Pandemic stresses hospitals as New York awaits vaccine

New York's governor said the state could receive its first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days as the coronavirus pandemic is landing more patients into hospitals across the state, including on Staten Island.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday the state is eagerly awaiting a vaccine, one of which — the Pfizer vaccine — could receive federal emergency authorization as soon as Thursday.

"This is a hospital capacity crisis, and more and more, it's becoming a greater crisis for hospitals because their capacity is further diminished," he said.

Hospitals reported nearly 5,000 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday. That amount has doubled since Nov. 20, and is the highest since May 20.

And there's no sign that the pandemic is slowing in New York. The state has averaged 50 daily new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days. That figure has also doubled since Nov. 20.

Hospitals and nursing homes reported 495 deaths of COVID-19 patients in the past seven days — double from two weeks ago. 

Cuomo described the vaccine as "the weapon that will win the war." 

Still, he said the general public won't immediately have access to it.

He said the state hopes to use the initial delivery of 170,000 doses, which could arrive next week, to cover nursing home residents and then staffers. The state has opted into a federal program that will involve CVS and Walgreen's administering vaccines by Dec. 21. 

The state has 90 regional distribution centers capable of cold storage needed for storing vaccines, according to Cuomo.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will move quickly to vaccinate high-risk health care workers and the estimated 100,000 people who either are residents of long-term care facilities in the city or work at them. 

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"That whole group of 100,000 people needs to be reached. We're going to move that very, very quickly. That's a very finite universe," he said.

Other high-priority groups such as health care workers will be vaccinated soon afterward, de Blasio said, but no one should try to secure a vaccine before their turn. 

"We will not allow people who are privileged to jump the line," de Blasio said at his daily coronavirus briefing. "We're not going to allow people to get the vaccine unless it is their time to get the vaccine."

Dr. Dave Chokshi, the city's health commissioner, said that 54 of the city's 55 acute-care hospitals either have the ultracold freezers needed to store the Pfizer vaccine or have access to ultracold storage through other facilities in their networks. The one hospital that lacks ultracold storage capacity will wait to vaccinate patients until the Moderna vaccine, which does not require a special freezer, is distributed.