ALBANY — Hours after taking the oath of office, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday outlined a COVID strategy that includes masks for everyone who steps into a public or private school building.
She also said she’d work toward mandating vaccination or weekly testing for everybody that works in a school, and said $585 million would be allocated to establish a new Testing in Schools Program.
“Later this week I will announce a series of school-related policies that will be concise and consistent, giving the school districts what they have been asking for,” Hochul said, a marked contrast to the state’s refusal to provide any guidance in the waning days of the Cuomo administration.
For the general public, Hochul will launch a renewed push for vaccination against COVID-19 and will prepare a program to deliver booster shots to the 11.5 million fully vaccinated New Yorkers. She also said the state would reopen mass vaccination sites if need be — the virus has killed 628,000 Americans and is surging again. While New York is not the hardest-hit state, it is in a worse position than it was just two months ago.
“Your priorities are my priorities — and right now that means fighting the Delta variant,” the new governor said. “None of us want to see a rerun of last year’s horrors with COVID-19. Therefore we will take proactive steps to prevent that from happening.”
Hochul hinted at further mandates: “With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements. More on that soon.”
Hochul is enjoying a wave of good will from people who didn’t like Cuomo and/or his policies and/or his manner of governing. But divisions remain.
The state Assembly’s Republican leader responded to Hochul’s announcements with a message both congratulatory and cautionary:
“I would strongly urge Gov. Hochul to learn from the mistakes we witnessed over the course of the pandemic,” Minority Leader Will Barclay said. “New Yorkers do not need an extension of the heavy-handed, blanket mandates that used a one-size-fits-all approach and virtually eliminated all local decision-making authority.”
Others, such as the state teachers union, also offered caveats with their applause.
“Gov. Kathy Hochul brings a breath of fresh air to Albany, and she already is taking decisive action to bolster health and safety in our schools,” NYSUT said in a statement that also called for teacher involvement in vaccine mandates, a potentially prickly area for organized labor.
Hochul also promised immediate action to clear a logjam on Emergency Rental Assistance, which is federal relief for renters who’ve been unable to pay rent and landlords who haven’t been paid rent through the pandemic. The money filters through the state, which has been extremely slow to distribute it.
“I want the money out — and I want it out now. No more excuses and delays,” Hochul said. “We are forming a real partnership with legislators, the city of New York, other cities and counties to get the job done. I am hiring more staff to process applications immediately. I am also assigning a top team to identify and remove any barriers that remain.”
She pledged a similar boost to the Excluded Workers Fund, a state subsidy offered to undocumented immigrants who didn’t qualify for other forms of COVID relief because they are not in the United States legally. That program also has been slow to disburse money.
“The money is there, and these people were just as impacted by COVID and need help now,” Hochul said.
In other COVID-related news:
- All Capital Region colleges and Universities have implemented vaccine mandates for students. Some, most notably SUNY schools, were waiting for FDA approval of one of the three vaccines that has received emergency authorization for use in the United States, which happened Monday. Others, such as Union College, had instituted mandates previously.
- Schenectady County Public Health Services announced it has begun offering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine to people who have limited immune systems and previously received both shots of either Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. This protocol was approved by the FDA earlier this month. The boosters will be administered at all county-run vaccination sites. No referral or doctor’s note is needed to receive the booster, but recipients should bring their vaccination card.
- Some 85.3% of adult Schenectady County residents have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, the second-highest rate in the state after 86.3% in Nassau County.
- The seven-day average positive COVID test rate is 3.1% statewide, 4.2% in the Capital Region and 3.9% in the neighboring Mohawk Valley. Individual counties’ positive rates include Albany, 3.9%; Fulton 6.1%; Montgomery 5.9%; Rensselaer, 4.4%; Saratoga 4.7%; Schenectady, 4.8%; and Schoharie, 3.6%.
- Four out of 11 COVID-related deaths reported statewide Monday were in the Capital Region — one each in Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Washington counties.
- Statewide, 2,103 COVID-positive people were hospitalized, the most since early May 7; 127 of them were admitted to Capital Region hospitals, compared with a low point of five on July 8.
- A contiguous group of counties showed the three highest single-day positive rates in the state Monday: Montgomery 13.2%, Hamilton 15.8% and Fulton 18.9%. Adjoining Herkimer County was sixth-highest in the state at 10.0%. The combined total in the four counties was 60 positives. Seven-day averages are a better barometer of the pandemic’s activity, as they smooth out one-day spikes.
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