Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday said that the percent of New Yorkers testing positive for COVID-19 rose sharply on Sunday, but the state is studying whether the change reflects a surge in infections or resulted from a smaller pool of people getting tested after the holiday. Credit: Facebook / Governor Andrew Cuomo/Governor Andrew Cuomo

Health care providers who fraudulently obtain or use the COVID-19 vaccine could face up to $1 million in fines and lose their state licenses, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

Cuomo signed an executive order Monday night setting the strict penalties.

"We want to send a clear signal to the providers that if you violate the law on these vaccinations we will find out and you will be prosecuted," Cuomo said during a livestreamed press briefing with reporters.

The state also reported a high level of positives for the last day of test results on Sunday, a swift rise that Cuomo called "dramatic."

The anti-fraud order comes after state officials said they are probing Brooklyn-based ParCare Community Health Network for possible fraud in how they received COVID-19 vaccines from the state and administered them to some members of the public in violation of state guidelines. Cuomo said the case has been referred to state Attorney General Letitia James.

James said in a statement that her office "is launching an investigation" over those allegations. "In order for the vaccine to be most effective in protecting our communities, we must all follow the same distribution plan," she said. "We will not tolerate any attempts to circumvent that process."

Cuomo said that while the vaccine distribution system is constantly being monitored by state agencies, ParCare is the only organization being currently investigated for "possible criminal activity."

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Monday talked about the COVID-19 stimulus bill, which was signed by President Trump on Sunday. Schumer says the bill is not sufficient and that he is still fighting for $2,000 per person. Credit: Jeff Bachner

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said ParCare fraudulently claimed to be a qualified health center, gave the vaccination to people who were not on the priority list and moved the vaccine vials from one area to another.

ParCare, which on its website lists locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Monroe in upstate Orange County, said it will cooperate with the Department of Health's investigation.

"Governor Cuomo himself stressed the importance of getting all the facts, and providing the facts to the state is exactly what we have done and will continue to do, including information regarding compliance with NYS DOH procedures for obtaining the vaccine and being approved by NYS DOH for distribution," ParCare said in a statement. "As always, our priority continues to be the health and well-being of our fellow New Yorkers."

Sharp rise in COVID-19 positivity

The percent of New Yorkers testing positive for COVID-19 rose sharply on Sunday, but the state is looking at whether the change reflects a surge in infections or resulted from a smaller pool of people getting tested after the holiday, Cuomo said.

The state overall registered 8.3% positivity from 124,866 test results on Sunday after hovering above 5% in recent days.

"This is a jump from Friday, Saturday to Sunday," he said.

The daily positivity rate on Long Island was 8.1% — 7.3% in Nassau County and 9.1% in Suffolk County.

Of the 10,407 new cases reported in the state, 999 were in Nassau County and 1,037 in Suffolk County.

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 increased to 7,559 statewide with 1,334 on Long Island.

Sander Edmondson, an administrative worker, hands a COVID-19 testing kit...

Sander Edmondson, an administrative worker, hands a COVID-19 testing kit on Sunday to a woman at a testing site in Los Angeles. Hospitals in central and southern California are running out of intensive care unit beds for coronavirus patients and state officials are poised to extend strict stay-at-home orders. Credit: AP/Jae C. Hong

The grim toll of deaths related to COVID-19 continued to mount by 114 on Sunday, including three in Nassau County and 11 in Suffolk County.

At the same time, the state has continued its push to get the vaccine distributed and administered, Cuomo said, with about 140,000 New Yorkers having gotten the first of two doses. This week, the state expects to receive about 259,000 vaccine doses, 139,000 from Pfizer and 119,600 from Moderna.

By the end of the week, Cuomo said, Long Island would have received 126,600 doses and New York City 368,650, though not all have been administered.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said rates of positive COVID-19 tests in the area are some of the highest since the economy was reopened.

"In the past few weeks we have seen upticks in our positivity and hospitalizations — reminding us that it is not the time to let our guards down," she said in a statement. "Please continue to celebrate smart this holiday season so we can avoid shutdowns and curb the spread of this virus."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the 9.1% positivity rate has the county "trending towards unchartered territory."

"With New Year’s Eve this week, we are again urging our residents to be cautious and to avoid small indoor gatherings, the largest spreader of COVID-19," Bellone said in a statement. "While I know many of our residents are used to grand celebrations this time of year, we have to remain vigilant to protect our communities, keep our businesses open, and ensure our hospitals are not overwhelmed."

Vaccine priorities expanded

The vaccine is currently being given to high-risk health care workers in hospitals, federally qualified health center employees, EMS workers, coroners, medical examiners and certain funeral workers as well as staffers and residents at facilities for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, and staff in addiction treatment centers.

This week, urgent care center employees, people administering COVID-19 vaccines and residents of facilities for addiction treatment will be added to the priority list, Cuomo said.

Next week, that will be expanded to ambulatory care health care workers, certain public health workers including those who administer COVID-19 tests.

Cuomo has repeatedly cautioned New Yorkers to avoid large, indoor gatherings.

However, he said it's too early to tell if the spike in the positivity rate reflects the higher level of spread anticipated from the holidays.

"We have been talking about the potential to spread after Christmas. For it to go up in two days is dramatic and very, very fast," Cuomo said. "It’s statistically improbable … the number of people getting tests is actually much, much lower … these are people who got tests after Christmas" and the results could be skewed by people "showing symptoms" seeking tests.

The percent of new positives falls to 7.8% outside the microclusters where the state has been monitoring higher concentration of infections and imposing tighter restrictions, but even that number is above a seven-day statewide average of 5.9% for infections.

Long Island's positivity rate was 6.7% and New York City's was 4.8% on Sunday.

Attorney General James urged vigilance against COVID-19 vaccine scammers seeking to dupe New Yorkers into giving over credit card numbers or other personal information.

Residents should be on the lookout for emails, calls or text messages promising access to vaccines, clinical trials or cold-storage devices, according to James’ office.

New York only recently began vaccinating front-line health care workers and nursing home residents and staff, and vaccines likely will not be broadly available to the general public for several months, her office said.

With Jesse Coburn

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New York Attorney General Letitia James is warning people to be on the alert for scams involving COVID-19 vaccines. Here are some tips:

  • Beware of phone calls or emails offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Never give out your Social Security number, personal credit card or bank account information.
  • You cannot pay to obtain the vaccine or get into a clinical trial, so be wary of anyone who asks for money to do so.
  • Thoroughly check any emails you receive about COVID-19 vaccines or clinical trials and make sure they match the websites of the organizations sending the email. Be careful before clicking on hyperlinks and providing any personal information.

SOURCE: Office of New York Attorney General.

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