County tries new strategies to reach the unvaccinated

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“We have folks on site there who are ready to talk to community members, provide the facts about the vaccine and, if they’re open to it, actually get vaccinated on the spot,” said CDPHP Vice President for Community Engagement Kathy Leyden. CDPHP and Albany County have partnered to send a van to minority and rural communities to vaccinate residents.

ALBANY COUNTY — Statewide, capacity is increasing for a number of businesses as the COVID-19 infection rate continues to fall.

Albany County is continuing to have fewer residents come to its mass vaccination clinic — a trend across the state and nation — and announced on Friday that mobile vaccination clinics will be run by the Capital District Physicians Health Plan.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Friday that New York City indoor dining will expand to 75 percent capacity — like the rest of the state — beginning Friday, May 7.

Hair salons, barber shops, and other personal care services will expand to 75 percent capacity beginning May 7. New York City gyms and fitness centers will expand to 50 percent capacity beginning May 15. All of these changes are still subject to state public health guidance including social distancing and masks.

Cuomo also announced that he will rescind the executive order establishing the micro-cluster zone strategy in light of New York State’s progress against the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 28, Cuomo had announced that the midnight food and beverage service curfew would be lifted for outdoor dining areas beginning May 17 and for indoor dining areas beginning May 31. The 1 a.m. curfew for catered events where attendees have provided proof of vaccination status or a recent negative COVID-19 test result will be lifted beginning May 17, with the curfew for all catered events set to be lifted May 31.

Also, the state legislature has voted to repeal the food requirement for alcohol purchases.

Restaurants and caterers will have federal support as they expand their hours.

Congressman Paul Tonko announced on Friday that restaurants in New York’s Capital Region can start applying for direct relief through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund starting on Monday, May 3, at noon, and he is recommending that they start the process early by registering through the United States Small Business Administration application portal.

The $28.6 billion fund was created by the American Rescue Plan to provide restaurants and other eligible businesses — like food stands, caterers, wineries, bakeries, and taverns — with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business.

The relief does not have to be repaid, provided that the funds are put toward eligible uses by March 11, 2023.

McCoy said at his Friday morning press briefing that businesses, including local restaurants are having a hard time hiring people. He mentioned restaurants offering to pay dishwashers up to $20 an hour and getting no takers.


New vaccine strategies

“We’ve got to reimagine how we’re getting the vaccine out to people,” said McCoy.

He said Erie County is giving vouchers to local bars to residents who get vaccinated.

“Throughout the state and country, we all have the same issue,” McCoy said of the falling vaccination rate.

He noted that Schenectady County had just surpassed Albany County in the percentage of residents who have received a first vaccine shot. “Congratulations to them,”said McCoy, indicating competition may synergize participation.

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, as of Friday night, 53.7 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received a first shot compared to Schenectady County’s 54.6 percent.

Statewide, 46 percent of New Yorkers have had one dose of vaccine while 34.1 percent have completed a series.

When Albany County first opened its POD, or point of dispensing, at the Times Union Center in Albany, slots filled quickly. Now, although walk-ins are welcome, turnout has plummeted. Only 264 first doses were administered on Thursday, including 16 for those without appointments, McCoy reported.

The county’s health department at 175 Green Street in Albany will vaccinate anyone 16 or older, without an appointment, on Monday, May 3, and Tuesday, May 4, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“You can walk in … You don’t need an appointment. You don’t need to fill out anything,” said McCoy.

Free transportation will be provided for anyone 60 or older, along with their caregiver. Residents should call 518-447-7198 in advance for a ride.

“We’ll pick you up at your house,” said McCoy, noting some people are still wary of mass transit. “We’re there for you.”

“For people that are interested in learning more, please come down,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen. “We have certified health educators that can speak to people.”

Whalen said there is “a tremendous amount of misinformation” about the vaccines. “We really need people to get the right information to make an informed decision.”

Whalen also said that a lot of businesses are provided incentives, which she termed “a great idea.” “Working towards the goal of having a fully vaccinated workforce is something that will get all of our businesses back up and running faster,” she said.

Another new initiative is being provided by the Capital District Physicians Health Plan, which offered its first mobile clinic on Friday at the Emmanuel Baptist Church.

“We have folks on site there who are ready to talk to community members, provide the facts about the vaccine and, if they’re open to it, actually get vaccinated on the spot,” said CDPHP Vice President for Community Engagement Kathy Leyden. “We love this type of mobile, flexible approach and we hope that this is the first of many opportunities to partner with the county.”

CDPHP is providing the van and the county is providing the vaccine. Staff from the county’s health department and from CDPHP will conduct outreach and oversee the day-today operation of various pop-up clinics.

“This is about getting into target communities or people that don’t want to get out or go into bigger places,” said McCoy. He noted that numbers at the Washington Avenue Armory clinic, run jointly by the state and federal governments, are declining as they are at the county’s big PODs.

“We’re going to re-evaluate what we do on a weekly basis,” said McCoy.

The partnership with CDPHP will help reach minority and rural communities, including the Hilltowns, he said.

McCoy urged residents to inform themselves by consulting reputable websites like those maintained by the health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization.

“Everyone hit that wall,” McCoy said of citizens not clamoring for vaccination. 

Moderna vaccine doses, McCoy said was recently learned, can be refrigerated for up to three months which “will make it easier to get out.”


Guilderland EMS

“In another good sign that the spread of the virus appears under control in our community, town ambulances have transported five positive patients in April, after four transports in March,” wrote Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber on Friday in his daily email, updating residents on COVID-19. “The past two months stand in stark contrast to February, with 19 transports, and January, with 61 transports.

Town EMS vaccinators will soon administer nearly 900 second doses at clinics at Station 1 and the Guilderland High School, and in over 100 homes for residents who are unable to travel to vaccination sites, Barber reported. “EMS is particularly proud that it has administered every dose received from the county and state, and has not discarded or returned one single dose,” he wrote.

Barber went on, “EMS is committed to serving vulnerable and overlooked populations, and, if the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is made available, EMS will make walk-in vaccinations available at convenient hours in the evening and weekend at Station 1 and other locations.”


Newest numbers

McCoy announced 29 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s tally to 23,839.

Of the new cases, 17 had close contact with someone infected with the disease, 11 did not have clear sources of infection identified, and one is a health-care worker or resident of a congregate living setting.

The five-day average for new daily positives increased slightly from 32 to 33.2. There are now 316 active cases in the county, down from 337 on Thursday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 747 from 718. So far, 77,033 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 23,523 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 59 recoveries since Thursday.

There were three new hospitalizations overnight, and there remain 24 county residents hospitalized from the virus. There are currently six patients in intensive-care units, unchanged from yesterday.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 375.

According to the state’s dashboard, Albany County, as of Thursday, as a seven-day rolling average, had an infection rate of 1.6 percent.

Statewide, the infection rate is 1.9 percent.

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