In the next few days, an important decision needs to be made at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue, one that we have not yet discussed here on Pinstripe Alley. No, it doesn’t have to do with the battle for the fifth rotation spot, or the Jay Bruce opt-out — it has nothing to do with roster construction, in fact. Rather, it has to do with something far more important: the fate of the mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium.
Back on February 3rd, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a partnership between the the New York Yankees, SOMOS Community Care, and the New York National Guard had made it possible to open up a mass vaccination site at Yankee Stadium, open to residents of the Bronx. Opening on Friday, February 5th, the site had 15,000 appointments in its first week, a number that has since increased in recent weeks as vaccine production ramped up. Along with the Javits Center and the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, the Stadium became one of the state’s primary administers of the first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, temporarily becoming a 24/7 operation to accommodate the increased supply.
When the Stadium vaccine site was first opened, the Bronx desperately needed a dedicated mass vaccination site. As the government statement mentioned, the Bronx saw the highest positivity rates in New York City, and at the time, there were comparatively few places to get the vaccine in the city’s Black and Latino communities. Additionally, the Bronx is fairly far from the city’s other mass vaccination site: a quick Google Maps search shows that the average drive from Yankee Stadium to the Javits Center takes between 20 and 55 minutes, while the Citi Field, Medgar Evers College, and York College sites are in Brooklyn and Queens.
As this map of percent of positive tests by ZIP code shows, taken from the NYC Department of Health COVID-19 page last night, that need has not changed.
Although the Bronx no longer has the highest concentration of dark-red areas on the map — that belongs to Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn and Queens — it is far from being in the clear. As this second map shows, the highest rates of hospitalization from the virus are still in the Bronx.
If that weren’t enough, even with the site at Yankee Stadium exclusively serving Bronx residents, the borough is lagging behind in vaccination rates.
The whole reason that Yankee Stadium was selected to be a vaccination site was to reduce the positivity rate in the Bronx and increase the speed at which its residents were vaccinated. That task is still incomplete, though a curveball is now being thrown into the equation — the imminent start of the baseball season, which begins in exactly one week.
Now that the season is about to start and the stadium is about to be used for its intended purpose again, one might expect some sort of communication from the state about the future status of the mass vaccination site. Will it continue operations, be open only on days in which no game will be played, or cease operations entirely? However, there has been no formal acknowledgement of the impending complication to the site’s operations.
It’s not like the Yankees are the only team that has to deal with this, either: Citi Field, Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, the Oakland Coliseum, Marlins Park, PNC Park, Coors Field, Minute Maid Park, and Globe Life Field have all operated as vaccination sites in their cities. Some of them, such as PNC Park in Pittsburgh and Coors Field in Denver, have primarily served as short-term vaccination clinics, and thus do not need to worry about the logistics of a daily-operating site. Others, such as Petco Park and Minute Maid Park, have shut down, in both instances due to a shortage of vaccine doses (although the impending season did have some impact on the former).
A report from two weeks ago states that the Dodgers did not anticipate home games having any effect on the vaccination site; the team, however, has yet to make a formal announcement on the subject, even as it posted its reopening plans yesterday. In fact, of those still operating, only the Fenway Park site has said anything, as they announced earlier this month that the Fenway Park site would be moving to its permanent home in the Hynes Convention Center on March 27th.
The Yankee Stadium vaccination site has helped New York make great strides in the battle against the COVID-19 virus, but its days in operation may or may not be numbered. While everybody involved should try to do whatever is in their power to keep the site open to at least some degree, at this stage, it’s more important that the state has a plan going forward. The clock is ticking towards Opening Day and the beginning of baseball, and to the outside observer, it seems that nobody in the position to make these important public health decisions is noticing.