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County Leaders Try To Calm Residents As They Await More COVID-19 Vaccine

Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and NYS Senator Michelle Hnchey tour vaccination site in Kingston, January 13, 2021
Courtesy of the Office of Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan and NYS Senator Michelle Hnchey tour vaccination site in Kingston, January 13, 2021

County leaders say their offices continue to be deluged by calls about the COVID-19 vaccine, which is in short supply. Saying they, too, are frustrated, they’re asking residents to be patient.  

Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan says he continues to be frustrated by the slow vaccine rollout. Last week, New York state received 300,000 vaccine doses for a pool of some 7 million eligible New Yorkers. This week, Ryan notes, the state received 250,000.

“What does that mean in Ulster County? Well, it means two things. Number one, it means, more than anything, we need more vaccines. We need more vaccines,” Ryan says. “We need them now, and the only entity capable of upping this is the federal government, and so I want to be very clear that the responsibility lies there.”

He says the rise in hospitalizations in his county is alarming, with 37 hospitalized, five in the ICU. Seven people have died in the past five days, raising the number of total deaths in the county to 177.

“Last week, we received 1,200 total doses in Ulster County, and this week, it pains me to report that we’re actually receiving less than we did last week, which would make sense given that the state got less,” says Ryan. “This week, Ulster County, across both our county site and some of our partner sites, will receive a total of 1,000 doses.”

He expected to physically receive this allocation Wednesday and reactivate the county’s point of dispensing, or POD, site in Kingston Thursday, though appointments are all filled, especially with leftover appointments from last week. The Kate Walton Field House at Kingston High School is Ulster County's primary vaccine distribution site.

“The reality is is that in Ulster County we’ve got somewhere between 60,000-to-70,000 people that are eligible right now under the criteria, and we’ve only, as you see, have a very, very small amount of doses to meet that need,” Ryan says. “So until we get the supply up, it is going to be frustrating, and all that I can do and will continue to do is be forthcoming with that, be transparent with that, and let you know where we’re at as well as, believe me, fighting and pushing and advocating as much as I can to make sure we are getting our fair share here in the county of what the state is getting, of making sure that what we do have is being distributed quickly and safely and equitably.”

He says the Kingston site can handle 15,000 doses a day. And this is the case at vaccination sites in other counties — they can handle administering far more doses than they are being allocated. Ryan urged residents to continue mask wearing and social distancing.

The Rockland County Department of Health says 2,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine are being delivered for this week. Of these doses, 700 have been designated for eligible individuals in priority phase 1B that fall within the essential worker category. The county health commissioner says the state has mandated that local health departments vaccinate only essential workers including police, firefighters, teachers, college professors, and grocery store workers. Appointments are required. The additional 1,400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will help vaccinate residents age 65 and above.

New York state opened one of its vaccination sites at the Westchester County Center, where the first full day of operation was January 13. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer said Tuesday 6,459 vaccines had been administered there, while the county has administered nearly 2,000 vaccines at its clinic in White Plains. Latimer is hopeful the Biden Administration will enable the release of many more vaccines.

“And we look forward to the energy that will come out of Washington to really deal with this pandemic as a nationwide issue, not as a matter that each state does their own thing,” says Latimer.

And he responded to a reporter question about residents heading to Florida to get the vaccine.

“Every state is different and every state will have a different strategy. So, if a person can get a shot and it’s done legally by the laws that apply in that area, then it’s fine with me. If they’re going to skip line illegally, that I have a problem with,” Latimer says. “And so I think right now where we are in New York is 65 and older, compromised immunity system, special categories of work, those people should get shots right now.”

Latimer says even though he is over 65 years old, he’ll wait to get the vaccine.

“But I don’t feel the need to jump ahead of the line if there are people that need it more because they’re younger but they’re in compromised health situations,” Latimer says. “I certainly have gone 10 months waiting to get to this point with the pandemic. And I’ve been out in the community more than once. And I will take my chances that social distancing, mask wearing will keep me COVID-free.”

Latimer hopes to allay concerns over some of the population that is dubious about the vaccine.

“We do know that we have heard anecdotally that in communities of color there is more reticence to take the vaccine. And I think the two things that we have to do to try to deal with that, number one, is we have to have credible spokespeople who can relate to individuals from those communities so that they see medical professionals, doctors, nurses, prominent people, people in their communities, church leaders and municipal leaders who are in the same demographic category as they are taking the vaccine and showing that they have no fear over doing this.”

He says making vaccination sites available in several corners of the county will help. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently deployed community vaccination kits to churches and cultural centers to help underserved communities on Long Island, in New York City and Westchester, where Calvary Baptist Church in White Plains opened as a site on Monday.

Meantime, both Ryan and Latimer say their respective departments that offer services for senior citizens are helping them navigate state and local web sites about the vaccine, emphasizing that the help is in navigation, not setting up appointments, which must be done through a state website. Here’s Ryan:

“So for seniors specifically who need help with vaccine resources, who have questions, who are having navigating our website or the state website, you can and I encourage you to directly call our Ulster County Office for the Aging [845-340-3456],” says Ryan.

Latimer says Westchester County COVID statisticswill now include vaccination numbers, via the state.

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