Governor announces new initiative to reach vaccine hesitant residents in local communities

As COVID-19 cases in New York continue to trend upward amid a flattening vaccination rate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced a new initiative to reach nearly 3.5 million residents who have not yet received a dose of the vaccine.

Mr. Cuomo announced $15 million in funding would be distributed to six statewide community organizations to assist them in their efforts to reach people on a local level. While about 75% of adults in New York have received at least one dose, the governor noted that still leaves a larger unvaccinated population in the state than compared to populations of 21 individual states.

“We need a different approach,” the governor said of the ongoing effort to convince people to take the vaccine. “And the approach has to be community-based organizations who can have conversations in the community with people who know them, who culturally know them, who know their issues and their fears. It almost has to be a one-on-one conversation.”

Over the last two weeks, 117 zip codes in the state have both a rate of new positives per capita above the statewide average and a full vaccination rate below the statewide average. Most of those — 71 — are in New York City. The governor said those zip codes are now a focus area.

The Riverhead 11901 and Calverton 11933 zip codes were both among 21 zip codes on Long Island that fall into that category. Those zip codes represent the majority of Riverhead Town’s population.

“That my friends is what we have to target,” Mr. Cuomo said of the 117 zip codes during the media briefing at Yankee Stadium.

A walk-in vaccination clinic will be held at the Riverhead Free Library Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., part of the county’s ongoing vaccination effort. The Pfizer vaccine will be distributed to anyone 12 or older with no appointment required. Children 12-17 should be accompanied by an adult or bring a completed consent form. Information is available here.

Zip codes in Southold Town are nearly all above the state and county average for full vaccination rates. The Mattituck zip code of 11952 is now at 56.5% for fully vaccinated, which equals the state and county averages. That zip code had been slightly lagging the averages as of one month ago.

The rate for fully vaccinated residents in Suffolk County has increased by about 2.7% in the last month.

Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the immigrant rights organizations has over 200 members across the state, including the East End. The coalition is one of the six organizations designated to receive funding for the vaccination effort.

“I want to make sure that we acknowledge the fact that the most marginalized and most vulnerable amongst us were hardest hit through the pandemic,” he said. “Through the work we have done at the New York Immigration Coalition and our membership across the state of New York, we were able to react almost immediately in providing PPE, in providing cash assistance, food assistance. To this day, people are still hungry. The vaccination is the final critical effort we need to defeat COVID-19 for good.”

The positivity rate in Suffolk County for COVID-19 has jumped to 2.1% on a seven-day average, continuing an upward trend. There were 159 new cases reported on Saturday for a 2.5% positivity rate. Across the state there were 1,982 new cases, whereas on June 26 there were 346.

The governor said more than 70% of the new positives are linked to the Delta variant, which is a more infectious strain of COVID-19.

Mr. Cuomo reiterated how by taking the vaccine, it greatly reduces one’s chance of contracting COVID-19 and also greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization for breakthrough cases where someone does become infected despite the vaccine.

“What we’re looking at is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Mr. Cuomo said. “A pandemic of that 25% of the population that has still refused to get the vaccine.”

Across the nation, new cases of COVID-19 continue increasing. New cases in the U.S. on a seven-day average stand at just over 47,000 compared to just over 11,000 on June 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The hospitalization numbers in Suffolk County remain positive with 36 people in county hospitals with COVID-19 as of Saturday. But if cases continue to trend upward, the hospitalization totals likely won’t be far behind. The statewide number stands at 505, which is also well below the highest peaks during the pandemic.

There were seven COVID-19 fatalities in New York recorded on Saturday, according to the governor.

The other organizations slated to receive funding for vaccine work are Hispanic Federation, Asian American Federation, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, Apicha Community Health Center and the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center.