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Cuomo hopes virus spike is an aberration 

Matt Ryan New York Now

New York state’s positivity rate for the coronavirus jumped to 8.3%, according to the latest numbers released Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The news comes as the state continues its vaccine rollout and the governor is withholding scheduled pay raises for all state elected officials.

After the positivity rate hovered around 5.5% for several days, Cuomo said it was 8.33% on Sunday. He said the numbers could be an aberration, because about 100,000 fewer New Yorkers received test results on Dec. 27.

He speculated that before Christmas, there was a boom in healthy people seeking tests before visiting friends or relatives. Now that has ended, and he said perhaps the smaller number of people seeking tests after the holiday were exhibiting virus-related symptoms.

“So the sample is artificially skewed,” Cuomo said. “The number of positive cases didn’t go up. It’s that the number of people being tested went down by almost half.”

Cuomo said a more accurate picture will emerge after more tests are conducted over the next few days.

Health experts expect another surge of the virus after the holidays are over. At the same time, the state continues to administer more vaccines. The governor said the list of those eligible will be expanded this week to urgent care center employees; ambulance staff, including EMTs; and New Yorkers who live at residential centers for the developmentally disabled. Also on the priority list are those who are administering the vaccine.

Cuomo said a criminal investigation is continuing into potential fraud at an Orange County health care center, ParCare Community Health Network. It’s accused of violating state guidelines and giving the vaccine to people who are not on the priority list.

Dr. Howard Zucker, the state’s health commissioner, said the company may have misrepresented itself as a qualified vaccine distributor when applying to the health department to receive the vaccines.

Zucker said the company also may also have violated state rules and moved the vaccines to other locations that were not approved for distribution.

“And then they gave it to people who were not on the priority list,” Zucker said.

The company denies that it did anything wrong.

Cuomo is issuing an executive order that would fine a health care provider up to $1 million for committing vaccine-related fraud. Nurses, doctors and other health care professionals who participate in any fraudulent schemes could lose their licenses to practice medicine.

In addition to challenges related to the coronavirus and vaccine distribution, the state continues to face a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The state’s economy has been weakened by the pandemic-related shutdown, and the unemployment rate is high. As a result, the governor is rescinding scheduled pay raises for statewide elected officials, including himself, as well as for state commissioners and agency heads. He said it’s not the right time for a salary increase.

“It’s no reflection on what these commissioners have done,” Cuomo said. “They’ve probably worked harder this past year and performed better than any commissioner in their position, frankly, in decades. There has been no test like this test for a government official.”

Cuomo first said in November that he would halt the planned raises in light of the budget deficit. Under the executive order, the state’s lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general will also not receive planned raises.