Week LXXXIV: Vax mandates push on, youth shots expected soon

— Still frame from Oct. 19, 2021 press conference

Governor Kathy Hochul signs into law a bill that requires documents discussed at government meetings be posted 24 hours before the meeting.

ALBANY COUNTY — Colin Powell’s death this week from COVID-19 should not impede the push for vaccination, said Governor Kathy Hochul.
She spoke at a press conference on Tuesday morning, the day after Powell, who was fully vaccinated, died at age 84. She thanked him for his extraordinary service and went on, “But his story cannot be hijacked by the anti-vaxxers. He had unique circumstances, as many older people have.”

Hochul continued, “And I don’t want anyone to say that this is a reason not to get vaccinated because listen to this, how did he get sick in the first place? Someone who wasn’t vaccinated gave him the virus.”

If more people were vaccinated, Hochul said, those who are vulnerable would be less likely to contract COVID-19.

She gave the same numbers for breakthrough infections — people like Powell becoming sick although they were vaccinated — as last week: 0.9 percent of fully vaccinated New Yorkers contracted the virus and 0.06 percent were hospitalized.

As of Tuesday night, 72.3 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the state’s vaccine tracker, as have 73.0 percent of New Yorkers.

In Albany County this week, from Wednesday, Oct. 13, to Tuesday, Oct. 19, six residents died of COVID-19. One was in their thirties, one was in their fifties, two were in their sixties, one was in their seventies, and one was in their eighties.

The county’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 420.

“On top of the latest death, COVID hospitalizations are ticking back up and the last time there were more than 145 new infections recorded in a single day was back on February 4,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy in his daily release on Wednesday. He reported 39 county residents are hospitalized with seven in intensive-care units.

“We also continue to see the majority of those residents sent to the hospital with the virus haven’t gotten a shot,” McCoy had reported on Tuesday. “Among those who are currently hospitalized, 38 percent are fully vaccinated, 5 percent are partially vaccinated, and 57 percent are unvaccinated.”

Between Oct. 10 and 16, the county’s health department identified and collected data on 631 new COVID cases. Of those, 49 percent are fully vaccinated, 43 percent are unvaccinated, and 8 percent refused to answer or the vaccination status was unknown.

In Albany County’s 84th week of coping with the coronavirus, Hochul announced a new data hub website to centralize information about COVID-19 and to expand public access while Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli launched a program on his office’s website to track federal funds for pandemic relief efforts.

Also this week, vaccine mandates continued to be pushed by state Democrats while Republicans pushed legislation to deal with health-care staff shortages they say are related to the mandates.

In a statement on Friday, Hochul applauded Attorney General Letitia James’s challenge of the lower court’s decision on the religious exemption to the vaccine requirement. “New York will continue to lead the nation in taking bold action on vaccines, which are our best weapon in defeating this virus,” said Hochul.

Both Hochul and James are Democrats. Hochul, after replacing Andrew Cuomo as governor on Aug. 24, has said she will run for election in 2022; James, whose report claimed Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and helped lead to his resignation, has suggested she may run for governor.

On Tuesday, United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer rejected a request from Maine health-care workers with religious objections to suspend Maine’s mandate to vaccinated health-care workers while their case moved forward.

Breyer said that, if the federal court does not decide by the date the requirement is enforced, Oct. 29, or if it rules before then, the Maine workers can return to the Supreme Court. The federal district court in Maine had ruled that the health-care workers had not “been prevented from staying true to their professed religious beliefs.”

Also on Friday, Rob Ortt, Republican leader of the State Senate, along with members of the Senate Republican Conference, called for action to help alleviate staffing issues at health-care facilities and for home-care patients.

Staffing shortages at facilities have been worsened by the vaccination mandate placed on health-care workers that went into effect on Sept. 27, the conference said in a release, which has led to forced closures and reductions in services and quality of care at already under-staffed facilities.

“Lack of an alternative testing option has created an untenable situation with decreased services, longer wait times, and an overall lower quality of care for New Yorkers,” said Ortt in the release.

