The Detectives' Endowment Association maintains Governor Cuomo's putting on hold Mayor de Blasio's plan to inoculate its members with the COVID-19 vaccine shows he is unaware of the risks its members face when they visit homes where individuals have died from the highly contagious virus.
In a Jan. 7 phone interview, union President Paul DiGiacomo said from the early days of the pandemic his members performed their legally required in-person review of thousands of home deaths, which included interviewing family members who were at an elevated risk of infection.
6 Detectives Died
"Our Detectives were the most-affected in the police force in that we lost six Detectives, five of the six with young children, and we have one in critical condition as we speak, with dozens who were hospitalized," he said. "And remember, we are always in close contact with crime victims, interviewing them while standing next to doctors and nurses who have been vaccinated when our members have not been."
The Governor announced that police officers were among those who could receive the vaccine starting Jan. 11.
At his Jan. 6 press conference, Mr. de Blasio announced plans to expand the vaccination program by inoculating 10,000 NYPD officers by Jan. 9, in compliance with Albany's guidance to expand access to the vaccine beyond health-care workers in hospital settings to include correction officers and NYPD officers, who are frequently called upon to provide first aid.
"We want to make sure that all of these front-line workers, folks who work directly with everyday New Yorkers, folks who do things like having to perform CPR or working in very close proximity," he told reporters.
Hours later, the Governor told reporters that the city's plan to expand eligibility was not in compliance with the state guidance because "police who are not health-care workers are not yet eligible."
Not Enough to Go Around
He noted that the state had received only 900,000 doses of the vaccine, well shy of enough for the 1A category, which includes the 2.1 million health-care professionals working in hospitals and nursing homes.
Public health experts maintain that to be successful in controlling the spread of the virus, between 70 and 85 percent of a population has to be inoculated.
The New York Post reported that later that afternoon the NYPD sent out an advisory that "COVID-19 vaccinations are not available for members of the service. Members will be updated on any developments regarding the department's COVID-19 vaccination roll-out."
The following day, Peter Ajemian, Mr. Cuomo's Communications Director, insisted that agencies strictly limit the vaccine to hospital workers.
"The rules of the COVID vaccine distribution have been clear for many weeks and agreed to by virtually all credible federal and state leaders," he said in a statement. "With the increasing hospitalization rates, the new UK strain spread and hospital staff shortages, keeping hospitals functioning is essential to avoid another shutdown."
Knowing CPR Not Enough
Mr. Ajemian continued, "Police are not 'health-care workers' for 1A purposes except those who are EMS or EMT. As everyone knows, virtually every police officer is trained in CPR, but that does not make them a 'health-care worker' for the purpose of vaccine distribution."
According to the Cuomo administration, its plan "will not allow 1B to commence only with police; it also includes teachers, firefighters and other essential workers as well as 75+ year-old New Yorkers—all eligible at the same time."
On his Jan. 7 press call, the Governor continued to highlight what he said was the city's lagging performance. Albany estimates it had administered just 144,000 of the 304,000 doses it got starting in December.
Earlier in the day, Mr. de Blasio told reporters he would consult with the city's Corporation Counsel about his options.
"I said, we've got a plan to get to 10,000 police officers by Sunday," he said. "The state said you can't do that. I don't find that acceptable. Clearly, we're trying to respect state law. But you know, if they put forward a broad definition, we're going to take that definition and try and be as open as we can with it to reach people. But we're being told explicitly, that's a violation of law."
Makes Detectives' Case
The Mayor said Detectives had a compelling case for being included in the first round. "I think the answer is yes that any Detective, any officer who's in that kind of intimate setting where the disease has been present, of course, I want them vaccinated," he said. "I want to protect them, and it doesn't make any sense to me that we're not allowed to, according to state law."
Health Commissioner David Chokshi said triaging who gets the vaccine meant evaluating both the "risk of exposure as well as risk of severe outcomes."
"You know, the risk of severe outcomes is one of the reasons that we really do want to move as quickly as possible to vaccinate older New Yorkers, particularly those above the age of 75," Dr. Chokshi said. "But the risk of exposure is the reason that we are vaccinating our health-care workers [and] also our funeral workers, those emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and other parts of our first-responder services who do have that greater risk of exposure. And I think that captures the example [of NYPD Detectives] that you're describing as well."
Early in the pandemic, the unions representing workers responsible for processing in-home deaths flagged the lack of testing for themselves and the corpses they were required to handle as a major issue.
Who Plays Role
Emergency Medical Technicians, NYPD Detectives, Police Officers, Medicolegal Investigators, Morgue Technicians and drivers assigned to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner all play a role in handling and processing at-home deaths.
The National Guard had to step in to help pick up the bodies to reduce a massive backlog, because funeral directors had been operating at capacity for weeks.
At the peak of the first wave, The New York Times reported the OCME had to establish 45 mobile morgues.
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