Nursing homes will open to visitors, vaccinations will be given at armory

— Photo from Daughters of Sarah Senior Community Facebook page

A wedding is performed in front of a window at the Daughters of Sarah facility so that a resident can see the ceremony. Nursing homes were closed to visitors to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but are now slated to reopen shortly.

ALBANY COUNTY — Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a slew of COVID-related initiatives on Friday, including opening nursing homes to visitors, changing requirements for colleges to stay open, and setting up mass-vaccination sites with the federal government for struggling communities at six sites statewide including Albany.

Across the state and in Albany County, infection and hospitalization rates continued to decline from the post-holiday surge.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced 91 new cases in a Friday morning release. McCoy noted recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that life expectancy in the United States declined by a full year during the first half of 2020 because of COVID-19; it is the largest drop since World War II.

“Tragically, and even worse,” said McCoy, “life expectancy dropped by almost three years for African Americans and two years for Hispanics. This is exactly the reason why we need to continue to work towards getting the vaccine to our most vulnerable populations and minority communities.”

The Armory in Albany at 125 Washington Ave. will open March 3 and is to administer 1,000 doses of vaccine a day. For the first week, it will vaccinate only residents who live in these ZIP codes: 12202, 12206, 12210, 12209, 12207, 12222, 12180, 12307, 12308, 12305, and 12304.

After one week, appointments will be made available to all residents of Albany County. To schedule an appointment, residents may go to the state’s Am I Eligible website or call the state’s COVID-19 vaccination hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829). Appointment scheduling will open for the Albany site at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24. 

Twelve percent of New Yorkers have received a first dose,” said Cuomo at his Friday press briefing. “That’s really good news.”

Winter storms across the nation, however, have delayed deliveries of vaccine doses, including to the Albany County Health department, which had planned a clinic for Thursday, Feb. 18.

The county sent out a notice on Friday to reassure residents who were scheduled to get a second shot, required for the vaccine to be fully effective, that the delay in receiving that shot won’t be harmful.

Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen cited the CDC guidance, which says, “The second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible. However, if it is not feasible to adhere to the recommended interval and a delay in vaccination is unavoidable, the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be administered up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose.”

“We have now been informed that shipments of the Pfizer vaccine that should have been delivered already but were delayed due to weather are scheduled to arrive by Monday, and orders placed within the last 48 hours will be sent after, with expected arrival on Tuesday and Wednesday,” Cuomo said in a release on Friday. “Delayed shipments of the Moderna vaccine should arrive by the middle of next week, with orders placed within the last 48 hours expected to arrive next Thursday and Friday.”


Nursing home visits

Because nearly three-quarters of the state’s nursing home residents have now been vaccinated, Cuomo said at his Friday press briefing, the state’s health department is putting out guidance to allow visitors.

“This is going to be a very big deal for nursing home residents and families,” Cuomo said, adding that the guidance is in accordance with the CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS.

Visits had been cut off to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Nursing home residents have now all been offered the vaccine ... 100 percent of nursing home staff has all been offered the vaccine. Seventy-three percent of nursing home residents have taken the vaccine, which is the probably the highest number we have of any subgroup,” said Cuomo.

Visitors will take a rapid test before entering a nursing home and the state will supply the tests to the nursing homes at no costs.

Guidance will be available beginning on Monday, Feb. 22.


College protocols updated

Guidance was also updated Friday for infection rates and testing protocols on college campuses to encourage more testing while allowing schools to better pinpoint and isolate problems before requiring a shift to remote learning.

Colleges and universities testing at least 25 percent of total on-campus students, faculty, and staff weekly will not be required to go on pause unless their positivity rate exceeds 5 percent during a rolling 14-day period.

Colleges and universities not testing at least 25 percent of their population weekly must go on pause if they have 100 individuals test positive or their positivity rate exceeds 5 percent — whichever is less — during a rolling 14-day period. 

Previously, colleges and universities were required to go on pause if they had either 100 individuals or 5 percent of their student population test positive over a 14-day period, regardless of weekly testing rates.

Under the old system, the University of Albany came close to the required pause when 96 people tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 30 and Feb. 12, according to the SUNY COVID-19 tracker.

As of Friday evening, 212 at UAlbany have tested positive since Jan. 2. Currently, 192 students are under mandatory quarantine and 78 students are under isolation — 52 on campus, and 26 off campus.

The updated guidance shifts to a rolling 14-day average favored by epidemiologists and medical professionals, as opposed to the original 14-day static timeframe, the governor’s office stated in a release.


Rapid tests

Also on Friday, Cuomo announced the launch of a public-private partnership called the New York Forward Rapid Test Program, meant to help businesses reopen safely.

“I believe the testing is the key to accelerating the reopening of the economy,” he said. “But, you have to have the volume of testing. And we’re opening rapid testing sites as we speak.”

 Eleven initial sites opened on Friday in New York City with the capacity to conduct more than 5,000 tests per day, while additional sites are scheduled to open in New York City and other parts of the state in the coming weeks.

Testing providers participating in the network must make rapid testing available for no more than $30, provide participants with their results within 30 minutes, offer a mechanism for people to schedule in advance, and report the results to the state.

People who are not experiencing COVID symptoms and who have not had a recent known exposure to COVID-19 may participate in this initiative by visiting participating locations and completing a questionnaire.

They must continue to comply with all New York Forward guidelines on reopening, including but not limited to the use of masks, social distancing, and other protocols. 


Newest numbers

As of Friday morning, Albany County has had 19,872 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 91 since Thursday, according to Mccoy’s Friday release.

Of the new cases, 62 did not have clear sources of infection identified, 23 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, four were health-care workers or residents of congregate settings, and two traveled out of state.

The five-day average for new daily positives has decreased to 61.6 from 63.6. There are now 584 active cases in the county, down from 591 on Thursday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine decreased to 1,567 from 1,655. So far, 61,762 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 19,288 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 95 recoveries since Thursday.

There were six new hospitalizations overnight, and there are now 63 county residents hospitalized from the virus — a net increase of five. There are currently 11 patients in ICU’s, unchanged from yesterday

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 345.

Currently, 206 Capital Region residents are hospitalized with COVID-19, which is 0.02 percent of the region’s population and leaves 33 percent of its hospital beds available, according to a Friday release from the governor’s office.

Statewide, 0.03 percent of New Yorkers are hospitalized with the virus, which is 0.03 percent of the population and leaves 35 percent of its hospital beds available.

Currently, 180 of the Capital Region’s 240 ICU beds are filed, leaving 26 percent available.

Statewide, 27 percent of ICU beds are available.

As of Thursday, as a seven-day rolling average, the Capital Region had an infection rate of 2.09 percent. Statewide, the positivity rate was 3.60 percent.

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

New York State, now in its 10 week of receiving vaccine doses from the federal government, has gotten 3.6 million doses.

This week, the Capital Region has administered 194,014 of the 228,670 doses it has received, or 85 percent. Statewide, 88 percent of this week’s doses have been administered.

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