Mark Hallum


Low Vaccination Rate Among Healthcare Workers Raises Concerns For Cuomo

Photo courtesy of Governor Andrew Cuomo's office via Flickr.

Slow acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine by healthcare workers is a growing concern for Gov. Andrew Cuomo who on Monday claimed hospitals with the lowest number of immune staff will suffer the most from staffing issues.

Cuomo reported that 60% of hospital staff statewide have received the vaccine which brought the topic of his briefing back to the matter of facilities using as much of their state allocated supply as fast as possible, warning once again that the privilege of distributing could be taken away.

Cuomo announced in recent weeks that the medical facilities holding onto vaccine doses could be fined up to $100,000.

“My concern, our concern, the department of health’s concern, more important: the low vaccinated hospital staff will be the first hospitals to have capacity problems in a certain situation for two reasons. Number one, they’ll have more staff getting sick, because you have fewer that were vaccinated. Number two, I do believe there’s a management component in performance component to what we’re seeing,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo had an axe to grind with the federal government and said he would be issuing a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar regarding his allegedly false claim that doses in “physical reserve” would be distributed to states in order to meet the demand for boosters and increased eligibility.

It turns out, there was no reserve of doses, Cuomo said.

“So there was no increase [in availability], but there was this tremendous increase in eligibility. So now you have 7 million New Yorkers chasing 300,000 vaccines a week, at that rate it would take six months. The 300 goes down to 250 now, you took about seven months to get the 7 million vaccinations done,” Cuomo said. “Why did you raise that expectation? You tell me I’m going to be eligible for a vaccine, great. I’m all excited, by the way, it’s gonna take seven months to get to you. Seven months is a lifetime.”

New strains of COVID from Brazil and South Africa also has Governor Cuomo on edge as new cases of the variant originating from the United Kingdom, and the genetic sequencing required to identify these mutations is lengthy.

Cuomo was adamant that the federal government needs to attempt to hinder travel from these countries into the United States to prevent the spread of these new variations, especially considering the one coming from Brazil may be 70% more infectious than the virus New Yorkers are all too familiar with.

The UK strain is also about 70% more infectious and has been identified first in Saratoga Springs.

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Cuomo Announces Arts Revival, Broadband Affordability Initiatives in State of the State Pt. 2

arts revival
January 12, 2021- Albany, NY- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivers day two of his 2021 State of the State Address in the War Room at the state Capitol (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “reconstruction” plan following the Covid-19 pandemic – when it resolves – will put a focus on an arts revival, claiming that it will be critical to keeping the attraction to New York alive.

Invoking the words of President John F. Kennedy, Cuomo said Feb. 4 will be the start of a public-private partnership to bring performances and exhibitions to outdoor venues across the state.

“Almost no one has been hurt more by Covid than our artists. According to a study by the National Endowment of the Arts, 52% of actors 55% of dancers and 27% of musicians were out of work in September 2020 in New York, the arts and culture industry accounts for almost half a million jobs and generates $120 billion in economic output,” Cuomo said.

In the public-private partnership with Philanthropic partners, according to Cuomo, the state will be providing spaces, staff support and marketing. There will also be a pilot program for opening large indoor spaces with testing and ventilation.

One of the partnerships the state plans to forge is with Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, with the goal in mind of putting 1,000 artists to work by funding community arts groups.

“We must act, we cannot wait until summer to turn the lights back on for the arts and provide a living wage for artists. We will not let the curtain fall on their careers or on the future of our cities,” Cuomo said. “Today I’m announcing that New York State is launching New York arts revival, a public-private partnership to bring the arts back. We will organize a series of pop up performances and arts events across the state beginning Feb. 4, more than 150 world-class artists… will spearhead this effort.”

Cuomo believes some of the changes imposed by Covid-19 will be permanent, however. He warns New Yorkers to expect some adaptations to the New York way of life to remain after the Covid-19 pandemic is in the past.

Cuomo also plans to bring cheaper internet to New Yorkers with average broadband plans costing an average of over $50 per month, leaving some families without telemedicine or access to a means of applying for jobs as well as barriers in education.

Cuomo plans to mandate that internet service providers lower their rates to $15 per month for all low-income households.

Over-availability of hotel and office space is also an opportunity that Cuomo spoke on during his Monday installment of the State of the State address. Hotel and office could be used for homeless and supportive housing, Cuomo said, though a comprehensive plan is not forthcoming at the moment.

The proposal, however, will include granting building owners the flexibility in a legal sense to make these conversions.

