What to Know
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo says NYers age 16+ with underlying conditions are vaccine-eligible starting Feb. 15; they'll have to bring some sort of proof of their comorbidity and the state will audit local systems
- NYC officials say any of the three forms of validation are acceptable; city residents with qualifying comorbidities can begin scheduling appointments the day they become eligible, on Monday, Feb. 15
- State-run sites are accepting appointments for people with pre-existing conditions starting Sunday, though the first shots won't be until Monday at the earliest; first dose supply remains an issue
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker issued a joint statement Thursday saying they'd update state policy to reflect new CDC guidance released a day earlier -- that asymptomatic, fully vaccinated people no longer need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.
Specifically, the CDC says its latest guidance applies to people who meet the following three criteria (anyone who doesn't meet all three must still quarantine in accordance with state and federal guidelines):
- Are fully vaccinated (i.e., ≥2 weeks following receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose series, or ≥2 weeks following receipt of one dose of a single-dose vaccine)
- Are within 3 months following receipt of the last dose in the series
- Have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure
In saying they would adjust state guidance to reflect the federal update, as they have done since the pandemic's onset, Cuomo and Zucker issued a warning, "The science regarding COVID transmissibility post-vaccination remains unsettled, and this updated guidance is not an all-clear for New Yorkers to let their guard down."
They also urged all New Yorkers, including those who have been fully vaccinated, to continue wearing masks, socially distance and "be smart until herd immunity is reached and this pandemic is fully relegated to the history books."
The state’s current rules allow people exposed to COVID-19 to end quarantine after 10 days without testing if they haven’t had symptoms.
Cuomo has long said New York state and city can't stay shut down for the many more months it will take to hit critical mass vaccination. Just more than 10 percent of the 19 million New York residents have had at least one shot (a disproportionate share of them white people). The low threshold for herd immunity is around 75 percent.
The state has been been doing more vaccinations than before, with more than 100,000 being administered in a 24-hour span, according to the governor, something he called a "significant milestone."
Just one day ago, Cuomo announced large arenas, from Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden and more, are eligible for limited public reopening later this month. Feb. 23 will be the first time fans can sit in those stadium seats in person in nearly a year. That follows a series of incremental reopening steps in just the last two weeks, including erasing almost all of the state's cluster zones and approving the return of New York City's indoor dining scene on Friday.
Cuomo has cited a clear decline -- at statewide, regional and New York City neighborhood levels -- in core COVID metrics from the post-holiday surge in his decision-making. Statewide hospitalizations now stand at 7,342, Cuomo said Thursday -- down nearly 2,000 from a 9,273 post-holiday high notched on Jan. 19.
According to New York Times data, new daily case averages are down 13 percent this week compared with the average two weeks earlier, while hospitalizations are down 12 percent and deaths 9 percent over the same time period. The state's seven-day rolling positivity rate is at its lowest (4.16 percent) since Dec. 1, while the daily rate is in the midst of a 34-day stretch of decline.
The state averaged over 9,000 new cases each day over the past seven days — down 4 percent from the prior week, but still among the nation’s highest rates per capita. Hospitals and nursing homes have been reporting over 1,000 COVID-19 deaths each week since early January.
"With a trusted partner in the White House working to increase both production and supple of the vaccine, we can and have remained laser-focused on getting each week's supply into as many arms as quickly and fairly as possible while continuing to bolster public trust in the vaccine," Cuomo said. "We still have a long way to go but we're headed in the right direction and I'm confident New York will be the first COVID-free state."
In New York City, Cuomo said the seven-day rolling average Thursday was 4.95 percent, the lowest in the five boroughs since two days after Christmas and a 23 percent decrease since the post-holiday peak in early January.
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
Millions of people are now eligible to get the vaccine, including 600,000 residents and staff of nursing and group homes; 1.5 million health workers; 1.7 million teachers, police and other essential workers. New York’s eligibility list swelled to 7 million people once Cuomo added 1.4 million over the age of 75, and then 1.8 million over 65.
