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Cuomo asks Trump for help on potential COVID-19 vaccine 

Governor Cuomo's office

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has written a letter on behalf of all the states’ governors asking President Donald Trump to form a clear plan on how to administer a COVID-19 vaccine when that day comes.

Cuomo, who is head of the National Governors Association, wrote a letter to Trump, asking that the president hold a meeting with the country's governors to talk about how to make sure a national vaccination campaign is “implemented smoothly and efficiently." 

The letter is cosigned by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the Republican vice president of the association. It says the states need “guidance and clarification” on what specific roles the federal government and state governments will play in administering and distributing the vaccine.

The governors also want to know about funding to help pay for mass vaccinations and how a vaccine supply chain would function. Cuomo said it’s “clear that the states will not be able to do it on their own." 

“It is a massive, monumental undertaking, and if you listen to the White House, it could be just a matter of weeks away,” said Cuomo, who added distribution will be complicated and expensive. 

The governor said he’s also concerned that anti-vaxxers, who opposed the measles vaccine in recent years, might also be against a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“You’ll have a group of people saying, ‘We aren’t taking the vaccine,’ ” Cuomo predicted. “That means you’ll have ongoing small flare-ups of COVID.”

Cuomo said he hopes to hear back from the White House soon. He said the virus has been one step ahead of the nation ever since the pandemic began, and he said it’s time the country caught up.

The governor has already set up a New York state-based task force to independently evaluate any vaccine recommendations that the federal Food and Drug Administration might make.

One day later, the White House responded.  In a letter, Douglas Hoelscher, assistant to the President and director of intergovernmental affairs, wrote that he and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar “look forward to any further collaboration” on implementing a vaccine program . He also says the federal government has already provided an “historic amount of resources and technical support” to states, and is prioritizing the vaccine implementation program knows as Operation Warp Speed.

In the letter, Hoelscher points out that there have already been 39 separate briefings with the nation’s governors since the pandemic began, including an in-depth briefing in early September, as well as three other briefings in September and October, on vaccine distribution and administration.  

Hoelscher says Cuomo has missed  the last 17 of those briefings.

Cuomo also announced that he is sending 200,000 testing kits to schools surrounding designated coronavirus hot spots in New York City and in Orange and Rockland counties, to find out if the virus is contained in the cluster areas or if it might be spreading further.

“We've asked local governments to do testing in those schools in the ‘yellow zones,’ they're basically buffer zones,” Cuomo said. 

Data from Wednesday shows the number of positive cases in the red zones at just under 5% (4.84%), compared to 6.2% on Tuesday. But the governor said it’s too soon to think about easing school and business shutdowns and lifting limits on large gatherings.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.