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State: Virus positives below 4% as New York reaches COVID-19 one-year mark

State: Virus positives below 4% as New York reaches COVID-19
one-year mark 1

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Robert Brodsky and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

COVID-19 positivity levels in testing continued to decline statewide and dropped below 4% for the second day in a row on Long Island, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday.

The seven-day average in test results from Sunday was 3.98% on Long Island. The statewide seven-day average was 3.08%, while daily positivity was 3.58% from Sunday test results.

Cuomo pointed to the numbers on the one-year anniversary of the state’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 as a sign of progress against a pandemic which last spring brought New York to its knees, shutting down schools, the economy and other activities.

“It’s been exactly one year since we first identified COVID in New York, and while we’ve made incredible progress towards defeating it, testing and vaccinating more and more New Yorkers, we need to stay vigilant,” Cuomo said.

It’s been a long and painful year in which more than 1.6 million people in the state tested positive for the virus — including 311,487 Long Islanders — and 38,577 had died of virus-related causes, according to the state’s tally for Feb. 28.

The state put in place numerous measures to stem the spread of the virus, including ordering an unprecedented shutdown of business and social activity from which many sectors of the economy are still struggling to emerge, while doctors and nurses struggled to care for a flood of patients and medical experts sought treatments that could save lives.

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The effort that culminated with the development and emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, given in two shots, has led to a nationwide push to inoculate people included in initial priority groups.

On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized a third option, the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine. Those one-dose shots could start to be delivered to states in a matter of days.

The White House COVID-19 response team coordinator Jeff Zients outlined plans for allocating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week during a livestreamed briefing by the team on Monday morning.

“Starting yesterday, we began executing on our plans by distributing 3.9 million doses of Johnson & Johnson to states, tribes and territories, and also to pharmacies and community health centers,” Zients said. “Johnson & Johnson doses will be delivered as early as tomorrow. We’re allocating the J & J vaccine the exact same way we allocate Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine — proportional to a state, tribe or territory’s population.”

He added that the supply will increase in the latter half of March.

“This week we’ll distribute 3.9 million doses; that is the entirety of Johnson & Johnson’s current inventory,” Zients said. “We’re getting these doses out the door right away to ensure vaccines get into arms as quickly as possible. J & J has communicated that the supply will be limited for the next couple of weeks following this initial distribution of nearly 4 million doses. The company then expects to deliver approximately 16 million additional doses by the end of March. However, as we have discussed with governors and their teams and with federal partners, we know that J & J distribution and delivery will be uneven across these early weeks in March and the company expects the delivery to be predominantly in the back half of the month.”

In recent weeks Cuomo had needled Long Island for having the highest positivity levels in the state, and while they remain among the highest, levels of new cases statewide, including here, are dropping steadily after a holiday season spike.

The number of new confirmed cases in the region was not as low as levels in the summer, when Nassau and Suffolk counties each routinely had figures well below 100 cases per day, but were far below highs that went well above 1,000 cases each last spring and during a holiday season resurgence.

Nassau had 559 new cases on Sunday, Suffolk had 575, and New York City had 3,503.

Statewide, 80 people died on Sunday of causes related to COVID-19, including four in Nassau and 10 in Suffolk.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus increased by 48, to 5,307.

It was not clear Monday when Long Island would start receiving doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Suffolk will not be receiving any of those this week and will continue to administer other vaccines at sites across the county, once officials receive the weekly allotment from the state, said Derek Poppe, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

“Our ongoing effort to get shots in arms is producing increasing numbers of sites where New Yorkers can get vaccinated, but we’re going to need more supply to reach enough residents to put a serious dent in the virus’ spread,” Cuomo said.

He added: “This has been an incredibly long 365 days and there are more ahead, but New Yorkers have already shown unprecedented perseverance and toughness throughout this pandemic — now we just need to get to the light at the end of the tunnel.”

De Blasio criticized state-run vaccine sites

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday criticized state-run vaccination sites in the five boroughs, arguing they are not serving the community and too often utilized by residents outside the city.

During this daily news conference, the mayor said 42% of vaccinations to date at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan were distributed to non-city residents while 75% of shots at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens went to individuals who live outside the city. He said “grassroots” vaccination sites in local communities are a better approach.

“Unless they are targeted right, these big sites do not actually help us improve equity and fight disparity,” de Blasio said on the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed COVID infection in New York City. “Unless they are targeted correctly they could actually exacerbate disparity.”

On Friday, 76,000 people were vaccinated in New York City — its highest one day total — while last week the city inoculated 338,000 residents, another record, de Blasio said. In total, 1.94 million doses have been given in the city.

“We have everything we need except the supply,” he said. “It has been getting better. And it will get better in the coming weeks. But I am not going to be satisfied until we are vaccinating at least half a million New Yorkers per week.”

New York City health officials said the recently approved single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine has proved safe and effective.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100% protective against people dying from COVID and is almost 100% protective against people being hospitalized with COVID,” said Dr. Jay Varma, de Blasio’s senior adviser for the pandemic. “It has basically the same effectiveness that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do against people being hospitalized and dying. So if you want to prevent the severe complications of COVID … take the first vaccine that is available because they all do exactly the same things.”

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