Gov. Kathy Hochul urged parents to have their children vaccinated against Covid-19 while schools are closed this week, noting a rise in pediatric hospitalizations as the infection rates across the state climb ever higher amid the highly contagious Omicron variant’s emergence as the dominant strain infecting New Yorkers.
Her plea on Monday was followed early Tuesday by an announcement from Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island that it will hold a free vaccine clinic for kids on Wednesday, Jan. 5, at the Children's Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton. With Pfizer shots available for kids ages 5 to 11, it will run from 3 to 7 p.m. and is being administered by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
OLA will also partner on a clinic at the Montauk Playhouse on Jan. 5 for adults who need first, second, or booster doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The hours are 2 to 6:30 p.m. Flu vaccines will also be available.
Advance registration is necessary for both the CMEE and Playhouse clinics, and can be done by sending a text message to OLA at 844-795-0043.
"Even as OLA’s team is fighting through its own Covid related challenges, we remain committed to the needs of our community to see that Covid vaccine access and education is available to all regardless of language ability, immigration status, or transportation challenges," Minerva Perez, the group's executive director, said in a statement.
In remarks to the media on Monday, Governor Hochul, with Mary Bassett, the State Health Department's acting commissioner, said that statewide pediatric hospitalizations totaled 70 during the week of Dec. 5 to 11. The following week's total was 104. Between Dec. 19 and Dec. 23, the total had climbed to 184. None had been vaccinated, Dr. Bassett later said.
Vaccines have been approved for children 5 to 11 years old since Nov. 3.
"With respect to our young people, parents, I'm calling on you," the governor said. While the rate of vaccinations among that younger demographic is rising, she said "we're just not where we need to go today," with just 16.4 percent having completed a full series of vaccines. Among those 12 to 17, 66 percent have completed a vaccine series, compared with more than 82 percent of those 18 and above having completed a vaccine series.
Even as cases rise among kids and schools continue running winter sports programs, school districts here said early last week that they would be doing everything they can to avoid having to switch to remote learning following the holiday break. The East Hampton School District alone reported 11 new cases at the high school between Tuesday and Thursday last week.
"We will continue to monitor cases. . . . If numbers increase as they did in some nearby districts, we are of course ready to pivot to remote learning," Adam Fine, East Hampton's superintendent, said in an email to parents on Dec. 21. "This is a last-resort option. Our goal is the keep the students in school!"
On Friday, the State Health Department issued a health alert to health care workers, principally pediatricians, Dr. Bassett said. "We want pediatricians to be alert to making the diagnosis of Covid in children," she said, "and we also want parents to be alert to the diagnosis. Many people continue to think that children don't become infected with Covid. This is not true. Children become infected and some will be hospitalized. The immunization coverage in this group, the vaccination coverage, remains too low."
It is in everyone’s interest that children remain in schools, the governor said, citing "the social experiment of keeping them isolated" in 2020 and indications that "learning did not continue the way it should have, that we had hoped it would, as well as the emotional effect and the toll it's been taking that is manifesting itself as we see in our young children, all the way up to our teenagers now."
The state is deploying at least 3 million test kits, each with two tests, to schools, the governor said. "It's really an all-hands-on-deck operation to keep kids in school,” said Jackie Bray, the State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services commissioner, "and it's our responsibility to supply as many of our districts as we possibly can so that they can supply as many kids as they possibly can with kits."
Dr. Bassett spoke of the guidelines, issued on Friday, on isolation for those infected with Covid-19. The guidance allows critical work force participants, including health care workers, who have tested positive to return to work after five days' isolation, a reduction from 10 days. This applies only if they are fully vaccinated, are asymptomatic or have very minor symptoms, or if their symptoms have resolved and they have not had a fever for 72 hours. The wearing of a mask at work is required, "and it should be a quality, well-fitting mask, meaning not a cloth mask," Dr. Bassett said. Subsequent testing is not required.
On Monday, the federal Centers for Disease Control said that all people infected with Covid-19 who do not have symptoms could shorten their isolation to just five days rather than the 10 previously required, provided they continue to wear masks for another five days.
With Reporting by Christine Sampson