Vaccines roll out as new COVID-19 variants spread

ALBANY COUNTY — The race continues to vaccinate people before new variants of COVID-19 spread.
On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state’s first case of the South African variant.

A patient in a New York City hospital for a procedure — a resident of Connecticut — tested positive for the variant, Cuomo said.

“The South African variant is the variant that they’re watching most closely. The U.K. variant is very transmissible, transmittable, but the South African variant they worry about how lethal it is and how it relates to the vaccine,” said Cuomo at his press conference.

The South African variant, known as B.1.351, was first confirmed in the United States on Jan. 28 in South Carolina. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage that tracks three variants, as of Wednesday evening, there were a total of 19 cases of B.1.351 across 10 states.

On Saturday, Cuomo had reported  that 11 more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 — the highly transmissible variant first identified in the United Kingdom — have been identified in New York State.

Eight of the new B.1.1.7 cases were in New York City, two were in Suffolk County, and one was in Rockland County — that county’s first case.

As of Saturday morning, there are 70 known cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in New York City and in these counties: Saratoga, Warren, Onondaga, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Ulster, Essex, Jefferson, Tompkins, Allegany, and Niagara.

As of Wednesday evening, the CDC nationwide tally was 1,277 cases identified in 42 states. Florida had the most cases with 416, followed by California with 186.

 

Vaccination

Although winter storms halted some vaccine deliveries — including postponement of Albany County’s clinic planned for Feb. 18 — more vaccination sites are opening across the state.

On Sunday, more than a quarter of a million appointments were made for COVID-19 vaccinations at state sites.

The 250,924 appointments were the most booked in a single day, according to a release from the governor’s office. Sunday was the first day that New Yorkers with comorbidities — ranging from cancer to obesity — could sign up for the shots.

Over 1.6 million New Yorkers were screened online on Valentine’s Day, which is 13 percent of all screenings since January. The average wait for scheduling an appointment was 13 minutes and 36 seconds.

The state’s hotline received 30,543 calls, with an average wait time of 24 minutes and 43 seconds.

The addition of New Yorkers with comorbidities — to the already-eligible nursing home workers and residents, health-care workers, essential workers, and people 65 and older — means about 10 million New Yorkers now qualify for vaccination.

One in seven New York voters has already been vaccinated and 22 percent are not planning to get vaccinated, according to a Siena College poll released on Tuesday.

“While between 12 and 19 percent of voters from every region and party have been vaccinated, with Democrats and upstaters leading the way, there are distinct racial and income disparities in this early vaccination period,” Siena college pollster Steven Greenberg said in a press release.

Although 20 percent of white voters have been vaccinated, only 10 percent of Black voters and 5 percent of Latino voters have been.

Only 9 percent earning less than $50,000 annually have been vaccinated, compared to 14 percent who earn between $50,000 and $100,000, and 25 percent earning over $100,000.

“When it comes to whether or not they plan to get vaccinated, there are wide differences by party and race,” said Greenberg. “While only 17 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents do not plan to get vaccinated, 35 percent of Republicans say they will pass on the vaccine.

Eighteen percent of white voters say no to the vaccine. However, 34 percent of Latino and 37 percent of Black voters say they don’t plan on getting vaccinated, Greenberg reported. 

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up four more community-based vaccination sites — in Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, and Albany.

Each will vaccinate about 1,000 New Yorkers a day beginning the first week of March with appointments reserved for residents of the communities in which the sites are located.

The Albany County site is at the Washington Avenue Armory at 195 Washington Ave. in Albany.

The state started its fifth week of receiving vaccine doses from the federal government on Feb. 15 and, over those weeks, has received about 3.5 million doses, according to a Wednesday release from the governor’s office.

The Capital Region this week has administered 184,660 of the 221,475 doses it has been given, which is 83 percent.

Statewide, 86 percent of doses have been administered.

 

Opening up

People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to quarantine if they have been exposed to the virus, according to the latest guidance from the CDC.

