Vaccine Eligibility Expanding as Mid-Hudson Flaunts Rules on Seniors

vaccine eligability expanding

Photo by Ben Fenton

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published Monday, February 8, in collaboration with The River Newsroom.

NEW YORK STATE

7-day average positive test rate: 4.4%
1,020 deaths past 7 days
7,716 hospitalizations (1,454 in ICUs)
Share of population fully vaccinated: 2.8%
Share of population given 1 dose: 9.1%
New York State coronavirus page
New York State vaccine page
New York State official pressroom
COVID-19 hotline: (888) 364-3065
Vaccine appointment hotline: (833) 697-4829

Vaccine eligibility is expanding again. On February 15, people with underlying conditions, including cancer, obesity, pregnancy, and lung disease, can begin receiving COVID-19 vaccination in New York State. The state’s move to include people with comorbidities lags behind New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which have been allowing younger people with various medical conditions to sign up for vaccines since last month.

New York’s list of eligible conditions doesn’t line up perfectly with that of the Centers for Disease Control, or with its northeastern neighbors. For instance, the CDC has said that smokers should be eligible for vaccination along with the general 1C population, which includes those with high-risk underlying conditions. But New York State does not include smokers among the eligible, although New Jersey does. Meanwhile, those with asthma are eligible in New York, but not in neighboring Massachusetts.

Starting February 14, anyone with an underlying condition on New York State’s list can schedule an appointment to be vaccinated at a state-run site—if they can find an open one. That’s welcome news to people like Laura Greco, a 46-year-old from Saratoga County with Stage 4 lung cancer who has been considering getting a job in a restaurant so she can get vaccinated. State officials have not yet given an estimate of how many people are newly eligible for vaccination, but it is a large group, to be added to the 7 million already eligible among hospital workers, essential workers, and the elderly. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that local health departments are also allowed to add restaurant workers, taxi drivers, and delivery workers to the list of those eligible, and New York City has already done so.

Cuomo hasn’t given an update for a few days on how many cases of the UK variant B.1.1.7 have been found in New York State, but as of late last week, the count of known variant cases was up to 59 (by now, it’s in the mid-Hudson Valley.) Only a tiny fraction of the COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the state are sent to labs for the in-depth genetic sequencing needed to detect the newer variants.

Governor Cuomo has sped up the reopening of indoor dining in New York City by a couple of days: In Monday’s briefing, the governor announced that indoor dining could begin at 25 percent capacity starting on Friday, February 12. In a previous briefing, Cuomo said that indoor dining in the city would resume on February 14, but the governor moved the date up by two days in response to pressure from the restaurant industry. “They have made the point that they’d like to open a couple of days earlier so they can be ready for Valentine’s Day, get the staff oriented, get supplies into the restaurants, and that’s a reasonable request,” Cuomo said. The New York Times notes that cases, positivity rates, and hospitalizations are all higher now than they were in December, when Cuomo shut down indoor dining in New York City.

Epidemiologists interviewed for a recent story in ProPublica are pretty emphatic that even with new cases on the decline, the rise of more-transmissible variants means that reopening indoor dining now is a profoundly stupid decision. “If we ease up now, we may end up wasting all the effort we put in,” says Sam Scarpino of Northeastern University. Angela Rasmussen of Georgetown calls decisions by state governors to ease up on dining restrictions “completely reckless,” and says, “I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say the worst could be yet to come.” Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota puts it pretty grimly: “There’s still a lot of human wood out there for this coronavirus to burn.”

The rise of new variants also means that it might be time to upgrade your mask—or consider wearing two. The CDC has not yet issued new guidance stating that Americans should upgrade to an N95 or double-mask, but some experts say the agency should, and former CDC director Tom Frieden is encouraging people to wear more protective masks.

New York State released more data last week on the race and ethnicity of those in all three eligible groups who have been vaccinated: hospital workers, other essential workers, and the elderly. Like earlier data released by the state on hospital workers, the recent data shows that fewer Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are being vaccinated than non-Hispanic, white, and Asian New Yorkers, compared to their share of the eligible groups. The discrepancies differ among eligible groups, with more inequality among essential workers and the elderly than among hospital workers. The only demographic group consistently underrepresented across all eligible groups was Black New Yorkers, who make up only 10 percent of healthcare workers vaccinated despite being 17 percent of the 1A eligibility group, and are 4 percent of those over 65 vaccinated despite being 13 percent of that group.

