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New York Expands Vaccine Eligibility, Pharmacy Guidance in Race Against Variants

State confirms first case of P.1 variant, and new cases overall are declining more slowly. Plus: free internet for low-income students and free donuts for any vaccinated person.

Pharmacies in New York State can now vaccinate people with comorbidities.

This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties published Monday, March 22.

(Editor’s note: A few hours after the roundup went to press, US health officials raised concerns about the early results from AstraZenecas US vaccine trials that contradict prior reporting. This story has been updated.)


7-day average positive test rate: 3.3%
385 deaths past 7 days
4,470 hospitalizations (885 in ICUs)
Share of population fully vaccinated: 13.4%
Share of population given 1 dose: 26.1%
New York State coronavirus page
New York State vaccine page
New York State official pressroom
COVID-19 hotline: (888) 364-3065
Vaccine appointment hotline: (833) 697-4829
The River’s COVID-19 vaccine guide

Vaccine eligibility is expanding again: All New Yorkers 50 and over are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as of 8am on Tuesday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday. The expansion follows on the heels of last week’s move to extend vaccine eligibility to a wide swath of government and nonprofit workers, and to allow vaccine providers in New York State more flexibility over who they can vaccinate. 

Pharmacies in New York State can now vaccinate people with comorbidities—a policy change Cuomo announced over the weekend, a few days after the state Department of Health quietly slipped it into the weekly guidance to vaccine providers posted on the state website. Before the policy change, pharmacies were required to stick to vaccinating people 60 and up, teachers, and daycare workers. All other providers in the state can now vaccinate anyone who is eligible—a welcome shift for New York’s county and city health departments, whose leaders have been clamoring for the state to give them more flexibility.

Although more than half of the state’s population is now eligible for the vaccine, there are still a lot of high-risk workers who cannot be vaccinated. Food production and farm workers are still ineligible in New York, and so are nail salon workers. In a recent survey by an industry association, a whopping 29 percent of nail salon workers who responded said they had tested positive for COVID-19, and another 9 percent said they believe they had been infected but were unable to get tested. Most respondents also said they were ineligible for unemployment because of immigration status. 

On Monday, Governor Cuomo called on churches and other houses of worship in the state to become vaccination sites through the state’s new “Roll Up Your Sleeve” campaign. Starting in April, any house of worship that wants to serve as a vaccination site can sign up with the state. Cuomo made a televised announcement of the new campaign from Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, where a vaccine clinic will be operating as of Tuesday, March 23. 

Between vaccination ramping up, states lifting restrictions on business and social gatherings, and variants on the rise, we are now, in some ways, in the most unpredictable part of the pandemic. Cases are going up again in many states. New Jersey leads the nation in new cases per 100,000 residents—and New York, where cases are falling slowly from one of the highest infection rates in the nation, isn’t far behind. In a recent story, STAT News took a look at our current predicament, and what new uncertainties lie ahead. One large question mark: It’s unclear whether increases in case numbers now will be followed by waves of new hospitalizations and deaths, as they have in the past. Older people across the nation, who are much more vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19, are increasingly likely to be vaccinated, a dynamic that could mean fewer new cases will lead to the worst outcomes.

The public got a first look at AstraZeneca’s US trial results, and they were better than expected—at first glance, anyway. The data appeared to show that AstraZeneca’s vaccine had a 100 percent efficacy rate against severe illness in trial participants with a 79 percent efficacy rate against symptomatic illness. But early on Tuesday, a few hours after the roundup went to press, US health officials raised concerns that the positive early results from AstraZeneca’s US trials offer “an incomplete view of the efficacy data” because the company may have included “outdated information.” The concerns were initially flagged by the data and safety monitoring board that audited the trial, which informed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that AstraZeneca’s press release on Monday contained numbers that looked more favorable than more recent data from the study. “I was sort of stunned,” said Anthony Fauci, head of the NIAID, in an interview with STAT News on Tuesday morning.

Cases in New York State are falling, but not fast enough: The Democrat & Chronicle reports that cases for last week were down 11 percent from the week before statewide, a modest improvement but not a terribly reassuring one. On Saturday, state officials reported the first case of P.1, the so-called Brazilian variant, in a New York State resident. The P.1 variant is more transmissible than the original form of COVID-19, and in the Brazilian city of Manaus, evidence emerged that the P.1 variant infected many people who had already recovered from COVID-19, sparking worries that it might blunt the effect of vaccines or natural immunity. 

As of Monday, 26.1 percent of New York State residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 13.4 percent were fully vaccinated, according to state data. Orange County still lags behind the state and the rest of the region, with just 20.6 percent having at least one dose, while on the other end of the local spectrum, Westchester, Ulster, and Columbia all had at least 29 percent of the population with a first dose. 