Yet even as the vaccine rollout ramps up and numbers climb down locally and nationally from their latest heights -- and struggling New York City restaurants and arenas clamor to get people back indoors at even a limited capacity -- there is to some degree a sense of unease. New Yorkers have learned all too painfully over the course of the last year how quickly the pendulum can swing the other way -- and even some of those who questioned the extent of some Cuomo restrictions at various points over these last months are now a bit nervous about lifting them.
It wasn't immediately clear how Mayor de Blasio felt about Cuomo's latest announcement, on arena openings, Wednesday. He did not have his regular daily briefing listed on his schedule for Thursday, either. For months, it has been de Blasio who bore the brunt of the wrath of restaurant owners furious they couldn't resume indoor dining in the city while the rest of the state served inside. City residents have questioned him over ongoing capacity limits in gyms, while Cuomo has lashed out over lacking local enforcement of social gathering rules.
Time and again, de Blasio has deferred to the governor, saying decisions on state COVID restrictions are ultimately up to him. That goes both ways -- and if the numbers start to go back up in the city amid the latest reopenings, some of which have already happened and the biggest of which loom in the near future, it's not quite clear how the mayor (or governor, for that matter) would respond.
The governor says he has put forth reopening decisions that are "smart," ones that rely on strict adherence to proven mitigation factors and testing to safely chart New York's path forward. He faces critics on both sides of the aisle. Some restaurateurs in the city, for example, argue the 25 percent capacity limit he set for indoor dining's return in New York City is too low. On the other hand, a number of hospitality workers say dine-in should not return until they can be vaccinated.
On the large venue front, Cuomo has said his pilot testing-based program with the Buffalo Bills that will serve as a model for those reopenings going forward saw "virtually no cases of spread from that game." Yet that claim hasn't been verified.
Scott Weisenberg, infectious diseases specialist and director of the travel medicine program at NYU Langone Health, says the possibility people who recently caught COVID-19 testing negative one day but still being able to transmit the virus on game day remains a real concern.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
Still others, including teachers and people older than 65, who are among the 7 million currently eligible for vaccination and waiting for their appointments, worry that more contagious variants could endanger the recovery at this critical time.
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
Number of UK Variant Cases Detected in US Soars
Cuomo is worried about that too, which is why he says in virtually every press conference that "facts can change" and "we will change with the facts." Right now, the number of U.K. variant cases in the United States are skyrocketing.
The U.K. strain blamed for Britain's latest shutdown is expected to become the predominant strain in the U.S. at some point next month, and the head of U.K.'s genetic surveillance program says "it's going to sweep the world, in all probability."
According to the CDC, there are now 981 reported cases of that variant, known as B.1.1.7, in 37 states, a lesser increase than earlier in the week, but still a growth of nearly 50 cases nationwide in just two days time.
Locally, New York accounts for 59 of those, New Jersey for 31 and Connecticut for 17, though tri-state officials the actual number of variant cases are likely much higher than reported. A recent study estimated U.K. strain cases were doubling in the U.S. every 10 days. And while the other two concerning variants -- the South African and Brazilian strains -- remain rare, community spread of both is believed to already be underway in at least a handful of states.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Overall, vaccines are expected to protect against the variants that have emerged and the new ones that will over time. Of greater concern, top federal officials say, is that they could lead to new case explosions at a critically vulnerable time for the country, with the goal of herd immunity via vaccination many months away.
The head of the CDC warned the highly transmissible variants could reverse recent drops in U.S. coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, which broke pandemic single-day records upon records last month at the height of the surge. Any influx in cases could ultimately add to the U.S.' world-high death toll, which stands at more than 472,000 as of Thursday, according to an NBC News tally. On Thursday, California passed New York in total number of COVID-19 deaths for the first time.
Even with the national vaccine rollout still in its early stages, the nation's top experts say the most important measures Americans can take to prevent the spread are the ones that have worked all along -- wearing masks, avoid large gatherings, staying home when you're sick and above all, getting tested.
As Cuomo said Wednesday, "I can go see the president of the United States, take a test and if I pass the test, walk into the Oval Office. Why? If you're negative, you're negative. Testing is the key. A PCR test is as safe as you can get."
As far as getting as many people vaccinated as possible, President Joe Biden said Thursday that the U.S. will have enough supply of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the summer to inoculate 300 million Americans. The U.S. is on pace to exceed Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office, with more than 26 million shots delivered in his first three weeks.