‘Stand Back:' NYC Mayor Rips Cuomo on NYPD Vaccines, State Sets Single-Day Case Record

New York state set a new single-day pandemic case record Thursday (17,636) as Cuomo reported 197 new deaths overnight, a single-day toll not seen since the second week of May

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What to Know

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo quashed Mayor Bill de Blasio's announcement that 25K NYPD members were eligible for initial vaccine doses barely an hour after he made it; Cuomo said health workers are still first
  • It came as de Blasio pushed to expand eligibility for people age 75+ amid alarming data on hospitalization and death rates; that group is part of the 1B vaccine rollout, which has no timetable to begin
  • New York state set a new single-day pandemic case record Thursday (17,636) as Cuomo reported 197 new deaths overnight, a single-day toll not seen since the second week of May

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is firing back at Gov. Andrew Cuomo Thursday, a day after the governor quashed the mayor's announcement that 25,000 NYPD personnel were eligible to receive their first vaccine doses under revised state guidelines. Cuomo shut de Blasio's plan down barely an hour after he revealed it.

De Blasio had planned to dose up to 10,000 NYPD personnel with initial shots by Sunday, a lofty goal that earned him praise from detective and police unions. That's off the table for now, with Cuomo insisting NYPD were not eligible for the vaccine yet and doses had to be reserved for health workers and nursing homes.

The governor said those were the rules. De Blasio challenged that contention Thursday, saying, "We really think the rules couldn't be clearer."

He shared a slide that shows state vaccine guidance on the left and the corresponding population the city felt it could vaccinate because of that guidance on the right to illustrate his point.

bdb slide

These are rules "we believe we interpreted very clearly, very appropriately to mean that we could vaccinate our correction officers, our police officers who respond to 911 calls who administer CPR and Narcan" to protect against overdoses, de Blasio said, noting that involves close proximity to potential COVID patients.

Cuomo's rules do allow for about 400 emergency service officers with the NYPD to get vaccinated in the current Phase 1A and de Blasio said the city would move ahead with that. But it tossed the "huge vaccination" effort he had planned, which also included correctional officers he perceived to be eligible under state rules.

In total, the NYPD has about 35,000 uniformed members; only about 25,000 of them have public-facing jobs. Now all but 400 of them will have to wait for the next phase of vaccination, 1B, even as police in New Jersey are eligible to receive their first shots starting Thursday.

"Why don't we just resolve this and give the city of New York the freedom to vaccinate high-priority people as we see fit so we can speed up the vaccination process?" de Blasio asked Thursday. "We understand the maximum we can do on the ground in our communities. Sometimes the federal government, the state government needs to stand back and let local government do what it knows how to do best. This is one of those times."

Pharmacies will soon begin administering shots as hospitals are pushed to the brink.

The city's detective union agrees.

“Why the governor doesn’t find us important enough to get the vaccination is beyond my belief,” Paul DiGiacomo, president of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said in a statement after the contrasting messages Wednesday.

Fire department EMTs, included with hospital workers in the top tier of the state's rollout guidelines, started receiving shots on Dec. 23. Police personnel argued they should also be eligible because they too respond to medical emergencies and often go to hospitals to interview crime victims. Cuomo said not yet.

"I'm not going to pick police over teachers and firefighters and grandma and grandpa," Cuomo said.

The vast majority of the police force will now have to wait for the next eligibility group to open up. They're part of Phase 1B, which includes first responders, people 75 and older, teachers and public safety, transit and education workers. And Cuomo also noted that police cannot be prioritized over other members of that group.

When Could I Get the Vaccine?

Answer the questions to calculate your risk profile and see where you fall in your county's and state's vaccine lineup. This estimate is based on a combination of vaccine rollout recommendations from the CDC and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

For a more detailed breakdown of who is included in each priority group, see this methodology.
Source: the Vaccine Allocation Planner for COVID-19 by Ariadne Labs and the Surgo Foundation
Interactive by Amy O’Kruk/NBC

De Blasio wants to get 1B rolling now, not just for the NYPD but also to help protect people age 75 and older in the city amid alarming new data for that age demographic.

"Everyone's saying, rightfully, 'Get the numbers up.' We all want to get the numbers up. Give us the freedom to vaccinate," de Blasio said. "I've got a huge number of folks over 75 who would show up right now, state won't allow it. I've got a bunch of police officers who are ready right now, state won't allow it. Correction officers, state won't allow it. Go down the list."

