Photo: Denise Civiletti

As COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York approach 9,000 patients, Gov. Andrew Cuomo yesterday warned that the state’s “number one risk” is “the collapse of the hospital system.”

New York’s hospital capacity is “balancing on the head of a pin,” Cuomo said.

The governor stressed it is critical for hospitals to focus on vaccinating hospital staff.

“The biggest capacity element in the hospital system is we’re losing staff. We’re losing staff because the staff is getting sick from COVID,” Cuomo said.

Seniors 65+ and immunocompromised now eligible for vaccine

At the same time, the CDC has again expanded the pool of people now eligible for vaccination despite a limited supply of vaccine doses that has not increased alongside the expansion of eligible recipients.

On Monday, vaccination eligibility, which had been limited to those deemed front-line health care workers in group 1A — about 2.1 million New Yorkers — was expanded to group 1B — a group of an additional 3.2 million New Yorkers including people 75 and over, first responders, education workers, transit workers and public-facing grocery workers.

Yesterday, the CDC guidelines were changed to include people 65 and over, as well as people who are immunocompromised. Cuomo said the state was waiting for clarification of what the CDC classifies as immunocompromised. Cuomo said this would add at a minimum another 1.8 million New Yorkers, bringing the total of those eligible for vaccination to about 7 million New Yorkers. That could swell to a greater number depending on what is considered immunocompromised, the governor said.

Cuomo: Vaccine supply still ‘drip, drip, drip’

Meanwhile, the supply of the vaccine the state receives has not increased.

“We receive 300,000 dosages per week. That has not changed. The federal government didn’t give us an additional allocation, Cuomo said.

“Now we have 7 million people eligible, and we still have a drip, drip, drip from the faucet of federal dosage availability at 300,000,” he said.

A total of 645,037 vaccine doses have been administered in New York State, according to data released by the governor yesterday.

>>>More COVID-19 coverage, data and updates

The Trump administration yesterday announced it is releasing
second doses of the vaccine that were reserved for booster shots in the two-dose vaccine regimen.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said yesterday in an interview on “Good Morning America” that, beginning in two weeks, doses will be allocated to states according to the pace at which the states are administering the vaccines, and also based on the size of a state’s 65 and older population.

During a telephone briefing with reporters yesterday, Cuomo complained that “change is constant with the CDC” and “federal policy is making it extraordinarily difficult” to manage the process.

Officials hope ‘holiday spike’ is over

At the same time, the governor said he is hopeful that the “holiday spike” reached its peak and infections — and hospitalizations — are “starting to flatten.”

“Positivity in almost every region is down from the high during this holiday spike,” Cuomo said.

But, he cautioned, “The U.K. strain is the X-factor.”

Yesterday the governor said the number of confirmed cases of the more contagious U.K. strain of the virus had risen to 12 in New York.

The novel coronavirus variant, first confirmed in the U.K. in December, is believed to be as much as 60% more infectious. It rapidly overtook the original virus as the predominant source of infection in the U.K. and has since been identified in 50 countries, according to a Jan. 12 World Health Organization report.

Negative COVID tests to be required for all air passengers entering U.S. beginning Jan. 26

The CDC yesterday announced a negative COVID-19 test will be required for all air passengers entering the United States beginning later this month.

Air passengers will be required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the three days before their flight to the U.S. and provide documentation of a negative lab test result to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must deny boarding to any passenger that does not meet the requirements.

CDC director Robert Redfield signed the order yesterday, but it does not take effect until Jan. 26.

The CDC issued an order requiring a negative COVID test for passengers from the U.K. beginning Dec. 27.

Cuomo has repeatedly and loudly criticized the Trump administration for not requiring negative tests for air passengers entering the U.S. and criticized the administration for taking too long to impose that requirement on travelers from the U.K.

The governor has said New York became the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. last spring because the federal government did not act to restrict travel from Europe to the U.S., despite widespread coronavirus infections in Italy.

Latest new case numbers, hospitalization data

New York State yesterday reported 196,671 tests administered Monday, with 15,214 positive results — a testing positivity rate of just over 7% statewide.

There were 8,926 total hospitalizations, an increase of 281 over the day before, with 918 new admissions and 541 discharges.
There were 164 new deaths, bringing total COVID fatalities in New York to 32,007.

There were 1,667 new COVID-19 cases in Suffolk County Monday, out of 17,303 tests reported, for a testing positivity rate of 9.6%.

“For the fourth day in a row we have now seen a positivity rate below 10% here in Suffolk County,” County Executive Steve Bellone said yesterday.

“Although it is too early to call this a pattern, our hope is that this signifies that the worst of the holiday surge is behind us,” Bellone said.

Suffolk needs to get infection numbers “back under control,” Bellone said. “If we continue to limit gatherings, practice social distancing, and wear masks, in conjunction with vaccinations ramping up, we will save lives and accelerate our recovery,” he said.

The viral outbreak in Suffolk County and New York statewide is considered severe by public health officials. The number of daily new cases in New York is 84 per 100,000 population. The number of daily new cases in Suffolk is 127 per 100,000 population, according to the COVID tracking website, COVID Act Now. Risk of infection remains “extreme,” according to the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“Remember,” Bellone said yesterday, “vigilance got us through the first wave and it will get us through the second. We are in the home stretch, but can’t let up now.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.