ALBANY — New York will enlist in a coronavirus initiative designed to have the federal government manage the task of vaccinating residents of nursing homes and their employees.

“Nursing homes and high risk health care workers are up at the top of the list of prioritized people to get the vaccine,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a pandemic briefing.

The first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to arrive in New York on Dec. 15.

Cuomo, after stoking public skepticism toward the federal vaccination approval process before the Nov. 3 election, has shifted in his view of the medication, calling it “the weapon that will win the war” against COVID-19.

Nationwide, Pfizer and a second pharmaceutical giant, Moderna, are expected to ship 40 million doses by month’s end throughout the country. Since each recipient needs two doses, that supply is expected to cover 20 million persons.

By joining the federal program for immunizing nursing home residents, the state government is expecting it will be in a better position to focus its efforts on getting the vaccine to “high risk” health care workers.

Of the state’s roughly 700,000 health care workers, about one-third face substantial risk from infectious diseases, Cuomo said.

“Within the next two weeks we should have enough vaccines to vaccinate about one-third of that one-third, if the federal government delivers as they say they will,” he said.

Federal officials, meanwhile, expect the contagion to infect hundreds of thousands of more people over the next three months.

New York’s coronavirus positivity rate from testing stood at 5.4% statewide Friday. Western New York was the region with the highest rate — 7.4%. It was followed by: Finger Lakes (6.6%); Central New York (5.7%); Mohawk Valley (5.7%); Mid Hudson (5.4%); Long Island (4.8%); North Country (4.2%); Capital Region (4.1%); New York City (3.8%); and Southern Tier (2.75%).

As of Friday, because of the rising number of hospital admissions due to the coronavirus, elective surgeries were suspended in Erie County. Cuomo said of the state’s 53,000 hospital beds, about 35,000 are now occupied by patients being treated for a wide range of illnesses and injuries.

Expanding the shutdown of elective procedures is an option “we will exercise if we need to,” Cuomo said.

As for the capacity of intensive care units statewide, about 60% of the total 6,000 beds in this section are now occupied. California this week implemented new stay-at-home mandates for regions where less than 15% of ICU beds are open.

Cuomo called it “good news” that New York is not coming close to overwhelming the intensive care wards.

In another New York pandemic development, retail giant Walmart, a major employer in numerous upstate counties, announced it is paying $15.5 million in bonuses to its New York workers.

The bonus payments include $6.8 million to New York employees in their Nov. 25 paychecks and an additional $8.8 million that will go to workers Dec. 24.

The company reported its third quarter profits increased 56%.

While many mall-based department stores had to remain closed for weeks due to pandemic restrictions, Walmart was deemed essential by state officials, allowing it to keep all of its stores open, while its online sales surged this year.

Walmart reported that all of its U.S. employees will be eligible for the bonus.

The company said part-time and temporary hourly associates will receive $150 and full-time hourly associates will receive $300. More than 60% of Walmart’s hourly associates are full-time, the company said.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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