Need an incentive to get vaccinated? You can get a free Krispy Kreme glazed donut “anytime, any day, even every day,” by showing your COVID-19 vaccination card, throughout the rest of 2021. 

A new state program to provide free internet access to students in low-income school districts through an emergency fund launched last week. Dubbed “ConnectED,” the program aims to bring free internet service to 50,000 children, working from a priority list of the state’s most economically disadvantaged districts, which includes many in the Hudson Valley and Catskills. 


County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
County vaccine pages: Putnam

Westchester County is offering free transportation for seniors and people with disabilities to their vaccination appointments through the county’s ParaTransit program. To sign up, call ParaTransit reservations 24 hours prior to your vaccination date at (914) 995-7272. For additional questions, send an email to Evan Latainer, director of the Office for People with Disabilities, at

The village of Ossining broke ground last weekend on a memorial in Nelson Sitting Park for people lost to COVID-19, the Examiner News reports. The village’s plans include benches and a wall for people to reflect on those they have lost, whether locally or anywhere in the world. “To have a space for the community to come and remember and grieve will be very meaningful,” said State Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick. 

Rockland County has been one of the hardest-hit places in the state during the pandemic. Why doesn’t it have a state-run mass vaccination site? That’s the question asked by a slew of local officials, including County Executive Ed Day and all 17 of the county’s legislators, who recently wrote to Governor Cuomo demanding that the state open a vaccination site in the county. As of Monday’s data, Rockland’s vaccination rate for residents who had at least one dose, at 25.5 percent, lagged slightly behind the state rate at 26.1 percent, and far behind neighboring Westchester, where the state is running a large vaccination site, at 29.9 percent.


County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
County vaccine pages: Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia

More than 52,000 residents of Ulster County have been vaccinated, county officials announced Monday—a feat accomplished with the help of a recently-opened state-run vaccination site at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz, and the moving of Ulster County’s main vaccination site from Kingston High School to the Hudson Valley Mall, where the operation has both more space and more parking. 

Also high in Ulster County: Active cases, which on Monday were slightly up from the day before at 1,736, according to figures from the county health department. We continue to be puzzled here at The River about how Ulster County is counting “recovered” cases, since the number of cases considered “active” by the county is still extremely high compared to the number of recent infections. The county’s reported test positivity numbers are also a puzzle: In Sunday’s numbers, Ulster County reported 71 out of 1,026 tests coming back positive, for a distressing 6.9 percent positivity rate; but for the same day, New York State reported 71 out of 1,803 tests coming back positive, a rate of 3.9 percent that is slightly under the seven-day average for the mid-Hudson region.

“I’m in a good mood because we have no deaths” in the past 24 hours, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in his daily video briefing on Monday. In less uplifting news, Neuhaus reported that hospitalizations in the county are slightly up, and 55 percent of nursing home staffers in the county have not been vaccinated—for most, Neuhaus said, because they have refused.

Columbia County health officials are urging homebound people with no computer and access to vaccine to contact the county’s vaccine call center Monday through Friday, from 9am to 4pm, for registration assistance. The telephone number is (518) 697-5560.

Will the Columbia County Fair return this year? Organizers think it’s a possibility—and with a scheduled opening date of September 1, they have some time to lay their plans. 


County coronavirus pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie
County vaccine pages: Sullivan, Delaware, Greene, Schoharie

Across the river from Columbia County, fair organizers in Greene have boldly declared that “there WILL be a 2021 Greene County Youth Fair” in July. They’re really hoping they won’t have to wipe down seats on rides between passengers. Schoharie County fair organizers, who had to cancel the August Sunshine Fair last year for the first time since World War II, are mulling their options, more or less hopefully. On the side of Ferris wheels and fried dough: We know a lot more about transmission now than we did last summer, and even with a lot of people around, outdoor spaces are looking a lot safer than scientists once thought, especially if people stay masked and keep a little distance.

State and local officials are preparing for the end of eviction moratoriums as the pandemic winds down—and bracing for impact. Sullivan County officials say they want to support both landlords and tenants, and have launched a brief survey for landlords in the county to find out how many local tenants are behind on rent and the extent of the problems. 

Nature is healing, the ka-ching of 3am slot machines will soon sound again in the green hills of Monticello. Resorts World Catskills plans to resume 24-hour operation again on April 5

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The River is collaborating with WGXC to announce these updates over the air. To listen, tune in to 90.7 FM at midnight, 5am, 7am, or 9am, or visit the audio archive online.

La Voz, una revista de cultura y noticias del Valle de Hudson en español, está traduciendo estos resúmenes y co-publicandolos en su página web. Leyendo aqui. También puede escuchar actualizaciones diarias por audio en el show “La Voz con Mariel Fiori” en Radio Kingston.

To read more of our coronavirus coverage, visit our coronavirus page.