At last, seniors can gather for meals at county sites

— From Governor Andrew Cuomo’s May 10 press briefing

Young New Yorkers have the lowest rate of vaccination.

ALBANY COUNTY — Seniors, for the first time in months, gathered on Monday to share a meal at a county site in Watervliet.

“Our senior population has been isolated,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy, announcing the pilot program at his Monday morning press conference.

He said there are still seniors who won’t come out of their homes because they are afraid.

“We have to be getting back to some type of normalcy,” he said.

In normal times, the county runs 17 congregate meals sites, including one for the Hilltowns in Berne. Together, nearly 2,400 seniors participate.

The pilot program in Watervliet is for vaccinated seniors only and will run at 75 percent capacity.

“We’re going to see how the seniors feel, coming back together ...,” said McCoy. “These meal sites are critical to the mental and emotional well being of our older residents.”

Other sites will open on May 17, June 1, and Sept. 1, McCoy said.

“What a difference a year makes,” said Deb Riitano, commissioner for the county’s Department for Aging. “We were closing everything down. We tried to open it up again back in the summer and things went south very quickly. The meal sites needed to close again.”

The county also runs adult day-care programs, which “needed to move to virtual” during the pandemic shutdown, Riitano said.

“The seniors have suffered a lot with isolation and they’re going to go through a re-entry crisis because we all are,” Riitano concluded.



Also on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo made several announcements related to vaccination against COVID-19.

Students at state schools — in the State University of New York and the City University of New York systems — will need to be vaccinated in order to attend in-person classes in the fall, Cuomo said. 

“I also encourage private schools to do the same thing,” he said at a press briefing in New York City. “Let’s make a global statement. You cannot go back to school in person in September unless you have a vaccine. That will be a major motivation for people to get the vaccine.”

He had noted that young people, between the ages of 16 and 24, had the lowest rate of vaccination: 24.7 percent. The group age  with the highest rate — 73.6 percent — are New Yorkers between the ages of 65 and 74.

Also on Monday, Cuomo proposed legislation to stop discrimination against people who have been vaccinated.

“There are some situations where people are discriminating against people who got a vaccine, which is almost inexplicable to me,” he said. “There’s a situation with summer camps saying, ‘If you are vaccinated, you cannot go to that camp. If you’re vaccinated, you can’t be a staff member at that camp.’ We can’t be in a situation where we’re full-throated, encouraging people to get a vaccine and then have people saying, ‘If you get a vaccine, you can’t participate in this activity.’”

Cuomo said that he and the state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, had “been through this before” with mandating vaccination against measles a few years ago.

Cuomo said he understood the anti-vaccine argument. “In my opinion,” he said, “there is no science to it …. You can have a theory. You can have a belief, but you can’t use that to make public policy without science and without data.”

Cuomo also announced eight new pop-up vaccination sites at MTA station stops in the New York City, Long Island, and Mid-Hudson regions. The sites will serve up to 300 walk-ins per day on a first come, first served basis using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The MTA will provide incentives to get vaccinated at the sites, including a free seven-day MetroCard or free round trip Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North ticket.

Finally, Cuomo announced the Nassau Coliseum will have a fully vaccinated fan section for the New York Islanders playoff games, which are anticipated to start on May 19. To end the Islanders’ last season at the Coliseum, half of the Coliseum will be used for vaccinated fans, spaced approximately three feet apart — with an unoccupied seat between each party.

Fans seated in these sections will have to provide proof of full COVID-19 immunization status through paper form, digital application, or the state’s Excelsior Pass. Young adults and children under the age of 16 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine may be seated with a vaccinated adult so long as they have received a recent negative COVID-19 test result. Appropriate social distancing, masks and other applicable health protocols will still apply throughout the arena.


County vaccination

“We’re trying to do everything possible to help people get the shot,” said McCoy at Monday’s briefing.

As of Monday evening, according to the state’s vaccine tracker, 56.3 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have had at least one shot while 67.7 percent of residents 18 or older have had at least one shot.

Statewide, 48.4 percent of New Yorkers have had at least one shot and 39.1 percent have completed a vaccine series.

McCoy said the county is hopeful Pfizer will get federal authorization this week to have its vaccine used for 12- to 15-year-olds.

He cited responses to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey that showed 30 percent of parents with children in that age group planned to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed fell into the “wait and see” category.

The survey also found that 18 percent plan to get their child vaccinated if their school requires it, and nearly a quarter said they will definitely not get their child vaccinated.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents’ intentions for vaccinating their kids largely line up with their own intentions for getting the COVID-19 vaccine themselves,” says a report on the poll.

Among adults who had not yet been vaccinated, 9 percent said they planned to do so.

“We are eagerly awaiting news, which will come from the CDC and FDA, on the 12-to-15 population,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen.

She said the county has had “a lot of success” in vaccinating 16- to 18-year-olds with Pfizer, which is the only approved vaccine for people younger than 18.

Whalen said it is “very important” for parents to consider vaccinating their children. “It’s going to be a big relief to a lot of people,” she said.

Whalen again urged residents to converse with their primary-care doctors and parents to talk to their pediatricians about vaccination.

“Vaccination is the way we are going to get through this,” said Whalen. “Our numbers are very good in Albany County but they are not as good as they need to be.”

She urged people with COVID-19 symptoms to get tested. Whalen said testing has fallen off as more residents get vaccinated and fewer residents get infected with the virus.

She concluded, “We are still seeing cases. We are still seeing hospitalizations. And, unfortunately, even as recently as last week, we are seeing deaths from COVID-19.”

On Saturday, the county had announced its 377th death from the disease; the victim was a man in his seventies.

“We need the assistance of every single county resident to get through this,” Whalen said.


Newest numbers

McCoy announced 13 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s tally to 24,035.

Of the new cases, nine had close contact with someone infected with the disease and four did not have clear sources of infection identified.

The five-day average for new daily positives decreased to 22.2 from 22.8. There are now 179 active cases in the county, down from 200 on Sunday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine decreased to 414 from 464. So far, 78,140 county residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 23,856 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of 34 recoveries since Sunday.

There was one new hospitalization overnight, and there remain 21 county residents hospitalized from the virus. There are currently eight patients in intensive-care units, down two from Sunday.

Albany County’s infection rate, as of Sunday, as a seven-day rolling average, was 1.0 percent, according to the state’s dashboard.

Statewide, New Yorkers, also as of Sunday, as a seven-day rolling average, had an infection rate of 1.4 percent.

More Regional News

  • The emergency was declared on March 7, 2020 to fight COVID-19 and had come under fire in recent months, particularly from Republicans, as an abuse of power by the governor. The announcement ended a week, statewide and in Albany County, in which infection rates and hospitalizations remained low and vaccination rates inched upward. The week before, Cuomo announced the statewide lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions.

  • “Data show that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected some populations and placed them at higher risk, including those who are medically underserved, racial and ethnic minority groups, and people living in rural communities,” says the CDC, which awarded the state’s health department $34 million to address inequities.

  • The Guilderland Planning Board recently heard Borrego Solar Systems propose a five-megawatt ground-mounted solar facility at 2825 Curry Road, a well-screened-from-the-road 48-acre parcel located in a largely commercial area. 

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