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Onondaga County hospital workers could receive COVID-19 vaccines Tuesday

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office
Doctor Michelle Chester of Northwell Health in Queens administered the first coronavirus vaccine in New York State on Monday.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said he knows the vaccines are on their way; with front-line hospital workers possibly rolling up their sleeves as soon as Tuesday. Nursing home residents could begin getting the two-shot regimen later this week. The federal government is working with local pharmacies to distribute the vaccines in those nursing homes. Beyond that, McMahon said distribution of the vaccine to the rest of the population will be a big undertaking.

"For us to be successful, we need 75-80% participation in our county,” McMahon said. “That’s 340,000-375,000 people.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta agrees it’s important that a large percentage of the community becomes immunized.

"Go and get it, because this is the way we are going to save our community and get our economy back.”

Immunization for the greater community isn’t expected to take place until 2021.

Onondaga County is also bulking up the contact tracing portion of the health department due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. The county will move about 30 employees, who’d earlier been furloughed, to conduct virus investigations. It’s also moving other employees to the health department to fight the recent surge, according to County Executive McMahon.

“We’re moving an additional 175 over, and this is their job,” McMahon said. “And then when we get to the next phase of the pandemic, once we flatten this curve and bend it, some will go back to their duties, and some will stay and move over to the vaccination part of this process.”

McMahon said the idea is to get caseloads under control. As numbers of new daily cases topped 300-400 recently, the time consuming investigations have become backlogged. McMahon said it’s important that people who test positive immediately begin quarantining, even if they don’t hear from the health department, so the virus doesn’t spread.

McMahon is also hoping to get state approval soon for an alternative for some nursing home residents, recovering from COVID, who are clogging up hospital beds. The county has plans for an unnamed facility to create a wing for individuals who can’t be released from the hospital, because they still test positive for COVID.

"So we can start getting 31 residents out of hospitals, so we can get them to a more comfortable setting as well, for them,” McMahon said. “That frees up 11-12% of existing beds when you compare that to COVID beds.”

McMahon said the state could give the county approval to move these patients as early as Tuesday. He won’t say what facility has agreed to take these patients into what would be a COVID recovery unit. Hospital capacity is a key concern in the fight against the coronavirus.