Essential workers can sign up for shots on Monday — and wait

ALBANY COUNTY — With high infection rates and hospitalizations, and six more COVID-19 deaths announced Friday morning — bringing Albany County’s death toll to 246 — the county is focusing on ramping up vaccinations.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple posted on Facebook Friday that his office has been approved by the state as a vaccine provider.

Also on Friday, Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen reported on her department’s first day of giving shots, at a POD, or point of dispensing, set up at the Times Union Center in Albany on Thursday.

“Our distribution network will far outpace our supply,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said at his press conference on Friday.

The first two tiers of New Yorkers eligible for vaccinations — nursing-home residents and health-care workers in the first tier and essential workers in the second tier along with people age 75 and older — together total 4.2 million people, he said.

“Monday you can make a reservation,” said Cuomo for those who are eligible to get vaccinated, “but it’s going to take 14 weeks.”

He wrote a letter on Friday to Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, signed by eight other Democratic governors, urging quicker distribution of vaccines to the states.

“According to publicly reported information, the federal government currently has upwards of 50% of currently produced vaccines held back by the administration for reasons unknown. While some of these life-saving vaccines are sitting in Pfizer freezers, our nation is losing 2,661 Americans each day, according to the latest seven-day average,” said the letter signed by Cuomo and the governors of California, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.

“The failure to distribute these doses to states who request them is unconscionable and unacceptable. We demand that the federal government begin distributing these reserved doses to states immediately,” the letter said.

Cuomo signed an executive order on Friday, making additional staff available to do vaccinations.  He is also calling on police firefighters, and other unions to administer their own vaccines.

According to a website maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State, as of Friday evening, has received 1,208,900 doses of vaccine and has administered 434,802 doses.

 

Operation SEMI

Sheriff Apple wrote in his post of the New York State Department of Health,“My office accomplished this in less than 36 hours working with the Governor’s Office and NYSDOH. It is our plan to begin a ‘Pilot Drive-Through Vaccination Pod Program’ in the very near future that can be mirrored across the state. We are still mandated to follow the Governor’s vaccinations priorities.”

Apple also wrote, “My team is in the final stage of a Community Paramedicine Program so that we can vaccinate our elderly, home shut-ins and special needs community. My goal is to go above and beyond to reach the most difficult to be vaccinated. We will send medics and vaccinations to them!”

The operation is being named SEMI for Sheriff’s Emergency Mobile Immunizations. “Semi means half or partial,” Apple wrote. “The vaccine is half. The other half is: wear your mask, social distance and wash your hands.”

The sheriff’s office has also been approved by the state to administer COVID-19 rapid testing, “which we purchased with money seized from criminals,” Apple wrote.

 

“The real thing”

At Albany County’s POD on Thursday, vaccinations were given to 375 health-care workers, all of whom are part of the first tier, 1a, of those eligible for the shots. Shot recipients were screened beforehand and were monitored for 15 minutes after getting the vaccinations, Whalen said; no one suffered adverse effects, she said.

All of the vaccines were made by Moderna, which are easier to use than the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech. The Pizer vaccine, which needs ultra-cold storage is generally administered in hospitals, Whalen said.

Whalen praised her staff, particularly Tricia Bulatao, RDN, the director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, who managed the POD.

“This was the real thing and we were so thrilled to get to this day ...,” she said. “We got a lot of positive feedback that people were in and out quickly.”

Most of Whalen’s staff is busy investigating the surging number of COVID-19 cases — 281 new ones were announced on Friday — but some were on hand at the POD yesterday to supervise the volunteers in the county’s Medical Reserve Corps who gave the shots.

The county health department will be ramping out to give a thousand or thousands of shots a day, depending on supply, Whalen said. Her department will look at different models, such as a drive-through, and look at ways to accommodate elderly people who are less mobile.

Many of the eligible shot recipients in the 1a tier were reached through a link that was sent out from the county’s health department, and pushed by the hub to various associations like those for dentists or home care as well as emergency medical services and urgent-care providers, Whalen said.

“We need to uncover every stone and vaccinate every person that is eligible” she said.

Of the next tier, which includes essential workers and people 75 and older, Whalen said, “with 1b, it’s likely those links will be public.” People will sign on with an attestation that they will be penalized if they misrepresent what they do for a living.

“We’re working daily with the regional hub on this,” said Whalen of Albany Medical Center, which serves an eight-county area.

She went on, “Everyone shares a common mission to get vaccines out and into arms as quickly as we possibly can.”

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said he was on a Zoom call Thursday with the state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, and other state officials. “We did get the guidance we need to get shots in arms.”

Although other counties have complained about being left out of the process, Whalen has repeatedly said the state’s approach of having a regional hub coordinating with county health departments has worked well in the Capital Region.

McCoy attributed this to close relationships — for example between Whalen and the president of Albany Med, Dennis McKenna — in “Smallbany.”

Whalen stressed, “This vaccine is safe and effective. We do need widespread uptake of the vaccine to get to the end of this pandemic.”

She also cautioned that masks still need to be worn. Two shots of vaccine are required. 

“If you have the two shots … you will have 95 percent reduced likelihood of being sick from COVID,” said Whalen.

But, since transmissibility wasn’t as actively studied in clinical trials for the vaccine, she said, “We urge people to continue to wear masks … because they may be able to transmit it without becoming ill themselves.”

