SCHENECTADY — Schenectady County on Thursday staged its first COVID vaccination clinic specifically intended to reach the minority community.
Residents age 65 or older in the three Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority complexes near downtown Schenectady were the focus of outreach for the 100 doses available, but any SMHA resident over age 64 was eligible.
“We were assigned 100 doses for residents and staff,” County Manager Rory Fluman said in the early afternoon, midway through the clinic. “And it looks like all the doses are going to be taken by residents.”
State officials have said poor and minority New Yorkers have been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than the rest of the population, and so far have been protected by the vaccine in lesser numbers. It has been attempting to change this with targeted vaccination sites.
Schenectady County is doing this as well. The Ten Eyck Apartments was chosen for the first clinic because it has a large community room and because minorities make up a large percentage of SMHA residents.
Offering full access to all demographic groups is a priority for the county, Fluman said, even as it struggles with an unpredictable and inadequate supply of doses.
There have, he said, been indications that minorities, particularly Black people, are more reluctant to get the vaccine out of fear or suspicion.
The county is actively planning how to overcome this, Fluman said, but is not actively working to do so right now, because it has so little of the vaccine.
“That is very real in our Black and brown community in Schenectady County,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury [right now] of having time to talk somebody into it. A month from now, when our supply is much greater, that’s going to happen.”
Thursday’s event was the first of its kind in the county; the second will be Friday, when the county vaccinates 20 YWCA residents at SUNY Schenectady County.
Fluman said the county had asked the governor’s office to pick Schenectady for one of the state’s pop-up vaccination sites targeted to the minority community but never heard back.
Instead, pop-ups are being held this week at three housing complexes in Albany and one in Troy.
SMHA Executive Director Richard Homenick said he was thrilled with Thursday’s clinic.
“My concern initially was our residents having equal access to the vaccine,” he said, explaining that some don’t have the computer savvy to spend hours hunting for a vaccination appointment or the cars to drive to a distant site.
“The county really took note of that. We met and we made it happen.”
The county Public Health Services relied on the SMHA to identify vaccine recipients and schedule their shots.
Homenick said in the three housing complexes clustered just south of downtown, there are 131 residents age 65 or older.
“We personally dialed every single person that’s 65 and older and if we didn’t get an answer we knocked on their doors,” he said.
Some declined, for medical or other reasons, but he’s confident everyone got a shot at getting the shot.
“We had just below a hundred who were interested in the vaccine. I think it’s a great number — I think what it’s showing is, it’s possible to do it, it’s possible to do it efficiently, and it’s popular.”
Schenectady County has had a painful 11 months. It was home to the first Capital Region resident known to have died of COVID and home to at least 128 more who’ve died since then. (The county’s internally generated death toll stood at 129 Thursday but the state put the number at 158; delayed reporting to counties has resulted in many of these mismatches.)
The county also has had more confirmed cases per capita than any neighboring county.
But things are looking up: Schenectady County’s seven-day rolling positive test average was down to 3.3% on Thursday after reaching 11.3% on Dec. 30.
Fluman said people ignoring warnings to keep distant and stay safe during the late-2020 holidays drove the infection rate up. People heeding the warnings has driven the rate down since then.
“I am a little nervous about Super Bowl parties, frankly,” he said.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in New York state on March 1, 2020. Here’s how Schenectady County has fared since then:
- 254,982 diagnostic tests administered
- 9,695 residents confirmed infected
- 32,879 precautionary quarantines ordered
- 129 (or 158) residents dead
- 473 known active infections on Thursday
- 2,544 people vaccinated as of Wednesday
On the issue of racial disparity amid the pandemic, the county appears to be faring better than the state as a whole, but the numbers are inconclusive.
The county’s 155,300 residents are 73.5% White, 11.1% Black and 5.1% Asian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Of those who tested positive for COVID, 46% are White, 7.5% Black and 4.6% Asian, according to the county.
Of those killed by COVID, 80.5% were White, 7.8% Black and 5.5% Asian.
The problem is that the Census counts a significant number of people as multiracial, a category the county doesn’t use. And a large number of the infected are categorized by the county as unknown/other race.
For sake of comparison, the state Department of Health identifies those who died of COVID statewide excluding New York City as 71% White, 13% Black, 10% Hispanic, 3% Asian and 3% other. By percentage of the state’s population outside New York City, White people are 74%, Black people 9%, Hispanics 12%, Asians 4% and other 1%.