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Latimer Reports 6,459 Vaccinated But Shortages Hamper Process

WCCVAccinesWestchester County Center is the largest vaccine distribution center in the county.As Westchester County begins vaccinating its residents, many are finally seeing the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel. On January 19, 2021, Westchester County Executive George Latimer held a live conference to brief the public on the state of the Covid-19 pandemic in Westchester. The first topic discussed was the status of vaccinations and the second was the number of positive Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the county.

The Vaccine

New York State is currently in the early stages of vaccine distribution. On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, the Westchester County Center opened as the largest vaccine distribution center in the county. The building was originally transformed from a sports venue into an antibody testing site, and it now serves as a major vaccine operation that has vaccinated 6,459 individuals in under a week. This site will operate seven days a week until every Westchester resident is vaccinated. Additionally, there are other smaller vaccination locations such as the White Plains County Health Clinic, which has vaccinated 1,980 people to date. The county is hoping to hit 10,000 total vaccinations by the end of this week.

New York is currently in stage 1A/1B of the vaccination process, meaning that all frontline workers, healthcare workers, first responders, individuals over 65, and individuals with a compromised immune system are eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment. You can find out if you’re eligible HERE.

Shortage

While New York State was originally promised 300,000 vaccine doses per week from the federal government, this figure has dropped in recent days as the government does not have an adequate supply of the vaccine. As a result of this shortage, many residents are unable to make appointments despite being eligible for the vaccine. As more doses become available, appointment slots will open up for individuals hoping to be inoculated. Residents of New York State can contact the Covid-19 Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4892) for questions regarding the vaccine and how to sign up for an appointment.

Safety

Country Executive Latimer then addressed some of the concerns many residents have over the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. Because the current demand for the vaccine is so high, the county has yet to officially address the population of people who are skeptical about getting the shot. During the conference, Mr. Latimer showed a video featuring Dr. Dial Hewlett, the Medical Director for the Division of Disease Control for the Westchester County Department of Health. Dr. Hewlett discussed his own experience receiving the vaccine, and the importance of mass inoculation to protect the most vulnerable in our society from this virus.

Next, Mr. Latimer addressed the concerns over the new U.K. variant of Covid-19. While the strain is a more communicable form of the virus, it has not been determined to be more dangerous or fatal than the original strains. He confirmed that a Northern Westchester resident tested positive for this Covid-19 variant and that thorough contact tracing is being done for this case to limit the spread of the virus. Mr. Latimer assured the public that although this mutation may seem alarming, Westchester County is prepared to manage this new challenge.

Assistance

Ken Jenkins, the Deputy County Executive, then specifically addressed the senior citizens in the community and the challenges they face with regards to getting the vaccine. Many senior citizens either do not have access to a computer or are unsure of how to sign up for a vaccine appointment online. Mr. Jenkins advised residents who require assistance to call the Department of Senior Services (914-813-6300) for help signing up for an appointment. While the department cannot make the appointment for a patient, they will help residents navigate the process.

Covid-19 By the Numbers

Positive Cases

To date, 84,420 Westchester residents, or 5.2% of the population, have tested positive for Covid-19.

Within the last two weeks, the county has seen 11,453 positive cases. These figures are quite high for the county and are approaching the figure of 12,000 positive cases that was seen at the peak of the pandemic in March 2020.

County officials expected a surge in cases in the weeks following Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Additionally, the new U.K stain of the virus may be contributing to this surge. It is now past the two-week mark since New Year’s Eve and officials are hoping to see a plateau and decline in active cases looking forward.

Hospitalizations

As of Sunday, January 17, 2021, 513 Westchester patients are hospitalized with the virus. This is below the peak figure of 545 hospitalizations seen during the peak of the pandemic. This figure is also below what the county experienced last week and the week before that. Hopefully, this is a signal that hospitalizations are trending downward, but officials will be unable to make that determination for several weeks.

Deaths

Sadly, 1,797 residents have died in total from Covid-19. Unfortunately, 61 of these deaths are just from this past week, and 114 people have died in the last two weeks. This is one of the most significant death ratios the county has seen since the peak of the pandemic in March 2020. Officials are hoping to amplify the number of residents being vaccinated to combat these figures. However, this vaccination process is entirely dependent on the number of doses that New York State receives from the federal government.