The Republicans are proposing bills and action items to provide incentives for health-care workers. These include expanding scholarships for nurses; creating a fund to “improve the healthcare workforce pipeline”; allowing graduates to practice, under supervision, for 180 days until they are able to get licensed; providing loan forgiveness; and calling for interstate professional licensing reciprocity; ensuring nursing homes are not penalized for workforce staffing shortages.

Also: requiring an impact analysis on any new legislation or regulation on health-care facilities; requiring the state’s health department to disclose data on staffing shortages in health-care facilities; expanding the BOCES pilot to allow for earlier entry into a career as a direct service provider; addressing the state’s inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates; and directing salary increases and a statutory cost-of-living adjustment to support the direct-care workforce.

At her Tuesday press conference, Hochul noted the upcoming Nov. 1 deadline for workers at Office of Mental Health psychiatric hospitals and Office of People with Disabilities workers at specialty hospitals to have received at least one vaccine shot.

“So we’ll start seeing these numbers head up very soon as well,” she said. 

 

Guilderland suspends on-site senior services

Two workers at Guilderland’s Senior Services Center have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Tuesday afternoon release from the town.

Consequently, the Senior Services Department has suspended on-site services and programs at the Senior Services Center, located at 141 Bavarian Way, and at Town Hall, at 5209 Western Turnpike, until further notice.

“The Senior Center had been scheduled to be closed next week to install improvements in the large activity room,” Supervisor Peter Barber wrote Tuesday in his daily COVID-19 email to Guilderland residents.

Any person who recently attended events or services offered by the Senior Services Department may have been exposed and should watch for symptoms of illness and seek testing, the town release said, listing symptoms including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell.

Anyone who develops symptoms is advised to stay home, limit their contact with others, immediately contact their health-care provider, and get tested for COVID-19.

The town has informed the county’s health department for contact tracing.

The Town of Guilderland Emergency Medical Services Department is offering free COVID-19 testing to any senior who may have been exposed. Seniors are advised to contact the EMS Department at 518-456-3600 to schedule an appointment to be tested or if they have any questions.

 

Youth vax

As she had last week, Hochul on Tuesday urged parents and pediatricians to prepare themselves to have children vaccinated.

“We’re expecting sometime in early November, Pfizer doses for children, ages 5 to 11, that's 1.5 million children in the State of New York,” said Hochul.

Pharmacies, urgent-care centers, and especially schools will also be involved in the effort, she said, with the state offering support where needed.

“I’m telling parents: Make your appointments now,” said Hochul.

She surmised that many parents would prefer to have their children vaccinated by their pediatrician and said that, on Wednesday night, she’ll talk to the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to “make sure that they have the supplies.”

 

Boosters

The advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration has made two recent recommendations regarding booster shots for COVID-19 vaccination.

The panel recommended a booster shot for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for everyone 18 and older two months after the first shot.

This differs from the recommendations for the messenger RNA vaccines — PfizerBioNTech and Moderna — for which boosters are to be given six months after the second shot and only to those 65 and older or who meet certain work and medical requirements.

The FDA panel recommended a half-dose for the Moderna booster as opposed to the full-dose that had been recommended for Pfizer recipients.

“Last week,” said Hochul on Tuesday, “the FDA recommended a Moderna and J&J booster shots, but we’re still waiting for final approval on that. Also yesterday, we heard that they may be talking about getting different doses. We don’t know if that’s going to be the case, that you can get a different type of vaccine from what you already had, but we’ll certainly get that information out the second we have it available.”

So far, Hochul reported on Tuesday, over 590,000 New Yorkers have received booster shots.

 

Long COVID

“There’s been a lot of coverage of this phenomenon known as a long haul or the long haulers, long COVID,” said Hochul on Tuesday as she displayed four headlines from various publications.

One from The New York Times said, “Many ‘Long Covid’ Patients Had No Symptoms From Their Initial Infection.”

Another quoted a Penn State study saying, “Half of COVID-19 patients have lingering symptoms for 6 months.”

“It’s scary for people,” said Hochul. “I know people personally, who contracted COVID very early on, who are still dealing with the effects of this.”

