Cuomo calls for police and fire departments to vaccinate their own

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
In March, Guilderland Police Chief Daniel McNally, at right, joined other first responders and municipal leaders to learn about COVID-19 at a county press conference. On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo asked police and fire departments to “operationalize their own vaccination system …. to reduce the burden on the hospitals and the private system.”

ALBANY COUNTY — Another county resident — a man in his nineties — has died of COVID-19 and Albany County’s infection rate remains over 10 percent, the Albany County Executive’s Office reported in a release Tuesday morning.

Later on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo called for a federal requirement to test international travelers for COVID-19. He said the highly transmissible strain from the United Kingdom, which was confirmed in a Saratoga County case on Monday, could be a “game changer” in the foot race to which he regularly alludes.

The race pits vaccine implementation against the infection rate and hospital capacity.

“This U.K. strain changes the whole footrace because the U.K. strain, the rate of transmission goes way up, the rate of infection goes way up, and it’s no longer the race that we were running,” Cuomo said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Apparently, the U.K. strain can actually overtake the original COVID strain in a matter of weeks, that’s how quickly it can transmit.”

Cuomo spent most of his briefing on vaccination.

According to a website maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tracking federal vaccine distribution and administration on a state-by-state basis, as of Tuesday evening, New York State had received close to 935,000 doses of vaccine and administered close to 300,000.

Cuomo noted two elements to understanding vaccinations: supply and distribution.

“We have been getting about 300,000 per week. That’s roughly 1.2 million per month of vaccines. The state needs 20 million people vaccinated. You have to do that twice. That’s 40 million,” said Cuomo. “Obviously, it’s a very long timeline at this supply rate. The supply rate has to increase and the supply rate is the limiting factor now.”

He said the federal government may approve vaccines from companies other than the two available now — from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Distribution in New York State, Cuomo said, reiterating his explanation on Monday, will be in three tranches: nursing homes, hospitals, and special efforts.

The federal government used pharmacy chains to administer vaccines in nursing homes and Cuomo said, “The state is now going to step in and expedite the program.”

Hospitals — the state has 24 public hospitals and 170 private hospitals — have been administering vaccines to health-care workers. “So far, 900,000 vaccines have been distributed for 2.1 million health care workers. Obviously, we don't have enough vaccine distributed for all health-care workers,” he said.

After health-care workers, which are in the 1a category, essential works and New Yorkers over the age of 75 will be vaccinated in the 1b category, which is roughly 2.5 million people, Cuomo said.

With 1b, the focus will shift from hospitals to a “retail network,” Cuomo said, stressing that the shots are free.

“Right now, we’ve employed 3,700 provider sites statewide, and we’re continuing to grow that,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. These sites include medical practices, pharmacies, long-term care facilities, federally qualified health centers, and urgent-care centers.

Later on Tuesday, Cuomo’s office released numbers of sites that have enrolled to administer the vaccine; medical practices were by far the largest number, at 1,285, followed by pharmacy chains, at 802.

In the Capital Region, 343 sites have enrolled and 37 of the sites have already been activated.

Of the 7,300 sites, 636 already have vaccine statewide, Cuomo said.

“I’m asking police departments, fire departments, transit workers, who are going to be essential workers, if they can operationalize their own vaccination system ….,” Cuomo said. “I’d like them to start thinking about that now because I’d like to reduce the burden on the hospitals and the private system whenever possible.”

The third “special efforts” tranche will involve pop-up sites at churches and community centers as well as large-scale sites at the Javits Center in New York City and at state university campuses.

“Again, we need the supply to do that, but we are already setting those up. We did it with the COVID testing,” said Cuomo. “We’ll do it again here and then I made a point to say that this state is going to make a statement as to social equity and we’re going to make sure that the social injustice and the health-care disparities that we’ve seen are not replicated.”

Also on Tuesday, the New York State Association of Counties held a press conference, urging that counties be made an integral part of the vaccine distribution process.

“To be successful in this vital task, county leaders are now looking for information and data so that they can answer questions and help coordinate the distribution of the vaccine in their communities,” said Stephen Acquario, NYSAC’s executive director, in a statement.

“We see the people critical to the function of county government who are getting sick and need the vaccine now; police, firefighters, emergency management, 9-1-1 dispatchers,” said Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus. “We’re ready and able; we just need the green light to do what we need to do to start making a difference.” 

“Our hospital network was not set up for what is going on here; that’s why the county health department should have been used. They’re making the best of a bad situation, but the fact of the matter is we’re wasting resources by duplicating efforts,” said Chemung County Executive Chris Moss. 

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen has repeatedly said the eight counties in the Capital Region have been working well with the designated hub, Albany Medical Center, and developed a model that other counties can follow.


Newest numbers

As of Tuesday morning, Albany County has had 12,681 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 257 new cases reported Tuesday morning.

Of the new cases, 191 did not have a clear source of infection identified, 48 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and 14 are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives has increased slightly to 257.6 from 257.4.  

There are now 1,878 active cases in the county, down from 1,884 yesterday.

The number of county residents under quarantine increased to 3,071 from 3,068. So far, 40,118 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 10,803 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 255 recoveries since yesterday.

There were 10 new hospitalizations overnight, and there are 161 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus. There are now 23 patients in intensive-care units; yesterday there were 24.

Monday’s death brings the COVID-19 toll to 230.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the Capital Region, of which Albany County is a part, has the worst rate for available ICU beds. Two-hundred of the region’s 235 ICU beds are occupied, leaving just 35 beds, or 16 percent available.

Statewide, 28 percent of ICU beds are available.

The Capital Region also has one of the three worst rates for hospital bed availability, with 23 percent available. Central New York is the worst with 21 percent available, followed by the Mohawk Valley with 22 percent available.

Under a surge plan, the Capital Region could have 29 percent available.

The Capital Region’s infection rate, as a seven-day average, is 10.12 percent, one of three regions over 10 percent. The others are the Mohawk Valley at 10.70 percent and the Finger Lakes at 10.32 percent.

Statewide, the positivity rate is 7.94 percent.

According to the state’s dashboard, Albany County had a positivity rate of 12.7 percent on Jan. 4, the most recent date posted as of Tuesday evening, with a seven-day rolling average of 10.4 percent.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Cuomo scolded areas with high infection rates, singling out the Finger Lakes. He noted that the state’s most densely populated areas, Manhattan, has the lowest rate: 3.74 percent.

“Your behavior matters,” he said. “Depending on the behavior of your community is how fast the virus spreads, how many people get sick.”


More Regional News

  • The new CDC guidance says that, except in certain crowded settings, fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks.

  • “We tend to socially distance as a norm,” nurse practitioner Jill Martin said of Hilltown residents. “Even our houses are situated far apart.” And many Hilltowners work independently — say, as farmers — and don’t regularly go to crowded venues like theaters or restaurants, she noted. “It gives a false sense of security that we don’t have the virus,” Martin said.

  • “We’ve got to reimagine how we’re getting the vaccine out to people,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy. New strategies include a mobile van, walk-ins at the county’s health department, and incentives provided by businesses.

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.