 

Reservations on Monday

At his press conference on Friday, Cuomo said the state has 2.2 million health-care workers, all in the 1a tier. The Capital Region, he said, has vaccinated 29 percent of them. The region with the highest percentage is the North Country at 37 percent. The lowest percentage, of the state’s 10 regions, is New York City, at 13 percent, Cuomo said.

Hospitals were used to give vaccines to health-care workers, Cuomo said, because many of them work in hospitals. The next tier, 1b, is much larger, consisting of 3.2 million New Yorkers: 870,000 teachers, 200,000 police and firefighters, 100,000 public safety workers, 100,000 public transit workers, and 1.4 million people 75 or older.

Next week, Cuomo said, 500 pharmacy chains will come online along with hundreds more distributors.

“On Monday, they will begin accepting reservations for vaccinations … The network will distribute to 1a and 1b. The new providers must prioritize their health care staff,” said Cuomo.

This is because health-care workers are key to keeping hospitals functioning at capacity, he said, and also because they can be super spreaders.

Cuomo reiterated that he is asking large union groups to administer their own vaccines. Similar to the initiative posted by Sheriff Apple, Cuomo said, “Many of the police departments I have spoken with, they have EMS, they have EMT, they have medical offices. They can administer literally their own vaccine.”

He said the same is true of many fire departments and county health departments. He urged unions to “schedule and prioritize who within your group should go first … You’ll be receiving roughly one-fourteenth of your total allocation per month.”

On Monday, Cuomo said, the state’s health department will hold a webinar “for all new providers and people who want to participate .... We want to make sure they all get signed up and they know the rules. All the county health departments and the unions who are thinking of doing administration themselves, the webinar will be for you and that will be on Monday.”

 

Schools

Whalen said on Friday that she has been working closely with schools in the county that are preparing to do COVID-19 testing in order to remain open for in-person classes. Cuomo had said last Monday that schools in counties, like Albany County, with an infection rate over 9 percent will have to do random tests of students and staff in order to stay open. 

This week, the schools have been trained on using the database for recording test results, Whalen said.

The Guilderland schools, which hope to remain open for in-person learning, have surveyed staff and families of students and found 75 percent would be willing to undergo the random testing.

On Friday evening, Marie Wiles, the superintendent of Guilderland schools, sent an email to district framilies on a new directive from the county’s health department: Siblings of symptomatic students are not to attend in-person classes pending COVID-19 test results of the symptomatic student.

“This does not mean that the whole household who may be asymptomatic needs to have a COVID test to return,” Wiles wrote. “This also means, if you are keeping a symptomatic child home or a household member is symptomatic, all children must remain home until the symptomatic family member receives their negative test results.”

The test is to be a lab-based polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test.

 

Newest numbers

Of the six deaths McCoy announced on Friday morning, one was a woman in her thirties, which McCoy said was the county’s second youngest victim of COVID-19

 The others were a man in his fifties, a woman in her sixties, a man in his seventies, and a woman and a man in their eighties.

As of Friday morning, Albany County has had 13,495 confirmed cases of COVID-19, McCoy said, an increase of 281 cases.

Of the new cases, 237 did not have a clear source of infection identified, 38 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and six are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives has increased to 251.2 from 239.4. There are now 2,034 active cases in the county, up from 1,822 on Thursday.

The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine increased to 3,070 from 2,902. So far, 41,689 people have completed quarantine. Of those, 11,461 of them had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 68 recoveries since Thursday.

There were 24 new hospitalizations overnight, and there are 159 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus — a net decrease of four. There are now 15 patients in intensive-care units, down from 19 yesterday.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the Capital Region continues to have the worst rate of available ICU beds, at  17 percent, according to a release from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. Currently, 203 of the region’s 254 ICU beds are filled, leaving 17 percent available.

Statewide,  27 percent of ICU beds are available.

The Capital Region also has the worst percentage of available hospital beds, at 22 percent. Currently 0.05 percent of the region’s population is hospitalized with COVID-19, filling 515 beds.

Statewide, 31 percent of hospital beds are available.

At his press conference on Friday, Cuomo called out the Capital Region for having the worst rate on hospital beds.

“Twenty-one days from 15 percent we close,” said Cuomo. “Why? Because we then have 21 days to try to come up with alternative accommodations for hospitals and hopefully 21 days of a closed economy will slow the spread somewhat.

“It won’t slow the spread entirely. This is not like the spring because this spread is more in social gatherings and many of the economies are partially closed, but that is what we are looking at.”

The Capital Region is one of three regions with an infection rate, on a seven-day average, over 10 percent, at 10.16 percent. The Mohawk Valley has a rate of 10.88 percent. And the Finger Lakes region has a rate of 10.22 percent.

Statewide, the positivity rate is 7.88 percent.

At his press conference, Cuomo called out those three regions.

“You look across the state,” he said, “Finger Lakes, still [has the] highest percent of people hospitalized. Positivity rate, still the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, Capital Region. Still makes the point, it depends on your behavior, your belief, and your community. It is community spread. How do you resolve community spread? The community acts differently.”

More Regional News

  • The federal government made several shifts in COVID policy this week: Requiring international travelers to test negative before flying to the United States, changing the guidance for vaccine eligibility, and releasing doses originally held back.

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo 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.”

  • Under New York's expanded eligibility, the following individuals will now be eligible to schedule

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