COVID vaccine incentives growing; SPAC, Race Course, other venues get to expand seating capacity

Claire Proffitt of Albany creates a single does of the Pfizer vaccine in March.
Claire Proffitt of Albany creates a single does of the Pfizer vaccine in March.

ALBANY — If avoiding COVID-19 isn’t incentive enough to get vaccinated, how about a seat at a Yankee game?

Free Cinnabon? Getting to sit shoulder-to-shoulder at the horse races and SPAC concerts in Saratoga this summer?

Bong refill, dude? Donut? Beer? Savings bond?

Smiley face sticker? Anybody?

Incentives to take the COVID vaccine have been popping up recently as the number of people coming in for the shot goes into a sharp decline nationwide.

The Daily Gazette was unable to confirm existence of any smiley face sticker giveaways, but all the other offers cited above are real.

On Wednesday, Crossgates Mall in Guilderland launched an incentive program for people who get the shot at the mass vaccination clinic in the former Lord & Taylor space at the mall, with giveaways and discounts at Cinnabon and a handful of other merchant tenants.

Also Wednesday, the Mets and Yankees said they’ll give ticket vouchers to the first several hundred people who get vaccinated each day at their respective ballparks.

Also, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that large-scale outdoor venues such as ballparks, horse tracks and performance venues can create separate seating areas where people who can prove vaccination can sit together with no social-distancing requirement. Their unvaccinated children age 15 and younger can join them, but everyone else who’s not vaccinated has to sit six feet apart in an area separate from the vaccinated folks.

“Theoretically if you had 100% vaccinated, you could fill the entire stadium with 100% vaccinated,” Cuomo said Wednesday. 

Other examples reported by local and national news outlets nationwide include:

  • New Jersey recipients of legal drinking age can get a free beer from 13 participating breweries in the state.
  • West Virginia — which got off to such a strong start with its vaccination drive — is now offering $100 savings bonds to younger residents who roll up their sleeves.
  • Krispy Kreme offers a donut to anyone who presents their vaccination card.
  • Recreational marijuana is free to vaccine recipients at dispensaries in Arizona, Michigan and elsewhere.
  • Detroit is giving $50 gift cards to people who drive city residents to certain vaccination sites.
  • Maryland will pay state employees $100 to get the shot.
  • And employers all over are presenting a wide array of incentives to employees who choose to vaccinate.

Some of these incentives are promotional, some are in the self-interest of those making the offer, and some are part of a public health drive. But all come as the public vaccination campaign is losing momentum. The rolling seven-day average of doses administered nationwide has declined every day since April 11, dropping 36% through April 30.


The news of the expanded capacity at outdoor venues was greeted warmly in the Capital Region on Wednesday.

The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is a huge part of the summer cultural scene in the region, 2020 notwithstanding, and a reopening is a step toward restored normalcy.

President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol said via email:

“We are thrilled that continued progress is being made toward reopening performing arts venues in New York State and are grateful to the governor for his ongoing leadership in getting us back to work. As with all the new guidelines, we are currently reviewing these latest changes to assess how SPAC can best take advantage of newly relaxed restrictions for vaccinated patrons.” 

New York Racing Association director of communications Pat McKenna said Wednesday that NYRA is examining the latest guidelines from the governor and evaluating how this could affect plans for spectator attendance at the 2021 Saratoga Race Course meet, which opens July 15.

NYRA, which operates Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, welcomed a limited number of fans to Belmont on Saturday for the first time since last March, as racetracks in New York were added to the list of venues that could open up to the public April 14.

Large outdoor sites like Saratoga had been scheduled to increase from 20% of capacity to 33% as of May 19, but the new guidelines suggest the potential for much more than that by the time the Saratoga meet starts.

In recent years, NYRA has capped paid admission at 50,000 for big events like Travers Day and Whitney Day.

“This is an incredibly positive development not only for Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course, but sports and entertainment venues statewide,” McKenna said. “We remain focused on safely welcoming as many fans as possible during the 2021 summer meet.”

Tri-City ValleyCats general manager Matt Callahan was happy to hear Cuomo’s announcement. After playing in the New York-Penn League from 2002-19, the ValleyCats begin their first season in the independent Frontier League May 27 at the Sussex County (New Jersey) Miners. Their Joseph L. Bruno Stadium opener is June 4 against the New Jersey Jackals.

“We look at that as a precedent that’s going to filter down to stadiums like ours here at The Joe,” Callahan said. “We’re going to plan to operate under the same guidelines. Obviously, we have a lot of plans in place to start the season, so we’re looking at ways that we can safely adjust those to increase capacity, which will be a little bit of a moving target as we adjust some of our sections and, hopefully, for more seating for our vaccinated folks and continue to work through it. Things change, and we’ll just have to adapt as we go.”

The team started selling tickets for its 15 June home games on Monday.

“The timing would have been better had the announcement been on Monday,” Callahan said with a laugh. “We could have adjusted some of our seating plans. The timing is good overall. That’s one of the reasons why we only put on sale June games to start, so that gives us more flexibility to adjust the seating chart further for July and August and beyond now that we have an idea of where we’re headed.”


As of Wednesday morning, coming up on five months after the first doses of vaccine were administered to the public in the United States, 47.2% of New Yorkers are at least partly vaccinated and 36.4% are fully vaccinated. This compares with 44.7% and 32.3% nationwide.

In and near the Capital Region, the rate of at least partial vaccination ranges from 35.6% (Fulton County) to 56% (Schenectady County).

In New York, state and local health officials are turning to other strategies as foot traffic drops off at mass-vaccination sites. The state-run clinic at Crossgates Mall, for example, has administered more than 200,000 doses since January there and at its previous location, the nearby University at Albany campus, but has dropped the appointment requirement as supply began to overtake demand.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 562 times slots still were available on Thursday.

Federal data show a striking drop-off in the last three weeks of doses administered nationwide. The seven-day rolling average was 3.27 million per day on April 11 and 2.1 million per day on April 30. 

The states in the northeast corner of the nation — Virginia north to the Canadian border — have 12 of the top 15 per-capita number of doses administered. If the District of Columbia were a state, the record would be 13 out of the top 16.

At the other end of the scale, No. 50 Alabama has administered a little more than half as many doses per capita as No. 1 Vermont.

New York is 10th among the 50 states and first among the large-population states.

— Staff writers Mike MacAdam, Indiana Nash and Ken Schott contributed to this report.

Categories: Business, News, Saratoga County, Sports

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