A state Supreme Court judge has sided with the Empire Center for Public Policy against New York State in a lawsuit over the state’s release of data on the deaths of nursing home residents in the pandemic. The decision follows closely on the heels of Attorney General Letitia James’s scathing report on the undercounting nursing home deaths in New York, and there is still more reckoning to be done on the issue: On February 25, the state legislature will hold a hearing on the issue. Some legislators are calling for multiple hearings.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked state officials last week for permission to use reserved “second dose” vaccines to give people their first vaccinations, in order to speed up the pace. Permission denied: State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker responded in a public letter that the decision to keep second doses in reserve is federal policy, and that if the CDC decides the supply chain is robust enough to free up second doses for initial vaccination, New York State will follow suit.

Between the state vaccine website, county health departments, pharmacies, and other providers, the process of vaccine signup is a confusing mess. The New York Association of Counties is asking the state for $4 million to create an online appointment system that would at least streamline things at the county level, CNHI’s Joe Mahoney reports.

New York State will soon launch a statewide program aimed at supporting the arts and giving bored New Yorkers a little entertainment, Cuomo announced Monday. Dubbed “NY PopsUp,” the program will launch February 20 and run through Labor Day, with more than 1,000 performances slated to run statewide in “iconic transit stations, parks, subway platforms, museums, skate parks, street corners, fire escapes, parking lots, storefronts, and upstate venues.”

Sobering news out of South Africa: The nation has paused its rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine while scientists take a closer look at the vaccine’s effectiveness against B.1.351, the so-called South African variant. A recent study suggests that the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be very effective against B.1.351, but the study involves only a small amount of data with a limited scope, and scientists want to know more. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, is the least expensive and most widely available among the leading COVID-19 vaccines, but has not yet received emergency use authorization in the US.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is getting closer to passage, despite Republican opposition in the Senate. The final bill is likely to include $1,400 checks for individuals, adding to the $600 most Americans got in December, but there is Democratic infighting about who should receive them: Some centrist Democrats (and many Republicans) are pushing to lower the income threshold for the checks from $75,000 to $50,000, though House Democrats soundly rejected the plan to curtail the benefits on Monday evening.

Congressman Ron Wright, a Republican from Texas, died of COVID-19 on Sunday after a two-week hospitalization, the first sitting member of Congress to die of the virus. Wright was 67 and has been undergoing treatment for cancer for several years, The Wall Street Journal reports. He had not been vaccinated for COVID-19.

A federal program will begin shipping vaccines to thousands of pharmacies across the nation on February 11, kicking off a “new stage” in the US vaccination effort, The New York Times reports.

The pharmacy chain CVS, which has not yet begun to give vaccine in New York State, announced recently that some of their New York State pharmacies will be getting vaccine doses from the program. Walgreens, which has already received vaccines from New York State for some of its locations, is also participating in the federal program.

LOWER HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Nearly 10 percent of Westchester residents have at some point tested positive for COVID-19, County Executive George Latimer said in his Monday coronavirus briefing—98,445 total, as of the latest update on the county’s dashboard. But the recent trend in infection is good: Active cases are down by 1,800 over the past week, and nearly 3,000 over the past two weeks. The county lost 59 residents in the past seven days. “We’ll see if there is a spike that follows Super Bowl Sunday—it will take us 10 days to two weeks to really get a sense,” Latimer said.

Active cases declined in Rockland County, as well, from 2,092 on Friday to 1,838 according to Monday’s figures. Six people died in the county over the weekend.

In Putnam County, active cases declined by 69 on Monday, according to state data analyzed by The Examiner. One person has died since last week’s coronavirus news roundup.

Last last week, Westchester County opened a second vaccination clinic at Westchester Community College. The county also directly runs a vaccine POD at the White Plains Health Clinic, and is partnered with the state in running the large hub at the Westchester County Center. The county is also running “pop-up” vaccine hubs and is coordinating vaccinations with workplaces in an effort to inoculate all those who are eligible. Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins spoke about the pop-up clinics in Monday’s coronavirus press briefing.

The Rockland County Department of Health announced that a second-dose vaccination clinic scheduled for Tuesday from 1-5pm has been rescheduled for Wednesday at the same time due to inclement weather, according to a press release. No new appointments are available, and those who have appointments should come at the same time on Wednesday.

