COVID-19

Cuomo Denies NYC Ask to Free Up 2nd Shots; Health Chief Explains Why He Didn't Get His 1st

Meanwhile, the city's top doctor, who just announced his COVID diagnosis, and its police commissioner, who is still recovering from his battle last month, gave updates on their experiences Thursday

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What to Know

  • New York and New Jersey's downward trajectories from the holiday spike are continuing with all three core metrics -- new cases, hospitalizations and deaths -- down considerably in recent weeks
  • 35 state-run community-based sites will launch in New York this week, while a mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium will open Friday; it will be reserved for Bronx residents only by appointment
  • COVID-19 is the leading cause of U.S. death in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It outpaced average daily U.S. fatalities for the second leading cause of death, heart disease, by 47 percent

New York state will not grant Mayor Bill de Blasio's formal request to fully open up reserved second doses for first dose use, saying the CDC recommends against doing so at this time. If that changes, the governor will allow it statewide, the state health commissioner said Thursday.

The mayor has repeatedly made the ask -- earning the right from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to use 18,000 reserved second dose shots last week. He says it "makes no sense" to have hundreds of thousands of second doses standing by while first dose shots remain limited -- and constrain the city's efforts to intensify the rollout.

That limited supply is the reason Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city's health commissioner, "hadn't quite felt right" about getting vaccinated earlier in the process. A day after he revealed his positive COVID diagnosis, Chokshi said Thursday he believes he got the virus from a family member -- and will get his first dose once he recovers.

As of Thursday, the city had less than 141,000 first doses left on hand and will likely run through those quickly, as officials work to reschedule appointments that were postponed prior to the storm amid supply issues and for two days as the furious nor'easter pummeled Central Park with more than a foot of snow.

The five boroughs have more than 321,000 reserved second doses on hand at the moment -- ones that can't be used to inoculate people who haven't had their first dose shots yet. The mayor wants to use them to temporarily bolster first dose supply as the city awaits new shipments from the federal government.

"We know more supply is coming. We know the Biden administration is committed to increasing the supply every single week and month. We've seen real results already," de Blasio said Thursday. "It makes no sense to hold back supply when people in desperate need could be getting that first vaccination right now -- and getting that 50 percent protection, which will make a world of difference."

So what's the reason behind the dramatic shortages in COVID vaccine supplies — and who is to blame for it? NBC New York's Chris Glorioso reports.

In response to de Blasio's latest request, the state's health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said he was in regular contact with the CDC, including as recently as Thursday morning, and the agency "affirmed their opposition to using second doses as first doses now." If that changes, Cuomo is ready to administer a statewide program to reallocate reserved second doses for first dose shots.

"Your suggestion that a 'brief delay' of people receiving second doses would be acceptable however it does raise a caution flag," Zucker's letter read. "People have worked very hard to get a vaccination appointment and there is much public anxiety that second doses will not be available on their appointment date."

"While the science on whether a 'brief delay' would impact full immunity is open and disputed, I do believe it would create undue anxiety to tell people who have scheduled appointments that those appointments are being shifted even for a 'brief delay,'" Zucker's letter continued. "As you know the vaccination process and supply has not instilled a high level of public confidence. Even postponing appointments due to the recent snowstorm caused concern."

Vaccination hubs in New York are reopening Wednesday after they were shuttered by a powerful nor'easter. NBC New York's Tracey Strahan reports.

The state and city are still working to reschedule those appointments -- and others that were delayed amid supply issues earlier this month. In the meantime, the sprawling distribution network continues to expand.

Nearly three dozen new community-based pop-up vaccination sites run by the state are slated to open over the next 72 hours, while the next 24/7 mega-center will launch at Yankee Stadium for Bronx residents only on Friday. The pop-up sites will be able to dose about 25,000 people by the end of the week, while the site at the Bronx stadium will offer 15,000 appointments in its first week alone. There are still thousands of slots available for shots at The Stadium — good news for those living in the borough with the highest positivity rate in the city.

The latest additions bolster outreach at churches, community centers, public housing complexes and cultural centers; 17 of the 35 new pop-up sites are in New York City, which has its own sprawling network of 100-plus hubs. That number continues to grow as supply is available. The hope, with the incoming three-week boost in federal weekly allocation, is to be able to stretch appointments a bit beyond the week-to-week scenario under which officials have had to operate.

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

Cuomo says the state's network has the capacity to administer 100,000 doses a day but, as has been the case from the start of the rollout, the demand -- with more than 7 million New Yorkers eligible -- far outpaces the supply. Eligibility expanded further this week in New York City, when Cuomo said local governments could decide whether to include restaurant workers, taxi drivers and individuals in developmentally disabled facilities within group 1B.

