State to allow local governments to decide if restaurant workers, taxi drivers can receive vaccine now

Restaurant workers can become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under the current Phase 1b if local governments approve adding them as a priority, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

The news came just one day after the governor downplayed the idea of restaurant workers receiving priority in Phase 1b. The difference, he said, was that the federal government announced an increase in vaccine doses that will be distributed to local governments and pharmacies.

“Now there’s additional flexibility,” Mr. Cuomo said during a media briefing Tuesday. “I’m leaving it up to the local governments to make a determination for what fits their situation best. We do have more vaccine now, so there is more flexibility in the system.”

The local governments can also choose to add taxi drivers or rideshare drivers like Uber as well as workers at developmentally disabled facilities under the current Phase 1b.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the Suffolk County Department of Health or county executive would approach the new guidance. Current 1b guidelines allow eligibility for people age 65 or older, first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, child care providers and others.

“Some localities have already done a large percentage of their police, fire, their teachers and they do have flexibility,” the governor said. “There is no one-size-fits-all here.”

Mr. Cuomo said the federal government increased the allocation to states by 16% last week for the following three weeks. On Tuesday, he said the allocation will now be increased by about 20%.

“That means the state will then turn around and supply 20% additional to the local governments so they can count on an additional 20% in the coming weeks,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor said the overall statewide positivity for COVID-19 is currently at 5.47%. The positivity rate for Long Island remains above the statewide average at 6.03%. Suffolk County remains slightly higher still at 6.4% on a seven-day average.

“The holiday surge has tapered off and we are on the decline,” Mr. Cuomo said, noting there have been 25 straight days of positivity decline (on a 7-day average).