While the number of new COVID-19 cases across the state continues to drop, New Yorkers should remain wary of new variants of the disease that are still emerging, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday.
The rate of new positive cases has declined for 23 straight days — "a significant trend," Cuomo said. Saturday’s positivity rate was 4.4%.
"Yes, feel good about how we handled the holiday surge," Cuomo told reporters during a news conference conducted via telephone. "But don’t fully relax."
He said the so-called "variants of interest" from the U.K., Brazil, South Africa and other locations could change the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in the future.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said the state has analyzed over 3,000 specimens for the variants since Dec. 23, and examined over 6,000 since the pandemic started last year. No cases of the variant found in South Africa or Brazil have been found in New York, but the state has identified 44 cases of the U.K. variant, Zucker said.
Of the 243,066 COVID-19 test results recorded by the state on Saturday, 10,793 were positive, according to the latest figures released Sunday. Those new cases included 992 in Nassau County and 1,014 in Suffolk County.
Even though the number of cases on Long Island has steadily declined in recent weeks, it still has the highest seven-day positivity average of all regions in the state at 6.3%.
There were 138 deaths attributed to COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 35,178. Eleven of the patients were from Nassau County and 13 from Suffolk County.
New York's health care distribution sites have received 1,554,450 first doses and already administered 88% , or 1,361,212 first dose vaccinations, and 73% of first and second doses, Cuomo said.
The severe winter storm expected to hit the state on Monday will close state-operated vaccination centers, including ones at Stony Brook University and Jones Beach, Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Cuomo, announced Sunday afternoon.
Those with a canceled appointment will receive an email or text message with an updated time for this week, she added.
GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES IN NY
- To complete a prescreening and find sites to schedule COVID-19 shots, people in the eligible lists can visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/
- State residents may call the New York State Vaccination Hotline: 1-833-NYS-4VAX (1-833-697-4829)
- Northwell Health is booking its COVID-19 vaccine appointments online at northwell.edu/covidvaccine
- Call or visit your local pharmacist to check for participation in the state's vaccination effort.
- The state's phase distribution guidelines can be found at: https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/phased-distribution-vaccine
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:
- Since Feb. 15, people at risk of moderate to severe illness due to health conditions, immunocompromised status or comorbidities, including ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and chronic kidney disease. The full list of qualifying conditions is listed with the announcement on the state's website.
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:
- State residents age 30 and older.
Since April 6, 2021:
- State residents age 16 and older.
SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.
Cuomo pointed to data that showed some African American and Latino hospital workers are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Of all eligible workers in the 1a vaccination category, 70% are white, 17% African American, 8% Hispanic or Latino and 11% Asian.
Out of this group, 63% of vaccine recipients were white, 10% were African American, 10% were Hispanic or Latino, and 16% were Asian.
"I think it's the clearest demonstration of hesitancy. And again, it's what we anticipated, which I understand, but it's something that we have to overcome," Cuomo said, noting the mistrust of the system is "understandable historically."
Some African Americans have pointed to the infamous history of medical research on the community, such as the Tuskegee experiment, as a basis for their reluctance. Others note communities of color have been treated unequally by medical professionals and not had fair access to health care.
Cuomo announced a new advertising campaign designed to help convince Black New Yorkers the vaccine is safe.
"Leading Black doctors recommend it. Leading Black civic leaders recommend it. Leading Black elected officials recommend it. But, there is a definite trust issue that we have to get through," Cuomo said.
New demographic data on vaccine distribution in New York City released Sunday highlighted those racial and ethnic disparities.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said 48% of people vaccinated in the five boroughs are white, although white people represent just 32% of the city’s population, according to 2019 demographic information. Black people make up 24% of the city’s population but only 11% of those who have received the vaccine. Fifteen percent of those vaccinated are Latinos, which make up 29% of the city’s population. Fourteen percent of those vaccinated are Asians, who make up 15% of the city’s population.
He said the city will beef up efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in 33 minority, immigrant and low-income neighborhoods.
The city will boost outreach efforts and take other steps to get eligible people vaccinated in nearly three dozen communities, including Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, Woodhaven, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park.
For example, essential workers with appointments to get the vaccine will be allowed to bring along older relatives and others eligible for the shots.
"People start to know someone in their life, at work or in their neighborhood or in their family, it gives them more faith in vaccination," de Blasio said.
Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at newsday.com/text.