 According to the guidance, “asymptomatic fully vaccinated individuals,” meaning people who have received both shots and at least two weeks have passed since the second shot, are no longer required to quarantine within 90 days after the second shot. 

The CDC also recently updated its guidance on mask-wearing to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The CDC conducted experiments to assess two ways of improving the fit of medical procedure masks: fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask, and knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face.

“Each modification substantially improved source control and reduced wearer exposure,” the CDC states.

As the infection and hospitalization rates continue to decline from the post-holiday surge, Cuomo announced a relaxation of some rules this week.

On Sunday, he signed an executive order extending closing times from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. for bars, restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, casinos, and billiards halls, as well as other establishments licensed by the State Liquor Authority.

The new closing times began on Sunday.

On Wednesday, he announced indoor family entertainment centers can open on March 26, outdoor amusement parks can open April 9, and camps can begin to plan for summer opening.

The indoor centers must limit capacity to 25 percent, outdoor amusement parks are capped at 33 percent capacity. Face covering and social distancing are required as are health screenings and temperature checks before entry.

All facilities are to submit reopening plans with health protocols to the local health department.

Earlier, after Cuomo announced that sports arenas could open at 10 percent capacity, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said that the county’s Times Union Center would require 25 percent capacity to be economically feasible.

 

Newest numbers

Three more county residents have died of COVID-19 since Tuesday, McCoy announced in his Wednesday morning release.

The latest victims are two men in their seventies and a woman in her eighties. Their deaths bring the county toll 345.

As of Wednesday morning, Albany County has had 19,725 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 37 news cases since Tuesday.

Of the new cases, 24 did not have clear sources of infection identified, 12 had close contact with someone infected with the disease,  and one person reported traveling out of state.

For the first time in months, none of the new cases were associated with healthcare workers or residents of congregate settings.

“We have concluded vaccination of all nursing home residents and nursing home staff who would take the vaccine,” Cuomo said at his press conference on Wednesday. “There are some nursing home residents who refused. There are some staff who refused.”

Since Jan. 2, the University at Albany has had 208 cases, according to the SUNY COVID-19 tracker. As of Wednesday evening, the tracker reports 167 UAlbany students are under mandatory quarantine and 51 students are under isolation — 32 on campus and 51 off campus.

People who have contracted COVID-19 are isolated while people who may have been in contact with someone with COVID-19 are quarantined.

Albany County’s five-day average for new daily positives has decreased to 63.4 from 73. There are now 628 active cases in the county, down from 694 on Tuesday.

The number of county residents under mandatory quarantine decreased to 1,535 from 1,570. So far, 61,134 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 19,097 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 92 recoveries since yesterday.

There were two new hospitalizations overnight, and there are now 57 county residents currently hospitalized from the virus — a net decrease of seven. There are currently 10 patients in intensive-care units, down from 12 yesterday.

The Capital Region no longer has the worst rate in the state for availability of hospital beds and ICU beds, according to a Wednesday release from the governor’s office.

Currently, 219 Capital Region residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is 0.02 percent of the region’s population and leaves 32 percent of its hospital beds available.

Statewide, 0.03 percent of New Yorkers are hospitalized with the virus, leaving 35 percent of hospital beds available.

Currently, 171 of the Capital Region’s 238 ICU beds are filled, leaving 23 percent available.

Statewide, 27 percent of ICU beds are available.

As of Tuesday, as a seven-day average, the Capital Region had an infection rate of 2.06 percent. Statewide, the positivity rate is 3.66 percent.

Albany County, as of Tuesday, as a seven-day rolling average, had an infection rate of 2.0 percent, according to the state’s dashboard.

More Regional News

  • “This variant was first identified in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020,” reports the CDC, and also says, “Currently there is no evidence to suggest that this variant has any impact on disease severity.”

  • 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.

  • ALBANY COUNTY — The Albany County Soil and Water Conservation District invites all schools in the

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