ALBANY — The state Department of Health on Monday directed all healthcare workers in New York state be vaccinated against COVID within six weeks.
The new order is widest-reaching yet in a series of mandates that so far have been piecemeal: A few dozen at a particular business or a few thousand at a local hospital, 10,000 perhaps in a particular system.
The July 28 mandate that all state employees be vaccinated affects a large labor pool but was not a full mandate: State employees can opt for weekly testing instead of a shot.
The DOH said roughly 450,000 employees at hospitals alone would be subject to Monday’s order, and roughly 180,000 more at residential care facilities for the elderly. About 75% of the hospital employees statewide and about 68% of nursing home facilities already have been vaccinated, DOH said.
Monday’s announcement is not, technically, a direct mandate: It is an order for healthcare facilities to develop and implement a vaccination mandate.
“While we have made tremendous progress in getting New Yorkers vaccinated, this pandemic is far from over and more must be done,” state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a news release. “This mandate will both help close the vaccination gap and reduce the spread of the Delta variant.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said more is needed — he has urged public school districts to mandate staff vaccination and private businesses to deny entrance to unvaccinated patrons – but said Monday that neither is likely to become a widespread practice without a legally binding mandate, which he lacks authority to impose.
The deadline for the first shot under Monday’s order is Sept. 27. Most other deadlines announced so far have been in September or October.
One of the earlier deadlines in the Capital Region was at Union College: Any staff member not vaccinated by Sunday, Aug. 15, would be placed on unpaid furlough for 30 days, then terminated if they didn’t get vaccinated in the interim.
Spokesman Phil Wajda on Monday said fewer than 10 people failed to get vaccinated, all of them temporary, contract or seasonal employees. They’re no longer working for the college, and will need to get vaccinated if they hope to return.
“We’re very pleased that our campus community has cooperated,” he said.
THIRD SHOT AUTHORIZATION
Also Monday, the state announced that DOH has authorized immunocompromised people to receive a third COVID-19 vaccine dose at least 28 days after completion of their two-shot vaccine series, effective immediately.
This is inline with a federal CDC recommendation last week. The eligible population includes those receiving cancer treatment; those taking drugs to suppress their immune system, either as an intended effect or side effect; and those with diseases or conditions that suppress their immune response.
All would face elevated risk of COVID infection if the initial round of vaccine loses potency over time.
New Yorkers in this group were advised to consult with their health care provider about whether a third shot is advisable for them.
Monday’s announcements came amid a continuing downslide in COVID metrics statewide.
The number of COVID-positive inpatients at New York hospitals has risen almost every day for a month, from 330 July 4 to 1,722 Aug. 15.
Capital Region hospitals, which hit a peak of 553 such inpatients on Jan. 19, dropped to a low of five on July 8, but were back up to 103 on Sunday. That increase is the largest by percentage of any region in the state except the North Country, which climbed from one to 21 inpatients.
The number and percentage of positive COVID tests statewide also has increased nearly every day for a month and a half.
Statewide, 290 people tested positive on June 27 and 3,575 on Aug. 15. The seven-day average positive test rate climbed from 0.4% to 3.1% in the same period.
The Capital Region has seen some of the largest gains in this time, rising from 0.3% to 4.6% seven-day rate.
On Monday, the Capital Region ceded the highest seven-day rate to the Central New York region, which recorded 4.7% positive in the preceding seven days.
Schenectady County has the highest positive rate in the Capital Region, and one of the highest in the state: 6.1%.
Neighboring Montgomery and Schoharie counties are even higher: 7.9% and 6.4%.
Other positive county-level test rates in the past seven days: Albany 4.4%, Fulton 4.6%, Rensselaer 4.5% and Saratoga 4.4%.
Meanwhile, as the Delta variant of COVID spreads rapidly and infects more people, the statewide vaccination effort has regained a little of the momentum it lost in late spring.
More than 309,000 doses of vaccine were administered in the seven days through midday Monday, compared with some weeks in early summer in the 250,000 range.
But earlier this year, when willing recipients were lined up, the single-day total in New York state was sometimes in the 250,000 range.
Vaccine is now widely available for free with no appointment, but most of those who haven’t already gotten the shot don’t want it or aren’t eligible to get it.
Across New York state, 65.2% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. In the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley region, that rate ranges from 70.8% in Schenectady County to 45.6% in Fulton County.
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