Cuomo Gives Local Gov'ts Flexibility on Vaccine Eligibility; Variants Give NYC ‘Extreme' Concern

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday local governments could add taxi drivers, restaurant workers and developmentally disabled facilities to the eligible group 1B population because of another boost in weekly federal allocation

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • New York's downward trajectory from the holiday spike is continuing, with all three core metrics -- new cases, hospitalizations and deaths -- down considerably over weekly rolling averages for January
  • Nationally, the numbers are improving as well, though the curve is steep. January was the deadliest month of the pandemic for the U.S., with 95K lives lost in 31 days; daily death rates are slightly declining
  • More vaccines are expected to come to market, though the CDC says it's concerned about more transmissible variants; at least 32 states have detected strains first identified in U.K, Brazil, and South Africa

A powerful nor'easter temporarily brought New York's vaccine rollout to a halt this week, with all city hubs and many state-run sites postponing appointments through Tuesday, but the state's downward trek from the holiday spike that saw hospitalizations top 9,000 for the first time in nearly nine months is continuing.

At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the federal government has boosted its weekly first dose allocation to states yet again -- amounting to a total of about 20 percent increase for each of the next three weeks -- which will enable the state and city to look beyond the week-to-week scenario under which they've operated.

It also opened the door for local governments to add restaurant workers, taxi drivers and developmentally disabled facilities to the current eligible Phase 1B group, Cuomo said. Mayor Bill de Blasio had pushed for the expansion to city restaurant workers late last week when Cuomo announced indoor dining could return in the five boroughs at 25 percent capacity starting on Valentine's Day.

De Blasio, who had his coronavirus briefing ahead of Cuomo's Tuesday, said in a tweet later on that "workers who are at risk should be eligible to be vaccinated." That followed his comments at his earlier press conference, when he said we have to protect those workers and they should be added to the 1B category" after he was asked about expanding the vaccine's accessibility.

New York City restaurants can reopen indoor dining at 25 percent capacity on Valentine's Day, provided current downward trends in positivity and hospitalization rates continue, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. He also announced that wedding receptions of up to 50 percent or 150 people will be permitted in New York starting March 15, provided all guests are tested and local health officials approve.

The Taxi Workers Alliance said that being added to the group eligible for the shot brings a light of hope into what's been a tunnel of darkness. The head of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, which represents the restaurant industry, also applauded the governor's announcement in a statement later in the day.

"Restaurant workers have been essential to our city during the pandemic, and we applaud Governor Cuomo for expanding vaccine 1B eligibility requirements to include them," Executive Director Andrew Rigie said. "The NYC Hospitality Alliance is committed to advocating for our industry, and is ready and willing to support vaccine education and outreach to the restaurant community immediately upon its availability to these essential workers.”  

There are nearly 200,000 licensed cabbies and ride-hail drivers in New York City alone. Statewide, New York had an estimated 865,800 restaurant and food service jobs as of 2019, according to the National Restaurant Association.

“Some localities have already done a large percentage of their police, their fire, their teachers and they do have flexibility,” Cuomo said. “There is no one size fits all here.”

His administration didn’t release details Tuesday on how many more doses it’ll send to counties.

Those who had hopes for a big shidig for their wedding got new hope on Friday, as Gov. Cuomo said weddings of up to 150 people can soon start again in New York. NBC New York's Checkey Beckford.

More reopening measures could be on tap in the coming weeks, as Cuomo looks to gently open the valve of economic activity the longer the numbers stay in check -- and the more progress the state makes on the vaccine front.

Statewide hospitalizations are now just above 8,000, a drop of almost 14 percent from the winter surge-high 9,273 people admitted less than two weeks ago.

According to New York Times data, the rolling hospitalization average is down 5 percent over the average for the two weeks prior, while deaths are down 6 percent in that same time period. New daily case averages are down 24 percent, while the statewide positivity rate has seen 25 straight days of decline, the governor said.

It's the first time all three state core metrics are on the decline, based on a rolling average, in recent weeks. According to New York City data, the five boroughs have seen the seven-day hospitalization average drop almost 10 percent over the prior four weeks' weekly average, while total cases are down 12 percent in that time.

In an effort to keep the numbers trending down -- and address localized hotspots -- Cuomo said the state will look at targeting more aggressive vaccination efforts to ZIP codes and other areas with above-average positivity rates like the Bronx.

The governor said the planned mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium, which has no launch date set, will serve only Bronx residents as part of a trial program.

"We're using the Yankee Stadium demonstration to see how that works -- mass vaccination, get the high positivity down and target people in areas where the positivity is higher which tend to have a high predominance of Black or hard to access communities, Latino communities," the governor said.

In addition to the federal weekly allocation boost to states, the Biden administration said Tuesday it would start sending COVID vaccines directly to pharmacies -- a minimum of 10.5 million doses per week for the next three weeks across all jurisdictions -- at it looks to bolster the slow-to-start vaccine rollout.

