NY's Largest Vaccine Group, 3.2M People, Now Eligible for Shots; Cuomo Gives State of State

As New York expands vaccine eligibility to its most populous group, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a State of the State address focused on how the Empire State can apply pandemic lessons learned to build back better

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What to Know

  • Teachers, police officers, firefighters, public transit and safety workers and people age 75+ in New York can get their first shots starting Monday; they comprise the state's largest vaccine group
  • NYC has expanded its vaccine access points to 160+; it opened the first 24/7 centers in Brooklyn and the Bronx this weekend and will open another three in the other three boroughs through Saturday
  • As New York expands vaccine eligibility to its most populous group, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a State of the State address focused on how lessons learned can be used to build back better

Teachers, police officers, firefighters, public transit and safety workers and people age 75 or older can get their first vaccine doses in New York starting Monday following a week-long squabble between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over when eligible categories could expand to Phase 1B.

That phase is New York's largest vaccination group, comprised of roughly 3.2 million people, about 1.4 million of whom are people 75 years old and up. De Blasio had pushed to expand eligibility to that older age group last week, as New York City issued a new warning urging them to avoid nonessential activities outside of the home in the wake of alarming recent COVID data for that group. Education workers make up the second-largest group in Phase 1B at 870,000.

They join more than 2.1 million healthcare workers and nursing home residents in group 1A who started getting their initial doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine last month. Hundreds of thousands of initial doses have been issued across New York state since early December. In New York City, nearly 20,000 have received their second shots as of Monday as well.

After Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio went back and forth over vaccine expansion, a new group started getting their first doses Monday. NBC New York's Greg Cergol reports.

Accelerating the vaccine rollout has become a mission of ever-increasing urgency for both Cuomo and de Blasio, as the feared holiday COVID surge and the threat of a more contagious variant propel virus numbers to their highest rates since May. New York state has also set a number of new single-day pandemic case highs in the last week, a sign the battle against COVID remains far from won.

The state also reported more hospitalizations (8,545) on Monday than any day since May 6, and another 170 deaths. The statewide positivity rate as at 6.72 percent, but the seven-day rolling average was higher, at 7.25 percent.

"New York faces increasing COVID cases throughout the state, and we have a long way to go before getting to the light at the end of the tunnel," Cuomo said. "But we know what causes the spread — social interactions and holiday gatherings are contributors — and we know how to slow it down."

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who is recovering from COVID himself, sent a memo to the force on vaccine eligibility Monday, calling it "good news" that has been a long time coming. He expects hundreds of NYPD to get the shot on Day 1.

"While I urge each of you to continue to practice responsible wearing of face-coverings, frequent hand-washing, and social-distancing, I also highly recommend that you opt to receive the vaccine," Shea's memo said. "It is another tool in this fight that will not end on its own."

Looking beyond the now eligible groups of 1A and 1B, Cuomo says the state is 47 weeks away from vaccinating the minimum number of New Yorkers needed to reach herd immunity, which he puts at 70 percent. That's based on weekly shipments of 300,000 doses -- and nearly a full year out, the governor estimates.

Cuomo says New York, particularly the city, where one of the most famed restaurant scenes in the globe remains closed to indoor dining, can't sustain the level of restrictions for another 47 weeks -- or even half that -- economically. He delivered a 2021 State of the State address Monday in which he outlined a path forward that looks to mitigate economic impacts while protecting public health.

His testing pilot program with the Buffalo Bills this past weekend, which involved 6,700 fans getting tested and agreeing to contact tracing after attending the game in person, could serve as a blueprint to reopening some larger venues sooner than they would be reopened otherwise.

It's not clear when the full results of that so-dubbed first-in-the-nation pilot program would be available, but Cuomo said Monday in his 2021 State of the State address that "early indications are it was a great success."

"The truth is, we cannot stay closed until everyone is vaccinated. The economic, psychological, emotional cost would be incredible," he added. "We must begin increasing economic activity and using science to do it, making COVID testing and vaccinations available so that we can reopen restaurants and arts spaces and theaters and commercial businesses."

Finding a way to reopen smartly and safely before vaccination hits critical mass is a key component of the governor's State of the State address. So, too, is focusing on how the Empire State can apply the excruciating pandemic lessons it has learned to build back better -- and more equitably -- than before.

