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Cuomo: Federal and state governments need to 'think ahead' to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said people will need

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said people will need to be convinced a vaccine is safe — something that may be a challenge, he added, because of the lack of confidence in the Trump administration. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday called for a meeting of state governors and President Donald Trump to plan for the next stage in the battle against the coronavirus: distributing a vaccine.

He also clashed with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over the timing for lifting new restrictions in about 20 "hot spots" with high levels of COVID-19 infection, which de Blasio said would be decided by Sunday.

Cuomo told reporters on a conference call that states need guidance and clarity from the White House on the availability and distribution of a potential vaccine.

"Dealing with COVID is not checkers, it’s chess, so let's think ahead," he said, maintaining that governments need to prepare for the vaccination program.

"I do believe there will be distrust about the vaccine, because I believe there’s distrust about this … federal administration's reliance or lack there off on science … You then have to administer it, how do you do that? How do we administer 20 million vaccines in the State of New York, and how do you do that quickly, and how do you do that safely?" Cuomo added.

His comments came after Cuomo, as chair of the National Governors Association this year, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who is the group's vice chair, wrote Trump on Thursday asking for guidance and clarification on those plans.

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Cuomo said state governments alone are not capable of distributing and administering the vaccine, and will need to work with the federal government. He noted that Trump has said a vaccine may be available within weeks, though many medical experts say that sometime next year is more likely.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci criticized a declaration by a group of scientists that supports the concept of "herd immunity," which the White House is using to bolster a push to reopen schools and businesses.

The top U.S. infectious disease expert said backing herd immunity — the idea that a disease will stop spreading once nearly everybody has contracted it — is "total nonsense."

"If you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky and you’ll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and death," Fauci told ABC’s "Good Morning America" on Thursday. "So I think that we’ve just got to look that square in the eye and say it’s nonsense."

States/regions in red are included on New York's travel advisory list as of Oct. 27, 2020. Guam and Puerto Rico, not pictured, are also on the list.

The U.S. leads the world with 7.9 million coronavirus cases and nearly 217,000 confirmed deaths. Globally, there have been 38 million reported cases and 1.09 million confirmed deaths.

Debate over length of restrictions

Cuomo said it is too soon to say whether new restrictions in about 20 "hot spots" with high levels of COVID-19 infection will be decided Sunday.

The mandates, which were imposed on areas with high positivity rates for the virus, including neighborhoods with large ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations in Brooklyn, Queens and Rockland and Orange counties, shut down schools and nonessential businesses and limited houses of worship to a maximum of 10 people.

De Blasio said he would decide by Sunday whether to keep the zoned restrictions at two weeks or expand them. But Cuomo shot that assertion down, saying it is a state decision.

On his part, de Blasio dismissed as "bluster" a threat Wednesday by Cuomo to seize funding from jurisdictions that, in Cuomo's view, are insufficiently enforcing the state’s pandemic restrictions.

De Blasio pointed to numerous inspections done and summonses issued in the city to try to reverse the spike.

"Here at the local level, where the rubber hits the road, there's an extraordinary effort going on. People can talk in Albany. And people can talk in Washington. But here, where the real work is being done? These thousands of city workers, out doing this job," de Blasio said.

He added: "I am deeply concerned that there is a threat here of a second wave. My job is to stop that second wave, not to play games."

Calling for all levels of government to work together, he said, "The last thing that should happen is to take away resources from the place that is suffering through so much."

Cases outside 'hot spots' at 0.99%

The level of new positives in the "red zones," or "micro-clusters" for new cases, was 4.84% in tests completed Wednesday, down from 6.29% the previous day, Cuomo said.

The positivity level statewide was 0.99%, and 1.09% if the red zones are included, though Cuomo contends that would be "skewed" because health officials oversample for tests in the hot spots.

Statewide, there were 1,292 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 88 in Nassau County, 81 in Suffolk County and 508 in New York City. Thirteen people died of coronavirus-related causes in the state on Wednesday. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state was 897.

In Huntington, Finley Middle School will be closed Friday to in-person learning after a student tested positive, Superintendent James W. Polansky said in a letter to the community which said those in contact with the student will do remote learning until "further notice."

Three people at MacArthur High School in Levittown have tested positive for COVID-19, the school district said Thursday.

The three have not been in the school since Oct. 5, and will not be allowed to return until being cleared by the Nassau County Department of Health. The district did not say whether they are students or staff members.

Since students in the school remain 6 feet apart and wear face coverings, in-person instruction will continue, the district said.

"It is our understanding that these cases have been traced to a gathering which took place over the weekend," the district said in a statement.

With The Associated Press

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