It’s thought that about 30 percent of people infected with the virus have long COVID, Hochul said. “We want to ensure that they have medical coverage for their conditions,” she said.

The state’s health department is hosting an Oct. 25 webinar “to raise awareness among health-care providers, to make sure that they know the symptoms that have been established thus far and any treatment forms that are out there.”

Over 600 providers have already signed up for the webinar, she said.

Hochul also said she’d convene “an expert panel to determine what steps New York State can take to lead in this effort.” 

New York will secure funds from the billion dollars the National Institutes of Health has allocated for research into long COVID and will set up its own research entities, Hochul said.

“There are many New Yorkers still struggling with this, trying to get back to work and take care of their families and get on with life,” said Hochul, “while dealing with very scary unknown side effects from having contracted COVID many months ago.”

 

New website for COVID data

The state’s new website for COVID-19 data reorganizes previously released data — on a single landing page — while adding new.

The new data homepage links to 16 data pages organized into five major categories:

— Testing, cases, and variants, which includes a testing tracker; variant data; positive tests over time by region and county; and COVID-19 breakthrough data;

— Hospitalizations and fatalities, which includes saily COVID-19 hospitalization and Intensive-care-unit totals, and fatalities by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and county;

— Vaccine data, which includes statewide vaccination rates by age and county; vaccinations by state hospitals, mass vaccination sites, and pharmacies; doses given at pop-up sites by location and setting; vaccination rates by age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, and county; vaccination rates by ZIP code; and hospital staff vaccination rates by county and facility;

— Long-term care facilities, including staff and resident vaccination rates by county, and fatalities to date by county and facility; and

— Schools, including testing data for BOCES programs, public, private, and charter schools, and staff and student positive cases by region.

 

Federal funds tracked

The state comptroller’s website is now featuring a COVID-19 Relief Program Tracker to monitor federal relief funds received during the pandemic and eight programs that offer targeted assistance to New Yorkers most severely impacted by the pandemic.

The tracker explains when each funding stream or program was authorized, how it is designed, and how much has been received and spent to date. The data will be updated monthly and will be expanded over time as more information becomes available, the website says.

The emergency federal funds include $12.7 billion to the New York State government, $14.7 billion to school districts, $9.9 billion to counties and cities, and $774 million to towns and villages.

Decisions on spending are left up to those entities.

For example, federal funds for state and local fiscal stabilization total $13.5 billion: $12.7 billion is for the state and $774 million is for local purposes.

Funds received to date total $13.1 billion while so far  $387.1 million has been spent.

The state received $385 million in “pass through” funding to eligible “non-entitlement” local governments, with an additional $389 million for these local governments expected at a later date. These local governments typically serve a population under 50,000 and were ineligible to receive direct payments due to federal program restrictions. 

“New York is seeing an historic level of federal funding right now,” said Comptroller DiNapoli in a statement, “and our job is to follow the money and ensure funds are used wisely and administered efficiently.”

 

Vaccine-scheduling investigation concludes

The Offices of the New York State Inspector General last Thursday released the findings of its investigation of the state health department’s COVID-19 vaccination scheduling website, which found myriad unintentional factors led to more than 28,000 premature appointments made by members of the public in January 2021.

The investigation found no evidence that systems had been compromised by cyber criminals or that State employees or contractors who possessed advanced access to scheduling links leaked them to the public. However, it found several factors caused premature public access to the system.

The investigation found that the public were unaware they were prematurely using website links or that they were bypassing the required screening tool. However, even for those who bypassed the screening tool, the Vaccine Data System contained an eligibility attestation and proof of eligibility was required at vaccination sites.

More Regional News

  • Albany County suffered three COVID deaths this week: a man in his seventies died on Thursday, a man in his sixties died on Friday, and a woman in her nineties died on Saturday. Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll now stands at 439.

  • Boosters are recommended because the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes over time.

  • “This is an opportunity in this post-pandemic world to let people know, get the skills, go into apprenticeship programs, get trained,” said Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking from the county’s airport on Monday enroute to the White House for the signing of the infrastructure bill. “There’s jobs waiting for you to help rebuild this great state after we were knocked down so far.”

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.