For Mayor de Blasio, it wasn't even a question whether to open eligibility to the groups Cuomo identified -- especially given the governor's recent announcement that limited indoor dining could resume in the five boroughs on Valentine's Day.

"It was clear to me that the folks that work in the restaurants deserve the right to be vaccinated," the mayor said, referring to Cuomo's indoor dining move. "They were vulnerable; they needed the right to be vaccinated. My decision is 'yes.'"

COVID vaccination sites resume in the area after a snowstorm forced them to close for a couple of days earlier this week. New York City's health commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms. New Jersey is also set to increase its indoor dining capacity. Tracie Strahan reports.

Those newly eligible New Yorkers are now able to try to make appointments, like the millions already struggling to do the same. Prior to the latest expansion, which adds hundreds of thousands more to the pool, about 7 million people statewide — including health workers, group home residents and staff, teachers, police, firefighters, public transit workers, grocery store workers and people older than 65 — were eligible. It could take half a year to just vaccinate that group.

Wait times for appointments stretch into mid-April -- at the earliest -- already. A red bar atop the state's vaccine webpage says people can schedule first-dose appointments through April 16. Cuomo isn't looking beyond that, given supply.

Cuomo had been reluctant to expand vaccine eligible group from the start, arguing earlier this month the sudden addition of people older than 65 -- on the heels of the additions of people age 75+, first responders, teachers and others --could disrupt the prioritization of the process, leaving health workers vulnerable.

Vaccination hubs in New York are reopening Wednesday after they were shuttered by a powerful nor'easter. NBC New York's Tracey Strahan reports.

More than 10,000 New Yorkers are still being diagnosed with the virus each day -- and New York City's health commissioner, the face of the city's coronavirus safety and vaccination campaign, was among the latest to be diagnosed.

Chokshi has been appearing remotely in Mayor de Blasio's daily press briefings; he took a day off from those Wednesday but returned Thursday. He believes he contracted the virus from a family member, calling it an apparent case of household transmission (contact tracing data shows that accounts for up to 74 percent of new cases in the state). Chokshi said Thursday he is doing OK and has mild symptoms. He also offered up a few lessons learned from his experience.

"It's a fresh reminder of a few things -- first, that all of us are susceptible to this virus, and for me, that's even more motivation to do everything we can possibly do to try to interrupt and curb the spread of the disease. It's also a reminder that COVID doesn't just affect us as individuals," Chokshi said. "For me, it was another reflection on the worry and the anxiety that comes with COVID-19 in terms of its effects on family members, other people whom we care for so deeply."

Studies show there is still a good deal of mistrust in the coronavirus vaccines as the first wave of shots is rolling out to millions of Americans across the country. Dr. Khalilah Gates and Dr. Melissa Simon, both of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and who have both already received a first dose of the vaccine, talked to LX News about the importance of educating a skeptical public, rather than asking for faith.

"We have to make sure that our response to COVID is focused not just on the infection itself but also on all of those reverberating effects," Chokshi added.

Contact tracing efforts are underway to assess potential exposure risk but neither the mayor nor the head of New York City Health + Hospitals have had close contact with Chokshi in recent weeks and are believed to be in the clear. De Blasio is tested weekly, at least, and his last test Saturday came back negative.

More vaccinations will not only slow the spread of infections but also help prevent new strains.

Chokshi has not yet received a first dose vaccination, though he said "unequivocally" Thursday that he would do that once he fully recovers.

"I hadn't felt quite right getting vaccinated while we still had such limited supply and particularly when there were so many more vulnerable people who still needed to get vaccinated themselves," Chokshi explained. "I had planned to get my first dose once more New Yorkers had been able to get theirs."

Chokshi is the latest high-profile figure in New York City to test positive in the last few weeks. Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang announced his diagnosis Tuesday, while NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea personally battled the virus last month.

Shea also made a rare in-person appearance at de Blasio's Thursday briefing; he was there to discuss community police developments at the top of the news conference but also gave an update on his recovery from coronavirus.

"I feel like I lost the month of January in many ways," Shea said. "I feel really good. I feel lucky and I feel blessed. In many ways, I probably had a mild case, complicated a bit by asthma issues going back to 9/11 issues."

The police commissioner said he only started to try to exercise again this week as he continues his recovery. Shea was diagnosed just before NYPD personnel became eligible for vaccination under Cuomo's guidelines for the state.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a senior police official.