New York City health officials on Wednesday issued a new and heightened warning to those 75 and older, citing concerning case growth rates and more disturbing numbers on hospitalizations and deaths in the last 30 days.

People 75 and older account for 6 percent of new citywide cases over the last 30 days but 30 percent of hospitalizations and 58 percent of deaths in the same time, health commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said. The positivity rate for that demographic is higher than the rolling citywide one (about 12 percent versus 9.3 percent). More than half of the new cases are thought to be community spread, while 38 percent are likely cases of household transmission, he added.

"This message is as urgent as it's ever been," Chokshi said. "Avoid activities outside of the home except for essential purposes, including medical care and other necessities. Remain vigilant. Don't let the numbers make you numb."

Asked about that warning from the city Wednesday, Cuomo said the federal vaccine supply just wasn't there to begin vaccinating the 1B group yet. That group involves nearly 6 million people, including, as the governor pointed out, his own mother. It's not yet clear when the supply will be available to meet the demand.

Amid the rollout frustration nationally, vaccine distribution and administration has become a local point of contention -- and the first subject in some time on which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio are at outright odds.Tracie Strahan and Katherine Creag report.

"I can't say to my mother or to any New Yorker right now how long until we know what the supply actually is going to be. As soon as we have a more definitive answer, I will tell you," the governor said, noting some predict March or April.

He pledged the state's distribution system would be ready when the time comes, with nearly 4,000 planned access points statewide, including pharmacies, doctors' offices and outreach programs for Black and Latino communities. The governor said that the second round of vaccines will not be primarily distributed by the government, and it is encouraged for agencies that have the ability to administer the vaccine themselves (police, fire, transit, teachers unions) to do so.

Meanwhile, de Blasio continues to shore up new access points across the city. The first 24/7 mass vaccination sites open Sunday -- at Brooklyn's Army Terminal Annex Building and the Bronx's Bathgate Industrial Park. Also opening Sunday: the first vaccine hubs -- in Brooklyn (Bushwick Educational Campus), Queens (Hillcrest High School) and the Bronx (South Bronx Educational Campus).

Those will be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and require advance appointment scheduling on the city's Department of Health website.

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


The latest sparring over eligibility comes amid a week of continued feuding between Cuomo and de Blasio on the vaccine front.

The war of words first erupted Monday, when Cuomo accused hospitals of administering vaccine doses too slowly and threatened fines for those that didn't use up their inventory this week. He also threatened to disqualify hospitals from distribution if they failed to use their inventories within seven days of receipt going forward.

"Vaccinate the health-care workers, because if they get sick and they don't show up, and staff shortages are already the limiting factor on hospital capacity, you're going to hit the hospital capacity like they did in California, like they did in the U.K., like they did in Italy," Cuomo said. "And then you're going to have to close down."

De Blasio's office had blasted the governor for what it described as "tough guy antics." Rather than threats of fines and other penalties, the mayor argued hospitals needed the freedom to vaccinate more groups -- like the NYPD. Accusing them of essentially sitting on their hands amid the worst healthcare crisis the city has ever done would do nothing but paralyze them, he said.

The bickering continued Thursday, as Cuomo blasted de Blasio for how slow New York City Health + Hospitals have distributed the vaccine. The Queens and Coney Island branches of NYC Health + Hospitals has administered just 29 and 34 percent of their respective allotments, Cuomo said, among the lowest in the state. The dubious distinction of lowest percentage of dosages given out goes to Montefiore hospitals, which have administered just 17 percent of the dosages they've been allotted.

But according to Health + Hospitals CEO Mitch Katz, there's no one to give the vaccines to.

"All of a sudden we have appointments available and we don't have arms to give that vaccine to," he said.

Andrew Siff reports on the latest in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Cuomo repeated his refrain that it is paramount to get as many health care workers vaccinated as possible, and believed his recent actions regarding fines had helped get that done. He said that the state was at 10,000 vaccinations per day before Monday (the day he announced the fines), when that number jumped to 30,000. By Thursday, he said there were more than 50,000 vaccinations each day.

"Vaccinate the health-care workers, because if they get sick and they don't show up, and staff shortages are already the limiting factor on hospital capacity, you're going to hit the hospital capacity like they did in California, like they did in the U.K., like they did in Italy," Cuomo said. "And then you're going to have to close down."

