NYC Health Boss Hasn't Had Vaccine, Gets COVID; Cuomo Says Yankee Stadium Site Opens Friday

Restaurant workers, taxi drivers and others are now eligible for vaccination in NYC and a new mass site at Yankee Stadium for Bronx residents only opens Friday; New Jersey will see indoor dining capacity limits rise to 35% and the statewide 10 p.m. curfew expire that day, too

NBC Universal, Inc.

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
  • In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy says dine-in capacity can go to 35% and the 10 p.m. statewide indoor service curfew will be lifted Friday,; capacity boosts for gyms, casinos and other venues also take effect

New York City's health commissioner, who has not yet been vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms, he said in a statement Wednesday. Dr. Dave Chokshi has been appearing remotely in Mayor Bill de Blasio's daily press briefings for some time and said contact tracing efforts are underway to identify anyone potentially exposed, though the mayor is thought to be in the clear.

“COVID continues to circulate in our communities, and all of us are potentially exposed to the virus," Chokshi said in a statement. "This is a reminder - if we ever needed one - that COVID is still with us and we all must continue to wear masks, wash our hands, socially distance and stay home if feeling ill."

De Blasio said Wednesday he hadn't personally seen Chokshi "for a while" and had no plans to quarantine. Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals and another fixture of the mayor's daily briefings, also is in the clear.

Chokshi has not yet been vaccinated, officials revealed Wednesday, even though he is eligible as a healthcare professional. City officials said the city's top doctor had planned to get vaccinated once he completed "the requisite number" of shifts at the vaccine clinic. Specifics on that "requisite number" weren't clear.

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.

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.

They are among the 10,000-plus New Yorkers still being diagnosed with the virus each day -- and a reminder of the stark, ongoing daily risk faced by everyone in the city (and elsewhere) with the vaccine rollout still in the early stages.

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

Aggressive work is underway at the local, state and federal levels to accelerate the process. In New York, Cuomo granted local governments the power Tuesday to add restaurant workers and taxi drivers to the ever-expanding list of people eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. He said that was a product of yet another increase in weekly federal first dose allocation to states on top of the 16 percent three-week raise the Biden administration had promised.

Individuals in developmentally disabled facilities can also be added to group 1B, which marks another significant expansion even as New York struggles with a limited supply of shots. That said, the three consecutive week boost gives the city and state an opportunity to look beyond the week-to-week scenario under which they've been operating for the better part of the vaccination rollout.

As it is, it could take counties a number of days to catch up on the appointments missed from the nor'easter earlier this week. The backlog was long before that.

With new COVID-19 variants from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil now spreading, doctors are rushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before more mutations arise. Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a regional director of One Medical, joined LX News to talk about why vaccines are so important right now and how she encourages her patients to overcome their skepticism about it.

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.'"

Those workers and the newly eligible taxi drivers and people in developmentally disabled facilities will now be able to try to make appointments, like the millions already struggling to do the same. But de Blasio says it's a key step forward.

Prior to the latest expansion, 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, given supply limitations. Wait times for appointments stretch into mid-April -- at the earliest -- already.

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 older 75, first responders, teachers and others --could disrupt the prioritization of the process, leaving health workers vulnerable.

With new COVID-19 variants from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil now spreading, doctors are rushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible before more mutations arise. Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a regional director of One Medical, joined LX News to talk about why vaccines are so important right now and how she encourages her patients to overcome their skepticism about it.

De Blasio had argued the city should be able to skip over eligible people who don't want to be in line in the first place and move on to those who do. There has been resistance among a vast array of groups from the start, from first responders to some health workers and the elderly. Reasons range from general skepticism of the vaccine overall to fears of potential side effects and other concerns.

Forty-two percent of New York City residents expressed hesitancy on the shots in a poll last month.

De Blasio had pushed to expand shots to the 65-and-older population and he has pushed to allow restaurant workers and other at-risk groups to get them as well. Line cooks have the highest risk of dying during the pandemic, with a 60 percent increase in mortality associated with COVID vs. a 22 percent increase overall.

NBC New York's John Chandler sleds (er, reports) from Prospect Park, where many families had their kids forego remote learning in favor of a day spent outside, zooming down a hill rather than Zooming on a computer.

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. The heads of industry groups representing taxi drivers and restaurant workers both espoused emphatic support for Cuomo's eligibility announcement on Tuesday.

