New York

Vaccine mandated for some N.Y. state employees, others can opt for testing

GOVERNOR'S OFFICEGov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Wednesday at a virtual meeting.
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GOVERNOR'S OFFICE

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Wednesday at a virtual meeting.

ALBANY — With COVID infections on the upswing in much of New York, all state employees will be mandated to vaccinate by Labor Day or start being tested weekly.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the order Wednesday and urged local governments to mandate vaccination for their employees, as well. He also said employees at state-owned hospitals who interact with non-employees will not have the option of testing — all of them must get the vaccine.

Many public employees are unionized, and Cuomo said his administration is working with their unions to implement his order quickly and fairly.

The largest of the unions, CSEA issued a statement Wednesday supporting Cuomo’s decision, saying a similar edict in the SUNY system has proved effective.

Another large state employees union, the New York State Public Employees Federation, neither embraced nor criticized the directive but said such policies must be negotiated and be part of a strategy that includes other steps.

Cuomo on Wednesday said the Food and Drug Administration has the ability to put more weight behind a vaccine mandate.

“I also encourage the FDA to issue final approval of the vaccine,” he said. “This vaccine right now is under something called emergency use authorization. Under emergency use authorization states are limited as to what they can mandate. Once the vaccine is finally approved, then the state has more legal authority to mandate the vaccine.”

NUMBERS IN FLUX

Cuomo’s partial mandate comes as the number of vaccine doses administered per day has sharply declined, both in New York and nationwide. Barely 26,000 people got jabbed in New York on Tuesday, a fraction of the daily average three months ago. 

Some 74.8% of the state’s adult population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 69.3% nationwide.

Meanwhile, the number of new infections confirmed each day, while still small, is increasing substantially. The statewide positive test rate for the previous seven days was 2.0% Tuesday, compared with 0.4% a month ago. 

There were 290 new infections recorded on June 27 and 2,203 new infections on July 27.

The Capital Region has the highest seven-day positive test average among the state’s 10 regions, at 2.9%. It also has the three highest county-level positive rates in the state: Greene (5.5%), Saratoga (4.0%) and Schenectady (3.1%). 

The seven-day average is a better measure of the spread of disease than the single-day average, because it smooths out one-day spikes, but a large positive rate does not necessarily indicate a large number of infections.

Just 108 positive test results were recorded Tuesday in the eight-county Capital Region, home to more than 1 million people.

Also Wednesday, Schenectady County reported a COVID fatality for the first time since June 6 — a woman in her 80s.

The federal Centers for Disease Control this week urged Americans in areas with high infection rates to start wearing face coverings again, and suggested children in schools mask up as well.

Cuomo said Wednesday: “The state is going to do a full review of the CDC guidance. … If the numbers continue to go up the way they’re going up, I think school districts in those affected areas should strongly consider taking a more aggressive action — and it will be hard and I understand the politics but I also understand if we don’t take the right actions, schools can become super spreaders in September.”

MANDATE RESPONSE

The vaccination mandate Cuomo announced Wednesday and urged local governments to impose drew mixed response. Here are some examples:

“CSEA supports the Governor’s vaccine-or-test policy. New York has come a long way in overcoming COVID-19 together and we cannot slide backwards now or we put our members, workers, our families, children and all of us at greater risk. We need to continue to be diligent in protecting everyone in New York against COVID and this helps accomplish that.” — Mary E. Sullivan CSEA president 

“PEF encourages our members to be vaccinated. … We agree with other unions that a vaccination mandate must be bargained between labor and management. In addition, PEF recognizes that both public and private employers have the right to require COVID testing, but any testing of state employees must not put the health of our members at risk. PEF will continue to advocate for increased telecommuting where possible and strict COVID protocols in the workplace.” — Wayne Spence, PEF president

“We have had a very high vaccination rate in Schenectady. I’m still encouraging everyone to get the vaccine. We are continuing to monitor infection rates and will act accordingly.” — Gary McCarthy, Schenectady mayor

“I absolutely do not support mandatory vaccination for our county employees. I just don’t think the environment and experience we’ve had justifies a vaccination mandate.” — Matthew Ossenfort, Montgomery County executive

“From the onset of the pandemic, Albany County has followed science and data when handling its COVID-19 response. We continue to follow the CDC recommendations and guidelines. We are also evaluating the percentage of the county workforce that is vaccinated before making any determinations.” — Prepared statement, Albany County

“Schenectady County continues to review the governor’s state employee policy, and will move forward with what we determine is best for the health and safety of our workforce and those we serve.” — Prepared statement, Schenectady County

“The Governor’s Office did not notify any of the state unions of this action and it is our understanding they didn’t even notify agency commissioners of it. Our initial reaction is this is a unilateral change in the terms and conditions of our employment and is arguably a violation of the NYS Taylor Law. We contacted our attorneys who are exploring legal options and we also reached out to other state unions on this to consider joint actions.” — Police Benevolent Association of New York State

“Because today’s directives from the governor — particularly mandatory vaccinations for our front-facing health care workers at SUNY’s public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse — would change the terms and conditions of employment for our members, they must be negotiated with UUP before they are imposed. UUP is willing to negotiate the implementation of the governor’s directives. … Our union believes that all people who are physically able should be inoculated against COVID-19.” —  Frederick E. Kowal, United University Professions president

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