Hochul’s statewide COVID update: Masks, vaccines, and incentives

State News

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, vaccine initiatives, and qualifications to administer vaccine doses.

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 day care centers, inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities, substance abuse services, and other state-regulated residential and congregate day programs.

“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. She warned New Yorkers to be vigilant about recognizing fake news on social media. “We need to shut that down.”

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 be entered to win 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.

With the change to autumn around the corner, the governor offered a sobering warning:

“If you know people who are not vaccinated, persuade them that it is not going to be fun to spend the winter on a ventilator.”

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.”

Hochul identified a problem with vaccination administrations, saying there were not enough trained vaccinators. She announced that she has directed the Department of Health to allow EMTs to administer vaccines.

“Many county executives told me they would like to have this ability for their local fire departments” and other responding medical personnel, she said.

Hochul also addressed booster shots, saying that expectations are high for local health departments to handle the rollout for added 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 mass vax sites and popups.

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.

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:

“It’s well known that we have not been close. And what is my interest in doing so?”

Also on Tuesday, a federal judge temporarily blocked a state requirement that health care workers get vaccinated.

“It’s the smart thing to do. We have to continue the mandates,” Hochul said. Some hospitals have publicized growing concerns that they may face staffing shortages. 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 lies.”

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.”

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