NYS Expands Vaccine Eligibility to 65+

Following the issuance of new federal guidelines, Governor Cuomo announced today an expansion of COVID eligibility to include New Yorkers 65 and older.  All other eligible categories remain unchanged from those included in the State’s 1b roll-out yesterday.

Reservations are required.  To schedule your vaccine, visit ny.gov/vaccine or call the State hotline at 833-697-4829.

Vaccinating millions of New Yorkers is an overwhelming logistical challenge, and many residents have experienced obstacles and delays. State authorities have committed to expanding the number of vaccination sites, and we expect that the process will become more efficient over time. But, for now, patience and persistence may be necessary.

Please remember also that this phase of vaccination will extend over several months, so while you should try to make your appointment as soon as possible, the scheduled date of your vaccination might still be a ways off.

The vaccine is safe and effective — and essential to the recovery of our community and nation.  Everyone who is eligible should sign up to receive it.  Please spread the word.


COVID Vaccine Now Available for Educators, First Responders, and People 75+

Educators, First Responders, and seniors 75 and over are now eligible for the COVID vaccine.  A moment ago, I sent the following message citywide, encouraging eligible residents to schedule their vaccination.  It’s vitally important that we all do our part.

(Today’s expansion of vaccine eligibility follows a rocky vaccine roll-out in New Rochelle last week, which I explained more fully in this post from yesterday.)

This is the City of New Rochelle with important information about the COVID vaccine.

Para espanol, oprima numero uno.

Effective today, New York State has authorized the COVID vaccine for all educators and first responders, and for all people over the age of 75. If you are eligible, please register and schedule your vaccine through the State website at ny.gov/vaccine.

The vaccination process will take many weeks, so while you can and should sign up immediately, please understand that your scheduled date to receive the vaccine might still be a ways off.

The COVID vaccine is safe and effective. It’s been studied rigorously by scientific and medical experts, and has already been safely administered to millions of people. Vaccination is the only way for our community and nation to overcome the COVID crisis and recover fully. If you’re eligible, please get your vaccine.

In the meantime, with nearly 900 active cases of COVID in New Rochelle, we all need to continue acting responsibly: wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, and avoid large crowds.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not there yet, and each of us must do the right thing to get to the other side.

Again, visit the State website at ny.gov/vaccine for vaccine information, and you can always visit newrochelleny.com/coronavirus for comprehensive local resources.

This has been Mayor Noam Bramson. Thank you for listening, and stay safe.

UPDATE: As an alternative to online scheduling, beginning at 4:00pm on Monday, January 11, the State will maintain a COVID-19 Vaccination Hotline at 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).


Disclosing, Explaining, and Learning from a Bad Week

This is a New Rochelle story, but it’s necessary to begin with some broader context.  Bear with me.

As America’s painful COVID experience nears its one-year anniversary, our thoughts and actions increasingly focus on the vaccine.  How quickly can it be manufactured?  How will it be distributed?  How can we address and overcome doubts about its safety and efficacy?  When will this nightmare finally be over?

The issue of sequencing — who gets the vaccine first, second, third, and fourth — is especially complicated, logistically and morally, given the present mismatch between demand and supply.  So it’s no wonder that vaccine distribution protocols, which fall under state jurisdiction, have been intensely debated.  It’s also no wonder that vaccination rates among different hospitals have been carefully scrutinized, with urgency to get the vaccine into people’s arms as quickly as possible.

Up to now, New York has limited vaccine distribution mainly to health care workers in what the State calls Phase 1a.  This week, New York will expand to Phase 1b, including teachers, first responders, and people over 75 years of age.  There’s more here.

I don’t feel qualified to have a personal opinion about the right vaccination policy, but I do believe that uniformity and consistency are vital to avoid a free-for-fall.  Therefore, I see it as my responsibility to explain, uphold, and implement State directives, in partnership with local and regional health providers.

That’s the backdrop for this past week’s events in New Rochelle.

On Wednesday around midday, I received a call from Montefiore New Rochelle hospital with important news: the hospital had just been directed by State health authorities to expand vaccine distribution to the entire municipal and school district workforce.  Knowing that Montefiore’s prior vaccine delivery numbers had been low, and that the State was eager to get the vaccine out the door, the hospital’s invitation seemed entirely plausible, and I did not think to confirm it with State colleagues.  In retrospect, that was a mistake.

I immediately informed the City Manager, so that our employees across all departments could be mobilized in an orderly fashion, and I contacted the School District leadership, so that they could coordinate with the hospital on a parallel track.

The City administration established a vaccination schedule, and municipal employees began lining up for their vaccines by Wednesday late afternoon, with the goal of completing the City workforce over the next 48 hours or so.  The School District established its own schedule.

Next day, the wheels came off.