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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Cuomo Envisions a Post-Covid-19 Future in 2021 State of the State

2021 state of the state
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State address virtually from The War Room at the state Capitol in Albany, New York, U.S. January 11, 2021. Hans Pennink/Pool via REUTERS

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2021 State of the State address, which began the first of four installments on Monday, spoke more to the federal shortfalls that left New York with a $15 billion deficit and a broad vision of the future after Covid-19.

While plans to harvest revenue from legalized marijuana and sports betting continue to be on the agenda, Cuomo was not explicit as to whether spending cuts are in the cards for 2021 to close the budget gap, but held the onus of providing relief on the federal government for what he charged once again as negligence in preparing for the threat of Covid-19.

“We must plan and start our post-Covid war reconstruction now to seize the advantage and I will be outlining initiatives to do just that over the coming days. The truth is, we cannot stay closed until everyone is vaccinated. The economic, psychological, emotional cost would be incredible,” Cuomo said. “We must begin increasing economic activity and using science to do it, making Covid testing and vaccinations available, so that we can reopen restaurants and art spaces and theaters and commercial businesses.”

The Cuomo administration is aiming to accelerate the vaccination process and use testing to get everyday life back to some plane of normal with a goalpost of 70% to 90% of the population despite previous concerns that too many Americans are reluctant to trust the vaccine to reach that benchmark.

Taking a position of optimism toward the housing and commercial rent crisis which already existed but was exacerbated by Covid-19, Cuomo suggested the rollout of a plan to turn empty commercial space into supportive housing for the homeless population.

“The housing problem in our cities has gotten worse. But, but the crisis of growing vacancies in our commercial property provides an opportunity,” Cuomo said. “We should convert vacant commercial space to supportive and affordable housing, and we should do it. Now, take the negative and make it a positive homeless shelters must be available, safe and secure. It’s not just our moral obligation, it is our legal obligation.”

Cuomo, however, was not forthcoming as to whether or not a plan to put these individuals and families in the unprecedented number of vacant apartments due to an exodus of people from New York City.

Additionally, Cuomo plans to increase broadband access to over 90% of New Yorkers with $500 million in investments along with an overhaul of the state’s power infrastructure for green energy.

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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Suozzi Describes Scene from Capitol During Coup Attempt

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump clash with police officers outside of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said one Republican member of the House was in the midst of objecting to an item regarding the certification of the 2020 presidential election results when they were suddenly told to don gas masks stored under their seats.

Teargas was being used in the Rotunda against Trump supporting rioters storming the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

Describing the chaos that suddenly gripped the chamber when capitol police barricaded a door and drew handguns, Suozzi said both Democrats and Republicans were removed to a secure, undisclosed location.

Suozzi: Something broke through the main door, which is really where the president enters for the State of the Union to suck glass. The glass was broken. I don’t know if it was shots where it was somebody banging something…

We were trying to determine which store we should try and leave because there are people out in the hallways and testers that are out in the hallway. And as I left the chambers, I saw several protesters on the floor surrounded by Capitol Police. More than several, probably at least six or eight or 10, on the floor.

We went downstairs through some of the labyrinth of the Capitol complex to where I am now, sheltering in place where it’s safe, we believe.

I feel very strongly that we have to get back to the chambers and we have to certify this election and we have to [make] Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, President, Vice President, of the United States of America. I disagree very strongly with my colleagues who are objecting to this electoral process, but it was a debate on the floor.

Outside there was protests and a protest is okay too, but not violent protests and this violence that we’re seeing is completely unacceptable. The president fomenting this is completely irresponsible.

We can always rely on our values, and we have to stick with our values. And we cannot allow thugs and violent people to try and change the way our country works.

Very sad day for our country, that it’s come to this and that people would be so irresponsible to try and foment this type of feeling. You know, my colleagues on the other side of the aisles who foment these objections have said that they never thought it would succeed. Yet they continue to go through this farce.

In response to a request for clarification on the possible shots fired into the chamber:

You know, I think it was shots fired into the Capitol chamber. But I don’t know for certain I know this I saw holes in the glass of the door. I saw a barricade put up inside the chamber against the door. It sounded like a pop-pop-pop. I don’t know if it was teargas outside the door or if it was people banging holes outside the door or if they were shots being fired into the door.

There shots fired when I was getting ready to leave the chamber from up in the gallery that I heard outside.

