By Susan Edelman and Melissa Klein
January 9, 2021 | 7:17pm | Updated January 9, 2021 | 7:18pm
Speeding up New York’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout gained new urgency Saturday as three more cases of the highly contagious UK strain of the deadly bug were identified, and top Republican lawmakers said the Empire State must do better.
The state found two of the cases of the UK strain upstate, linked to a case at a Saratoga Springs jewelry store, and the third in a 64-year-old man from Massapequa, Gov. Cuomo said Saturday in a conference call with reporters.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Syracuse) had already called it “inexcusable” that the vaccination plan was behind schedule.
“The early stages of the vaccine distribution have not instilled confidence that the state, under its current plan, is equipped to complete this mission in a timely fashion. New York is being significantly outperformed by other states who have administered vaccines at a much greater rate,” Barclay and Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, (R-Lockport) wrote in a Friday letter to State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and others.
They said the state needed to provide more information to New Yorkers, including a proposed vaccination schedule for various groups of residents.
A state DOH spokesman countered, “We spent the entire afternoon on Tuesday briefing all houses of the legislature on the vaccination rollout, answering their questions, and seeking their support to help educate their constituents on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”
Cuomo, who had insisted only select people including healthcare workers and nursing home residents get the jabs, gave in to pressure Friday and expanded recipients to include cops, teachers other frontline workers and those over age 75.
New York had doled out 543,000 doses of the vaccine by Saturday afternoon, Cuomo said. The state positivity rate fell slightly Saturday to 6.5% down from 7.7% a day earlier. The positivity rate Friday in New York City, on a seven-day average, was 6.26%.
A total of 188 people died statewide in New York Friday including 47 in the Big Apple.
New York City is also pushing to let more people get the critical shots. The city has received 489,325 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and gave out 191,645 as of Friday night.
The city is preparing five “mass vaccination sites” and “hubs” to open Sunday in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, with sites in Manhattan and Staten Island to follow.
City Health Commissioner David Chokshi said thousands of people have signed up to get the jabs at the sites opening Sunday.
“Starting tomorrow, seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., eligible New Yorkers can get vaccinated at a hub like this one, but also at the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn and Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens,” Chokshi said during a press event Saturday at the South Bronx Educational Campus hub.
Earlier in the week, some eager vaccine seekers were frustrated by the city’s new vaccine locator site, which was riddled with glitches.
Optician Sam Pirozzolo filled out an application on Monday and was told he was eligible to get the vaccine immediately. He called several recommended clinics, including nearby Advantage Care Physicians on Staten Island, but the receptionists said they had no vaccine — and didn’t know why the clinics were listed.
Pirozzolo’s attempts to register at other sites were also rejected. He finally hit pay dirt with a Friday morning appointment at the city Health+Hospital’s Gotham Health Center on Staten Island.
He was ushered into a shed-like trailer in an adjacent parking lot. A nurse who gave him the vaccine entered his ID information in a computer — jogging in place at the terminal to avoid freezing in the shed, which had holes in the ceiling that let warmth from space heaters escape. It was 30 degrees outside.
“Kudos to these workers — they’re cold!” he said.
For others, the city’s link to Beacon Christian Community Health Center on Staten Island told vaccine seekers “we have received over 200 appointment requests for vaccination. At this time, we are unable to accept any more appointments.”
“Please refrain from calling the health center,” the site said, directing users to other locations.
It was impossible to reach some sites by phone for several days. No one answered, or calls were met with a busy signal.
The city listed six Statcare clinics in three boroughs as vaccination sites. But a link to register for the shots said only two sites were available — including one on Long Island — and there were no open slots.
A message left for Statcare was returned by a woman who said she was working from a call center in the Philippines and could not explain the snafu.
The city DOH said it was not in charge of the private providers listed on its web site.
“With 125 sites already up and running, the city is working furiously to stand up as many sites as possible for eligible New Yorkers across the five boroughs,” a DOH spokeswoman said.
Additional reporting by Khristina Narizhnaya
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