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New York expands booster shots as virus rate rises

Mike Groll
Office of the Governor

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, saying she is very concerned with the higher rate of transmission of COVID-19 in western New York and other upstate regions, is expanding eligibility for booster shots to any adult in a high-transmission area who feels that they need one.

Hochul gave a briefing in Buffalo, where the virus transmission rate is above 8%. The Finger Lakes region, which includes the city of Rochester, has an even higher rate of nearly 8.5%. Much of the rest of upstate New York has a positivity rate of 5% or more, higher than it was in the fall of 2020.

Hochul said the solution is to get more people vaccinated. Despite the widespread availability of the vaccine, just under 67% of New York state residents are fully vaccinated. The vast majority of those testing positive for the virus are unvaccinated.

For those who have already received their vaccine, Hochul is expanding eligibility for booster shots. She said any adult who lives in a high transmission area and feels they need the shot is now allowed to receive one. The governor’s advice goes further than the current federal Centers for Disease Control recommendation that booster shots be limited to those older than 65 or who have serious underlying health conditions.

“There is not a clear metric on this that has been given to us by the CDC,” Hochul said. “But I am telling you, as governor, that anything over a 4% or 5% transmission rate is unacceptably high and is considered a risk area.”

New Yorkers older than 65 have been eligible for booster shots for several weeks, but Hochul said only 47% of seniors so far have received one.

The governor said there’s another worry. The rate of breakthrough infections among vaccinated New Yorkers is also on the rise, though still low. About 1.1% of vaccinated individuals tested positive for the virus last week. That rose to 1.2% this week.

In New York City, where masks are mandatory at indoor public settings, and proof of vaccination is required for admission to theaters, art museums and restaurants, the positivity rate for COVID has been lower, at about 1%.

“That has made a profound difference in those communities,” Hochul said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed the mandates.

Hochul said, for now, she is not contemplating similar statewide rules and is leaving it up to local governments to decide what’s best for their community

But she recommended that at home holiday gatherings, beginning with Thanksgiving next week, everyone should be vaccinated and wear a mask unless they are actively eating and drinking.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.