With flakes falling since Sunday evening, the National Weather Service said more than 13 inches of snow had fallen in Manhattan’s Central Park as of 1 p.m., and as much as 16 inches was reported in northern New Jersey. NBC New York team coverage.

The more shots in arms, especially in hardest-hit areas, the closer New York comes to reaching that awesome goal of herd immunity, which will take months. As of the latest report, state healthcare distribution sites had used 90 percent of all first doses delivered to date, totaling more than 1.6 million, while New York City had used 89 percent of all first doses delivered to city-run programs.

To date, the city has administered nearly 825,000 vaccine doses, which is more than the entire population of Seattle. It has about 75,000 first doses left on hand and will likely run through those quickly once vaccine sites reopen on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the mayor called for the U.S. to have Pfizer and Moderna license their vaccines to other pharmaceutical companies in order to increase mass production.

"The United States of America should not care more about patents than we care about people. Now that the Defense Production Ace is finally in place, it is time to directly compel Pfizer or Moderna to license their vaccine to any pharmaceutical company than can help produce doses," the mayor said in a statement. "They are already doing this in Europe. Now, we need wartime mass production here in America."

New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers

Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.

Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC

A number of state-run sites in the city and other hard-hit areas also had to cancel appointments because of the storm. Cuomo said Tuesday individual sites would call people back to reschedule. He has ordered them to honor the appointments.

"I don't want anyone to think after everything they went through, the torture to get an appointment, that it's not going to be honored," Cuomo said. "It will be honored, and that's a State order, whether it's a city site, or a private site, or whoever's running it."

New Jersey's vaccine mega-centers also remained closed through Tuesday. As of Gov. Phil Murphy's morning update, the state has administered more than 680,000 first doses and nearly 140,000 second doses. Meanwhile, the holiday viral increases in the Garden State continue to ebb as well. Hospitalizations have fallen back below 3,000 while new daily positive tests continue to trend down.

Nationally, the rate of increase in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has also slowed following the winter surge, though the overall tolls remain jarring.

More than 95,000 U.S. lives were lost in 31 days, making January the deadliest month of the pandemic for America to date. December was the deadliest before last month. Thus far, the U.S. has seen more than 444,000 virus deaths since the onset of the pandemic and well more than 26 million cases.

In more promising yet still tragic news, U.S. deaths are now running at about 3,150 per day on average, down slightly by about 200 from a mid-January peak.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a slew of new mitigation measures under the Biden administration, including requiring masks to be worn on all public transportation. That applies to all public commercial transportation — planes, trains, boats and buses — and to transportation hubs, such as air terminals, train stations, subway stations, seaports and bus depots.

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky provides an update on COVID-19 variants found in the U.S.

The requirement went into effect late Monday as CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that more contagious variants "remain a great concern."

At least 32 states have reported cases of the new COVID strains detected in the U.K, Brazil, and South Africa, according to the CDC. The agency has said the U.K. strain could become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March -- and with that could come yet another dreaded COVID spike in the spring.

Testing for variants in New York hovers around 100 per day, Dr. Howard Zucker has said. So far, the state has detected 44 cases of the U.K. variant of roughly 6,000 samples tested. New York City officials say they have been doing "hundreds of genetic sequences each week" in an effort to detect the variants.

No cases of the Brazilian or South African variants have been identified locally yet. Those strains were only recently first detected in the U.S. -- in Minnesota and South Carolina, respectively. Another case of the South African variant has since been confirmed in Maryland, officials said.

As more COVID variants are identified across the globe, health experts are suggesting upgrading masks with better filtration, or, if surgical masks are the only options, to "double mask" when out and about.

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio reiterated his worries about the variants Tuesday even as he reported more improvement in citywide hospitalization, new case and rolling positivity rates.

"I am extremely concerned about the variants we're seeing," the mayor said. "These are big open questions about what's coming next at us. We don't know enough to say with assurance how they will respond to vaccine, how infectious, how deadly, there are so many open questions."

De Blasio's top experts, including senior public health adviser Dr. Jay Varma, agree.

"Some of these variants are particularly worrisome because not only are they more infectious, but they may be more able to infect people who were previously infected," Varma said. "That's what's being reported out of the U.K. right now."

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


Health officials say the South African variant is more concerning than the other identified highly transmissible strains because it contains the same mutations from the U.K. variant as well as others. Early lab tests have shown existing vaccines could have reduced protection against the South African variant.

Moderna says it is working on a second booster shot to bolster effectiveness against that variant. Johnson & Johnson's promising new single-dose vaccine, which has not yet been submitted for emergency use authorization in the U.S., also proved less effective in countries like South Africa where those more contagious variants exist. The company could seek emergency use approval from the FDA as early as this week, according to an NBC News report.

Overall, existing vaccines are expected to work on the more contagious strains and new strains that will emerge over time. The more vaccine options added to the toolbox, the better, national infectious disease expert Dr. Annthony Fauci says.

NIAID Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci explains why the results of a study into the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are encouraging even when comparing them to Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines which had a higher efficacy rate.

Copyright NBC New York
Contact Us