments, however, were gone by midmorning.

As CVS receives more allocations, it will continue to make appointments available, said Joe Goode, a spokesman for the pharmacy.

"We encourage people to frequently check CVS.com to schedule a vaccine appointment as they become more available in their location."

Goode said CVS will update its site by Wednesday to match New York's new guidance clearing residents 50 and older to get the vaccine.

Long Island veterans can get vaccinated without an appointment Tuesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Northport VA Medical Center, as long as they have been patients within the past two years, officials said. Veterans who have been to a clinic operated by the VA in that period are also eligible, and they must be registered with the agency.

Uniondale going remote after break

Citing COVID-19 concerns, the Uniondale district plans to switch to full remote instruction the week of April 5, after spring break, Superintendent Rhonda Taylor said in a letter to families. Spring break for Uniondale, and many districts throughout the Island, takes place March 29 through April 2.

Taylor urged families and staff members to limit any travel during the break "to emergency travel ONLY." She also said that those who end up traveling during the break should not return to school until testing negative for COVID-19 or after a 10-day quarantine period.

"These restrictions are established to keep all of our families and our educational community safe from expanded community spread," Taylor said.

The district recently began allowing ninth-graders to return to school following a hybrid instruction model. Schools will reopen on April 12, and students in grades 7-12 whose parents opted for hybrid instruction also will be allowed back in the buildings at that point, she said in the letter.

"This will allow for an additional week to help ensure our scholars and staff return to school COVID-19 free," she said.

After prior breaks in the winter and for Thanksgiving, some Long Island districts switched to remote-only instruction for a week.

NYC's positivity hovering around 6%

In New York City, Dr. Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior adviser on the pandemic, lamented that the city's infection rate has plateaued, hovering around 6%, with dozens of neighborhoods still at 10% or higher.

"We are deeply concerned about the fact that the rates of infection have not declined as dramatically as they should be," he said.

That’s why, he said, the city government has counseled against certain indoor activities — and in favor of maintaining masking, distancing, hand-washing and vaccination.

But, looking at places where most of the population has been vaccinated, such as Israel, there is reason for hope, he said.

"Even though we need to be incredibly persistent right now, there is promise on the horizon," he said.

Dr. Mitchell Katz, who heads the city’s public hospital and health system, said that as a result of vaccines being administered to many New Yorkers, there have been notable decreases in deaths and hospitalization.


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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