A Scramble to Boost Vaccinations in New York

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It’s Monday.

Weather: Mixed clouds and sun, with a high around 40.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until Jan. 18 (Martin Luther King’s Birthday).

New York is now entering its fifth week since coronavirus vaccinations began. But the effort has been rife with complications.

Medical providers, unable to find patients who met the state’s vaccination guidelines, have reported throwing away doses. A more transmissible variant of the virus has been found in the state. Local officials, like Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said the rollout has been slow because of their inability to distribute vaccine more quickly to groups outside of the groups the state designated. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has pointed the finger at poor execution from hospital management, among other problems.

Mr. de Blasio wants one million doses administered by the end of January. But as of Sunday morning, just over 203,000 inoculations had be given since mid-December.

This weekend, officials scrambled to jump-start the effort.

[For the second time in two days, the state amended its rules on who can get a vaccine.]

Expanded eligibility

For weeks, Mr. Cuomo maintained that the first vaccinations should go only to the most at-risk health care workers, and residents and staff of nursing homes and group homes.

But on Friday, Mr. Cuomo said that starting as early as Monday, a wider range of essential workers, including teachers, could get vaccinated, as well as New Yorkers 75 years and older.

On Saturday, the state loosened the guidelines again. Medical providers can now also vaccinate employees who interact with the public if there are extra doses in a vial and no one from “the priority population can come in before the doses expire.”

Mass vaccination centers

On Sunday, New York City opened five vaccination centers: facilities for mass inoculation at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and the Bathgate Contract Postal Station in the Bronx; and smaller “vaccine hubs” at the South Bronx Educational Campus, the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn and Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens.

City officials are urging eligible people to sign up online to book an appointment to get the vaccine.

The landscape

More than 8,400 people are hospitalized statewide, Gov. Cuomo said on Sunday, more than double the number at the beginning of December. The statewide rate of positive test results was 6.22 percent, compared with around 5 percent at the beginning of December.

In New York City, the seven-day average positivity rate was 8.77 percent, Mr. de Blasio said on Sunday, compared with about 5.5 percent at the beginning of December. There were 251 new hospitalizations, compared with a seven-day average of 151 at the beginning of December.

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Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

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Want more news? Check out our full coverage.

The Mini Crossword: Here is today’s puzzle.

What we’re reading

The new Moynihan Train Hall’s hours and seating limitations are designed to keep out homeless people who have found refuge in nearby Penn Station, advocates for the homeless say. [The City]

A police official who was assigned to combat workplace harassment, and who was alleged to have a lengthy history of racist, bigoted remarks online, has been suspended without pay for 30 days. [Gothamist]

A woman holding her daughter in her arms jumped off a 13-story building in Hell’s Kitchen, killing them both, police said. [Daily News]

And finally: 177 portraits of ‘Ms. Arline’

Siddhartha Mitter writes:

Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 1980s, the artist Kambui Olujimi had a fulfilled childhood in the span of a single block, on Quincy Street.

Families shared cultural roots in the South and the Caribbean. The children played together, using the biggest tree on the block as home base for games of hot-peas-and-butter and freeze tag. Parents kept an eye on all the kids.

Bed-Stuy in those days was a patchwork, Mr. Olujimi recalled. Some blocks were derelict and dangerous. But Quincy Street between Patchen Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard was the other kind: vibrant with family and community life.

“This block was tight,” Mr. Olujimi said. “This was a block.”

Mr. Olujimi’s work is eclectic — spanning sculpture, installation, drawing, photography, video — but it often addresses collective memory and how it blurs or gets erased.

For the last six years, he has turned that attention to the block that forged him, where he spent most of his childhood and then returned for 20 years of adult life, until 2015. His tribute to the block takes the form of repeated portraits of a single person at its core: Catherine Arline, the longtime block president universally known as “Ms. Arline,” who died in 2014 at age 77.

“Walk With Me,” his series of 177 portraits in ink on paper, is now on view at the nonprofit Project for Empty Space, in Newark, and in an online tour. Based on a single source image — a photograph of Ms. Arline at age 18 — they are at once uniform and endlessly varied.

Jasmine Wahi, the co-director of Project for Empty Space, who curated the exhibition with Rebecca Jampol, called the series a kind of alternative monument. “What does it mean to create a monument for someone who is so impactful at a micro-community level?” Ms. Wahi said. “In examining multiples of a single person, the series speaks more than any statue could.”

It’s Monday — be a good neighbor.

Metropolitan Diary: Who is it?

Dear Diary:

I graduated from a Jersey Shore high school in 1965. After graduation, a few of my classmates and I took a trip to New York City to do some shopping and see the sights.

At one point, as we were standing at a busy intersection, we noticed an older man in a nicely tailored overcoat nearby. He looked very familiar.

My friends and I all looked at one another, wondering, “Could that be who we think it is? No, it just couldn’t, could it?”

We were buzzing with curiosity and excitement and frustrated we couldn’t remember the man’s name. Finally, on a dare, I agreed to approach him.

I walked up to him slowly.

“Excuse me sir,” I said. “Were you the Lion in ‘The Wizard of Oz?’”

He smiled at me and nodded his head.

“Yes,” he said.

Bert Lahr died two years later.

— Gail Skabo

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