Cuomo calls White House vaccination plan ‘deeply flawed’

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday criticized the federal plan for distributing a COVID-19 vaccination once it’s available.

Cuomo, speaking to reporters in a conference call Friday, said he was on a call earlier in the day with the White House Coronavirus Task force and he believes its vaccination plan is “deeply flawed.”

The Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic has become central in the presidential election and Cuomo, a Democrat, has been critical before about the lack of specificity in the plan.

The main distributors would be private pharmacies and private providers, Cuomo said on Friday, calling that “a very limited distribution mechanism.”

Cuomo said it was the same network being used for COVID-19 testing.

“You’d have to sacrifice one or the other, either the number of COVID tests you’re taking or the number of vaccinations they could perform,” he said. “Secondarily, you do not get the necessary scale to do the vaccinations on an expeditious basis.”

Cuomo estimated, “It could take one year to vaccinate the population using only a private sector network. This country can’t afford to take one year to do vaccinations. So, I think their fundamental plan, while simplistic, is deeply flawed.”


New rules for red-zone schools

Cuomo also noted that, as the coronavirus surges in many states, New York’s infection rate is the third lowest in the nation. Maine is the lowest and Vermont is the second lowest.

Based on Thursday’s test results, the rate of infection in the focus-zone areas was 2.75 percent; statewide; the positivity rate was 1.53 percent.

Red zones, with clusters of infection, are surrounded by orange zones and finally outlying yellow zones. Schools and nonessential businesses had been closed in the red zone, with lesser restrictions in outlying zones.

Most of the focus zones are in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City; Rockland and Orange counties in the Mid-Hudson region; and in Broome, Chemung, and Steuben counties near the Pennsylvania border.

Cuomo said in his Friday conference call that schools in red and orange zones will be able to open based on COVID-19 testing of students, faculty, and staff.

“Basic rule is, before you reopen a school, all the people who go into the school, students or teachers, will be tested, and only those who test negative are allowed to go back into the school,” said Cuomo.

Random surveillance testing will be used on a minimum 25 percent of a school’s population and the state will supply rapid-test kits for the surveillance.


Flu tracker launched

Cuomo also urged New Yorkers to get flu shots and said that the New York State Flu Tracker is being launched on Friday. The tracker displays daily and weekly flu data and provides information about local, regional, and statewide flu activity.

“This fall could be a one-two punch for infection as we manage the start of another flu season while working diligently to keep the COVID-19 virus at bay,” Como said in a statement, announcing the tracker.

During the 2019-20 flu season, there were 22,217 flu-associated hospitalizations in the state and 13 pediatric deaths.

Nourish New York gets another $10M

Also on Friday, Cuomo announced an additional $10 million is being dedicated to the Nourish New York program, bringing the total funding for the program to $35 million.

The money will allow New York’s emergency food providers to continue to purchase surplus products from New York farmers and dairy manufacturers and deliver it to families in need through the end of the year.

Nourish New York was first announced in April 2020 in response to the financial hardships New York's dairy farmers were facing with the loss of key markets and the significant, increased demand New York's food banks were seeing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the program started, more than 16 million pounds of dairy, fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and more have been purchased and provided to 823,883 households.


Economic woes

For the third quarter, sales-tax revenue for local governments in New York State has dropped, according to a report from the state’s comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli. Sales tax collections from July to September totaled $4.3 billion, or $452 million less than last year — a drop of about 9 percent.

“Unlike in the second quarter, when decreases were widespread, the third quarter was actually relatively positive for most counties outside of New York City – counties in total saw an increase of 2.5 percent in sales tax collections,” the report says.

The Capital Region, which saw an 18.7 percent drop in the second quarter, saw just an 0.4-percent drop in the third quarter, according to the report.

DiNapoli also released a report on unemployment. It says that New York State’s unemployment rate dropped to 9.7 percent in September, marking the first time the rate has been below 10 percent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2.8-percentage-point improvement in the unemployment rate was the second largest among all states. New Jersey led the nation with a 4.4 percentage point decline.

However, the report goes on to show that what drove down the unemployment rate in New York State is the shrinking labor force.

“Unfortunately,” DiNapoli writes, “a deeper dive into the Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals troubling context: New York State’s workforce declined by nearly 363,000 last month, a 2.3 percentage point drop from August (based on preliminary figures), while the number of individuals officially considered unemployed declined by 302,000.

“In short, the unemployment rate went down in large part because of the decline in New Yorkers counted as working or seeking employment. Such a decrease in the size of the workforce may indicate that individuals have ceased searching for a job actively.”

DiNapoli also reported on a positive effect of the pandemic: increased participation in school budget votes and elections with mail-in rather than in-person voting.

“Historically,” the report says, “participation in school district budget votes has been relatively low and declined steadily since the implementation of the property tax cap, which became effective starting in the 2012-13 school year.”

However, with the executive order for mail-in ballots, voter participation for school district budgets statewide more than tripled to 1.6 million votes. The budget outcomes were similar to 2019 when only 1.6 percent of the budgets failed to pass on the first vote, the report says.

“Using the absentee ballot process put into place this year, voters participated in greater numbers to approve the vast majority of school district budgets,” DiNapoli said in a statement, releasing the report. “We need to embrace smart actions like this to help New Yorkers engage on issues critical in their communities.”

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