ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul held a press conference to provide a statewide COVID-19 update. She included new mask mandates for child and daycare centers, vaccine initiatives, and a new policy that will allow EMTs to administer vaccine and booster shots.
On the numbers, Hochul said that positivity remains around 3% statewide. “There have been a number of developments, but basically, we’re not in foreign territory. We’ve been down this path before,” she said. Her administration is working with local leaders from areas with high positivity rates—like in the Capital Region and North Country, both over 5%.
“It’s painful for everyone,” Hochul opined on continued deaths. Even so, “We are still in good shape” regarding hospital availability, she said, with last year’s surge capacity plan still in effect in case numbers increase. “They’re ready,” she said of the state’s hospitals. “This will not be new to them.”
Hochul highlighted the fact that on public transit, ridership is up, setting new records for the COVID-era. “These are not the records we would have hit in the past,” she said. “Numbers keep trending upward, particularly as there have been more vaccine mandates,” the governor said.
Along the lines of mandates, Hochul announced a new one for masks. They are now required at child care and daycare centers, inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities, substance abuse services, and other state-regulated residential and congregate day programs. The new policy says all staff and visitors must be masked, as well as all children aged 2 and up.
Officials from the governor’s office say these mask requirements will apply to all regardless of vaccination status. “With the Delta variant on the rise, requiring masks at state-regulated child care, mental health, and substance abuse facilities is a key part of our broader strategy for slowing the spread of the virus, reopening our economy safely, and protecting vulnerable members of our population,” Hochul said. “For children under 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, masks are the best line of defense against COVID-19 infection. This new mask requirement ensures that children in our child care facilities receive the same protection as children in our schools.”
“We’re getting better, my friends, we’re getting better!” Hochul said on vaccination rates, before talking about vaccine efficacy. “I’m not sure who wants to play with that Russian Roulette,” she said in reference to being 11 times as likely to die without a vaccine.
The governor said breakthrough cases accounted for 0.6% of new cases in New York over the past seven days, and 0.04% of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide. She warned New Yorkers to be vigilant about recognizing fake news on social media.
The governor announced that 82% of New Yorkers 18 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, with 73% of that age group fully vaccinated. And she shared concerns that vaccination rates among young people were too low. “Teenagers have to be higher than those numbers,” Hochul said.
With that in mind, she introduced a new vaccine initiative targeted at young people to raise their vaccination levels. As part of the #VaxToSchool program, people who get vaccinated at a pop-up location can enter a raffle to win one of 125 tickets to the Governors Ball—a live music festival set for the weekend of September 24, featuring Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion, and 21 Savage.
“There’s something very exciting going on, known as the Governor’s Ball,” Gov. Hochul said. “I didn’t start this, but I will take full credit for it. The concert will have Billie Eilish, Post Malone, so people will have a shot at 125 tickets to come to Governor’s Ball, which is a big, big concert. A lot of excitement about that right now in the city.”
With the change to autumn around the corner, the governor offered a sobering warning:
Hochul said she has worked with Wadsworth Labs in Albany to monitor the Mu variant, which does not appear to be spreading in New York, holding consistently at a >0.5% Threshold. Still, the governor warned about remaining vigilant as the weather cools and closer congregations move indoors. On last year’s spike, she asked and answered: “What triggered it? Halloween.” But she also included a qualifier to encourage inoculations: “This was pre-vaccine.”
The governor said the state continues to prepare for the FDA approval of COVID-19 booster shots. She said that more than 8,000 active providers have already enrolled in the booster program, and that expectations are high for local health departments to handle the rollout for third shots at the eight-month mark. She said that state resources are also available to back them up, announcing a $65 million initiative to support local efforts at 200 mass vaccination sites and pop-ups.
“We’re going to have a spike [in booster demand], and I don’t want to all of a sudden address it when it becomes a problem,” Hochul said. She said there were not enough trained vaccinations, so she announced: “We’re directing the Department of Health to allow basic EMTs to administer vaccines. This is an idea that came out of our local officials—many county executives told me they would like to be able to have this ability for their local fire departments” and other responding medical personnel, she said.
The governor also lauded the reopening of venues like theatres and stadiums. On Tuesday, Broadway reopened. “I was there on the stage of ‘Phantom of the Opera. I wanted to go there because that’s where masks were first popularized,” Hochul joked.
On a more serious note, she commended sports organizations for requiring their fans to be vaccinated. “I’m asking every sports organization to follow this lead and institute a requirement that your fans be vaccinated before they attend,” Hochul said of requirements for attendees at Buffalo Bills and Sabres games. “That’s how we’ll deal with this fall vulnerability.”
Hochul took questions from reporters. On relief money for renters and landlords: “If there’s more money to be had, I’ll apply for more.”
On Tuesday, Hochul announced appointments to New York’s ethics committee, JCOPE. Asked about JCOPE, Hochul said, “What I’m going to do is turn it upside down.” She questioned the effectiveness of its scope, range, and powers, and expressed doubts that it was ever truly independent in practice. “Before I’m all done, it will be an independent organization,” she promised.
Still, with potential legal matters pending, Hochul said it would be “wildly inappropriate” to comment on JCOPE’s performance during the apparent Cuomo crisis. And with regard to rumors that she might interfere on behalf of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo:
Also on Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a state requirement that health care workers get vaccinated. This after a group of health care workers sued, saying their Constitutional rights were violated.
Judge David Hurd in Utica issued the order after 17 health professionals—including doctors and nurses—claimed their religious rights were violated. The judge gave the state until September 22 to respond to the lawsuit in federal court.
The state issued the order on August 28, requiring at least a first shot for health care workers at hospitals and nursing homes by September 27. The governor said Wednesday that the state will appeal the ruling.
“Mandates are one of the reasons that we have an increase of people getting vaccinated. Yes, there will be some individuals who will try to defy this. There will be court decisions that we’ll appeal,” she said. “It’s the smart thing to do. We have to continue the mandates.”
Regarding the federal judge’s ruling, a statement from the governor’s press secretary Wednesday said:
“Gov. Hochul is doing everything in her power to protect New Yorkers and combat the Delta variant by increasing vaccine rates across the State. Requiring vaccination of health care workers is critical to this battle. This order does not suspend the vaccine mandate, but it temporarily bars the Department of Health from enforcing the mandate where individuals have claims for religious exemption. We are considering all of our legal options to keep our communities safe.”
Some hospitals have publicized growing concerns that they may face staffing shortages. The industry is already stressed after a year and a half of a pandemic. But if that’s the case, the governor said, the state will send resources. “I’ll be there to help with the Department of Health,” she said. “We’ll be on it. I’m not going to let this be a problem for the state of New York.”
She said that hospitals are required to have temporary staffing plans, and that the possibility of having such large amounts of health care providers go unvaccinated—and resign over mandates—was frightening. “I’m pleading with them to understand that this is not meant to be dictatorial. It’s meant to save lives,” she said.
Hochul was asked whether religious exemptions—the issue behind the block—should be allowed when there is a public health emergency. “We left that off in our regulations intentionally,” she said, but: “I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any religious organization.” She reminded New Yorkers that “Everyone from the pope on down” encourages vaccinations.
Finally, Hochul did not comment directly on whether she would offer an official apology in the matter of the Attica prison uprising, which happened 50 years ago this week. She said she would have private conversations with people affected, saying she witnessed the trials in person as an intern.
“We have had a lot of outreach with everyone affected by this, and it is a sad day for all of us to remember what happened 50 years ago.”