Coronavirus Roundup: Given Green Light, Counties Plan Vaccine Distribution | Health | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Tuesday, January 5 and Wednesday, January 6. Published in collaboration with The Other Hudson Valley.

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County governments and health departments have been sidelined so far in the rollout of vaccination in New York, to their frustration. That’s about to change. The first shipments of vaccine doses to county health departments have begun to arrive. On Wednesday, the first county-run vaccination sites were set up. Some local governments in the Hudson Valley and Catskills are starting to share their vaccination plans with the public: Ulster County, one of the first to get organized for the broader rollout to come, has announced plans to administer up to 50,000 vaccines a week at two sites, starting next Monday. 

Vaccine eligibility is still currently limited to healthcare workers, but has been expanding by degrees in New York State since the first vaccines were made available. All public-facing healthcare workers are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, along with nursing home staff and residents. Eligible workers include EMS personnel in fire and police departments, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has called on large fire and police departments to “operationalize their own vaccination systems” to take some of the burden off hospitals. 

The vaccine rollout at New York State hospitals, which are currently leading the effort, continues to be slow: According to the latest CDC data, as of Wednesday morning, 311,797 of the 934,925 doses already distributed to New York State have been administered. In Wednesday’s briefing, Cuomo again called out hospitals that have been slow in administering vaccines to their staff, and said that the state may redirect doses to hospitals that are more efficient at giving them out. 

Information on how many vaccine doses are going to hospitals, how quickly hospitals are giving them out, and how many healthcare workers are declining to be vaccinated is missing from state data. In Wednesday’s briefing, Cuomo said that a state survey of healthcare workers indicated that about 85 percent were willing to be vaccinated, but it was unclear from the governor’s remarks who was surveyed, or whether hospitals are tracking their own workers’ rates of refusal. At another recent briefing, Mitchell Katz, who runs the New York City Health and Hospitals system, said that about 30 percent of eligible healthcare workers are currently declining to be vaccinated. Supply is still an issue in getting healthcare workers immunized against COVID-19 in New York: On Wednesday, Cuomo said that the state currently had about 950,000 doses of vaccine for 2.1 million healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents.

In order to reach herd immunity, epidemiologists think that a high percentage of the population will need to be vaccinated. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that he believes it will take vaccination of 75 to 80 percent of the population to return US society to “some degree of normality” by fall. Cuomo said Wednesday that he wants to see 90 percent of healthcare workers vaccinated.

In recent briefings, Cuomo has called out several Hudson Valley hospitals for low rates of administration of the vaccine doses they have received, including the large networks of Nuvance Health and Westchester Medical Center. The River reached out to both hospital networks for more information, and received brief statements from Nuvance and WMC, but the hospitals declined to share any data, or to explain whether vaccine refusal by their staff or other factors were driving their low rates of vaccination so far. 

State officials have not set a date for the next phase of vaccine eligibility, but when Phase 1B arrives, millions of New Yorkers will become newly eligible, including about 2.5 million teachers, first responders, public safety and transit workers, and people over 75. Cuomo said Wednesday that by March or April, the vaccine should be available to the general population in New York.

The effort to vaccinate staff and residents at nursing homes in New York is on track to be completed within the next two weeks, Cuomo said Wednesday. Nursing homes in the state are being vaccinated under a federal program in partnership with CVS and Walgreens. Recently, in frustration with the slow pace of the program, New York State officials have stepped in to expedite nursing home vaccination.

Cuomo urged Customs and Border Protection to test all incoming travelers to the US for COVID-19 in light of several mutated variants of the virus that are worrying scientists in the UK, South Africa, and elsewhere. “This country is playing mutation roulette,” he said Wednesday. A case of B.1.1.7, the so-called “UK variant,” was found Monday in a jeweler in Saratoga Springs, the first case of the mutation to be found in New York under a new genetic surveillance program being run by the state Wadsworth Lab. The man had a connection to someone who had recently traveled to the UK, Cuomo said.

