Hochul makes big push to vaccinate young children

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers an update on the COVID pandemic in New York on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

ALBANY — The state is increasing its efforts to get vaccines into the arms of the largest unvaccinated group of New Yorkers: young children.

As of Tuesday morning, just 22% of children ages 5-11 in New York state are fully vaccinated. That compares with 65.5% of children ages 12-17 and 93.6% for the most heavily vaccinated group, adults ages 65-74.

The rate of full vaccination for all ages across the state is 72.6%.

The vaccine has been authorized for children ages 5-11 for only about two months, accounting for some of the disparity — adults had access for all of 2021 and older children for much of the last year. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that the state is pressing to close the gap with a new initiative called #VaxForKids.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread, the best armor for our children is the vaccine,” she said in a prepared statement. “It’s safe, effective, free, and over a half-million children in New York between 5-11 years old have already gotten their first dose so far. With the #VaxForKids campaign, we are doubling down on our efforts to get this critical message out to even more parents and guardians.”

Public service announcements in English and Spanish will run on multiple channels of communication and pop-up vaccination sites will be added statewide to supplement the more than 2,000 existing vaccine locations.

UPSTATE-DOWNSTATE

At a briefing Tuesday, Hochul said the current COVID surge might be cresting, to judge from a few days’ data, but the progress is mainly seen in the downstate areas the omicron variant hit with such speed and intensity in December. 

Upstate areas have been seeing record numbers of positive tests as well, but not to the degree of the New York City area, and without as many people dying or being hospitalized.

“Upstate the numbers are continuing to go up, without a doubt,” Hochul said. “So we think that upstate is about two weeks behind downstate. We don’t expect it to be any different trend in that. It’d be nice if that broke earlier, but we don’t see that right now.”

The volume of newly infected people is so great that the state is scaling back one of the core pieces of its COVID strategy through the entire pandemic: official contact tracing and officially directed quarantines.

“The big change for New Yorkers is that if you test positive, you should no longer expect a call from your health department,” acting Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said during Hochul’s Tuesday briefing. 

“You should instead follow the isolation and quarantine guidance that will be made public tomorrow and go to our website to get more information on the isolation and quarantine, things that you need to do to protect yourself, to avoid transmitting to others and to stay healthy.

“The website will be ny.gov/isolation or ny.gov/quarantine … We’re going live with this change on Wednesday morning.”

Counties can continue contact tracing if they want to, Hochul said, but the state is no longer requiring it.

Hochul noted 500 more COVID-positive patients were being treated at New York hospitals Monday than on Sunday, and said the hospital census will continue to rise even if the number of new infections does peak and begin to subside.

“People don’t get the case and end up in the hospital the next day,” she said, “so hospitalizations continue to grow. But, the rate of increase is slowing and, to us, that is very encouraging.”

Hochul also implored people looking for COVID tests not to seek them in hospitals: “I’ve mentioned this before, but let’s put an exclamation point on this, please don’t go to the emergency room to get a test,” she said.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

In other COVID-related developments on Tuesday:

  • The University at Albany pushed the start of its spring 2022 semester back from Jan. 19 to Jan 24. Residence halls will reopen Jan. 21.
  • The Albany Stratton VA Medical Center changed its masking policy: Everyone on-site at the facility must now wear a medical-grade N-95 or KN-95 mask. Cloth masks or face coverings no longer are acceptable, as they are deemed to provide inadequate protection against COVID transmission.
  • The Public Employees Federation criticized the state for simultaneously proclaiming this the worst-ever surge of the two-year-old pandemic, while requiring PEF members and other state employees to work in their offices rather than stay home and telecommute.
  • Superintendents in 55 public school districts in the Capital Region and North Country wrote asking Bassett to drop the ban on extracurricular activities contained in the Test-to-Stay protocol, which allows children who test negative after close contact with an infected classmate to remain in school rather than be forced to stay home for remote learning. Extracurriculars are important to students’ emotional and social well-being, the superintendents wrote.
  • Stillwater Elementary School said it will shift to remote learning Wednesday due to 10% of students, and a significant number of employees, being in isolation and quarantine.

BY THE NUMBERS

Here are some COVID statistics as of Monday, as reported Tuesday by the state Department of Health:

  • Statewide, 48,686 new positive tests were lab-confirmed Monday, the smallest one-day total in two weeks. This included 1,686 in the Capital Region and 644 in the Mohawk Valley. The positive test rate in all three geographies remained high at 18.6% to 19.5%.
  • COVID-positive patient census at New York hospitals reached 12,540. This included 382 in the Capital Region, up from 362 on Sunday, and 154 in the Mohawk Valley, up from 141.
  • Hospital bed capacity stood at 17% statewide, 14% in the Capital Region and 11% in the Mohawk Valley.
  • With 160 newly reported deaths Monday, the COVID death toll in New York reached 62,458 by the federal count and 49,785 by the less-inclusive state count.
By John Cropley

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