Hours after the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in New York Monday, to an ICU nurse in Queens, a few county executives delivered COVID-19 briefings. They talked about vaccine distribution along with potential shutdowns. Indoor dining was closed in all of New York City Monday, and leaders wonder if the same could happen north of the city.
Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out who will receive the vaccine first — healthcare workers in emergency rooms and ICUs, for example, where the risk is high. Nursing home residents and staff are also prioritized. Republican Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says he is in constant contact with hospital and nursing home officials about vaccine distribution.
“I know 50 percent of the population doesn’t believe or is nervous about the vaccine. I’m not paying attention to that, personally,” Neuhaus says. “I believe once they start giving the vaccination out and people realize you’re not growing a third arm, and it’s something that’s going to be effective, you’ll have a more comfort level, so that 50 percent will go up, and you’ll get up and you’ll get up to that 75-85 percent optimum number that a lot of health professionals want to see to make it actually effective on the society.”
He’s talking about herd immunity. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer:
“There are shipments that are going to go to pharmacies in Westchester County, but they are specifically for the use of nursing home staff and residents. That is the target goal as they are going to hospitals to treat, or to be provided to hospital workers, they go to those pharmacies specifically to be helpful to the nursing homes,” Latimer says. “You cannot go, at this stage of the game, into a pharmacy or into a hospital and say, I want the shot. You need to talk to your doctor and then determine what your circumstances are that will allow for you to have that vaccine.”
Neuhaus says businesses are on edge wondering if they’ll be closed.
“My conversation with the state of New York was this, with my other county executives, in particular, the Hudson Valley, if you shut down New York City, their restaurants, and you’re telling me that 75 percent of the people that got sick, got sick from social gatherings, and the restaurants are like the fifth cause of people getting sick, why am I and why is not the Hudson Valley being shut down,” Neuhaus says.
He says the state has no intention to shut down areas outside New York City, but the door is open for any such action.
“I wish I could give you a hard number — they’re closing this down Friday or we’re not being closed,” says Neuhaus. “I know it’s gotten everybody up in arms, including business owners, what’s going on, what is the future but, at this time, we are not being shut down.”
And Neuhaus delivered COVID-related statistics from the weekend.
“We had eight deaths to report since Friday,” says Neuhaus. “Seven of them were nursing home residents. One was not a nursing home resident, and the ages range from 57-90.”
He says 130 people are hospitalized, up 14 from Friday. In Westchester County, Latimer says there were nearly 8,600 active cases as of Saturday and 360 or so people are hospitalized, a lower number compared with the spring from a similar number of active cases. He says 31 residents have died in a week’s time, also as of Saturday.
Mount Vernon is the most densely populated municipality in Westchester, and has managed thus far to steer clear of the state’s color-coded zone designation. Shawyn Patterson-Howard is mayor of Mount Vernon, which has 294 active cases, and recorded its first death since June in the past 10 days. She says active cases are predominantly in three zip codes, including the most populated area of the city.
“I went on Friday, just this Friday, to get a updated COVID test, and I got my results at about 12 o’clock today [Monday], and I am negative,” Patterson-Howard says. "And this is something that I do on occasion. I don’t go constantly to get tested but, as we encourage our residents to be tested, because it is the asymptomatic spread of COVID that is the biggest spreader of this infection, people who are asymptomatic and don’t know their status are the ones who are spreading it, and it impacts their friends and family sometimes in a very different way. And so, as a resident, as someone who’s worked in public health, I want to make sure that I’m aware of my status.”
She says even without knowing one’s status, it’s important to follow COVID-prevention protocols. Patterson-Howard credits an education campaign with helping to keep her city from developing microclusters. She says the focus in the community has been education over enforcement since the reopening phases in the spring, and the city created a campaign called Mount Vernon Resilience.
“And so just like you have Better Business Bureau’s symbols in people’s windows, we have Mount Vernon Resilience,” says Patterson-Howard.
She says the city has shut down businesses for noncompliance and will issue fines. Meantime, Neuhaus says residents in need of a holiday meal can turn to Orange County.
“If you have a family that you know of, or maybe it’s you, and you don’t have everything you need to have a good meal for Christmas, and you’re in need, let me know, message me,” says Neuhaus. “Say, hey, here’s my number. My name is John Smith my neighbor is under, lost their job, they’re a single parent, whatever the situation is. I don’t need to know the details. Just tell me where they are and that they need a meal, and we’ll take care of it.”
He says some restaurant owners and others have called him offering to deliver meals to households that don’t have the means to put together a holiday spread.