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NY: Get Vaccinated For A Shot At $5 Million

A COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY
Jackie Orchard
A COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY

New York State is hoping to address a decline in COVID-19 vaccination rates by offering free lottery tickets to those who agree to get the shots starting on Monday. The top prize is $5 million. In announcing the effort Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo also faced questions about early COVID testing for his family and his pandemic memoir. 

While about 43 percent of New Yorkers are now fully vaccinated, the rest of the population seems far more reluctant to get their shots. Governor Andrew Cuomo says beginning next week, 10 state vaccination sites will give away lottery tickets, worth $20, to anyone who agrees to get a dose. The top prize is $5 million, but the Democrat says there are lesser prizes in the drawing as well, with a one in nine chance of winning. The governor says you also get protection from a deadly disease.  

“Everybody wins,” said Cuomo. 

The governor says vaccinated New Yorkers have better access to sporting events and theaters, and can take off their masks in most situations. 

The lottery giveaway will run through May 28. The governor says if it’s successful, the program will be extended into June.  

Cuomo says the state also plans to set up vaccination sites at major airports for New Yorkers flying to countries that require the vaccine for entry.  

The governor also addressed news reports, in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that say federal prosecutors have widened an investigation into whether the governor and his aides hid the true number of nursing home residents who died from the virus. The governor denies that. The Department of Justice is also looking at whether the governor improperly gave family and friends priority access to COVID tests.

As recently as April 3, 2021, according to the reports, the governor’s daughter and her boyfriend were given special priority to get a test and receive rapid results, because they were planning to visit Cuomo for Easter.

Cuomo says he did not do anything different that other governors and even the former President Donald Trump, who required that all visitors be tested for the virus.

“I was running COVID response for this state,” Cuomo said. “So I didn’t want to get COVID.”

Cuomo called the investigation, which began when Trump was president and has expanded during the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden, a sign of “toxic political times.”

Cuomo Thursday spoke in public for the first time since his tax returns revealed that he will be paid up to $5.1 million for a memoir he published about the pandemic. The writing and editing of the book is also under investigation by the federal prosecutors, and state Attorney General Tish James. It is also the subject of an impeachment inquiry by the state Assembly.

The governor is accused of using staff to help write and edit the book. Cuomo says they volunteered their time.

The governor was asked by a reporter about criticism from some families who lost loved ones to COVID, who are angry and say that he profited “on the backs of dead New Yorkers.”

“That’s stupid,” Cuomo answered.

Later, Cuomo clarified that he was critiquing the reporter’s question, not the families.

“I thought your question was stupid and offensive,” said Cuomo, who defended his writing of the book, as a way to teach people what lessons were learned during the first wave of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

“And if we don’t learn the lessons, we’re going to continue to make the same mistakes,” Cuomo said. 

Outside the governor’s briefing, state Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy held a media event to ask Cuomo to release the entire book contract. The governor refused, saying he’s already given the relevant details in his tax returns.  

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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