#childsafety | Week LXIII: ‘We just need people to go out and get the vaccine,’ says McCoy

ALBANY COUNTY — The county’s first-dose vaccination rate dwindled to an increase of just 1 percent — down from a high of 4 percent — over its 63rd week of coping with COVID, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy noted on Wednesday.

Various state and county incentives have been used to encourage residents to get vaccinated. 

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the first-round winners of the “Get A Shot to Make Your Future” incentive for a full scholarship to a SUNY or CUNY school. Among the 10 teens who will receive tuition, room and board, and money for other college expenses is Adam Judson of Albany County.

“This is about a $100,000 value, this scholarship ….,” Cuomo said, speaking at the Javits Center in New York City on Wednesday. “So congratulations to them and congratulations to their parents, as a parent, because funding college is a nightmare for families all across America.”

Four drawings remain after this week. Once a 12- to 17-year-old has received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, a parent or legal guardian can sign them up for upcoming drawings. Federal COVID-19 relief and outreach funds will be used to cover the cost of the program, according to the governor’s office.

Also this week, the former Lord & Taylor in Guilderland’s Crossgates Mall was added to the state vaccination sites participating in the “Vax and Scratch” program.

Any New Yorker 18 and over who gets vaccinated there will be given a free state lottery scratch-off ticket with a grand prize of $5 million. There are 13 levels of prizes, the lowest being for $20.

The participating sites will be open from Monday, May 31, through June 4. All sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

Albany County is continuing with its own incentives for vaccination. Stewart’s Shops have contributed free ice-cream cones, Dunkin’ has contributed coupons, and the FireWolves is giving youth who get vaccinated free tickets to their first lacrosse game

McCoy said at his morning press briefing last Friday that people who were vaccinated earlier are mad, saying, “I didn’t get anything.” He commended them for doing the right thing.

“Our numbers are getting better,” said McCoy of declining infection and hospitalization rates. “We just need people to go out and get the vaccine.”

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, as of Wednesday evening, 62.2 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents had received at least one dose of vaccine as had 73.0 percent of county residents 18 or older.

Statewide, 53.8 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose as have 65.5 percent of New Yorkers 18 or older. Statewide, 46.1 percent of New Yorkers have completed a vaccine series.

“Our numbers are good,” said Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen on Friday morning, citing the figure of over 70 percent vaccination for county residents 18 and older.

However, she also noted the number of residents attending the large points of dispensing or PODs run by the county has greatly decreased; this week, just 12 doses were administered at the county’s POD.

The county has shifted its focus to community-based PODs and has so far conducted 27, administering 4,677 doses, Whalen said on Friday.

Also, the health department offices on Green Street in Albany were on Day 38, on Friday, of giving vaccines to walk-ins and had administered 569 doses.

“As much as I’d like to say we’re almost across the finish line, I tend to be a little more skeptical,” said Whalen.

Looking at other countries without as high a rate of vaccination as the United States, she said, “There’s a lot more disease, there’s a lot more hospitalization, and there’s a lot more deaths. This is a strong indication that the vaccines are working, that what we are doing is working,” Whalen said.

For those who decided to “wait and see,” she said, “I think at this point we can safely say that everyone who has been vaccinated has done well.”

Whalen also spoke of the many messages of thanks her department has received and how people who have been vaccinated are “now breathing a sigh of relief and feeling that they can resume the essential functions of life, of being with their loved ones, of being particularly with grandchildren.”


Opening up

On Wednesday, Cuomo announced the launch of a new $40 million global campaign aimed at revitalizing the state’s tourism industry. The “Come Be A Part Of It” campaign will promote tourism attractions across all regions of the state through the summer, fall, and winter seasons as New York welcomes local, national and international visitors back to the state.

The campaign will initially focus on New York City.

At the Javits Center event on Wednesday, Cuomo noted that the opening of venues is itself an incentive for New Yorkers to get vaccinated. He cited Radio City Music Hall as an example, which requires all attendees to be vaccinated so that the hall can run at full capacity.

Cuomo named two advantages to this approach. “Number one, it helps you sell tickets because, when you can tell everyone, ‘Don’t worry, the person you’re sitting next to is going to be vaccinated. So you know they’re not carrying the virus.’ Secondly, by the reopening rules, if you’re vaccinated, you can seat people one next to another.”

He concluded of having a vaccination card, “This opens doors and allows you to participate in life in a way you are going to want to do.”

Cuomo said that, beginning on June 11, Citi Field will expand full capacity sections for vaccinated individuals to 90 percent of the stadium for New York Mets home games. In total, this would let more than 32,000 people attend games.

Cuomo also said on Wednesday that New York’s seven-day infection rate is the lowest in the nation — at 0.64 percent — and has been declining for 58 days in a row.

Johns Hopkins shows New York’s rate as third lowest in the nation (at 0.65 percent), just slightly higher than Massachusetts (at 0.64 percent) and Nebraska (at 0.54 percent).

