With Mask Mandate Lifted in New York, Full Attention Focused on Vaccines

Westchester County
Westchester County Executive George Latimer with Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins at a recent COVID-19 briefing in White Plains.

County Executive George Latimer said Monday that he supported Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new (CDC) guidelines from last week as COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to plummet.

When the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can go without masks outside and only need to wear them in limited types of indoor venues, there had been some confusion as well as clamoring to follow the new directive.

“I think we’re ready to move to the next step of normalcy,” Latimer said.

Much of the continued movement to more normal activities is distribution of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. In Westchester, through last Thursday, 47 percent of the population, or 456,695 people, have been fully vaccinated, and 542,612 (56.1 percent) have received the first dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. That represents 69.5 percent of the county’s population who are at least 18 years old.

On Sunday, six county executives – Ed Day (Rockland), MaryEllen Odell (Putnam) Marc Molinaro (Dutchess), Steven Neuhaus (Orange), Steve Bellone (Suffolk) and Pat Ryan (Ulster) – released a joint statement urging Cuomo to allow fully vaccinated residents to return to normalcy and discard masks and the need for social distancing outdoors and in most indoors settings.

“As we continue to see active cases, hospitalizations and deaths steadily dropping day by day and more people receiving vaccinations, the governor should implement the CDC’s common-sense guidance,” their joint statement read. “We also encourage residents who have not been vaccinated to make that a priority so efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 can be successful.”

In Putnam County, the overall vaccination rate for those at least 16 years old was 61.5 percent.

On Monday, Cuomo relented, saying the state would follow the CDC guidelines starting on Wednesday, although the public must continue to wear masks on public transportation, in health care facilities and nursing homes, jails and schools.

Cuomo said the state will continue to stress the need for people to get vaccinated as the rate of vaccinations has slowed. Statewide, there have been more than 17.6 million doses administered with nearly 10 million people having received at least one dose, which represents 61.8 percent of New York’s 18-and-over population, he said. More than 8.3 million state residents 18 and up have been fully vaccinated, which is 52.2 percent.

“The numbers on the vaccinations are the only numbers that is not doing as well as the others,” Cuomo said.

Latimer said it’s likely that Westchester will have to deal with how to handle the unvaccinated members of the population at county venues such as the parks, beaches and Playland in the weeks ahead.

“If you’re not vaccinated you are still subject to the disease and you’re still subject to getting the disease and transferring it to other people,” Latimer said.

The next challenge is to get as many 12- to 15-year-olds as possible vaccinated. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the Pfizer vaccine was safe for that age group to take. Those under 18 years old can only take the Pfizer shot since Moderna’s vaccine and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson have not been approved for anyone under that age threshold.

The County Center in White Plains is administering the Pfizer vaccine to those as young as 12 years old, although anyone under 18 must have permission from a parent or guardian.

Last week, Pelham and Westlake high schools partnered with neighboring districts to administer doses to the students at least 16 years old and staff members. This Thursday from 2 to 6:30 p.m., the Bedford School District will partner with Katonah-Lewisboro to make vaccines available at Fox Lane High School.

Meanwhile, vaccinations for the homebound population of any age who are eligible for the vaccine may call the county Department of Health at 914-813-6300 to call for an appointment where it will be administered at their home, said Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins.

The good news for the county is the continued reduction in active cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. The active caseload has dipped below 1,000 – to 922 through Sunday, Latimer said. Hospitalizations have fallen to 63, and there were four fatalities over the past week.

“It is a very good sign that all of these numbers that I told you, if they continue to decrease the way they seem to, if the vaccinations continue to increase, we’ll hopefully see the end of this pandemic,” Latimer said.

For information on eligibility and vaccination sites, the public may call 1-833-697-4829 or visit https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov

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