"Today I'm called upon to answer what is normally a straight-forward question but this year is anything but. What is the state of the state?" Cuomo said as he began his annual address. "We are hurt, we are frustrated, we are in mourning, we are anxious. We are shocked that an invisible enemy could wreak such death and destruction especially in this, the wealthiest nation on Earth."

"There are moments in life that can change a person fundamentally, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse," he continued. "Likewise, there are episodes in history that transform society -- and COVID is one of those moments. New York sees the moment for the crisis it is but also the opportunity it presents."

Five new vaccine hubs opened in New York City ahead of the state's eligibility expansion. Meanwhile, the rollout of vaccines in New Jersey has reached at least 200,000. NBC New York's Ida Siegal and Phil Lipof report.

Those opportunities are expected to include additional means of revenue generation, like mobile sports betting and legalizing recreational marijuana, as the state faces a record $15 billion deficit that must be addressed in the coming weeks -- and tens of billions of dollars more in related losses through 2024.

The governor unveiled a seven-point plan Monday as he outlined the state's path forward -- one that ranges from defeating COVID and reaching critical mass vaccination to addressing short-term economic woes and investing in future infrastructure. The plan also calls for addressing the systemic racism that Cuomo says was unearthed for all its ugliness amid the disparities of the pandemic.

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

And all seven points must be acted upon simultaneously, he said. That is a tall order, Cuomo noted, but one necessitated by what he described as an almost certain fate: There will be a next pandemic, he said -- and the disaster born out of the current one still raging across America and the world cannot happen again.

As part of his efforts, Cuomo announced the launch of the New York State Public Health Corps, which will be a joint effort with Cornell and Northwell Health to hire up to 1,000 Health Corps fellows. They will serve for a year and be trained to facilitate a statewide coordinated vaccination program safely, quickly and fairly.

Other State of the State agenda items include proposals to provide New York nurses priority access to SUNY and CUNY programs, eliminate healthcare premiums for 400,000 more low-income New Yorkers and increase transparency on matters of professional medical licenses and misconduct. The governor also vowed to launch the most aggressive green economy program in the country.

While vaccinations expand across the state, officials in Rockland County say they've already used up the doses they received. NBC New York's Lynda Baquero reports.

Mega Vaccine Sites Open in NY, NJ

The vaccination race remains core to New York's path forward. Cuomo has also pledged to establish nearly 4,000 points of access across the state, while Mayor de Blasio set a goal to hit 250 by the end of this month. Appointments are required, given the limited federal distribution of vaccine supplies at this point.

Cuomo's office warned Monday it could take up to two weeks to get an appointment but urged people to be patient as state and federal officials work to expand supply.

More than 160 NYC sites are already open, de Blasio said Monday. He hopes to vaccinate 175,000 this week after giving nearly 102,000 their first shots last week, with the ultimate goal of at least 1 million first shots done by January's end.

At least 55,000 people have registered for appointments at New York City vaccination sites thus far, de Blasio said. And while the number of vaccinations will continue to go up, the mayor said, the number of vaccine shipments needs to as well — or else the city won't have doses to give out.

"We are accelerating. But we will run out of doses if we don't get more a supply coming in," de Blasio said.

The governor agreed. Even though the issue last week was having too much vaccine sitting unused at distribution sites, the math has changed with the new group allowed to get their shots.

"Today we have about one million doses in New York state for over four millions eligible people," Cuomo said. "At this rate, it will take 14 weeks to receive enough doses for those available."

Two 24-hour vaccination sites opened Sunday in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Eligible recipients with appointment times (done because the mayor said they want to avoid long lines and "we want times people can depend on") can now visit the Brooklyn Army Terminal or Bathgate Contract Postal Station for around-the-clock vaccination. More 24/7 sites are on the way, starting with one in Lower Manhattan (165 Vanderbilt Avenue) Tuesday and another on Staten Island (Gotham Health, 165 Vanderbilt Avenue) Wednesday. Next week, Staten Island's Empire Outlets will get a 24/7 site, while one is slated to open in Queens' Corona this coming Saturday.

A number of hubs that don't offer 24/7 assistance opened this weekend in Brooklyn (Bushwick Educational Campus), Queens (Hillcrest High School) and the Bronx (South Bronx Educational Campus). Those are 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. De Blasio announced a dedicated hotline Monday to help people register by phone (877-VAX-4NYC). That line is currently open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but the mayor said it will soon be a 24/7 operation.

Later this week, the Javits Center will reopen as a vaccine distribution site as well, officials have said.