This week, Thompsons Lake campground in the Helderbergs was among the state sites that opened for Memorial Day weekend. Twenty-two beaches, pools and spraygrounds are open now at normal capacity.

Unvaccinated visitors are to wear a face covering when unable to maintain social distance outdoors and, for the safety of park staff, all visitors are required to wear a face covering inside park buildings.

Visitors are reminded by the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation “to practice social distancing, respect the rules, and do their part to keep parks and beaches open and safe for everyone.”

Reservations are required for campgrounds. To find a last minute reservation, visit the “Camping This Weekend” feature on the reservation website: https://newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com/.

Also this week, Cuomo lifted New York’s indoor dining curfew, allowing indoor dining for bars and restaurants to remain open past midnight.

Some restaurants, though, are struggling to find enough staff to stay open.

According to a recent report from One Fair Wage and the U.C. Berkeley Food Labor Research Center, “It’s a Wage Shortage, Not a Worker Shortage,” half of New York restaurant workers are considering leaving their jobs with 90 percent citing low wages and tips as the primary reason.

While most New York workers are leaving the industry because tips are down; pay is too low; and health risks, hostility and harassment have increased, women report suffering these impacts at much higher rates than men, the report said.

New York women were more likely to report regularly experiencing hostile behavior in response to enforcing COVID safety protocol than men (46 percent to 38 percent) and they also reported at much higher rates than men that sexual harassment increased during the pandemic (44 percent to 33 percent).


Empire Center reports

The Empire Center, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank based in Albany, this week released two reports related to the pandemic.

One report, “2020 Hindsight,” found the state’s early response was undermined by flawed guidance from the federal government; inadequate planning and stockpiling; limited consultation with experts; exaggerated projections; and poor cooperation between federal, state and local officials, among other issues.

“In its cruel and mindless way, the virus pinpointed every weakness that Albany needs to fix. The clues left behind offer a roadmap to a safer state. It’s up to New York’s leaders to follow it,” said  Bill Hammond, Empire Center’s senior fellow for health policy and the report’s author, in a release.

The report identifies several shortcomings by New York’s public health system that led to such a pronounced crisis, including its preoccupation with and overspending on Medicaid, which took resources away from pandemic preparation and planning. Ultimately, the state’s public health infrastructure proved to be underprepared, ill-equipped and slow to act.

“In terms of speed and deadliness, New York’s novel coronavirus pandemic ranks among the worst in the world ….,” says the report. “Better-controlled outbreaks in countries such as South Korea demonstrate the value of public health preparedness and could serve as a model for New York.”

The report also says, “The state missed its best chance to save lives not in March or April, when infections soared and hospitals filled up, but in early February, when the virus arrived and started spreading before anyone noticed.”

A second Empire Center report, “Keep The Change,” argues that many of the executive orders signed during the pandemic should be codified into law, citing those that address health-care services, occupational licensing, and government transparency.

Executive orders relaxing health-care laws and regulations to expand treatment capacity, increase access to telehealth, and ease licensing requirements for health-care professionals should be kept, says  Empire Center Adjunct Fellow Cameron Macdonald, the report’s author.

Government transparency increased dramatically under an early executive order requiring all public bodies to broadcast or transmit their meetings, the report says, noting that, before the pandemic, the state’s Open Meetings Law demanded this only of state agencies. This change, too, should be maintained by permanently amending the Open Meetings Law, Macdonald argues.

He also notes that legislation to permanently continue alcohol-to-go sales would be a wise initiative to help the hospitality industry bounce back from a dire financial situation.

Capital Region Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy has sponsored a bill to extend the alcohol-to-go directive for another two years after the current state of emergency expires.


Newest numbers

Albany County suffered two deaths this week related to COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll from the disease to 382. A woman in her nineties died on May 29 and a man in his seventies died on May 31.

On Wednesday, in a release, McCoy reported another single-digit increase in COVID-19 cases — seven, bringing the county’s tally to 24,335.

Among the new cases, six did not have clear sources of infection identified and one is a health-care worker or resident of a congregate living setting.

The five-day average for new daily positives decreased from 5.6 to 4.8. There are now 48 active cases in the county, down from 49 on Tuesday.

The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased slightly to 101 from 95. So far, 79,642 residents have completed quarantine. Of those, 24,287 had tested positive and recovered. That is an increase of seven recoveries since Tuesday.

There were two new hospitalizations overnight, and 11 county residents are now hospitalized from the virus — a net increase of one. There are still four patients currently in intensive-care units, unchanged from Tuesday.

Albany County’s infection rate, as of Tuesday, as a seven-day rolling average, is 0.7 percent, according to the state’s dashboard.

Statewide, also as of Tuesday, as a seven-day rolling average, the infection rate is 0.6 percent.

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