Press Questions

There have been many complaints about the inability to sign up for vaccination appointments. Recognizing that this holdup is the result of a lack of doses from the state and the federal government, are you offering advice to officials in Albany or to people having trouble making appointments?

Mr. Latimer emphasized that he is lobbying officials in Albany and that we have already seen policy changes made based on this advocacy. For example, the testing policies and quarantine guidelines for schools have both changed in part because of lobbying efforts by Westchester County. While the county is experiencing a high volume of complaints from eligible residents who are unable to secure Covid-19 vaccination appointments, Mr. Latimer stated that the volume of these complaints has dropped dramatically in the last 10 days as more people can successfully make appointments. He highlighted again that vaccinating as many people as possible is the primary goal of the local government, and that as more doses become available, more people will find available appointments.

Some people have complained that they are having issues securing an appointment for the second vaccine dose after they received the first dose. What is your message to providers who are having trouble distributing the second dose?

Mr. Latimer stated that the state must be informed of any provider that is not prepared to administer the second dose of the vaccine. He said that people should contact the Westchester County Executive’s office if they need help solving this specific issue and securing an appointment for their second inoculation.

Some people have reported that they were unable to receive the vaccine due to a previous cancer diagnosis. Have you heard anything about this?

Mr. Latimer stated that he has not heard anything about this particular issue and that he will seek to answer this question at a later press conference. He also said that while certain categories of illness may make a person illegible for the vaccine, this decision is up to the state and is not determined at the local level.

What are your thoughts on Westchester residents going to Florida to get vaccinated?

When answering this question, Mr. Latimer began by emphasizing that this is the type of issue that arises when you do not have a federal vaccination program. Part of the reason the management of the pandemic has been so chaotic is that state and local governments never had federally regulated testing, virus management, or vaccination programs. In this void, he stated, each state designed its own protocols, and some states have a more first-come-first-serve vaccination system than others. Mr. Latimer went on to discuss how this system can lead to more tech-savvy, or younger individuals being able to secure vaccine appointments before people in older, more at-risk populations. He then stated that although he does not begrudge people trying to get a vaccine, we need to focus on the most at-risk populations. He emphasized that he is fine with people trying to obtain a legal shot, but that he has a problem with people illegally skipping lines or skirting rules to get the vaccine.

Are you noticing that there are certain areas in the county with fewer vaccine registrations than other areas?

Mr. Latimer said that there is no data available to him that breaks down vaccine registrations in the county into specific demographic categories. The county only knows the age and the occupation of residents signing up for vaccines. However, he said that based on anecdotal evidence, communities of color are more skeptical of the vaccine. Mr. Latimer highlighted the need for credible spokespeople from these communities to speak to the efficacy and necessity of the vaccine. He also stated that officials must ensure that vaccination locations are available in all corners of the county. Inaccessibility should not be an issue when trying to make vaccine appointments, and residents cannot all be expected to travel to White Plains to receive their vaccines.

The Governor of New York State sent a letter to the CEO of Pfizer asking to buy doses directly for New York State. Do you plan on sending a letter like this one?

Mr. Latimer rejected this idea and stated that because Pfizer’s CEO denied Governor Cuomo’s request to bypass the federal government, that it is very unlikely the same request would be accepted from a County Executive. He then highlighted a point he made several times throughout the day’s briefing: the federal government failed to make a national vaccine distribution plan. Mr. Latimer said that energy that should have been spent on developing a robust national vaccine plan was redirected elsewhere and that he rejects any point of view that is the opposite of that statement. He emphasized that this void is how people end up skipping the line and flying to Florida for a vaccine and that “this is insanity and not how you operate.” Mr. Latimer said that within his domain of government, he seeks to find common ground with people of different backgrounds, points of view, and political affiliations. He said that the federal government must find a way to effectively buy, pay for, and distribute this life-saving product. Going forward, Mr. Latimer urged residents to demand more of the new federal administration that will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021. He concluded by stating that, "it didn't have to be this way, and hopefully it won't be this way as we go forward."

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