The new hubs and two 24-hour centers add to the city's library of some 125 sites already providing the vaccine to qualified New Yorkers. The majority of those 125 sites are hospitals, clinics and federally qualified health centers and urgent care.

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


In neighboring New Jersey, two vaccine mega-sites have opened -- one in Morris County, at a former Sears store, and the other in Gloucester County. Health officials hope more than 2,000 people a day can be vaccinated at each site.

New Jersey has administered first doses to nearly 200,000 people and second doses to almost 15,000 as of Monday. Like New York state and city, Gov. Phil Murphy's administration has added a vaccine tracker to its COVID-19 website so people can track the numbers across each county, among other data.

More than 1 million people have pre-registered for their vaccinations and will be notified when it's their respective turns, health officials said Monday.

The overall process has encountered some early hiccups, including some related to federal supply concerns, confusion over eligible groups and logistical hurdles. New Jersey experienced the latter in a profound way this weekend, when the vaccine registration portal for its largest hospital system, Hackensack Meridian Health System, inadvertently opened up to anyone who had the link rather than just healthcare personnel, law enforcement, fire personnel or first responders.

IT engineers were working through the night to put a filter on the registration portal. A spokesperson for the hospital system said that no one who wasn't qualified to get a dose had received a shot; those not eligible yet who did register will be notified that their appointments have been canceled, officials said.

Meanwhile, letters notifying New Jerseyeans which phase of the vaccine rollout they are in, have started going out to the general public.

No timelines have been set to open vaccination programs to New Jersey's next phase, 1C, or New York's next phase, primarily because of supply issues. New York City, for example, acknowledges it wouldn't have enough supply to vaccinate the half-million-plus in the 75 and older group, who are now eligible to get shots.

In New York and elsewhere seniors are finding it nearly impossible to find a vaccine appointment opening. Yet one county in New Jersey is having the opposite problem. NBC New York's Brian Thompson reports.

"If we see a lot of activity, we're going to stay in 1B for a period of time," de Blasio said Monday. "If we don't see a lot of activity, then we're going to start the discussion on where to go next."

Rising COVID numbers in both New York and New Jersey and the emergence of more contagious variants like the one in the UK have only fueled the urgency. Vaccines already approved for emergency use -- and those in the pipeline -- are expected to work on the more transmissible strains and new ones over time.

A growing number of states have now detected the UK variant, which the CDC believes has been circulating in the U.S. for some time. New York has identified at least four cases to date -- three in Saratoga Springs, one in Long Island's Massapequa -- while Connecticut identified its first two late last week.

Pennsylvania, Texas, Georgia, California and Florida all have confirmed the presence of the variant. The first case was a man in his 20s in Colorado. He had no recent travel history; officials believe it was a case of community spread.

Officials believe many more cases of the variant exist that have been reported, given the exhaustive process it takes to detect the strain in individual samples. Health officials in New Jersey have yet to identify the UK variant locally, state epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said Monday. Tan said the state is aware of more than 60 confirmed cases in at least eight states, including the ones in nearby New York. Murphy said New Jersey is acting under the assumption it's already there.

The UK strain isn't the only evolution of the virus causing concern, though it does appear to be the most widespread. More transmissible strains have been identified in South Africa and Nigeria, and Japan said over the weekend it had detected yet another strain, this one found in four travelers from Brazil.

The head of the World Health Organization warned Monday the new, more contagious variants are "highly" problematic and could stress already overly burdened hospitals if their spread isn't immediately suppressed.

NBC New York's Ida Siegal reports.

On top of those strains, the White House coronavirus task force says there could be a new variant that evolved in the U.S. and is driving the current higher-than-average spread rates, according to a document obtained by NBC News. That variant, like the UK one, may also be up to 50 percent more transmissible than earlier strains, the report, which was released to states on Jan. 3, said.

The United States set yet another new single-day COVID case record over the weekend, with more than 287,000 positives reported, according to NBC News. It also set a single-day death record last week, topping 4,000 daily fatalities for the first time. Nearly 3,000 people in America are dying every day on average of COVID-19 as top health officials warn the worst is still yet to come.

To date, more than 360,000 U.S. lives have been lost to a virus that was just beginning to make consistent headlines in the country this time last year.

New York, New Jersey and Connecticut alone account for roughly 15 percent of that total, though officials in all three states acknowledge their reported death tolls are likely severe undercounts. The three states are nearing 2 million cases as well, a number the trio of governors believe is actually likely much higher as well.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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