New York governor Andrew Cuomo tacitly confirmed the increased risk of coronavirus transmission in institutional settings Wednesday, announcing that the next 80,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine New York receives will go to residents of long-term care facilities.
Cuomo has come under fire for his pandemic control policies, which, at one point, mandated that nursing homes and other adult and long-term care institutions accept patients recovering from COVID-19 without regard to whether those patients remained positive for the virus.
The policy, which was eventually repealed, may have led to thousands of deaths statewide. State officials, reticent to admit that the policy put a population particularly vulnerable to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, claim just 6,500 people died after being exposed to coronavirus in an institutional setting. The Associated Press, which conducted its own data analysis, suggested in August that the state was severely undercounting nursing home deaths, perhaps by as much as 65%.
Cuomo blamed the disastrous policy on the Trump administration, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demanded that facilities accepting recovering coronavirus patients be able to fully separate those patients from the general population and mandated strict controls over treatment and personal protective equipment. Many nursing homes in New York did not or could not follow that protocol, leaving patients exposed, particularly in facilities that served lower-income and minority communities.
The Cuomo administration’s obfuscation on the issue has become so concerning, the New York GOP has requested the Trump administration force Cuomo’s office to reveal the actual number of deaths attributable to Cuomo’s nursing home policy, according to the New York Post.
On Wednesday, Cuomo appeared to at least acknowledge that coronavirus spreads remarkably fast in adult, long-term, and nursing care facilities in pledging to vaccinate residents of such facilities and their caretakers with the next major shipment of the vaccine, per Fox News.
“New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday nursing home residents will receive the next 80,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, as the state worries about the health of their population’s most vulnerable residents,” the outlet reported. “So far, Cuomo said around 4,000 of the 87,000 doses of the vaccine the state received from Pfizer and BioNTech have been administered, mostly to health care and frontline workers earlier this week.”
Vaccinating nursing home residents is tricky, as the outlet points out.
“All in all, there are roughly 135,000 staff and 85,000 residents — for a combined 210,000 potential patients– in nursing homes,” Fox News reports, and many of those homes do not have refrigeration facilities cold enough to store the Pfizer vaccine. Instead, Walgreens and CVS may administer the vaccine on a schedule to nursing and adult care facility residents.
The Pfizer vaccine began rolling out to states on Sunday, with the first front-line health care workers receiving the vaccine on Monday. A second vaccine, this one from Moderna, is expected to receive emergency FDA approval and begin shipping next week.