Overall, of the 917,000 health care workers in New York City who are eligible to receive a vaccine in the 1A group, just 144,000 vaccines have been given, the governor said. That's just 14 percent of the total health care worker population, Cuomo lamented. The governor's office later said that the city has received 304,000 dosages since December, and has administered less than 50 percent of those.

"We urge New York City and other local governments to get needles in the arms of the healthcare workers," Cuomo's office said in a press release.

In response to the comments from the governor's office, City Hall spokesperson Bill Neidhardt broke the press release down line by line, addressing each of the criticisms.

"It all boils down to this," he wrote, "There is no excuse to slow down the vaccination effort."

The governor added that any comments of hospitals hitting their refusal rate for the vaccine (meaning they've administered it to as many eligible people as possible, excluding those who refused it) are inaccurate, considering some have well over half of their supply still. He said that any hospital that has extra dosages of the vaccine can notify the state, and they will be reallocated to another area. He also said that a new reallocation plan will be announced Friday.

NBC New York's Ida Siegal reports.

Search for U.K. Variant Continues

Compounding concerns over a slower-than-ideal vaccine rollout is the U.K. variant, a more transmissible COVID strain now confirmed in New York and in at least six other states, with Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Texas becoming the latest to find it Thursday.

New York's case is a man in his 60s tied to a jewelry store in Saratoga Springs. Three other people linked to him also have coronavirus and their samples have been tested to determine if they also have the variant that prompted the latest national lockdown in Britain this week. It takes about 44 hours for the state to conduct the genetic code sequencing needed to detect it, officials have said.

That process has been underway since Monday evening.

NBC New York's Katherine Creag reports.

The man had not traveled recently, just like the man in the first identified U.S. case in Colorado, which suggests community spread has already happened. The CDC says the strain had been circulating in the U.K. since September, meaning it likely had been in the U.S. via travel for some time before it was detected in Colorado.

Cuomo said Wednesday evidence appears to show the confirmed upstate case was connected to UK travel, despite no recent travel on behalf of the man. He called once again on the feds to mandate testing for all international travelers.

Citing an unparalleled urgency for containment, Cuomo has asked anyone who may possibly have been in contact with the upstate or exposed to someone who may have been exposed to him to come forward.

"Frightening" data indicates the UK strain could overtake the current strain in a matter of weeks, Cuomo says. It's no more lethal than the current strain and no evidence shows it causes worse infections, but the heightened transmissibility alone could lead to a case surge he fears could overwhelm hospitals.

That's the line in the sand for Cuomo. If hospitals become overwhelmed, the economy has to shut down, he has said. He says there's simply no other choice.

"In the U.K., it overtook everything in three weeks," Cuomo said. "If the U.K. spread catches on in New York, hospitalization rate goes up, the hospital staff is sick, then we have a real problem and we're at shutdown again."

Hospitals have become increasingly taxed over the last six weeks as it is, a direct consequence of more infections from people's behavior, Cuomo has said. New York state hospitalizations are at 8,548, the highest total since May 6. Single-day death tolls are at mid-May levels, with Cuomo reporting 197 new fatalities Thursday, a recent single-day high. And weekly case averages are up 36 percent in New York over the past 14 days, according to New York Times data.

On Thursday, Cuomo reported 17,636 new daily COVID cases, a single-day pandemic high. The previous high was set on New Year's Eve, when the total topped 16,000 for the first time. Thursday's total was almost 1,000 higher.

"It's the holiday COVID hangover. Celebrate smart, you reduce the infection rate. If you don't celebrate smart, you have a hangover," Cuomo said. "COVID hangover is increasing infection rate, increasing positivity rate and increasing hospitalization rate. That's what we're seeing all across the country."

Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region

Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here


The United States is seeing hospital systems overwhelmed in multiple states as the dreaded holiday surge compounds a surge that had been sweeping much of the nation even before Thanksgiving. December was the deadliest month of the pandemic yet for the U.S., and experts have warned January could be even worse.

The country reported another record number of new coronavirus cases and deaths on Thursday, topping 4,000 deaths in a day for the first time during the pandemic. There have been more than 19,000 COVID-related deaths thus far this week alone, and more than 1.6 million new cases. There are now five states (including New York) with more than a million cases total.

To date, more than 360,000 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported in America, along with more than 21 million cases, according to a tally by NBC News. The head of the CDC warned last month that a total of 450,000 people could die by February if aggressive measures weren't taken to control the spread. That'd add another 100,000 U.S. lives in less than four weeks.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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