To avoid ‘The Hunger Games,’ county breaks from Albany Med

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Our future PODs are going to be controlled by us … We need to get vaccine into the arms of people that need them,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

ALBANY COUNTY — Albany County is “breaking away” from Albany Medical Center in setting up appointments for its own vaccination sites, the county executive said Friday morning.

“We can’t control it when it becomes kind of like The Hunger Games. Who can get their appointment quick enough? Who’s savvy enough with the computer? … We’re going to simplify it. We need to get more Black and brown community members signed up,” said Executive Daniel McCoy.

The county’s health department administered 800 vaccinations at its most recent point of dispensing, or POD, held at the Times Union Center in Albany, which McCoy called “a huge success.”

He went on, “Our future PODs are going to be controlled by us … We need to get vaccine into the arms of people that need them.”

The state had originally designated 10 hubs for vaccine distribution. Albany Med is the hub for the eight-county Capital Region. While complaints were heard from other counties, Albany County’s health commissioner, Elizabeth Whalen, repeatedly said that the Capital Region counties were working well with Albany Med.

McCoy stressed on Friday that he does not use his position to secure vaccinations for family members.

“My brother is in the hospital with COVID-19,” he said. “If I got him that shot two weeks ago would he be there?”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his press briefing on Friday, said, “We run out of allocation today.” He also said the sixth week of dosages were being delivered to the state, again just 250,000, less than the earlier high of 300,000.

Over 7 million New Yorkers are eligible for the shots under federal guidance.

Cuomo stressed, “Providers should only schedule appointments for allocations they know they will receive.”

He listed the Capital Region, which has administered 82 percent of the vaccine doses it has received, among the “lower performing regions.”

Statewide, Cuomo said, “We have used 97 percent of the doses we've been allocated thus far through week one to five.”

Originally, during the first week, New York State was working with a two-tiered system: 1a was for nursing home workers and residents, for high-risk health-care workers, and for disabled people living in group homes; 2b was for essential workers and residents aged 75 and older.

Then the federal government added people 65 and older as well as people with underlying health conditions.

On Friday, Cuomo said, “You have three groups, basically. You have healthcare workers; you have essential workers, police, fire, teachers, public safety, food workers. And you have sixty-five plus. Three separate groups. We want to be fair in the allocation.”

Consequently, the state is distributing doses according to the population of each of those three groups:

— Health-care workers are about 21 percent of the eligible population so the state distributes 21 percent of that region’s allocation to health-care workers;

— Essential workers are about 27 percent, so the state distributes 27 percent of that region’s allocation to essential workers; and

— Sixty-five-plus are more than half, 52 percent, so the state distributes 52 percent of that region’s allocation to the providers who serve people aged 65 and older.

“No one is happy, everybody wants more,” Cuomo concluded.

Health-care workers are to be vaccinated in hospitals, essential workers are to be vaccinated by city and county health departments or through unions, and people 65 or older are to be vaccinated by pharmacies and mass sites run by the state.

“It’s important that the provider follows the prioritization, because otherwise they’re giving that group’s allocation to someone else,” said Cuomo.

He also said, “We still have not received enough supply just to do 1a and 1b” and he criticized the Trump administration for opening the floodgates with the 65-plus group.

“Now you have a period of confusion and anxiety because you’re trying to get 7 million people with 250,000 a week. That would take seven months,” said Cuomo.

He said he has hope with the Biden administration invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of vaccine but that will still mean a long wait for New Yorkers, Cuomo said.

“President Biden has said he would produce 100 million dosages in 100 days ...,” said Cuomo. “New York State is about 6 percent of the population. That means New York State would get about 60,000 doses a day. That’s about 420,000 per week. That is higher than we are now. Even at 420,000 dosages per week, you still have to do 7.1 million, that still takes you 17 weeks.”

Like McCoy, Cuomo stressed the importance of vaccinating Black and brown residents. 

“We have a COVID-19 equity task force and want to make sure that everyone has access to the vaccine,” said Cuomo. He said there are two issues: accessibility and acceptance.

McCoy said that Albany County had established a list of residents to vaccinate. “But they took the 65 and above away from us,” he said, requiring the county instead to use its vaccine doses for essential workers.

“We are failing,” McCoy said of reaching Black and brown residents.

The county and city of Albany are working in partnership with Mohawk Ambulance, a private company, which will travel to residents’ homes to give vaccinations once doses are available.

 

Newest numbers

“Sadly, we lost five more Albany County residents last night,” McCoy said at the start of his Friday morning press conference. 

He noted that 66 residents had died of COVID-19 in December, the deadliest month so far, but that 65 have died so far in January — with nine days to go.

The latest casualties were a woman in her fifties, two men in their sixties, a man in his eighties, and a woman in her nineties.

Their deaths bring the county’s toll to 291.

As of Friday morning, Albany County has had 16,744 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 255 new cases since Thursday.

Of the new cases, 196 did not have a clear source of infection identified, 40 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and 18 are health-care workers or residents of congregate settings.

The five-day average for new daily positives has increased to 213 from 206. There are now 1,753 active cases in the county, down from 1,802 on Thursday.

The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine decreased to 2,888 from 2,934. So far, 49,567 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 14,991 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 283 recoveries since Thursday.

There were 22 new hospitalizations overnight, and there are 168 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus — a net decrease of two. Thirteen patients remain in intensive-care units.

The Capital Region continues to have the worst rate for available hospital beds, at 25 percent, and for available ICU beds, at 19 percent.

McCoy said St. Peter’s Health Partners has completed transforming an unused part of the county’s nursing home into a hospital ward for overflow COVID-19 patients who are not contagious.

“It’s ready to go ...,” McCoy said. “Hopefully, we never have a patient enter that door.”

The Capital Region’s infection rate as of Thursday, as a seven-day average, was 6.91 percent. Statewide, the positivity rate was 6.15.

Albany County’s infection rate, as of Jan. 21, as a seven-day rolling average, was 7.4, according to the state’s dashboard.

More Regional News

  • The state and federal governments together have opened mass vaccination sites for Black and brown communities, which have disproportionately been hurt by the pandemic. One of those sites is at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany. Appointments begin on March 3 for residents of these ZIP codes: 12202, 12206, 12207, 12209, and 12210.

  • A New York variant of the virus, known as B.1.526, has been increasing in recent weeks. 

  • Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that 18 new cases of B.1.1.7 — the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant first identified in the United Kingdom — have been identified in New York State. This brings the state’s total of known B.1.1.7 cases to 154.

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