Capital Region counties say COVID vaccination efforts stalling

ERICA MILLER/THE DAILY GAZETTE Cosmas Munandi receives his first Moderna vaccine shot from Saratoga County nurse Shana Phelan at the Paul Lent Public Safety Facility in Ballston Spa on Thursday.
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ERICA MILLER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Cosmas Munandi receives his first Moderna vaccine shot from Saratoga County nurse Shana Phelan at the Paul Lent Public Safety Facility in Ballston Spa on Thursday.

ALBANY — Vaccine distribution again dominated COVID discussion Monday, as the potentially life-saving shots remained in limited supply in New York as the virus continues to spread.

Statewide Monday, 13,714 new infections were reported, 8,648 people were hospitalized and 170 new COVID-related deaths were reported, 13 of them in the Capital Region.

Careful behavior by New Yorkers and widespread use of a vaccine are what will halt the pandemic here. Careful behavior appears to have taken a break in late November and late December, and vaccination appears to never have taken off, thanks to short supply and an attempt to spread it as thinly as possible while still targeting it to specific groups as closely as possible.

Almost daily, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announces updates and changes to the vaccination plan: More groups and subgroups of the population eligible in a certain tier, new start dates for a particular tier, penalties for not attaining goals, an ever-growing distribution network of agencies and entities giving shots at what will eventually be thousands of sites.

Cuomo himself has acknowledged there will not be enough vaccine to supply this vast array of vaccination sites, at least not at first. He said Monday appointments may need to be as much as 14 weeks in advance.

Concerns were raised by numerous voices across the Capital Region on Monday, some critically:

  • Rensselaer County alluded to a decision by Cuomo months into the pandemic that the state would diminish counties’ role in mass vaccination, a role for which they had long rehearsed. Rensselaer County posted on its Facebook page that “We have repeatedly asked the state for vaccines, as have other counties, and have not received a significant supply from the state. To date, the county has only received 100 vaccines for health care workers.”
  • Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort, who often strikes an upbeat and apolitical tone in public, vented in a statement: “It is very unfortunate the way the state has rolled out the Covid-19 vaccine. On Friday, by opening up to Phase 1B, [Cuomo] has created a massive demand with no supply in Montgomery County. The county and the local hospital have exhausted every effort to get a response from the state regarding vaccine delivery. As of now, we have no confirmation or guarantee that we will receive a vaccine supply this week. We can’t even begin to prepare and register residents without confirmation of delivery.”
  • Schenectady County Manager Rory Fluman said: “While we understand that people are anxious to get the COVID vaccine, supply is limited.” The Public Health Services has received and administered just 545 doses in the county of 155,000 people. On Monday, the county launched a website — www.schenectadycounty.com/vaccine — to allow the elderly to pre-register for vaccine and to keep people up to date on the vaccination program.
  • Schoharie County said: “Unfortunately Schoharie County Department of Health does not currently have a sufficient quantity of vaccine to schedule appointments for the newly eligible 1B population. The small amount that we have remaining has already been scheduled for people in the 1A population. At this time, the pre-book request that we made last week requesting additional vaccine has not shipped. We will add another request for a larger amount of vaccine for next week.”
  • Albany Medical Center, central hub for the vaccination campaign in the Capital Region, said Monday that nearly 30,000 residents of the eight-county region of 1.08 million people had been vaccinated. It issued an update Saturday with the defensive-sounding title “Regional COVID-19 Vaccination Follows State Guidelines, Allocations,” and on Monday issued a news release quoting CEO Dr. Dennis McKenna saying: “The vaccine network may only schedule appointments for vaccine that has been provided from the state, and the state is distributing the vaccine based on its supply received from the federal government. Please understand that patience is needed at this time as the supply of vaccine is still limited.”

The problem is not limited to New York — the vaccine is in short supply everywhere in America, and President-elect Joe Biden plans to dramatically scale up distribution when he takes office.

But New York seem to have magnified the complexity and slowness of the rollout, critics say.

DAILY UPDATE

The positive test rate for new COVID infections has paused its rate of increase after a surge in early January, just as it paused in mid-December after a post-Thanksgiving surge.

The seven-day statewide average for positive COVID tests stood at 7.3% Sunday, after reaching 7.9% on Jan. 7.

The lagging results of the pandemic — hospitalization and death — remain high statewide.

Here are some details from the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley:

  • The Capital Region death toll continues to mount. On Sunday, the state reported the unlikely occurrence of at least one death in each of the eight Capital Region counties, for a total of 12 new COVID-related deaths. On Monday there were more total deaths reported but in fewer counties: Six in Saratoga County, three in Albany County, two in Rensselaer County, one each in Greene and Schenectady counties. In the eastern Mohawk Valley, there were two deaths in Montgomery County and one in Fulton County.
  • COVID hospitalizations at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady entered triple digits: 101 confirmed infected and one suspected. This compares with a one-day peak of 39 during the first wave of the pandemic in April.
  • Total hospital census Monday was 315 in the Mohawk Valley and 508 in the Capital Region, both just shy of their one-day peaks through the pandemic.
  • Fulton County had a whopping 20.6% positive test rate on Sunday, by far the highest of any county in the state. The seven-day average is the preferred metric to track the pandemic, as it smooths out one-day aberrations. The seven-day average for area counties stands at: Albany 8.9%, Fulton 11.9%, Montgomery 13.7%, Rensselaer 9.4%, Saratoga 10.2%, Schenectady 9.1%, and Schoharie 9.5%.
  • The Mohawk Valley continues to have the highest seven-day positive test rate among the state’s 10 regions at 9.9%. The Capital Region is fourth at 9.1%.

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