To date, New York City has administered nearly 840,000 first doses, which is more than the entire population of Seattle. Of those, 618,308 have been first doses, which is about 86 percent of the total delivered to city-run programs to date. As of Wednesday, the city has less than 105,000 first doses left on hand and will likely run through those quickly with most vaccine sites reopening on Wednesday.

Others will take another day or two to reopen because of ongoing storm impacts. Statewide, New York healthcare distribution sites had administered 92 percent (1.4 million-plus) of all first doses received from the federal government as of 11 a.m. Wednesday, Cuomo said. More than 331,000 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.

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


"New York has a vast network of providers and pop-up sites capable of distributing 100,000 vaccine doses per day," Cuomo said. "The problem we continue to see is, our operational capacity for administering the vaccine quickly and fairly, and the demand for the vaccine among more than 7 million eligible New Yorkers far exceeds the supply."

To expand the network as supply ramps up, Cuomo announced Wednesday that 35 community-based pop-up vaccination sites would come online this week at churches, community centers, public housing complexes and cultural centers across the state. The sites are expected to vaccinate more than 25,000 people this week alone and more sites are expected to launch in the coming weeks.

As has been the case with previous pop-up sites, the community hubs will be re-established in three weeks to administer second doses as well, Cuomo said.

The governor also said he would target vaccination efforts to hotspot areas like the Bronx, where the positivity rate has been the highest of all New York City boroughs. He and de Blasio jointly announced Thursday that a new mass vaccination site would open Friday at Yankee stadium. The site will be reserved for Bronx residents by appointment only; 15,000 appointments will be available during the first week, with the numbers expected to climb, officials said.

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.

var divElement = document.getElementById('viz1612364518572'); var vizElement = divElement.getElementsByTagName('object')[0]; if ( divElement.offsetWidth > 800 ) {'700px';'1177px';} else if ( divElement.offsetWidth > 500 ) {'700px';'1177px';} else {'100%';'1827px';} var scriptElement = document.createElement('script'); scriptElement.src = ''; vizElement.parentNode.insertBefore(scriptElement, vizElement);

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.

Also starting Friday in New Jersey, casinos, gyms and personal care businesses can boost capacity to 35 percent, while indoor performance venues and indoor gatherings -- religious services, weddings, political activities and funerals -- can raise capacity to 35 percent or a maximum of 150 individuals, Murphy said.

He cited a 20 percent drop in statewide hospitalizations over the last few weeks as the reason to take more incremental reopening steps.

Murphy's announcements Wednesday on indoor dining come less than a week after he said he was open to the idea of loosening restrictions if the ongoing declines in the state's core coronavirus metrics continue. That question was posed by a reporter almost immediately after Cuomo's New York City news.

More reopening steps could be on tap in the next weeks and months as well if the recent declines from the holiday surge continue, the 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, are now hovering just above 8,000 and are declining by the day.

The seven-day rolling positivity rate for New York state has been dropping for 26 straight days, Cuomo said Wednesday.

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.

New Jersey, where the governor has asked for public patience amid limited vaccine supply as well, has administered nearly 840,000 total doses thus far. The vast majority (about 83 percent) of those are first doses, Murphy says.

All six of New Jersey's vaccine mega-centers reopened Wednesday following storm closures earlier this week; some county-run sites are still closed. Mega-sites are now working to serve those who had their appointments postponed by the nor'easer, Murphy said. (See which centers have been impacted.)

Like Cuomo in New York, Murphy hails mass vaccination as the light at the end of a very long tunnel. Unlike Cuomo, Murphy has already opened eligibility up to people age 16 to 64 with underlying conditions, which includes smoking, according to the CDC. That allowance alone fueled intense controversy.

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 has said New York state is reviewing federal guidelines as they relate to underlying conditions and the vaccination process. In the meantime, the latest federal supply infusions for states boost confidence, even as governors and other elected officials remain extremely wary of the spread of contagious variants.

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 -- and New Jersey officials say there have been a total of about 500 cases of that strain nationally. 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.

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.

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


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.

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

Nationally, hospitalization and new case increases have also slowed and the vaccine rollout has picked up speed amid what some top officials have described as a race against time. More than 62 percent of the 52.6 million-plus U.S. doses delivered to date have been administered, the CDC says. About 6 million people in the U.S. are fully inoculated.

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.

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.

Copyright NBC New York
Contact Us