The federal plan to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine is inadequate and will shortchange communities of color, said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, state Attorney General Letitia James and leaders of two prominent national civil rights organizations Sunday.
"COVID has revealed from the very beginning the underlying injustice and inequity in this society," Cuomo said during a teleconference with reporters where he also gave an update on the state's ongoing effort to tamp down the coronavirus.
The governor was joined by on the call by James, National Urban League president and chief executive officer Marc Morial and NAACP president and chief executive officer Derrick Johnson.
James pointed out that while the federal government has given pharmaceutical companies billions of dollars to help develop vaccines for COVID-19, very little has been set aside to help states administer the vaccine when it becomes available.
Statistics show COVID-19 infection and death rates have been higher among communities of color for a myriad reasons, including poor access to health care, according the leaders on the call.
A Newsday analysis published in September showed the COVID-19 infection rate in Long Island’s predominantly minority communities — the highest during the peak of the pandemic — had dropped considerably by the end of August. Since that time, the infection appeared in lower rates in neighborhoods where Black and Hispanic residents make up more than half the population when compared with other areas of Long Island.
Those numbers were driven down with the help of clinics and pop-up COVID-19 testing sites set up in churches and other locations close to impacted communities, local officials say. Many Black and Hispanic residents knew people who had been infected, officials say, and so were inclined to follow public health advisories.
The federal plan to distribute vaccine relies on chain pharmacies and other sites where flu shots are currently available.
"You might see big chain pharmacies … every other block in communities in Manhattan but let’s be clear," James said, "the neighborhoods where more of our communities of color live do not have this type of access and that’s the core of the federal plan."
Morial and Johnson both said the federal government needs to explore the use of other sites for vaccinations, such as schools and community centers.
The White House shot back at Cuomo on Sunday afternoon, saying he had previously praised the administration of President Donald Trump for its response to COVID-19 and criticized Cuomo's decision to move some recovering COVID-19 patients into nursing homes last spring.
"No amount of revisionist history can erase his grossly incompetent decisions or the fact that President Trump’s bold, aggressive actions saved millions of lives," said spokeswoman Sarah Matthews, in an email response to Newsday. "Thanks to President Trump’s leadership, the Trump administration has been laying the groundwork for months to distribute and administer a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in record time as soon as it meets the FDA’s gold standard."
White House officials said each state received a "roadmap" for distributing vaccines in an equitable manner and the administration has been in touch with governors and state health officials to make sure they have the resources they need.
There were 2,255 new COVID-19 cases reported statewide Saturday including 141 in Nassau County and 142 in Suffolk County, according to statistics released by the state.
"Despite this week being the worst on record for new COVID-19 cases nationwide, Nassau continues to hold the line below 2% positivity — 1.4% today," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement on Sunday. "It won’t be easy to keep this position, so we need to continue using the common sense that got us here."
Curran also encouraged residents to be aware of new guidelines announced Saturday by Cuomo requiring COVID-19 tests for out-of-state travelers.
New York's overall COVID-19 positivity rate is 1.5%, Cuomo said. In the red zones, neighborhoods with high infection rates, the positivity rate is 3.1%.
Across the state, 17 people died from COVID-19 yesterday, including one person in Nassau and another in Suffolk, Cuomo said. There are 1,125 COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide including 125 in intensive care units.
Cuomo said only less densely populated Maine and Vermont have lower COVID-19 rates than New York.
"New Yorkers should be very proud of that," he said. "We expect an increase in the fall but it’s managing the increase which is what this is all about."
Both Cuomo and Curran said they were concerned COVID-19 cases will spike after the Thanksgiving holiday.
"If you have family or friends coming from a high-risk state for Thanksgiving, make sure plans are in place for COVID-19 tests before and after arrival as per state guidance," Curran said.
Cuomo said people should think twice before gathering, even with close family members, noting the end of the Thanksgiving weekend coincides with the flu season.
"There’s an attitude that since we are all in same family, we are safe or since we are good friends who have known each other a long time, that means we are safe," he said. "There’s no correlation to that in science. … I really think we need to double down on precautions even though it’s Thanksgiving."