274 new COVID cases in Oneida County; MVHS receives first vaccine shipment

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In a Wednesday announcement of new COVID-19 infections in Oneida County, County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said there were 274 new positive cases in the 24 hour period monitored prior to his remarks.

There were also two more COVID-19 fatalities during that time from the pandemic virus, bringing the total death count to 180.

He said that even as vaccines are making their way to different population sets currently and into the near future, residents should continue to practice social distancing and other safety precautions.

However, because of the time of year, this could be tricky, he indicated.

“It is nine days until Christmas ...this year is markedly different. ...People are trying to make the very best of the situation,” he said, further asking residents to not take safety precautions lightly as they gather with loved ones.

Picente said another Oneida County COVID-19 briefing will be conducted Friday with more updates.

MVHS gets first vaccines

Also on Wednesday, Picente noted that the Mohawk Valley Health System was among hospitals that received their first batches of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Detailing the disbursement plan, information from MVHS noted that a Point of Dispersal location was set up to begin vaccinating MVHS healthcare workers as soon as possible as well as create an ongoing plan for future vaccine batches to be received.

“This is an exciting day for the Mohawk Valley as the COVID-19 vaccine provides a light at the end of the COVID tunnel,” said Kent Hall, MD, Chief Physician Executive at MVHS in a statement. “While it will likely take close to nine months to get everyone in the community vaccinated, this is a huge step in the right direction to get the pandemic under control so that we can return to some sort of normalcy. I commend all those involved in getting the vaccine developed and distributed in unprecedented fashion. It will save many, many lives.”

For updates related to COVID-19 and MVHS activity, visit mvhealthsystem.org/coronavirus.

In terms of hospital vaccine disbursement programs, Rome Memorial Hospital spokesperson Cassie Evans Winter said in a statement, “Rome Memorial Hospital may begin vaccinating its employees as early as next week if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes emergency use of the Moderna vaccine Friday as projected … The hospital requested Pfizer or Moderna and was informed by the Department of Health that it would be receiving the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to store and equally effective. The hospital will be following the Department of Health guidance in prioritizing healthcare workers based upon their risk of exposure.”

Hospital capacity

For the past month, as COVID-19 infection rates have begun to climb across the state, the state health department has been making sure plans are in place.

In a letter to hospital administrators across the state, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker detailed directives issued by the Department of Health regarding hospital capacity as COVID-19 infection numbers surge in many areas. 

Hospitals were directed to expand capacity by 25 percent on December 7, and directed to expand by an additional 25 percent or cancel elective surgeries on Dec. 11, according to a statement.

In his letter, Zucker provided a number of guidance points.

“First, hospital systems must now complete a patient load balancing plan among all facilities in their system. They should anticipate which hospitals in their system will have the greatest demand and have a plan in place to transfer patients prior to admission - after a medical screening examination - to facilities in their system with more capacity,” he wrote, continuing, “Systems should also account for smaller safety net and independent hospitals in their load balancing plan.”

His letter continued, “independent hospitals that are not part of a hospital system must forge relations with neighboring hospital systems to participate in local patient load balancing. Independent hospitals, especially those located in high COVID positive communities, or smaller isolated hospitals, pose the greatest risk of being overwhelmed. They must have transfer agreements in place now with neighboring hospitals and systems, or inform the New York State Department of Health immediately.”

Zucker also directed hospitals to be prepared to “achieve 15 percent staffed bed capacity growth within 72 hours if a significant COVID surge occurs. If a hospital is, or would be, unable to achieve this ‘flex up’ of beds if necessary, they must cancel elective procedures or expand bed capacity to ensure they always can have an additional 15 percent staffed bed availability within 72 hours.”

The state defines “bed capacity” as an available bed with available staff and equipment for purposes of patient care within 72 hours.

“New Yorkers can stop a shutdown, New Yorkers can save lives. It just depends on what we do and what we need to do is manage the hospitals, administer the vaccine and slow the spread,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a portion of a Wednesday statement. “While we have been working with hospital systems to expand capacity, the first of the vaccine arrived and New York’s goal is to have the best vaccine program in the United States.”

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