Featured Story

Governor says Long Island vaccinating health care workers at slower rate as hospitalizations climb

Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday expressed concern over the speed at which health care workers are being vaccinated, saying the combination of low levels of vaccinated staff and the possibility for an increase in hospitalizations could lead to capacity issues at hospitals across the state.

Of particular concern is Long Island, the governor said.

“Long Island has taken a relative jump [in hospitalizations],” Mr. Cuomo said at a media briefing Monday, noting that there are currently 1,649 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in Suffolk and Nassau counties. “It’s concerning and we’re watching that.”

Mr. Cuomo said the greatest threat comes from new, more easily transmissible strains of the virus that have originated in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. He said a possible surge from those strains arriving and spreading quickly in New York before more health care workers are vaccinated could lead to a “nightmare” scenario.

“That should keep us all up at night,” the governor said.

Some of the data shared during Monday’s press conference showed poor performance and a high rate of opt-outs from receiving the vaccine at Long Island long-term care facilities.

Related Story: East End officials push back against ‘nonexistent’ vaccine rollout

Mr. Cuomo said the state will soon release a daily database that shows the totals and percentage of vaccinations among long-term care residents and staff across the state. The example slide shared during the governor’s presentation showed that 46% of staff on Long Island, about 8,500 long-term care workers, have declined the vaccine — the most of any region in the state. Sixteen percent of long-term care residents in Suffolk and Nassau have also opted out, second only to New York City, according to the slide.

Locally, at Acadia Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Riverhead, administrator Mary Ann Mangels said the facility hit the State Department of Health target of vaccinating a third of the staff at its first clinic, while also vaccinating 66% of the residents. Those individuals will receive their second and final dose at a second clinic Wednesday, when at least 20 more staff members and 16 residents will receive their first dose. At Peconic Landing in Greenport, 41 skilled nursing residents and 117 staff members were expected to complete their vaccinations Monday. An additional 28 residents and 60 staffers will receive their first dose Thursday and complete the cycle next month.

“I am extremely pleased that we have had the opportunity to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to our most vulnerable members in The Shores for Skilled Nursing, and soon, to those in the Harbors for Assisted Living,” Peconic Landing president and CEO Bob Syron said in a statement last week. “The health and wellbeing of our members continues to be our top priority, and this vaccine is one of the most important tools we have right now, along with the dedication of our extraordinary team.”

As far as hospitals are concerned, data shared by the governor Monday cast both Peconic Bay Medical Center and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in a favorable light in terms of vaccinations. ELIH has vaccinated 70% of its eligible workers, according to the state, fourth most of any hospital on Long Island. PBMC, meanwhile, administered 100% of its allocated first doses.

But Long Island hospitals as a whole have been sluggish in terms of vaccine distribution, Mr. Cuomo said.

“You go from 100% [at some hospitals] down to  [50% at others],” he said. “That part of this is just inexplicable.” St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown at 51% and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson at 75% were spotlighted as “lower performing” hospitals. Only 60.1% of hospital workers have been vaccinated on Long Island — the lowest percentage of any region in the state, according to data released Monday.

Mr. Cuomo said underperforming hospitals will receive fewer doses moving forward, adding that it’s his preference to distribute more vaccines to the hospitals that are getting them out the quickest. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor, said such a plan makes sense since other hospitals will have more doses on hand, and she said local municipalities have supported that strategy.

While vaccinating health care workers and others eligible under the first phase of the plan has become an urgent priority, the governor said receiving more doses from the federal government to accommodate first responders and residents over 65 years of age newly eligible to receive the vaccine is also important. He said Monday that New York has actually received less doses in the past two weeks, extending the timeline for completion of Phase 1B to seven months from now, up from the six months initially projected, unless the state can begin to receive more doses in the coming weeks.

New York received 239,625 doses last week, less than the anticipated 300,000, which the governor had said was already too low a number.

Suffolk County on Sunday reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 7.6% with 1,541 new cases reported. Only about 22% of hospital beds and intensive care units are currently available in the county, where 17 deaths were reported Sunday.