Westchester County has asked the state to relax quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated residents returning home from out-of-town trips within the United States.
County Executive George Latimer said Monday the request has been made because it’s been a hardship for many residents and has been one impediment to fully reopening schools. The request follows guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, he said.
“We don’t want to wait,” Latimer said. “This is an impact on people’s lives and we want to make it as realistic as possible for people to resume normal functioning in society to help us move forward to get out of this situation.”
For that to happen, vaccine availability will have to continue to increase and people will need to take it. On Monday, the county received its first 1,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That vaccine is being is being reserved for seniors because it is a one-shot dose, therefore, not requiring a second trip.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines call for a second shot three and four weeks later, respectively.
For those who are eligible, Latimer urged residents to get signed up for any of the vaccines as soon as they are able to. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has an 85 percent effective rate, slightly less than the 90-plus percent rates for Pfizer and Moderna.
“Right now, if you’re not vaccinated, you have zero, zero, protection,” Latimer said. “So we think that substantial protection goes a long way in helping people being able to function, even with masks, even with social distancing and hand sanitizing, and the things that we have to do.”
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It was a point Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to drive home during his briefing earlier in the day, particularly relating to the lagging vaccination percentages among the Black and Latino communities. Speaking from the Javits Center in Manhattan, Cuomo said that in New York City, for example, the population is 27 percent Black and 28 percent Hispanic, but those two groups of people account for just 18 and 20 percent of the vaccinations, respectively.
Vaccination rates for white and Asian residents in the city exceed their percentage of the population. Part of the problem is “health care deserts,” Cuomo said, but also a deep distrust of the system. It’s an obstacle that must be overcome.
“We can’t put the needle in your arm if you don’t bring your arm forward,” Cuomo said. “That’s what we’re asking you to do today. This vaccine can save your life. This vaccine can save your mother’s life, your grandmother’s life, your sister’s life, your brother’s life. It literally is a matter of life or death.”
Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins announced Monday that Westchester will be extending free Paratransit service to seniors and the disabled for transportation to and from a vaccine appointment, even if they are not signed up for the service.
If a county resident has a vaccine appointment, they can call 914-995-7272 ext. 1 for a ride.
So far, the County Center, which opened as a vaccine site on Jan. 13, has administered 91,815 doses through Sunday while the county’s two clinics have provided 17,981 shots. Since all shots through Sunday in Westchester were the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, those figures do not represent full vaccinations, only shots given, Latimer said.
Active cases in Westchester fell slightly to 5,930 through Mar. 7, down 46 from the previous Sunday. It represents the lowest active caseload in the county since Nov. 30, and the fifth consecutive week of declines.
Virus-related hospitalizations are also following an encouraging trend, with only 270 as of last Saturday, less than half from a month ago.
Additional COVID-19 fatalities slowed last week with 28 deaths, which pushes the Westchester death toll to 2,125 since the start of the pandemic.
On Monday, Putnam County reported 271 active cases and nine hospitalizations from COVID-19. There have been 86 deaths.