ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the state on Friday to give the latest update on the COVID-19 response. He said that due to the slow distribution process of the vaccine, the state would implement a new shutdown plan based on hospitalization capacity.
On COVID-19 numbers, he said that increasing numbers of cases and hospitalizations are due to holiday gatherings and community spread. “Holiday spread, the number goes up. We’ve said that since before Thanksgiving.”
Cuomo again drew attention to growing numbers in the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, and Capital Regions. He pointed out that only the community’s behavior can solve the problem of community spread. The governor warned that regions that reach hospitalization capacity are likely to face economic shutdowns.
The governor says that New Yorkers are experiencing the footrace between vaccination level and the infection rate. He said that deciding the winner is “the whole predictive equation going forward.” With infections and hospitalizations going up quickly, he gave New Yorkers a dire warning:
Cuomo pointed out a new factor that would affect the outcome of the race: the newer, more contagious version of the virus first identified in the U.K., and most recently diagnoses in Saratoga Springs. “The U.K. strain is the Usain Bolt of infection rates,” Cuomo said, saying it overtook the original strain in the U.K. within three weeks.
The governor pointed out that the state receives 300,000 doses of the vaccine per week, and that herd immunity is attainable at 70%, using the most charitable medical estimates. In New York, a state with roughly 20 million people, 70% is about 14 million. At the rate the federal government distributes doses, that means it would take 47 weeks to reach 70%.
“You know what that means?” Cuomo asked. “We lose the footrace.”
The governor outlined a new plan to close regions and hospitals as they near capacity. He said that when hospitals are 21 days from 15% capacity, economies will shut down. According to the governor, 21 days of a closed economy ought to disrupt social gatherings and slow the spread. Cuomo said that he does not want to see hospitals overwhelmed hospital systems in California, Arizona, and the U.K.
Cuomo said that not only is the federal rollout of the vaccine slow, but not all hospitals have been effective at administering their doses. “They’re just nowhere near where we need to be.” He said that 71% of the “1a population”— still needs to be vaccinated in Capital Region. “If you don’t get to 70-90%, you don’t have herd immunity.”
Cuomo also talked about a new plan to accelerate the distribution methods throughout the state. Although he praised hospitals for getting better over recent weeks, he said, “We’re not pleased with the rate of distribution.”
A new network will supplement hospitals, and the vaccine will be available at pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and other health care providers. Under the new system, providers will be accepting vaccine reservations starting Monday for the 1a and 1b groups—-which includes health care staff, New Yorkers over 75, teachers, emergency responders, and teachers.
“We need a million additional doses just to take care of the health care workers,” he said. With that in mind, Cuomo said he is also hoping to get large labor unions involved. He said he is asking police, firefighters’, and teachers’ unions to try to organize their own plans to administer vaccines among their members.
The Department of Health will be holding webinar on Monday for new providers. Cuommo said doses will continue to be distributed proportionally by group and by region. If there’s willful fraud, those groups would be disqualified. He said the vaccine should be administered based on “pure math,” without any favoritism or special favors for “big shots.”
“I will argue fairness for all of them. No local official has discretion to prioritize one group over another. No provider, no pharmacy, no doctor’s office can decide they want to give vaccines to firefighters over doctors. This is a crisis. Everyone needs it. We’re going to do it fairly. This is a valuable commodity. I understand there will be fraud. I understand there will be theft,” he said.
Cuomo said the state will mandate social equity distribution by local health departments. “In this case, I’m not reluctant [to mandate]. This has to be done with social equity and social justice in mind,” he said. “We’re not going to decide who lives or dies based on race or income.”
Cuomo mentioned an executive order to make additional staff eligible to perform vaccinations so hospitals can hire more people amid a staff shortage. He also said that the Health Department will set up mass distribution sites, for example in New York City’s Javits Center.