To date, New York City has administered nearly 860,000 total doses, which is more than the entire population of Seattle. Of those, 628,279 have been first doses administered by city-run programs, which is about 82 percent of the total first doses delivered to those programs to date.

Statewide, New York healthcare distribution sites had administered 95 percent (1.4 million-plus) of all first doses received from the federal government as of 11 a.m. Thursday, Cuomo said. More than 369,000 second doses have been administered, while the governor says the Week 8 allocation delivery from the feds is in the process of being shipped to providers for administration.

New York is trying to get the COVID-19 vaccination rollout back on track after a two-day weather day and the openings of 35 community sites across the state on Thursday are set to inoculate 25,000 New Yorkers by the end of the week. NBC New York's Tracie Strahan reports.

The 20 percent boost in federal allocation for the next three weeks will allow for a much-needed acceleration of the process. But it could be only a brief reprieve. Cuomo's administration didn’t immediately release details on how many more doses it'd send to counties from the feds. Even the promised increase wouldn't be enough to cover all the ride-hail drivers or restaurant workers in New York City.

Restaurant staff are not yet eligible for vaccination as a category in and of itself yet in New Jersey, where indoor dining has remained open since Gov. Phil Murphy first approved its return at 25 percent capacity in early September. It has stayed at 25 percent capacity without disruption in the months since. That changes soon.

Murphy announced Wednesday that indoor dining capacity can increase to 35 percent as of Friday. On the same day, the governor says he will lift the statewide 10 p.m. indoor service curfew for restaurants, though he said local governments could leave that restriction in place if they so choose. The long-awaited changes to indoor dining in the Garden State come just in time for Super Bowl Sunday.

In New York, a 10 p.m. indoor dining curfew remains in effect statewide, and Cuomo has said he is not considering a change to that anytime soon.

Indoor dining is set to start again in NYC starting on Valentine's Day, with restaurants able to have 25 percent capacity. Some restaurants say it's too little too late, and want 50 percent like the rest of the state. NBC New York's Ray Villeda reports.

More reopening steps could be on tap in the next weeks and months as well if the recent declines from the holiday surge continue, tri-state governors have said. New Jersey's total hospitalizations have fallen back below 3,000, while total hospitalizations in New York, which hit a holiday surge high above 9,200 two weeks ago, have now dropped below 8,000 and continue to decline by the day.

The seven-day rolling positivity rate for New York state has been dropping for 27 straight days, Cuomo said Thursday. The daily positivity rate on Thursday was 4.38 percent, the lowest daily rate since Nov. 28. According to New York Times data, the daily case average is down 26 percent over the average two weeks ago, while hospitalizations and deaths are down 9 and 10 percent, respectively.

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

Source: ny.gov

By comparison, New Jersey's daily case average is down 24 percent, while hospitalizations are down 16 percent and deaths are down 8 percent. New York City data shows all three core metrics are similarly down in the five boroughs.

State and local officials across the tri-state area hope the declines, in conjunction with continued public mitigation efforts, will sustain long enough for the vaccination process to considerably ramp up. Critical mass is still a long way off.

Nationally, new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are also down over the last two weeks -- by 30 percent and 23 percent, respectively, according to New York Times data. Daily deaths have flattened, which in and of itself is a critical improvement from last month's numbers. January overtook December as the deadliest month of the pandemic for the U.S., with about 3,350 people dying a day on average. More than once, the single-day tolls topped 4,000 deaths last month.

COVID-19 is the leading cause of death so far in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It outpaced average daily U.S. fatalities for the second leading cause of death, heart disease, by 47 percent, Kaiser data shows.

America has seen more than 451,000 virus deaths since the pandemic's onset and nearly 27 million cases, according to NBC News data. Mass vaccination is considered the path forward from this historically dark period of U.S. history

More contagious variants that first emerged abroad -- in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa -- have now made their way to the U.S. Some experts are concerned current vaccines may not work as well on some, particularly the South African variant. That strain contains new mutations on top of those present in the U.K. variant.

Johnson & Johnson says its single-dose vaccine, which was submitted for emergency use approval in the U.S. on Thursday, proved less effective in South Africa, for example. Moderna is working on a booster shot to bolster the efficacy of its two-dose vaccine against that variant, confirmed cases of which remain rare in the United States.

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.

Nationally, there are thought to be about 500 cases of the U.K. strain detected so far, New Jersey's top epidemiologist said Wednesday. The CDC 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.

The Garden State has found 11 U.K. variant cases so far, while New York state's count is up to 44 and Connecticut has detected at least eight. Neither the South African variant nor the Brazilian one has been found in the tri-state area yet.

Copyright NBC New York
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