On Thursday evening, I received upsetting word from both hospital and State officials.  Montefiore’s invitation had been an error; the hospital had misinterpreted the State’s guidance and was not yet authorized to issue phase 1b vaccines, let alone to vaccinate the whole municipal workforce, which includes categories of employees outside 1b.  The vaccination process needed to be halted right away.  This was especially traumatic for the School District, which has a larger workforce than the City, including hundreds of teachers who would now be disappointed.  A mess.

For me, this difficult week also has a dimension of personal regret involving my own vaccine.  Although Montefiore’s invitation encompassed elected officials, I had originally intended to decline my own vaccination and wait for a future phase.  Around midday Thursday, however, the City Manager informed me, with surprise and distress, that many municipal employees were refusing to take the vaccine.  Here in our own City family was the vaccine hesitancy that experts fear could imperil efforts to achieve herd immunity.  A serious problem.

I was persuaded that receiving my own vaccine would demonstrate confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and set a good example for colleagues.  So I agreed to get my injection Thursday mid-afternoon, and then returned to City Hall, where the City Manager and I sent an email to the entire workforce, affirming the vaccine’s importance and urging colleagues to do the right thing and follow our lead.  In the moment, I was trying to act responsibly, but now I certainly regret my participation and can’t shake a feeling of shame that I received a vaccination to which I was not properly entitled.

I am satisfied that everyone in this whole episode was operating in good faith and sincerely trying to do the right thing under great pressure.  But, as someone with a visceral aversion to “cutting the line” (in fact, while I was waiting for my vaccine at Montefiore, a friendly nurse literally invited me to cut the line, I declined), I find this chain of mistakes professionally frustrating and personally embarrassing.  And I suppose this blog post is my attempt to fully disclose what happened, learn from the experience, and move on.

Seeing the challenges firsthand will only reinforce my determination to ensure that our community is provided with information and access to the vaccine as quickly as supplies and State authorization permit, especially with imminent entry into phase 1b, which is really the beginning of mass vaccinations.  As we look ahead to recovery from this incredibly difficult year, there is no more important responsibility.  Onward.


Tragic Clarity

Like so much else in the Trump era, yesterday’s insurrection was both shocking and predictable.  I literally gasped at the image of guns drawn at the doors of Congress, and it is impossible to view such a scene without feeling complete disorientation.  And yet this was also the logical and maybe even inevitable culmination of years of provocation, from a psychologically-damaged President who revels in division, disdains the norms of liberal democracy, and is literally incapable of perceiving any national interest distinct from his personal interest.

Fortunately, the rule of law ultimately prevailed.  The Capitol was secured, the coup sputtered out, the people’s business continued, Joe Biden will become President on January 20th, and America will move on from a poisonous four years.

Or will we?  While a change of President will unquestionably and thankfully remove the most clear and present danger to the Republic, our national pathologies are too deep for a single election to cure:

•  Nearly all of the people involved in yesterday’s insurrection, fed a steady diet of lies, truly think of themselves as American patriots acting in defense of democracy.  The media ecosystem that produces such a warped mindset will continue to churn out content, and the fears and grievances that leave so many people vulnerable to con men, conspiracy theories, and demagogues will likely intensify.  Can we find a way to break the closed loops of information that wall us into alternate realities, and can we engage our fellow citizens in a spirit of understanding, not judging the whole of their humanity by their worst actions and beliefs?  We cannot give up on a third of the country.

•  Stable democracies need healthy, viable center-right parties, and at present the United States doesn’t have one.  The Republican Party — especially its base and increasingly its elites — now more closely resembles autocratic movements in Turkey, Hungary, and Poland than its traditional center-right counterparts in western Europe.  Can we find a basis for partnership with and empowerment of responsible elected officials with a genuine commitment to democracy, even when we disagree with them profoundly on policy?

•  Our electoral institutions are broken.  As a measure of popular will, the Presidential election was not close.  But in the states that determined the electoral college outcome, it was razor thin.  A shift of just 44,000 votes — only about half the population of New Rochelle — would have delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump, and then we would be in a whole different sort of Constitutional crisis.  I struggle to imagine how I would accept the legitimacy of a President who lost by 7 million votes, and wonder how many folks on my side of the aisle would be tempted to storm the Capitol under those circumstances.  Can we repair our institutions, so that they affirm the people’s will instead of impeding it?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am genuinely relieved and even excited about the upcoming Inauguration and the possibility of national progress, especially given the outcomes in Georgia, which offer President-elect Biden a real chance to govern.  But we should have no illusions about the scale and depth of the challenges ahead, or the degree to which success depends on renewal of our culture as much as our government.  Yesterday’s shameful horrors have laid bare the threats to our democracy with tragic clarity.