State to close mass vax centers

— Graph from NYSDOL

Unemployment rates from May 2010 to May 2022: Unemployment that spiked during the pandemic, both nationwide and in New York State, is now back to nearly pre-pandemic levels.

ALBANY COUNTY — Just as the youngest New Yorkers are on the cusp of being eligible for vaccination against COVID-19, the state is shutting down its 10 mass vaccination sites by the end of the month.

The state site at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland will permanently close at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 24, according to the state’s health department.

Vaccine is expected to be available for the first time, starting next week, for children six months to 5 years old

New York State is making preparations to boost vaccination rates among children under the age of 5, according to a Wednesday release from the governor’s office, stating vaccine providers across the state have already placed preliminary orders for 39,000 doses.

On Friday, in his now twice-weekly COVID release, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy did not report, for the first time since vaccine was available, on the percentage of county residents who have been vaccinated.

For months, the number hasn’t budged: A quarter of county residents are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

McCoy did report another COVID-related death — of a man in his fifties. This brings Albany County’s death toll from the virus to 567.

At the same time, he reported, the cases per 100,000 in the county continue to decline — now down to 14.7 — as does the rate of infection, which is at 7.1 percent.

“The virus can still be dangerous for some, especially the unvaccinated, older residents and those with underlying health conditions,” said McCoy in the release. “Having said that, there continues to be room for optimism.

“The number of residents currently hospitalized with the virus is now back down to where it was on April 22 and average COVID cases per 100,000 is down to levels we haven’t seen since April 4.”

There are now 24 county residents hospitalized with COVID-19, and two of them are in intensive-care units.

“Additionally,” McCoy went on, “the wastewater surveillance data from the North and South wastewater treatment plants in Albany once again are showing decreasing levels of COVID intensity over.”

Scientific studies have shown that the genetic material of the virus causing the disease can be detected in the feces of up to 40 percent of people who are infected.

The state website reporting wastewater metrics said on Friday that the most recent samples, taken on June 14, show a “decreasing” trend.

At Albany County’s North Plant, which serves an estimated 109,426 people, there has been an 8-percent decrease over two weeks, the site says; last week, there had been a 21-percent decrease over two weeks. At the county’s South Plant, which serves an estimated 80,922 people, there has been a 2-percent decrease over two weeks; last week, there had been a 26-percent decrease in the last two weeks.

Both sites are labeled as having “substantial to high levels.” The county has a population of about 317,000.

Wastewater samples collected and analyzed on April 4 in Albany had shown a 32 percent spike in COVID-19 intensity over a two-week period, which presaged the surge in COVID cases caused by Omicron subvariants.


Utility bill credits

On July 16, Governor Kathy Hochul announced $567 million is being made available to low-income households statewide to pay off past electric and gas bills.

“It’s unacceptable that far too many New Yorkers are at risk of having their lights shut off for failure to pay their utility bills due to financial problems caused by the pandemic,” Hochul said in a release, announcing the program. “To address this, I partnered with the State Legislature to appropriate $250 million toward reducing the burden of utility arrears.

“Today’s action by the Public Service Commission builds on the budget appropriation and is a major step forward to help vulnerable New Yorkers maintain their utility services while they get back on their feet.”

All state assistance available for utility bills will be coordinated to ensure maximum benefits to ratepayers and to avoid duplication of efforts, the governor’s office said. This includes relief available to low-income customers from the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance's Emergency Rental Assistance Program to reduce unpaid utility bills, estimated at $100 million, coupled with $250 million from the New York State budget appropriation directed to utilities to eliminate pandemic-related unpaid utility bills for low-income households. 

Utility shareholders have provided more than $36 million in contributions to benefit ratepayers. The bill credit program is estimated to cost the major utility ratepayers $181 million after they are allocated their share of the budget appropriation, and customer credits and shareholder contributions that reduce the program cost are applied.

This one-time, low-income utility bill credit, which will be applied to affected customers’ bills by the utilities, requires no action by existing low-income customers enrolled in the EAP to receive the benefit.  The bill credit is expected to be applied to customers’ accounts by Aug.1.

Any newly eligible low-income customer that enrolls in EAP before Dec. 31, 2022 will be included in the bill credit program.


Surplus sanitizer

On June 15, State Senator Joseph Griffo, a Republican from Rome, wrote to Hochul about the more than 700,000 gallons of New York State Clean sanitizer “that currently sits unused at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany.”

Griffo wrote that the state was “considering ways of disposing of this sanitizer, including shipping it out of state to be incinerated.”

He suggested instead using waste-to-energy conversion facilities to “transform the sanitizer into heat, electricity and other sources of power.”


More jobs

On June 16, the state’s Department of Labor released May figures showing private-sector jobs statewide increased over the month by 0.3 percent — for a total of 27,000 new jobs bringing the total to 7.970,300.

At the same time, private-sector jobs increased nationwide by 390,000.

This was the fifth consecutive month the unemployment rate declined in New York State, the labor department said. From May 2021 to this May, the unemployment rate fell from 7.0 percent to 4.1 percent.

Statewide, the unemployment rate inched down from 4.5 percent to 4.4 percent. In New York City, the rate fell from 6.4 percent to 6.2 percent.

Upstate, the unemployment rate remained at 3.1 percent, maintaining the lowest rate on record for the region. Current records date back to 1976.

In the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, private-sector jobs increased by 12,600 or 2.8 percent.

The over-the-year change once again was greatest for the leisure and hospitality industry, which saw an increase of 22.9 percent.

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