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NYC continues urging public caution as ‘COVID classic’ and virus variants spread through city

MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick J. Foye and Interim MTA New York City Transit President Sarah Feinberg announce the launch of a dedicated COVID-19 vaccination center for MTA employees at 130 Livingston St. on Tue., February 23, 2021. Chairman Foye and several employees received their first vaccine.
Photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke about vaccines, variants, and eligibility Wednesday morning on the day the state officially raised the age limit for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine to people aged 60 and above.

On March 17, medical providers with the exception of pharmacies will be able to vaccinate customers. The new eligibility rules also include city employees who interact with the public, like teachers, said de Blasio. 

“Literally, the state had rules that said if you walked into one site you couldn’t get vaccinated unless you were from one bag or another. If you were a public worker, you couldn’t get vaccinated at one site, if you were over 65 you couldn’t get vaccinated at one site. Only certain people could go to certain places and it didn’t work,” said de Blasio.  

De Blasio said the state has finally relented and now the city has more control at these sites.

This is in keeping with the city’s new Vaccine for All Corps, which aims to recruit 2,000 “civilians” from within their neighborhoods to help with the vaccination effort. Hiring is currently underway for jobs in Staten Island, the Rockaways and The Bronx for clinical roles, including vaccinators, support staff, and administrative roles. 

The Racial Inclusion and Equity task force has also made it a priority to hire residents in the city’s 33 disproportionately impacted neighborhoods to build more trust between residents and vaccinators. Training for new hires will be handled by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

Moving on to address concerns about the variants, de Blasio said that “variants come with the territory” and are not a new concept.

So far, said de Blasio, there has been no evidence of variants that are more deadly or vaccine resistant than “COVID classic” but it is easier to spread.

Senior Advisor for Public Health at the Mayor’s Office Dr. Jay Varma said unfortunately they have found that new variants are continuing to spread in the city. He said the different variants that originated elsewhere accounted for 51% of all cases as of now. 

“Our preliminary analysis does not show that this new strain B1526 causes more severe illness or reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine. It’s important to note this is preliminary,” said Varma.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi added that there’s no special tests to see if you have these variants but it is important to get tested in general if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. 

“The variants have been detected in samples from across New York City and indeed other states as well,” said Chokshi. “We need all New Yorkers to pay attention to this, not just those who live in a particular neighborhood or borough.”

Finally, Chokshi said that the standard washing hands, distancing, hand washing, testing, staying home, and vaccinating is still the best bet.

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