BALLSTON SPA — Saratoga County leaders said Tuesday that county Public Health Services is ready to mount a mass vaccination plan when enough COVID vaccine becomes available.
It’s the latest announcement by a county eager to get into a fight for which it has trained for since the early 2000s, and the latest with the big caveat: We’ll give shots when we have shots to give. The vaccine remains in short supply statewide and nationwide.
Saratoga County is farther along than some of its neighbors, however. Theodore Kusnierz, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said during a news conference Tuesday that 9,600 county residents have been vaccinated, or about 4.5% of the population, and 600 of them have received the second dose of the two-shot vaccine.
On Monday, Schenectady County said it had received 545 doses and Rensselaer County said it had received just 100.
The federal government has been sending the vaccine to New York state at a rate of just 300,000 a week. President-elect Biden has pledged to increase the rollout to states, but countering that, the CDC said Tuesday states should now open vaccination to all residents age 65 and older, rather than 75 and older, as well as to those of any age who are immune-compromised.
Combined with all the top priority subpopulations — medical workers, police, teachers, grocery store clerks, prison guards, bus drivers, ferryboat crews, probation officers, emergency dispatchers, child care workers, and others — a full 7 million New Yorkers would be able to receive the vaccine if 65-year-olds and immunocompromised people are included, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
That’s 14 million doses, which at 300,000 doses a week would take 47 weeks.
“How do you effectively serve 7 million people, all of whom are now eligible, without any priority?” Cuomo groused Tuesday, adding that the CDC didn’t even define immunocompromised, which he said could go as far as to include otherwise healthy pregnant women and smokers.
Cuomo has been steadily watering down the planned and practiced role of county health departments in the upcoming mass vaccination, adding thousands of new points of distribution with numerous and redundant chains of command and as-yet insufficient supply and coordination.
Kusnierz said Tuesday that Saratoga County will make the process work if it gets the supplies it needs.
More than 18 sites are approved and ready for distribution and have drilled for the process. The Saratoga Springs City Center, with its central location and extensive parking capacity, will be the largest POD, or point of dispensing.
“We here in Saratoga County are ready to hit the ground running,” he said.
Recognizing that COVID crosses county borders with ease, Kusnierz said that the leaders of the four large Capital Region counties — Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady — conferred Tuesday and soon will present a regional plan.
He also said:
- The county Board of Supervisors will allocate another $600,000 to the COVID fight.
- He won’t name the other PODs because potential adverse publicity might cause their owners to back out.
- The county will consider mobile vaccination but brick-and-mortar PODs are the priority.
- He’s sure the federal government and pharmaceutical companies will provide the 9,000 doses needed for second-round shots for Saratoga County residents who’ve already gotten their first shot.
OTHER VACCINATION NEWS
Other COVID vaccination developments Tuesday:
- Cuomo said New Yorkers had received a total of 645,037 doses as of Monday night.
- Cuomo announced that five state-run vaccination sites would open this week, including one at the University at Albany on Friday.
- The state’s vaccination hotline (1-833-NYS-4VAX) was knocked out of commission due to a high volume of calls.
- The Golub Corp. on Thursday will begin vaccination of qualified individuals at three of its supermarket pharmacies: Market 32, 1640 Eastern Parkway, Schenectady; Market 32, 15 Park Ave. Clifton Park; Market Bistro, 873 New Loudon Road, Latham. The supermarket chain hopes to expand across its six-state footprint when supply becomes adequate. It won’t say how many doses it has now for the three stores, but said appointments are required at www.pricechopper.com/covidvaccine/ and appointments won’t be made if vaccine is not available. As community pharmacies, they initially will focus on vaccinating the elderly, as per the current state protocol.
- St. Mary’s Healthcare in Amsterdam and the Montgomery County Public Health Department said they had administered nearly 2,000 COVID vaccine doses and do not know if or when they’ll receive more doses, though they’ve been assured they’ll get the second-round doses needed. They said they understand the extreme frustration of residents who are inundating them with calls on when and where they can get the vaccine and are pushing the state for answers.
In other COVID-related news Tuesday:
- The seven-day average positive test rate was 7.2% statewide; highest among the state’s 10 regions was the Mohawk Valley at 9.5%, while the Capital Region was fourth at 9.0%.
- The seven-day positive test rate for local counties was: Albany 9.0%, Fulton 12.0%, Montgomery County 12.8%, Rensselaer 9.6%, Saratoga 9.9%, Schenectady 9.0%, Schoharie 9.5%
- Statewide, 164 COVID-related deaths were reported. Two Capital Region counties saw their numbers skyrocket with the year-end addition of previously uncounted nursing home deaths — 17 in Saratoga County and six in Greene County. Both counties said the numbers were correct but the deaths were as much as ten months old, not new as of Tuesday.
- St. Peter’s Health Partners and Albany County said St. Peter’s will use a vacant patient building at the Albany County nursing home as a temporary overflow hospital for non-contagious COVID patients who still need care, if the need arises. Upstate hospitals have been squeezed by the second wave of the pandemic far more than the first — over 500 COVID patients were hospitalized in the Capital Region on Sunday, vs. 205 on the worst day in April.