From the supposedly secure location they had been removed to by Capitol Police, Suozzi said:

I see people huddled in corners talking to each other people on their phones trying to communicate with their families. Lot of people just having individual conversations and members of staff.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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Long Island Rail Road Completes Project to Curb Excessive Train Speeds

long island rail road
Long Island Rail Road train yard in New York City. (Reuters stock photo)

After 12 years of industry setbacks in implementing positive train control, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says its installation is complete on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

It was not until April of 2018 that the LIRR began testing the technology on the Port Washington line after the federal deadline was shifted to Dec. 31, 2018 while Metro-North achieved a 74% rollout of positive train control in March 2020.

“This was an industry-wide extension across all the commuter and freight railroads,” LIRR President Phil Eng said. “This was something that the Federal Railroad Administration, understanding the industry challenges on this new technology that was not off the shelf. That was being developed and designed for every individual facility and acknowledgement that this technology which is state of the art today, but something that hasn’t been developed and designed.”

Federally mandated in 2008 with an original deadline set for 2015, availability of the not so one-size-fits-all technology has required two extensions which the MTA will meet before the end of the year on 503 miles of rail throughout the two systems.

“This technology can help stop accidents before they occur, and keep our customers and employees safe. It’s a major advance for transit not only here in New York, but across the nation, and will help make 2021, the safest year on the railroad yet,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “LIRR and Metro-North saw huge improvements in implementation over the past two years, overcoming serious challenges and technical issues. This is on top of COVID-related delays since March to the supply chain and staffing shortages during the worst parts of the crisis.”

A lot has happened since 2008 when the Rail Safety Improvement Act was passed by congress in 2008 in which major derailments on Amtrak lines. In May 2015, an Amtrak train taking a 50-mile an hour curve near Philadelphia at 108 miles per hour derailed killing eight passengers and sending 180 others to nearby hospitals.

A 2017 Amtrak derailment in Washington state killed three passengers due to speed, which killed three. Positive train control was not active at the time.

In August, Amtrak announced they had completed installing positive train control on all their rolling stock.

According to Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi, the rail industry as a whole was backed up in having Positive Train Control installed as vendors quickly became overwhelmed with the same deadline.

The National Transportation Safety Board first recommended the federal government require positive train control on all commuter and freight railroads since the 1969 crash in Darien, Conn. saw the deaths of four people.

December 2017 saw a follow-up to the Rail Safety Improvement Act in the form of a letter from Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand who asked outgoing U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to hold companies accountable for the installing the technology.

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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Shutdowns Possible Again in New York As Hospitalization Rates Rise

hospitalization rates

Governor Andrew Cuomo is ordering 215 hospitals across New York State to prepare an additional 25% capacity in order to handle the caseload of COVID-19 surges in the coming weeks — increases that could result in a return to new “pauses” on New York life.

Monday’s news conference hosted by the governor also virtually featured Dr. Anthony Fauci in a showcase of the state’s latest hospital plan with a call for the public to avoid family gatherings going into the holiday season as New York state hit a 4.71% positivity rate on Sunday.

According to Cuomo, if a high statewide hospitalization rate is sustained over a course of five days, the state may order indoor dining to close entirely in New York City and remain open at 25 percent capacity in the rest of the state. Whether or not these measures would be lifted prior to the vaccine hitting critical mass was not something Cuomo said he could comment on at this time.

“The Jacob Javits Center, for example, we did 2,000 beds. Dr. Fauci, it looked like a field hospital in an army, you just saw an ocean of cots,” Cuomo said. “And I just hope we never have to get to that point.

“Today, the Department of Health is going to issue an order saying hospitals have to increase their bed capacity 25%,” he continued. “We can issue up to 50%, they can do that physically but we’re only going to go to 25% because we don’t have a capacity criticality at this moment.”

Critical hospital capacity will be considered at 90%, Cuomo said.

According to Fauci, mid-January is when the country will begin to see the effects of holiday travelers on infection rates, especially with people joining families for Thanksgiving, boosting the spread, and then gathering again for Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years.

“With regard to the issue of the holiday spread and the peaks are going to be superimposed upon each other so you would expect the full length of the travel and the family setting gatherings with friends that you alluded to as being a problem,” Fauci said. “You’d expect that the effect of the Thanksgiving surge would be probably another week and a week-and-a-half from now, because it’s usually two-and-a-half weeks, from the time of the event. The problem is, that’s going to come right up to the beginning of the Christmas, Hanukkah potential surge so you have a surge upon a surge, and then before you can handle that more people are going to travel over Christmas.”

