Investigation

The Cuomo administration is under investigation for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Office

ALBANY — New Yorkers should anticipate state websites to become overwhelmed this weekend when up to 3 million additional people with underlying conditions become eligible to schedule an appointment to receive a coronavirus vaccine, officials said.

State residents over the age of 16 with specific comorbidities and approved underlying conditions that make them high risk for becoming infected with COVID-19 can start to book an appointment online at midnight Feb. 14, for vaccinations to begin Feb. 15.

“The [sites] will be crushed, this will not be perfect,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said Monday during a COVID-19 briefing in the state Capitol in Albany. “Everybody should go into this with their eyes wide open. There are going to be problems. It is not going to be perfect. Everyone’s going to do their best to avoid glitches as the [portals] get up and running. It’s going to be a tough period here.”

About 94% of COVID-19-related deaths happen in patients with underlying conditions, or about 3 million people in New York.

Comorbidities eligible to receive a vaccine include people with cancer (current or in remission); chronic kidney disease; pulmonary disease including COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis and 9/11-related pulmonary diseases; intellectual and developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome; heart conditions including heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or high blood pressure; immunocompromised states due to an organ or blood transplant, immune deficiency, HIV, use of immune-weakening medicine; severe obesity with a Body Mass Index over 40; pregnancy; sickle cell disease; Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes; cerebrovascular disease, neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and liver disease.

The state’s guidance is based on recent guidelines published by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To check your eligilbity and available appointments, visit am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/

New Yorkers must verify their condition with a doctor’s letter, medical information or evidence of the comorbidity or provide a signed certification provided by a local government.

The state Health Department will audit local systems to ensure validity of documentation and vaccinations with Tiberius — the federal data system that documents the distribution of each COVID vaccine dose.

“We’ll leave it to the local health departments to determine the exact validation they want,” Cuomo said. “There will be fraud, there will be mistakes, there will be inefficiencies — we understand that, but we will also audit to make sure the rules are followed. We don’t want people abusing the system.”

State Health Department officials will hold a call with county executives and local health departments in the coming days to discuss the requirements and strategies in vaccinating patients with underlying conditions.

Columbia County has a large number of elderly residents, county Health Department Director Jack Mabb said Monday, adding comorbidities are most common in the aging population.

“We have thousands of people out in the county who now qualify,” Mabb said.

“I think it could very well crash,” Mabb said of the state appointment system. “I think that this system is obviously already chock full of appointments of people that booked the available appointments.”

The county call center at 401 State St. had increased numbers of calls Monday from people with comorbidities asking when they can get inoculated. The call volume should increase over the next week, Mabb said.

Capital Region health officials are engaging in ongoing conversations about posing health care providers administer the vaccine to patients with comorbidities, Mabb said.

“They know their patients who might have the highest risk,” he said. “We have seven days to try and figure something out with this. We’re trying to see if there’s some way that this could go through health care providers because they know their patients. They can prioritize people in such a way that those who have the greatest risk and the greatest exposure can get it first.”

The state will redistribute excess COVID-19 vaccine dosages from hospitals and long-term care facilities for patients with verifiable, eligible comorbidities.

Hospitals will lose the excess vaccines for staff after this week.

“It will have been over two months they had the vaccine for their hospital workers,” Cuoomo said. “Hospitals can’t say to a nurse ‘you must take the vaccine.’ The nurse has the right to decline, but I want to make sure every nurse had the option.”

Vaccine distribution varies widely in the state’s nearly 200 hospitals across 10 regions.

A percentage of health workers and New Yorkers decline to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Declination rates are higher among Black and Hispanic New Yorkers compared to Caucasian residents.

State Health Department data continues to reflect a disparity of vaccination rates among similar demographics in each region.

The department will review hospitals that are slower to distribute the immunization, Cuomo said.

Mabb did not know Monday how the state will release or divide excess vaccine doses from hospitals and adult-care facilities.

County officials expressed concern eligibility will expand next week, but weekly vaccine supply will remain the same. Vaccine appointment availability varies around the state.

“I think that the bottom line is the governor can expand into whatever he wants to expand into, but until we receive allocations to match what’s being put out there, there’s not a lot more we can do about it,” Greene County Legislature Chairman Pat Linger, R-New Baltimore, said Monday. “We have plans that are in place, have been submitted — the state so far has ignored all of them. They’ve gone their own route on this, and until we have a supply that matches the number of people that we can vaccinate, there’s not a lot we can do.”

The majority of Columbia County residents have returned to receive their second dose.

“We had a POD (point of distribution) on Saturday, which was all second doses,” said Mabb. “We only had three no-shows out of 280. I think people want to get it, I think those are pretty good numbers. This morning on the hub call several hospitals reported out that in terms of their second doses they are running at 95% or better.”

