Feb. 7 marks a year since Stony Brook University Hospital recorded its first suspected case of coronavirus in a patient who visited the emergency room — a month before Long Island’s first confirmed case of Covid-19.
Despite health advances in treating patients and curbing the spread of the pandemic since then, vaccine access remains an issue on the East End as New York State blamed federal supply bottlenecks for not keeping up with demand. Meanwhile, Twin Forks lawmakers continued to urge state and Suffolk County leaders to make sure Hamptons and North Fork residents get their fair share while lining up locations to use as mass-vaccination sites to prepare for when doses are more readily available.
“I am cautiously optimistic that, as supply and distribution increases, we will see more of those resources directed to the East End,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said.
As of Jan. 26, New York’s coronavirus distribution sites had administered 93 percent of 1,304,050 first doses and 74 percent of first and second doses with the next allocation expected mid-week, state officials said. Long Island has administered 75 percent — 172,500 — of the first and second doses it received. How many of those were East End residents was not immediately clear.
Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead has been administering COVID-19 vaccinations since Jan. 11 to East End residents eligible in Phase 1a and Phase 1b, which includes teachers, first responders, public safety workers, public transit workers, public-facing grocery store workers, homeless individuals sharing accommodations with others, and anyone over the age
Concerned that the one site wasn’t enough to keep up with local demand, East End lawmakers — including all five town supervisors, most village mayors, and the three state legislators who represent the area — sent a letter to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Gov. Andrew Cuomo decrying the lack of access.
“The vaccine distribution on the East End, with the new, expanded eligibility categories, is virtually non-existent,” the letter had stated. “Our residents, particularly senior citizens, cannot be expected to drive an hour or more to places such as Brentwood, Jones Beach, or Stony Brook, to get the vaccine. While we have submitted many locations in our communities for consideration for the distribution of the vaccine, those suggestions have been ignored.”
Since then, town leaders say Bellone and Cuomo joined a conference call with the East End town supervisors and village mayors to discuss the issue. While the region waits for more doses and expanded eligibility to vaccinate more residents, local officials are setting up vaccine distribution sites and lining up staff to inoculate residents, in the hopes that if they build it, the vaccine will come. A spokesman for Bellone said in response to the letter that it plans to open a vaccine site at Suffolk County Community College’s Eastern Campus in Riverhead. Cuomo’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
“Like everyone else, we are waiting for expanded distribution,” said Shelter Island Town Supervisor Gerard F. Siller, adding that the town is in “constant contact” with both the county and the state. “We are working with our senior services to set up for vaccinations, if and when they become available.”
The Town of Southampton has submitted a list of potential locations, including schools, senior centers, and churches.
“We’re trying to be as helpful as possible,” Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said. “We’re available, we’ll provide buildings, whatever they need, outreach to help get the vaccine into people’s arms. We’ve made that very clear.”
And Town of East Hampton officials are working on setting up a site at the Child Development Center of the Hamptons building in Wainscott.
“It has many attributes that make it an ideal site, in our opinion,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc told the Jan. 19 town board during its latest work session, noting that the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation and other medical professionals also liked the location. “It was embraced as being an excellent location to prepare a mass vaccination site. It’s isolated from other activities, it wouldn’t interfere with other business.”
Buildings, however, are only half the battle. The town said local fire department emergency medical technicians are being certified to administer vaccinations and volunteers are being recruited to handle clerk duties and crowd control.
He added that the town is in discussions about potentially adding a mobile vaccination unit or a Montauk satellite location once enough doses become available. But the Wainscott site is still the best bet, he said.
“I think it’s really important to focus on a centralized large capacity location,” he said, noting that he’s also pressing state leaders to recognize that the population has increased since the 2010 census.
Demand remains overwhelming.
“We’re fielding a lot of calls from frustrated individuals who want to be vaccinated, they qualify under the category, yet the website has crashed or there’s no appointment,” Schneiderman said.
Van Scoyoc said one resident likened a day-long effort to get an appointment to winning a jackpot.
“One of the seniors who have been corresponding with me, I kept urging her, ‘Just keep trying, don’t pass up an opportunity to get vaccinated based on whether or not it’s convenient, figure out how to get there and get the vaccine, u may not know when the next opportunity till be,’” the supervisor told the Jan. 19 town board meeting. “She finally got back to me the following day saying that she spent eight hours on three different devices trying to get through and get and get a date. … She said she felt like she won the lottery even though the appointment is for April 11th.”
As of Jan. 24, the East End had 9,067 total confirmed cases, or 6 percent of cases county-wide. Southampton Town had nearly half of those with 4,014 while of the individual communities, the hamlet of Riverhead has the most cases with 1,375, Suffolk Department of Health data shows.
Meanwhile, the number of doses that the state has received weekly from the federal government has declined.
“Originally, the state was distributing 300,000 vaccines state-wide weekly,” Russel noted. “The number is now 250,000 statewide based on the limited number being supplied at the federal level.” The state confirmed it’s expected to receive a 16% increase in doses from the federal government next week.
That still means the East End’s planned vaccination sites will remain on standby until the distribution improves.
“We’ve given them a number of sites now on the East End that we can make available,” Schneiderman said. “It really comes back to their ability to access doses so that they can get it to us.”
COVID-19 BY THE NUMBERS
4,014: Town of Southampton
2,553: Town of Riverhead
1,233: Town of East Hampton
1,229: Town of Southold
38: Town of Shelter Island
9,067: East End total
131,621: Suffolk County
1,338,990: New York State
25,335,606: United State
100,032,461: Global total
Source: Suffolk County Department of Health data as of Jan. 24, Johns Hopkins University as of Jan. 26.