School districts to issue vaccination surveys to parents as state aims to assist areas that need support

New York State officials will require school districts to issue vaccination surveys to parents to gather additional data in an effort to increase vaccinations for school-age children following the recent eligibility expansion for ages 5-11.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said about 20% of 5-11-year-olds are vaccinated with at least one dose and about 5.8% have completed the vaccine series.

“The first wave of kids have now received their second dose,” she said. “These aren’t great numbers, but they’re going right. Last week, it was 0.5% of children in that age group who are fully vaccinated and now it’s 5.8%. That’s good but we have a long way to go.”

The governor said they’re hoping to learn from the survey if parents are having trouble accessing the vaccine and where they’re looking to go, whether it be the pediatrician office or local pharmacies.

“We want to know what’s going on and get a better handle on the numbers and work with our local county health departments to target the high-need areas that need additional support,” she said.

Ms. Hochul said 1 million at-home COVID-19 testing kits have been ordered that will arrive next week and be distributed to county health departments with a focus on getting the tests to schools and parents. She said the tests will help when a student tests positive and classmates are required to have a negative test to return and therefore limit unnecessary quarantining.

Dr. Mary Bassett, the new state health commissioner, said the department is focusing on the broader impact of Covid, particularly related to children’s mental health.

She did not offer specifics on a plan, but said she’d be having conversations with the state education commissioner. She added that addressing long-haul Covid is another area of concern for the health department.

“Obviously the No. 1 thing that we’re concerned about doing is keeping children in schools and part of that is promoting vaccination,” Dr. Bassett said. “But in addition, we know that now we’re in our second year of children having their education disrupted and we know this has had huge mental health effects.”

The governor and health commissioner spoke Thursday afternoon from New York City to provide the latest updates on COVID-19, as cases and hospitalizations across the region continue to rise amid new concerns of the omicron variant.

Dr. Bassett noted that while the new variant is a concern, nearly all current cases are related to the delta variant, which “remains the overwhelming dominant strain in the U.S.” There have now been 20 confirmed cases of omicron in New York, including three in Suffolk County. The variant has now been confirmed in at least half of U.S. states.

The omicron cases have been seen all across the state and have been consistent with community spread.

“We don’t know yet whether omicron will outcompete delta,” Dr. Bassett said.

She said there’s still uncertainty on the three main questions related to omicron, specifically whether it’s more transmissible than the delta variant, whether it will cause more severe disease than delta and how effective vaccines are against it. From looking at omicron in other countries, it does appear highly contagious and no more lethal than delta variant and vaccines offer protection against severe disease, she said.

When examining Covid cases, Ms. Hochul said state officials are looking at the cases per 100,000 on a seven-day average in each region. She said that figure provides more clarity since there’s less certainty on how many daily tests are being done with the increase in at-home tests.

The statewide figure stands at 49.83 cases per 100K and two weeks ago it was at 34.6.

Long Island is currently above the state average at 60.03. New York City, the most densely populated region, has the lowest rate at 30.21. The governor was asked specifically why more stringent measures that have been imposed in New York City have not been implemented elsewhere in the state, such as showing proof of vaccination to enter certain venues.

“Plans are being developed to address the impending surge,” she said, without providing further detail. “Hospitalization rates are the No. 1 issue I look at.”

The governor said there continues to be an uptick in hospitalizations and areas with lower vaccination rates have higher rates. The Suffolk County Department of Health reported 237 patients hospitalized in the county as of Wednesday with COVID-19. The hospitalization figures are still better across the region compared to one year ago when the vaccine was first approved. This date last year still represented the early upward climb of hospitalizations, which peaked around Jan. 18 during the holiday surge, before beginning a steady decline into mid-March.

“This is not the sky is falling, we just want to make sure people take this very seriously,” Ms. Hochul said.