Greene County health workers have work to do to vaccinate thousands of eligible residents, now including people with underlying illnesses.

“If you do the math, it will probably be a year,” Linger said. “But based off of the two approved vaccines, it will take months to get through this. We’re willing, ready and able to vaccinate more people, but without the supply we can’t get there.”

About 7 million other residents are eligible to be vaccinated, including people ages 65 and older, health workers, police, firefighters and other first responders, teachers and others.

“We still have many people chasing a very rare and precious resource: The available doses,” Cuomo said.

The state is set to receive 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine each week for the next three weeks — an increase from roughly 250,000 weekly for most of 2021.

About 15 million New Yorkers of 19.5 million residents statewide are ages 16 and older, or will be able to receive a vaccine when their category becomes eligible.

The state and nation need more supply from the federal government, the governor said.

“They control the spigot on the supply,” Cuomo added. “We need more. I said on day one when this started, everyone is going to say the same thing, ‘I need more.’ Everyone understands the dynamic, but you have a precious resource and only Jesus could figure out how to feed hundreds with limited loaves of bread and fish, so we need to be fair in the allocation until the supply increases.”

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is completed with one injection and does not require ultra-cold refrigeration, filed for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to approve an Emergency Use Authorization to make and distribute vials in the United States in addition to Pfizer and Moderna’s supply.

“That could be a game-changer,” Cuomo said. “We need that major difference. We need that bump in the supply.”

The state distributed about 90% of 2,808,825 doses allocated from the federal government over the last eight weeks as of Monday afternoon, including 1,627,191 first dosages and 509,018 second dosages.

Additional allocations of about 300,000 doses per week will continue to arrive Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo encouraged people to have patience and understand the reality of the vaccine supply issue as the state opens eligibility to people with underlying illnesses next week.

“Adjust your calibration of expectations,” he said. “Ten million people are chasing 300,000 vaccines. That’s the reality. That’s not going to change for months — for months. So if you think, ‘Well, I’m eligible, that means I can get one next week,’ no. You still have to deal with the fact there are only 300,000 doses.”

Shipments arrive on a rolling basis each week, Cuomo said.

“We go week to week; by the end of the week, we have exhausted the entire week’s allocation and we wait for the next week’s,” he said.

Coronavirus task force officials expect the state to receive 300,000 weekly doses for the next three weeks starting this week, following an announcement from President Joe Biden’s administration to the National Governor’s Association last week.

“At least we can plan and tell the local governments ‘This is what you’re going to get,’ next week,” Cuomo said. “It has smoothed out the scheduling, but it’s still week to week.”

About three-quarters of about 2 million health and congregate-care facility workers statewide have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus as of Monday, Cuomo said.

“They’re exposed the most, they would be super-spreaders if they get it,” the governor added. “If they get sick, the hospital capacity comes down.”

The statewide vaccination rate of medical personnel has continued to increase over the last several weeks from 72% of New York health workers Jan. 25 and 63% Jan. 18.

The state has 5,000 distribution centers to administer two injections of Pfizer or Moderna’s approved COVID immunizations at least three weeks apart.

Medical experts continue to test thousands of New Yorkers for potentially more contagious and lethal variants of COVID-19, including mutations discovered in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa.

Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is not approved in the United States, is reportedly to be largely ineffective against the South African strain. A case of the strain was not been discovered in the state as of Monday afternoon.

“We’re watching for variants, we’re watching for increased infections of the variance,” Cuomo said. “We’re watching for vaccine effectiveness with some of these new variants of interest. It’s rate of vaccination versus rate of infection overall statewide.”

Indoor dining will reopen in New York City on Friday at 25% capacity — earlier than the governor’s original plan to reopen Valentine’s Day, or this Sunday, so restaurants can be open for the duration of the weekend.

The state’s COVID-19 positivity rate dropped to 4.28% Monday for a seven-day average of 4.4%, reflecting a continued decline from an average of 4.67% Friday.

Positivity decreased to 4.95% in the North Country, down from 5.36% Friday; 3.41% in the Capital Region down from 3.92% and a low 2.99% in the Finger Lakes after 3.3% Friday.

“It’s all relative — all the numbers are coming down, but we focus on the highest numbers in our state,” Cuomo said.

The Bronx in New York City has some of the highest new COVID-19 infections statewide.

Hospitalizations slightly increased 67 people to 7,716 patients Monday as virus patients needing critical care reflect a slow flattening since the surge following the holiday season. An average of 41 virus patients leave hospitals statewide each day.

Long Island has the state’s greatest hospitalization rate at 1,339 residents or 0.05% of the region’s population.

The state reported 409 Finger Lakes residents hospitalized with COVID complications, or 0.04% of the region’s population — down from 483 people Friday and from a peak of 0.07% last month.

The state reported 114 New Yorkers died Sunday due to coronavirus complications — down from more than 140 fatalities each day last week.

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