This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Thursday, January 7th, 2021. Previous daily updates can be found here, and up-to-date statistics are here.
New York City is in Phase 4 of reopening now, which includes zoos, botanical gardens, museums, and gyms. Citing rising hospitalization rates, Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended indoor dining in NYC starting December 14th. After being shut down for several weeks, NYC public schools partially reopened on December 7th for 3K-5th grade students, with students with special needs returning on December 10th. Certain parts of Staten Island remain under a zoned shutdown.
Get answers to questions you may have with our "Ask An Epidemiologist" series, or learn more about NYC COVID-19 testing options with our explainer. Here are some local and state hotlines for more information: NYC: 311; NY State Hotline: 888-364-3065; NJ State Hotline: 800-222-1222.
Here's the latest:
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday renewed his pressure on the state to widen the pool of those eligible for coronavirus vaccinations, arguing that roughly one third of healthcare workers have declined the vaccine at this point and that the city should move on to New Yorkers willing to get vaccinated.
"Don't let perfect be the enemy of good," the mayor said during his morning press briefing.
At one point, de Blasio likened Cuomo to a general stuck at headquarters who is divorced from the reality of the frontlines — a possible dig at Cuomo's comment earlier in the week that compared the vaccine rollout to a battlefield where generals who performed poorly should be fired.
"In the real world, you know that you need freedom and flexibility," de Blasio said. "It makes no sense."
He later added: "We have the wrong rules."
De Blasio has spent this week trying to pressure the governor to allow the city to vaccinate New Yorkers over 75 and other frontline municipal workers, specifically police and correctional officers. On Thursday, after being told that plans to vaccinate members of the NYPD were not in accordance with state rules, the mayor presented a slideshow listing the state's guidelines and how the city was interpreting them.
He argued that police officers are among those who perform life-saving skills and interventions, such as CPR, that meets the state's criteria for certified first responders.
The list of those in the state's Group 1A includes medical workers, staffers and residents of nursing homes and coroners.
The issue marks another yet battle in the seemingly endless spat between the two political figures, who have publicly aired their disagreements over key policy decisions during the crisis.
The city has already announced plans to open two mass vaccination sites beginning this Sunday. Other smaller vaccine hubs at public high schools will also begin operating this weekend.
The governor has maintained that given the scarcity of vaccine supplies, the state needs to continue to prioritize healthcare workers. New York has administered first doses to 311,797 people statewide, according to the latest figures reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is roughly 33% of the total doses the state currently has its disposal.
Cuomo has instead pressured hospitals to do a better job of vaccinating its employees by threatening to take away their allocations.
"If a hospital hits the refusal rate, if the staff in the hospital says, 'I don't want to take it,' then fine," he said Wednesday. "We'll reallocate that to another health care or nursing home that needs it, but we want to give every health care professional who wants the vaccine, who will take the vaccine, the ability to take it."
On Thursday, Peter Ajemian, a spokesperson for the governor, issued a statement saying the state was sticking to its phased approach.
"The City of New York has 917,000 eligible healthcare workers in 1A and has only administered 144,000 vaccines. Many more healthcare workers are anxiously awaiting the vaccine," he said.
Pointing out that the city has administered less than half of its supply of vaccine doses, he added: "We urge New York City and other local governments to get needles in the arms of the healthcare workers to avoid our frontline heroes from getting sick and our hospitals from collapsing due to increasing staff shortages."
City health officials have made the case that a significant portion of hospital workers are reluctant to get the vaccine, at least in the first phase.
Mitchell Katz, the head of the city's public hospital network, where about 30% have refused the vaccine, said that many hesitant hospital staffers have said they believe that they have either been infected or are immune to the virus. Others have said that they see the vaccine as being rushed and say that are "just not ready," he added.
"We have the appointments available [but] we don’t have arms to give that injection to," he said.
Following the press conference, a City Hall spokesperson said the Department of Correction started giving doses Thursday to 450 high risk inmates.
Along with nursing homes, jails are among the highest risk settings for COVID-19 transmission. Last spring, hundreds of inmates in city jails were sickened and more than 1,400 staffers; about a dozen people from both groups, combined, died of COVID-19.
The Correction Officers Benevolent Association joined de Blasio in urging the state to allow its members to get vaccinated. Union president Benny Boscio said, “Correction Officers continue to put themselves at risk well into the second wave. As frontline workers, providing our members who wish to be vaccinated should be a priority for this state.”
Asked about correction officers, state health department spokesman Jonah Bruno said, “We are currently in the midst of a comprehensive approach to vaccinating all eligible populations. Corrections officers will be able to be vaccinated at community sites or other locations when they are eligible.”
Beth Fertig contributed reporting.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to include a statement from the governor's office.
In Grim New Record, U.S. Reports More Than 3,800 Deaths In Single Day
As many Americans watched in horror on Wednesday as an unprecedented anti-democratic attack by unmasked Trump supporters unfolded at the nation's Capitol, the second wave of the pandemic continued to ravage many parts of the country, resulting in the highest number of daily coronavirus deaths to date.
The United States recorded 3,865 virus fatalities, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. All told, more than 350,000 Americans have died since the pandemic started, including more than 30,000 since Christmas Eve.
Cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing in the south and west, including in California and Arizona. On Wednesday, Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute research center at Arizona State University, declared Arizona “the hot spot of the world right now.” He said he believes that at least one in 10 people actually has the virus. The state is averaging more than 8,000 cases a day and currently has the most virus cases per capita in the world.
Meanwhile, California's Los Angeles County is facing a shortage of critical hospital supplies, including oxygen.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday reported 16,600 new confirmed cases across the state. There were 8,665 hospitalizations and 161 new deaths. Both figures are the highest since May.
The terrifying surge comes as many states, including New York, struggle with rolling out the vaccine fast enough. Marking yet another high-stakes squabble, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have disagreed over how soon to expand the pool of eligible candidates.
The mayor has specifically argued that the state, which controls the vaccination plan, should allow those over 75 to begin receiving the vaccine. In advance of that effort, the city intends to begin opening five mass vaccination sites this Sunday. Cuomo has said that given the limited amounts of the vaccine, other groups must wait until all healthcare workers are vaccinated.
But in another confusing tug-of-war, de Blasio on Wednesday announced that 25,000 members of the NYPD would be eligible, only to have Cuomo contradict him hours later.
"Police who are not healthcare workers are not eligible," Cuomo said, during a press briefing in Albany. "We need to get the healthcare population done first, because they are the front line."
A spokesman for the mayor later said that police who provide emergency medical care would be immunized.
As of Thursday morning, New York City has administered nearly 150,000 doses of the vaccine. That represents about 30% of the total vaccines currently at the city's disposal.