With their residents expressing frustration and confusion, Hudson Valley county executives are directing them to go to the state with their issues about signing up for the COVID-19 vaccine. And one leader is imploring the state to send more vaccine as all the counties grapple with high demand and little-to-to-no supply.
Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day spoke Thursday afternoon:
“What’s happening right now with the vaccine distribution is absolutely unacceptable,” Day says. “There’s no other way of putting it.”
Last Tuesday, Rockland received 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, all of which were administered within three days at the county’s health clinic in Pomona. Rockland then requested 2,000 more doses for this week, and received 200.
“We have a weekly call with the state Health Department, New York state Health Department, and we brought these, these facts forward. The response that we got on that phone call, which was muted so we couldn’t respond back, was that we are lucky we’re getting any vaccine. How arrogant is that? That is arrogance at its finest," Day says. "How dare you say something like that to elected officials and people in health departments who are trying to do the right thing by the people of this county. It is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it.”
And three state lawmakers from Rockland are voicing their concern with the vaccine distribution process as well, citing a lack of transparency and clear guidance they say has created unnecessary panic and frustration for residents. And while they, like Day, see the federal government’s failure to supply New York state with sufficient doses, the lawmakers want the state to standardize the process for scheduling appointments and be more transparent, given all the confusion. Democrats state Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, along with Republican Assemblyman Mike Lawler, want the state to prioritize areas with high COVID infection rates, like Rockland, and set up a publicly-run vaccination center in Rockland County, similar to the drive-through COVID-19 testing center at the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area off the Palisades Parkway. Day is not as diplomatic.
“When you look at a county that has had, one of the most significantly impacted counties in the state of New York for COVID-19, nearly 10 percent of the infections, we should be up in the front of the line right now, period. Stop with the political, the political niceties and do the right thing here because I, frankly, I am fed up right now,” Day says. “It’s time for New York state to follow through with its promises, the promise to equitably distribute the vaccine and send it directly to Rockland and other localities around New York, not across the river to Westchester, not out in Long Island somewhere.”
New York state earlier this week opened a vaccination site at the Westchester County Center. The first full day of operation was Wednesday, when Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer says 1,030 people were vaccinated. At that point, Westchester’s Health Department had administered 1,015 vaccines at its clinic in White Plains.
“Westchester County, you can do the math, is about 5 percent of the population of New York, in round numbers, a little more than that, 19 million New Yorkers, about 1 million Westchester people. If you parcel it out based on population, Westchester County would get 15,000 doses a week, and the demand in this county for vaccination far exceeds 15,000 people for this present moment,” Latimer says. “So when people come to me and they say, hey, I have to wait until March, I have to wait until mid-February, the lack of supply is why.”
On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, following CDC guidance, said New Yorkers 65 and older are now eligible to be vaccinated. He says New York receives 300,000 dosages per week, and more than 7 million New Yorkers are eligible. The Rockland state lawmakers say the continued expansion of eligibility for New Yorkers without an expansion of infrastructure to support the new requests has overwhelmed the system. They say additional staff should be made available to handle the vaccine hotlines. County executives’ offices, like Latimer’s, have been inundated with calls from residents.
“The state, however, has established this program, and I can’t emphasize this enough,” Latimer says. “This is not a blame game. This is to help you understand who the decision makers are because when I watch the chat room, even as this presentation goes on, I consistently see people saying, you should have done this, you should have… Those decisions aren’t mine to make, they aren’t ours to make.”
“This is a state plan,” says Day. “It is owned and operated by the state of New York.”
This has become the refrain of other county leaders.
“The governor wanted to own this, and now he does. So we’re trying to make it work,” Day says. “I want people to understand, we’re not merely pointing the finger. We’re trying our darndest to make this work the best we can, but we need help.”
Day, who is 69, and says he is in good health, is now eligible for the vaccine, but says he will wait and ensure someone who needs it more gets it. County and municipal leaders have a recurring message — vaccines are by appointment only and require online registration through the state web site: covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.