With vaccines being made available to a large chunk of the population by April, May, and June, Fauci agreed with Cuomo’s assessment that convincing the public to accept the tincture formulated by Moderna and Pfizer with up to half the population expressing skepticism about the treatment.

Two doses will be required 28 days apart, meaning that summer will be about the time a significant portion of the public is immunized at a critical mass of 75% to 80%

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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Cuomo Enacts New Hospital Measures Amid Covid-19 Uptick

A patient arrives in an ambulance at a hospital on Long Island during the coronavirus pandemic. (Long Island Press photo)

With coronavirus hospitalizations on the rise, Gov. Andrew Cuomo rallied for resources for medical centers to increase capacity while considering lockdowns and suspending elective surgeries in some areas.

The governor invoked Sun Tzu’s Art of War  as well as A.J. Parkinson  in a Monday press conference in making an announcement that outlined a plan going into the holiday season which health officials have warned could result in strain for medical staff.

“Covid is shifting the battlefield dramatically and we have entered a new phase, it came with the colder weather,” Cuomo said. “We now have a holiday surge on top of a fall surge.”

As such, yellow, orange, and red zones will now be established based on new indicators: hospitalization rate, death rate, case rate, available hospital beds, available ICU beds, available staff, PPE, and equipment availability.

The Northwell, Montefiore, and NYC Health and Hospitals systems will all begin sharing the workload from the surge already underway. He ordered elective surgeries suspended in Erie County to create more bed space in the hard-hit region.

“We’re going to have a problem in the hospitals, I’m telling you right now,” Cuomo said.

According to Cuomo, 65 percent of all cases can be traced back to social gatherings in homes  limited to 10 people  leading to the decision to not impose more restrictions on indoor dining as they observe the spread taking place elsewhere.

Out of concern for staffing shortages, Cuomo is calling into action a strategy from the spring surge and mandating that hospitals compile a list of retired nurses and doctors who may be able to return to service in the coming weeks.

Cuomo added that he was more concerned that hospitals would run short on staff before they run short on beds, a seemingly different reality from expectations in the spring which indicated that capacity would be strained considerably.

Hospitals are currently required to have a 90-day supply of PPE which Cuomo believes will help avoid hospitals from being inundated with patients and not enough simple provisions such as masks. 

As of Monday, the total in hospitals with Covid-19 was 3,532 while the statewide infection rate is about 4.57 percent. There was a total of 54 deaths on Sunday, according to the governor’s office.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution Grants Urged as Cases Surge

vaccine access
A scientist prepares samples during the research and development of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a laboratory of BIOCAD biotechnology company in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 11, 2020. (REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo)

While Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering how New York State will deploy Covid-19 vaccines with historic deficits, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is pressing the federal for $30 billion to fund those efforts.

Schumer believes New York alone will require “hundreds of millions” in funding will be needed to freely distribute the vaccine, educate the public, hire health workers and establish clinics as multiple vaccines are expected to be fast-tracked by the Federal Drug Administration.

“With a Covid-19 vaccine waiting in the wings, federal dollars need to follow if we are going to get this right and overcome this pandemic,” Schumer said in a Sunday statement. “States like New York will need funding to make sure the resources required once the vaccine is made available are both in place and in progress. New York will require hundreds-of-millions of dollars to hire health workers, establish clinics, including possible mobile ones, and make sure that we have boots on the ground engaging with people in communities, particularly those that often struggle with access to healthcare — and that is going to cost money.”

Cuomo, meanwhile, is more preoccupied by what the state expects to be a winter surge in cases which the administration anticipates will only calm after the holidays are are over, the governor did express some additional concern for distribution of the vaccine.

“After New Years Day, look a week or ten days afterward and hopefully the social activity slows at that point and the infection rate starts to level off. And then you get to a vaccine, which is the answer ultimately,” Cuomo said. “You have to have a discussion about how quickly you can distributed it and how quickly, and what’s the critical mass point of the vaccine. But that is months away by every professional estimate.”

Within the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act, which passed the House of Representatives in May before being blocked in the U.S. Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the funding for cities and states to organize vaccination efforts.

According to Schumer, he and President-elect Joe Biden have been in discussions to plan new bills through a lame duck session to provide another stimulus to Americans, something unseen since the CARES Act in March, that would include grants for localities to vaccinate the populace.

This story first appeared on amny.com

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Thanksgiving Travel Could Cause COVID-19 Spike, Cuomo Warns

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks in front of stacks of medical protective supplies during a news conference at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center which will be partially converted into a temporary hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., March 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar

With millions of people already filing through New York airports, Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes the state could see a 20 percent increase its coronavirus infection rate, which is currently at 2.5 percent.

