Commissioner: ‘Be vaccinated to protect your loved ones’

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said police officers there were stopping cars to ask if the people in the cars had been vaccinated and could direct them to clinics. “We’re having a hard time with people signing up to get vaccinated,” Neuhaus said. Initially, he said, the county’s clinics were vaccinating 2,000 to 3,000 people a day. “Now we can barely get through 500,” he said.

ALBANY COUNTY —  County leaders on Monday continued to push residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as Governor Andrew Cuomo announced more reduced restrictions.

“It’s about pivoting from COVID close-down to post-COVID reopening,” said Cuomo. “There’s a season for everything and this is the season for renewal and for change.”

Starting next Monday, April 26, museum and zoo capacity will be raised to 50 percent, and theater capacity will go to 33 percent. On May 19, capacity at sports arenas will be raised to 25 percent, Cuomo announced.

Social distancing, masks, health screenings and all other health and safety protocols will remain in effect as capacity increases.

“We are not seeing the decline that we need to see for us to have a level of comfort opening up,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen on Monday.

As of Sunday, as a seven-day rolling average, the county’s infection rate was 2.8 percent, according to the state’s dashboard. Statewide, the infection rate is 2.9 percent.

“The only strategies towards decreasing cases and increasing immunity are vaccination and continuing with the community mitigation practices,” said Whalen. “Vaccination is the fastest path to get us back to normal.”

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy started his Monday press briefing by announcing the death of another resident — a woman in her forties — due to COVID-19. He had announced two other deaths over the weekend.

The county’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 372.

“It’s definitely alarming, the uptick in deaths,” said McCoy. “We haven’t seen this in a long time.”

McCoy said he had spoken on Monday morning with Ferdinand Venditti, Albany Medical Center’s general director.

“They’re worried …,” he said of doctors at Albany Med. “We’re going to see a spike. It will probably go up for six weeks and come back down in June.”

McCoy went on, “Someone in their forties passed away from COVID-19. There’s a very young child in the hospital right now that has COVID-19. We’re seeing them numbers start to tick up.”



Steve Neuhaus, the Republican county executive for Orange County, spoke at the briefing about the problems he has faced getting residents vaccinated.

“We’re having a hard time with people signing up to get vaccinated,” Neuhaus said. Initially, he said, the county’s points of dispensing, or PODs, were vaccinating 2,000 to 3,000 people a day.

“Now we can barely get through 500,” he said.

Neuhaus said that police officers were stopping cars to ask if the people in the cars had been vaccinated and could direct them to clinics.

Orange County has about 380,000 residents, compared to Albany County’s roughly 310,000, and 800 residents have died of COVID-19, Neuhaus said.

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, as of Monday night, 34.7 percent of Orange County’s 381,951 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine while 49.2 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received one dose.

Statewide, 41.7 percent have received a first dose and 28.4 have completed a vaccine series.

Another problem broached by Neuhaus is nursing-home staff. “Our nursing homes, less than 50 percent of the staff have been vaccinated and that’s alarming,” he said.

McCoy said that, in Albany County, a higher percentage of nursing-home staff had been vaccinated to begin with but that there is high turnover so now the percentage is lower. “Any time they’re positive, we’re shut down for seven days,” he said.

Neuhaus also said, “We’re still finding a ton of senior citizens in these pockets that have not gotten vaccinated … Right now, I’m tracing over 1,000 active cases … We’re not out of the woods here.”

McCoy said the pause on administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine “was a major setback” in getting people who were hesitant to be vaccinated.

“Yesterday, Dr. Fauci said the pause on J & J will likely end this Friday,” he noted of the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, Anthony Fauci.

Whalen said that Albany County has received 3,510 doses of Pfizer vaccine this week and will be holding a large POD at the times Union Center in Albany on Thursday. The link for residents to sign up on the county website will go up on Monday.

Since Pfizer is the only one of the three vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for 16- and 17-year-olds, the “younger demographic,” from ages 16 to 24, are being targeted, Whalen said.

Last week’s county clinic was the first time online sign-up did not fill all the slots.

“We had over 100 people walk into the clinic and we were able to share vaccine with other partners so we didn’t waste any vaccine,” said Whalen.

 She discussed three groups: early adapters, who move forward immediately; a small group who will not be vaccinated and resists education; and “then we have a big group in the middle that is the group we need to engage.”

Efforts may be made to reach young people through social media, such as TikTok, Whalen said, and there will be clinics at high schools.

The health department will make “a big push on education and community engagement, using the strategy of peers that have been vaccinated to help share with communities that they serve their level of comfort,” Whalen said.

She went on, “You need to hear it from people that you trust … People do respond to stories and we know every time someone gets vaccinated, not only are they protecting themselves but they are protecting their family members.”

Whalen again noted that she and her three children have all been vaccinated. “I am giving the same recommendation to the community that I would give to my loved ones,” she said.

Whalen stressed again, “The vaccine is safe and effective.”

She also urged, “Be vaccinated to protect your loved ones.”


Siena poll

Siena Research Institute released results on Monday from its latest poll on Cuomo, which also had questions on vaccination.

Voters approve of Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic, 60 to 32 percent. By a 44 to 22 percent margin, voters think Cuomo has committed sexual harassment, with 34 percent undecided. 

Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg summarized the results on Cuomo this way, “On the one hand, his favorability rating is now the lowest it has ever been, with more than 50 percent of voters viewing Cuomo unfavorably for the very first time in a Siena College poll.” The Siena polls cover his entire tenure as governor, since 2011.

“On the other hand,” Greenberg went on, “a majority of voters — including Democrats by two-to-one and a plurality of independents — continue to say that Cuomo should not resign, and a similar majority say he can still effectively do his job as governor,” said Greenberg.

The poll also found that 60 percent of New Yorkers think the worst of the pandemic is over, compared to 27 percent who say the worst is still to come.

Sixty percent of voters say they have been vaccinated, with another 23 percent planning to. Only 14 percent of voters say they don’t plan to get vaccinated, down from 21 percent in March and 25 percent in January.


Newest numbers

McCoy announced new 42 cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s tally to 23,407.

Of the new cases, 26 did not have clear sources of infection identified, 13 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, and three reported traveling out of state.

The five-day average for new daily positives has increased to 64.8 from 64.6. There are now 531 active cases in the county, down from 550 on Sunday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine decreased to 1,029 from 1,048. So far, 75,161 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 22,876 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 62 recoveries since Sunday.

There were three new hospitalizations overnight and 30 county residents are now hospitalized from the virus — a net increase of one. There are currently nine patients in intensive-care units, up from seven yesterday.

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