In an effort to find new sources of state revenue to address a yawning budget gap, Cuomo is floating plans for marijuana legalization, and a plan for legal sports gambling that would direct revenue to the state rather than to casinos. Neither will raise enough revenue to close the state’s $15 billion budget shortfall, and marijuana legalization will not raise much revenue in the short term, but with a growing chorus of state legislators pushing for tax hikes on New York’s ultra-wealthy, the pressure is on Cuomo to come up with new revenue streams.

More than half of New York’s state prisons are currently dealing with outbreaks, reports, and New York has shut down visitation at all state prisons. Six inmates died of COVID-19 in December alone. There is currently some confusion at the state level over whether inmates will be eligible for vaccination along with correctional officers as part of Phase 1B.

County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam

Staff members of Rockland County’s health department received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday, after the county’s allotment of the vaccine was delivered. The county will begin vaccinating eligible residents this week at the Department of Health in Pomona between 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. The first phase of vaccinations in New York is reserved primarily for frontline healthcare workers, medical examiners, longterm care providers, and other individuals who have contact with patients. New York State has a tool to determine if you’re eligible, and no appointment is required, though waits may be long. “This vaccine is a powerful tool to help keep Rockland residents safe, and we strongly urge those who are eligible to get vaccinated,” said Rockland County Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel Ruppert.

Putnam County also received its first shipment of vaccine on Tuesday, County Executive MaryEllen Odell announced via press release. The county health department got 600 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and on Thursday will begin inoculating staff and residents of facilities managed by the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Office of Mental Health, and Office of Addiction Services and Support. After that, the department will vaccinate eligible residents in the county. New York State has a tool to determine if you’re eligible for the first phase of vaccinations.

Westchester County will hold a public conversation on COVID-19 on Facebook on Thursday from 6-7pm. County Executive Latimer, Health Commissioner Dr. Sherita Amler, and county infectious disease expert Dr. Dial Hewlett will take part in the discussion. Residents can submit questions to [email protected] or post them in the comments during the livestream.

County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

Ulster County announced it will run two vaccine hubs: one at the Kate Walton Field House at Kingston High School (which was outfitted to be a surge hospital in the spring) and one at Ellenville Regional Hospital Center. The Kingston location will have the capacity to give up to 45,000 vaccinations a month and will be open seven days a week, while the Ellenville location will start at 5,000 vaccinations a month and will be open weekdays. The hubs “will be key to the county’s efforts to ensure all residents can receive the coronavirus vaccine rapidly, safely, and equitably,” according to a county press release.

Four more Ulster County residents died of COVID-19, the county announced Wednesday, but the active caseload has fallen since peaking on New Year’s Eve.

Orange County officials moved fast this week to administer about 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which were given to the county by New York State on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, the county had set up a pop-up tent to give vaccines to healthcare and EMS workers, a scene described by Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus in a video briefing posted that evening. Despite computer glitches, cold weather, and the distraction of an attempted takeover of the US government in Washington, DC, the county got all of the doses administered, Neuhaus said. “This whole thing was hard,” Neuhaus said. “I am proud to report to you tonight: Every one of those doses was administered today in Orange County.” Neuhaus said Tuesday that about 21 percent of the doses sent to Valley View Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, which is county-operated, were lost after a freezer problem.

Eight people died from COVID-19 in Orange County in the last 24 hours, Neuhaus said Wednesday; one was a nursing home resident, and some of the victims were in their 40s and 50s. In a bit of good news, Neuhaus also announced that American Airlines would be staying at Stewart International Airport after saying in November it would leave the Newburgh airport permanently due to low passenger demand.

Dutchess County started vaccinating healthcare workers on Tuesday, according to County Executive Marc Molinaro. In a briefing, Molinaro said that the county health department will begin operating two vaccination hubs next week: one in western Dutchess County  and one in eastern Dutchess County. Specifics will be announced soon. The county is also partnering with Nuvance Health for an additional location at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck.

