This is our daily update of breaking COVID-19 news for Friday, January 8th, 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.
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Here's the latest:
States should expand their criteria and vaccinate lower priority groups rather than allow vaccines to sit unused, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Thursday.
During a press briefing, Azar expressed frustration with the slow rollout, citing the micromanagement of states.
“It would be much better to move quickly and end up vaccinating some lower-priority people than to let vaccines sit around while states try to micromanage this process,” Azar said. “Faster administration could save lives right now, which means we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
The comments of one of the nation's top health officials will likely further fuel Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has spent the week publicly calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the city to begin vaccinating those over the age of 75 as well as police and correctional officers.
The state is prioritizing vaccines in the first phase for health care workers, mostly in hospitals, as well as nursing home residents and staffers. But in New York City, hospitals have struggled to use all of their allocations, with roughly one third of public hospital workers declining the vaccines. The mayor has said the city needs to move on and vaccinate others willing to take the vaccine now.
"In the real world, you know that you need freedom and flexibility," de Blasio said.
"We have the wrong rules," he later added.
City Hall officials have pointed out that federal guidance says that phases may overlap.
On Thursday, state officials apologized to state county leaders who complained about the strict restrictions as well as lack of vaccination data.
In a shocking revelation reported by the Times Union, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy said on a conference call with the governor's team that 30 unused vaccine doses were "flushed down the toilet" at a county nursing home. Facilities that provide doses to those not on the state's list of approved vaccine recipients face hefty fines.
Cuomo has pushed back, saying that the bulk of the two million health care workers in the state are yet to be offered the vaccine because the state has only 900,000 doses allocated for them.
He has blamed hospitals for the slow rollout, presenting a list of facilities that have yet to distribute a majority of the vaccines at their disposal.
Beginning Friday, the state plans to reallocate unused vaccines among hospitals, redirecting doses to hospitals that have already used up their supplies.
Criticizing New York City's management of vaccination, the governor on Thursday said that out of 917,000 eligible healthcare workers, only 144,000—or 14%—received shots.
He also said that he would be unwilling to vaccinate police officers before firefighters and teachers.
“It’s one group and they are going to be treated fairly," he said.
Overall, the pace of vaccinations in New York as well as the rest of the country has been picking up after a sluggish start.
On Thursday, more than 50,000 vaccinations were administered across the state, up from 10,000 per day during the first several weeks, Cuomo said.
Across the U.S., about 17.3 million vaccine doses have been distributed to states, with 5.3 million people having received the first of two doses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.