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LI's COVID-19 positivity rate edges downward, with vaccine hurdle ahead

Credit: Don Pollard

Long Island's COVID-19 positivity rate continued to edge downward over the weekend amid increasing vaccinations, but the mass inoculation effort faces a new hurdle this week with a production error slashing New York's supply of fresh doses.

The seven-day average positivity rate of COVID-19 tests on Long Island was 3.9% during the week ending Saturday, state data published Sunday showed. That's down from 4.4% the week prior, a rate of infection that had stubbornly persisted since mid-February.

On Saturday, 3.6% of tests on Long Island were positive — the third straight day the daily rate hung below 4%.

The statewide positivity rate on Saturday was 2.99%.

The waning rate has coincided with a steady increase in the number of Long Islanders vaccinated against COVID-19, including an extra 11,771 people who received their first dose between Saturday and Sunday mornings, state data shows.

Close to one-third of Long Islanders have now received their first vaccine shot, while nearly 20% have completed their vaccination cycle.

"While we remain in a footrace against the infection rate, we know the vaccine works and are making steady progress in getting more New Yorkers vaccinated," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement Sunday.

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But disparities have emerged in the inoculation effort on Long Island, state data shows. About 44% of Nassau County residents have received their first shot, while in Suffolk County the figure is 37%.

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott on Sunday said the disparity may trace back to Nassau's proximity to New York City, offering residents there easier access to the vaccine, and the strong presence of Northwell Health in Nassau. The state tapped Northwell to coordinate vaccination efforts on Long Island.

"At some point I think things will even out," he said. "We're doing our part, and as we get allocations we've continued to get shots in arms."

In a statement, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said Sunday that Nassau is "leading the way with our robust vaccination program and as more and more residents get vaccinated, I am confident that we’ll be able to fully reopen our economy and schools and get back to normal."

Vaccines remain scarce at state-run testing centers on Long Island. New York's vaccine appointment booking website on Sunday afternoon showed no appointments available on Long Island or in New York City, while some upstate vaccination centers showed plenty of openings.

The country's inoculation campaign will take a hit this week, with problems at a vaccine manufacturing facility in Maryland leading to a sharp reduction in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Some 15 million doses produced in a Baltimore factory were accidentally contaminated and had to be destroyed. As a result, New York's allocation of the company's vaccine will fall this week from nearly 300,000 doses to fewer than 35,000, Cuomo said on Friday.

The governor added that no vaccine appointments in New York should need to be canceled as a result.

Statewide, 53 people died from the virus on Saturday, including five in Nassau and one in Suffolk, bringing the total COVID-19 death toll in New York to 41,139.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus in New York dropped slightly on Saturday to 4,083, with 877 in intensive care.

Also on Sunday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the federal government to quickly distribute $5 billion for mental health services that is part of the federal COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress last month.

Calling large increases in anxiety and depression a "stealth" impact of the pandemic, Schumer pressed the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to begin allocating the money to mental health service providers.

"New York's mental health struggles are an overall silent but devastating effect of this pandemic," Schumer said at a news conference in Manhattan. "Some need more help to just overcome the new challenges of getting back to a normal life."

The federal funding includes money for substance abuse treatment, crisis intervention teams and other services, said Schumer, who estimated more than 10% of the $5 billion will go to New York.

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