All appointments for the next vaccine clinic in Putnam County—this Friday, February 12—have been filled, according to a Facebook post by the county health department. The vaccine call line will be turned off on Tuesday and Wednesday while county officials plan the next clinic. Details will be announced on Facebook and putnamhealth.com.

Aero Healthcare, a global first aid supplies manufacturer headquartered in Valley Cottage, was one of five New York companies to receive state funding in the latest round of financial support to suppliers battling the pandemic. Aero will get $800,000, according to a press release, which it will use to expand its current facility to increase production of bottled hand sanitizer.

MID-HUDSON VALLEY

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
County vaccine pages: Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in his COVID-19 update on Monday that the county has continued to vaccinate seniors against the state’s guidance. “I’m trying not to create trouble with the state, but I’m doing senior citizens,” he said. Neuhaus also said the county health department was allotted just under 1,000 doses this week, which he would use to finish vaccinating police officers and firefighters in the county; the rest would go to the developmentally disabled and seniors. About 2,700 more doses would be distributed to pharmacies in the county, Neuhaus said.

Ulster County gave 600 doses of last week’s allotment of vaccines to six county drug stores so that they could be administered to seniors. Counties are currently being directed by the state to only vaccinate frontline workers, with pharmacies directed to vaccinate seniors, an edict county leaders up and down the Hudson River have railed against.

Nine Columbia County residents lost their lives to COVID-19 in the last week, according to the county health department, which had given 2,082 first doses of the vaccine and 410 second doses by the end of the weekend. New cases are down in the county, with the daily average for the first week of February about half of what it was for most of January. Health Director Jack Mabb said Monday it “seems the numbers are dwindling,” but he also told the Register-Star he expects to see a small bump from the Super Bowl weekend.

In Dutchess County, active COVID-19 cases have plunged from more than 2,500 in mid-January to 1,066 on February 6. At least 22 residents have died since January 31.

Poughkeepsie City schools began hybrid learning this week, the last district in the county to do so, but 70 percent of parents opted for their children to continue to learn remotely, according to the Poughkeepsie Journal, which spent the first day back at Gov. George Clinton Elementary School.

CATSKILLS

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
County vaccine pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene

Sullivan County is looking for volunteers to help get their neighbors vaccinated. The county wants to expand the scope of its vaccination effort from roughly 200 doses a week to between 600 and 1,000. Those with healthcare or mental health expertise, or lay people who want to help with administration and logistical support, are encouraged to sign up at www.health.ny.gov/ServNY and select “Sullivan County” to get on board.

On Monday, Sullivan County health officials said that they expect the county’s supply of vaccine to increase steadily over the next few weeks thanks to increases to state and federal supply. County Public Health has vaccinated 1,285 people so far, and roughly another 2,500 have been vaccinated in the county by Garnet Health Medical Center and the Center for Discovery.

Greene County has launched a vaccine request form for people who live or work in the county so they can be notified when appointments become available through county Public Health. Currently, the county health department does not have permission from New York State to vaccinate the elderly; the state is relying on pharmacies to serve that population. But county officials are urging everyone who is currently eligible for vaccination—the elderly as well as essential workers—to sign up for the system so that if county health officials begin vaccinating the elderly, or have information about local vaccine availability, they can contact them.

The Price Chopper in Catskill will begin offering vaccinations on February 21, the Catskill Daily Mail reports. Walgreens locations in Greene County are expected to offer vaccination on February 12, but the pharmacy chain has not yet disclosed which stores will receive doses.

The Walgreens pharmacy in Cobleskill received some vaccine doses last week, according to Schoharie County Public Health.

In Delaware County, Walgreens pharmacies in Stamford and Delhi recently received 100 doses of vaccine each, but appointments at both locations filled up almost immediately. The River took a closer look last week at the bumpy vaccine rollout in the small rural county, and found the county Office for the Aging fighting a lonely battle to get access to the vaccine for elderly residents who have few local options.

On-the-ground local reporting and analysis has never been more important, and that’s what The River aims to provide. But we need your help to continue the work we’re doing. Will you support our journalism today?

OF INTEREST?

The River and The Other Hudson Valley are collaborating with WGXC to announce these updates over the air. To listen, tune in to 90.7 FM at midnight, 5am, 7am, or 9am, or visit the audio archive online.

La Voz, una revista de cultura y noticias del Valle de Hudson en español, está traduciendo estos resúmenes y co-publicandolos en su página web. Leyendo aqui. También puede escuchar actualizaciones diarias por audio en el show “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” en Radio Kingston.

 

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