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Cuomo: Low COVID numbers put New York on track 'to fully reopening'

Registered nurse Sheba Phillip administers a COVID-19 vaccine

Registered nurse Sheba Phillip administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot Friday to Bronx resident J. Hernandez at a vaccination site outside of the Bronx Writing Academy. Credit: JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock/JUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Candice Ferrette, Bart Jones and David Olson. It was written by Jones.

The statewide seven-day average of positivity for COVID-19 fell below a half-percent in results released Wednesday, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared that New York is on the path to defeating the deadly virus.

The 0.48% weekly level marked the 65th day in a row that key metric has dropped, Cuomo said.

At an inaugural ceremony for public space at Pier 76, a former New York City "tow pound" to keep confiscated vehicles in Manhattan, Cuomo sounded a victory note as he lauded the state for coming back from high coronavirus infection levels to one of the lowest positivity rates in the United States.

He said nearly 70% of adults in the state are partially vaccinated, and that New York's emergence from the pandemic's darkest days is making it possible to move ahead with major projects.

"Life is about going forward. … How do we take this moment of possibility and potential … and use that unity and that possibility?" Cuomo asked. "We just kicked COVID’s heinie! There’s nothing we can’t do with that strength and that unity."

The seven-day average for virus positivity was 0.42% on both Long Island and in New York City.

The daily statewide level was 0.37%, with 113,709 tests completed on Tuesday.

Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, said dipping below 0.5% "is a very big deal because it shows how low our rates have gone."

Even more impressive, he said, is how newly diagnosed coronavirus cases have plummeted from more than 14,000 a day during January to 426 on Wednesday.

"It’s like a pure downhill slope," he said.

Farber said very few people are being newly admitted to Northwell hospitals with COVID-19. Of the 99 still hospitalized across the 19-hospital system, "A good number of them have been there a long time," some for months, he said.

Even though vaccinations are the primary reason for the big drop in numbers, the warmer weather, which leads people to spend more time outdoors where risk of virus transmission is lower, also is a factor, Farber said.

He warned that "we’ve been burned too many times by this virus to get a false sense of security," and he urged those who are unvaccinated to get the vaccine, because they remain at risk — a risk that may grow in the fall, especially if more contagious variants of the virus spread.

The number of new confirmed cases in results from Tuesday also dropped to numbers not seen since last summer — 19 in Nassau County, 26 in Suffolk County and 210 in New York City.

Across the state, 11 people died Tuesday of causes related to the virus. None were on Long Island.

As the number of hospitalizations related to the virus had declined to 777 by Tuesday, the decreased level of patients was reflected on Long Island.

At Northwell Health, Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson on Wednesday reported no COVID-19 patients for the first time since March 2020, and, at the system’s 19 hospitals, the number of patients dropped to 99, the first time below 100 since Oct. 4, hospital officials said.

"With COVID-19 numbers trending downward for so many consecutive days, we are well on our way to fully reopening to a re-imagined New York State," Cuomo said in a statement.

NYC likely missing vaccination target

Despite Cuomo's promising report, Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged Wednesday that New York City will almost certainly miss its long-standing goal of having 5 million residents vaccinated by the end of June.

Only 3.8 million people have completed their vaccinations, with 4.4 million having gotten at least one dose, and 95% of those requiring two doses tend to return for a second shot, de Blasio said with three weeks to go to reach the target.

"It’s gonna be very, very tough at this point to hit the 5 million by the end of June," de Blasio said.

People who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine need only one dose to complete their immunization for COVID-19, while those who get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots require two doses, spaced weeks apart.

Meanwhile, Cuomo on Wednesday also attended a Manhattan gathering heralding the return of the Tribeca Film Festival, billed as the first major film festival to resume in North America since the pandemic hit in early 2020.

He noted that the festival started in part as a response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the city as a way to help New York rebound.

New Yorkers are now showing the same resilience in bringing it back, he said.

"The post-COVID moment is much like the post-9/11 moment," he said. "From that desperation" of the pandemic "came a spirit of community that I haven't seen in my lifetime as a native New Yorker."

At his news conference, de Blasio said that despite likely not meeting the goal of 5 million residents vaccinated by the end of this month, the city is moving ahead.

Citing the city’s seven-day positivity rate averaging 0.71% and declining, he said, "What matters most is, where are we on COVID? So it’s gonna take us a little longer to get to our 5 million, but we are ahead of the game on COVID."

Positivity is a measure of the percentage of test results detecting new coronavirus cases.

"We are at a point of COVID positivity that’s lower than we expected to be at this point," de Blasio added, "and more consistently moving in the right direction."

He said the lag in missing the city’s objective resulted from the temporary suspension in the use of Johnson & Johnson in April while federal agencies completed and evaluated a safety review, after reports of rare blood clots among some vaccine recipients.

Curran: Will help schools seek aid

On Long Island, Nassau County will work to assist the county’s 56 school districts in seeking federal and state funding after a year of financial strains linked to the pandemic, County Executive Laura Curran said.

School districts across the state spent an average of $219 per child due to pandemic-related expenses, Curran said, citing the New York State School Board Association.

The county will reach out to district leaders to assess funding needs because "we don’t want to leave any money on the table," she said. "We want to bring it all to Nassau County — every penny that we’re due."

Curran, whose children attend the Baldwin public schools, said she saw firsthand how the schools needed to adapt to health and safety protocols, needing "to finance many unexpected expenses" such as HVAC filters, new barriers in classrooms and in communal spaces, enhanced cleaning, and new technology.

Port Washington Superintendent Michael Hynes said his district spent more than $3 million on personal protective equipment, including HEPA filters and masks, and funding the cost of teacher assistants.

"Any help we can get is greatly appreciated," Hynes said.

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