The number of active cases in Columbia County has skyrocketed since Monday, rising from 271 to 364, a record. Twenty-three people are hospitalized, with one person in the ICU.

The Columbia County Office Building in Hudson was closed at 11am on Wednesday due to a possible COVID-19 exposure, according to a statement posted by Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell. The building will be deep-cleaned before opening for regular hours on Thursday.

Columbia County is seeking volunteers to help administer the vaccine once it can be more widely distributed. The Register Star quoted health director Jack Mabb saying the county will need 60 nonmedical volunteers—15 per vaccination hub—as well as volunteers with medical backgrounds, including “licensed practical nurses, licensed pharmacists, midwives, dentists, certain dental hygienists, podiatrists and emergency medical technicians.” The nonmedical volunteers will assist with “flow facilitation,” such as signing people in. Those interested can sign up by visiting ServNY on Columbia County’s health department opened its first point of distribution last weekend and administered about 100 doses to eligible residents in Phase 1A, including frontline medical workers and nursing home residents and staff. “It’s important for the public to understand that our vaccination capacity is limited and we are confined to very specific categories by the state—an individual cannot just show up at a pod and expect to be vaccinated,” Mabb said. “Further, it’s of no use to call the department if you don’t fit into the appropriate category.” 

County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Hunter Mountain closed on Wednesday and will reassess when it can reopen after a number of employees were out for COVID-related reasons. “The safety of our employees and guests is our top priority and we will always ensure that we have sufficient safety personnel available for mountain operations prior to opening,” reads a statement from Hunter Mountain quoted in HudsonValley360. The ski resort will provide updates on its social media and website.

Greene County received its initial shipment of COVID-19 vaccine and will begin inoculating residents eligible under Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan, according to a press release issued Tuesday. That includes frontline healthcare workers and other providers who come into contact with patients; to find out if you’re eligible, use the state’s online tool. The release stresses that the county “does not control the vaccination distribution schedule, or when vaccines will arrive,” and urges residents to monitor its website for further information rather than calling the health department.

No announcement has yet been made by Delaware, Schoharie, or Sullivan county officials about county plans for vaccination, or the arrival in any of the counties of vaccine doses from New York State.

SUNY Cobleskill paramedic Pete Annely posted on Facebook on Tuesday about his experience with COVID-19. Annely said he began having symptoms on Christmas Eve, and is now recovering. “In the last 12 days, I’ve had fevers in the 103°F/39.5°C range, splitting headaches, chills, cold sweats, body aches, joint pains, coughs, rapid heart rates, non-exertional shortness of breath, near exhaustion from just walking to the kitchen and epic diarrhea,” he wrote. “I don’t recall ever feeling as sick as I have recently, and most of my symptoms were relatively mild, compared to other people’s experiences.”

In Woodbourne Correctional Facility, in the Sullivan County town of Fallsburg, 48.3 percent of COVID-19 tests on inmates recently came back positive, reports. “If this was any other setting, where we had positivity rates at that level, it would be an enormous emergency that would attract the attention of every conceivable stakeholder,” Alexander Horwitz, executive director of New Yorkers United for Justice, told a reporter. “Those positivity numbers represent a system on fire.”

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The River is collaborating with WGXC to announce these updates over the air. To listen, tune in to 90.7 FM at midnight, 5am, 7am, or 9am, or visit the audio archive online.

La Voz, una revista de cultura y noticias del Valle de Hudson en español, está traduciendo estos resúmenes y co-publicandolos en su página web. Leyendo aqui. También puede escuchar actualizaciones diarias por audio en el show “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” en Radio Kingston.

To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.

Lissa Harris

Lissa Harris is a staff writer at The River and a volunteer firefighter. She was the founding editor of the Watershed Post, a site that covered local news in the rural Catskills from 2010 to 2017.
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