As such, his administration is sharing the recommendation of both the Trump administration and advisers for President-elect Joe Biden, who say that households that have already been isolating together should keep it that way for Thanksgiving and the holidays.

“I don’t believe it’s about government enforcement; we have 98 percent mask compliance not because government decided, but because people decided to do it,” Cuomo said. “More people on planes, more people on the road, more people shopping, more people going to people’s homes. Let’s say that increases the virus 20 percent above the current rate of increase, just a projection, that’s where we wind up. [If] people are more reckless, could the 20 percent be higher? Yes.”

Cuomo was resolute in stating that law enforcement would not be issuing summonses for families who have gatherings under 10 people. He concluded his Tuesday press conferences with the distribution of turkeys from the state.

“I saw this little cartoon of me looking in your window on Thanksgiving,” Cuomo added. “I’m not looking into your window on Thanksgiving.”

With lines at urgent care facilities being hours-long endeavors for people hoping to be safe in their travels, the Cuomo administration believes this could be a dangerous approach as well.

“At this point, what you see is more concentrated areas within ZIP codes, and of course we’re watching the city as a whole. The big X factor is Thanksgiving,” Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa said. “The even scarier part is that last week, the CDC put out a report that said 24 percent of people who give COVID to someone else never develop symptoms and 35 percent are pre-symptomatic.”

Governor Cuomo has been leaning on the message that restraint over the holidays should be dedicated to essential workers who died of COVID-19, many of whom were hospital staff working directly with those who were infected. Over 130 of those essential workers were MTA employees.

The MTA, despite sorely needing the money after a mass exodus from mass transit left them dealing with deficits in the billions, is telling people to stay home as well.

“With COVID-19 cases dramatically increasing around the country, we are encouraging the public to restrict travel this Thanksgiving during this once-in-a-hundred-year public health crisis,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said in a statement. “We are also reminding those who must travel about the urgent necessity of wearing masks while riding on public transportation. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the law.”

According to the Transportation Security Administration, 1 million boarded planes on Sunday, marking the highest traffic through American airports since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic apart from the tally from Oct. 18.

This story first appeared in amny.com

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MTA To Host Virtual Hearings on Proposed Fare Hikes

Penn Station
LIRR riders buy tickets at Penn Station in Manhattan (Photo by Angelo DeSantis).

With possible fare hikes on the table for the cash-strapped MTA’s 2021 budget, the agency plans to hold a series of virtual hearings on the matter in order to address the financial crisis they are in due to COVID-19.

Six hearings, in all, will lead up to the December board meeting, in which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board will be expected adopt a balanced budget. MTA leaders are looking for public engagement on what could be up to 4% increase going into 2021 and could help them shore up finances as massive deficits loom.

Along with a possible fare increase, the MTA plans other measures to address its budget gap: 40% service cuts on subways and buses, a 50% service cut on commuters railroads and a continued hold on the $51 billion capital plan adopted in January.

“The MTA will begin the standard review process for fare and toll adjustments, although we recognize this year is anything but standard, with a series of virtual public hearings,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are committed to reviewing a wide variety of proposals and will work to minimize the impact on our customers. The MTA continues to face the worst financial crisis in its history and the best way to avoid these actions is for Congress to provide $12 billion in desperately needed funding.”

While best and worst case scenarios were rolled out Wednesday, as well as consideration for a $2.9 billion loan from the federal reserve, the MTA expects a $12 billion deficit by 2024 if the federal government does not deliver on financial support through a stimulus bill.

The current projection for a $12 billion deficit is a far cry from the expectations last time the MTA held hearings on a fare increase.

In December 2018, then-MTA Chairman Joe Lhota put the wheels in motion to cover a $1 billion deficit by 2022. Hearings led by former New York City Transit President Andy Byford were full of vitriol from members of the public who felt paying more for service that at the time was suffering was not in their best interest.

This time around, the MTA is holding out hope that Washington lawmakers in the Senate will deliver another stimulus reminiscent of the CARES Act, now eight months in the rearview mirror and the only such bill to pass in the ongoing pandemic. President-elect Joe Biden represents another glimmer of hope in January 2021. 

The public can sign up for these virtual hearings by following this link and dates are below:

  • Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 5:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 3, at 10 a.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 7, at 5:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 5:30 p.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 14, at 5:30 p.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 21, at 10 a.m.

This story first appeared on amny.com 

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