By Barrett Seaman–
Pale green buds are peeking out. Children are running around neighborhood streets and school playgrounds. Vaccine distribution sites are popping up all over—notably in disadvantaged communities. Empress Ambulance Services of Yonkers is working with the county to take Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccines right to the homes of those unable to leave them.
By the end of next week, a third of Westchester residents will be fully vaccinated, and everyone over the age of 16 are welcome to sign up. County Executive George Latimer expressed hope that half the county’s 967,000 residents will have been vaccinated by the end of May.
Perhaps in part because of the rising vaccination rates, the daily infection rate in the Hudson Valley took an unexpected and welcome downward turn late in the week, happily relinquishing its spot as the highest of New York State’s ten regions. In all, there is a gradual but distinct lifting of the mantel of worry, anxiety, fear. Families are daring to talk about summer or fall travel plans.
All of which isn’t to say that the pandemic is over and life can return to “normal.” It is still essential to wear masks and socially distance. It is still possible that we will face a post Easter/Passover spike in the coming weeks. It is still more challenging than it should be to lock in a vaccine appointment, keeping Greenburgh’s COVID Angels relevant as they apply their computer skills to secure an appointment for anyone who needs one. Those who need assistance can register for the program here, just as those in need of transportation can book a free ride to a vaccine site by contacting Westchester paratransit service at (914) 995-7272.
Goodness and mercy are not universal, however. Reports have bubbled up that some pharmacies in the county were charging people $20 for their vaccination if they did not provide proof of insurance. “Access to vaccine is universal and without cost,” said Latimer on Thursday, urging anyone with knowledge of vaccine distributors charging to call 914-813-5000 and report it. To cover all bases, the governor on Friday directed the Department of Financial Services to extend emergency regulations requiring all health insurers to waive co-pays for the vaccine through the month.
Nationally, the FBI launched an investigation of fake COVID Passports being offered online to anyone looking to evade restrictions on the unvaccinated—for a price, of course. Separately, 45 states Attorneys General issued a joint letter to the CEOs of Twitter, Shopify and eBay, warningthem that their sites have been used to sell fraudulent COVID-19 vaccine cards, bearing the CDC logo.
The debate over the ethics and fairness of COVID Passports, which New York offers through its Excelsior Pass as a way to screen for risk at large gathering and on public transportation, is only just beginning and will intensify as the country opens up while the virus is till among us.