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Winter storm causes delays, closures at state-run COVID-19 vaccinations sites

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a briefing in New York City Monday

A winter storm caused state vaccination sites to close Monday and Tuesday in the downstate area, while vaccination sites upstate will delay opening.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a briefing, blamed the federal government for ongoing glitches in the state’s vaccine rollout.

The state’s vaccination program continues to be plagued by problems. Many seniors who are eligible to receive vaccinations have been unable to navigate complex websites to schedule appointments. The governor said the state has a hotline number to schedule appointments by phone. The number is: 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829).

Cuomo said the root of the frustrations is that there just are not enough doses of the vaccine.

“I get it,” said Cuomo. “That is a situation created by the federal government initially, and it is a national problem and an international problem, that there is just not enough vaccine.”

Cuomo inadvertently created some confusion, when he announced in the briefing that all of the state’s vaccination sites would be closed Monday due to the major winter storm affecting a large portion of the country. His chief of staff later clarified on Twitter that only the downstate centers were closed, and that upstate ones remained open.

The state’s hotline call center also seemed confused about the status of the vaccination sites. During a call to the hotline, a worker said the vaccination site at the State University of New York at Albany was closed Monday because of snow. However, SUNY Albany and the other upstate sites were indeed open.

Downstate vaccination centers will remain closed on Tuesday. Upstate sites, including ones at the New York State Fairgrounds near Syracuse, and in Utica, will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Any appointments that were scheduled between 8-10 a.m. will be rescheduled for later in the day, according to a statement from the governor’s office Monday evening. Those who have appointments at centers that closed because of the storm will receive new appointments by email or text.

Cuomo did not address a report in the New York Times that said nine top officials in the state’s health department have quit since the summer, claiming that the governor was ignoring their expertise on key health policy decisions during the pandemic, including how to efficiently vaccinate the state’s population. The resignations include the deputy commissioner for public health, the state epidemiologist, and the medical director for epidemiology and the director of the bureau of communicable disease control.

In a statement, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker suggested that the top officials who left were perhaps not up to handling the increased demands of their jobs during the pandemic. He said the “intense period of extraordinary stress and pressure” during the health crisis may have meant that it was a “different job” than some signed up for.

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.