BUFFALO — Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday she’ll be taking whatever steps are necessary to control the COVID pandemic but won’t be micromanaging the war on COVID.
Instead, she’ll support state and local public health agencies and caregivers as they do the work they’ve trained to do.
It was a distinct split from her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, who tried to control as closely as possible nearly every aspect of the pandemic response in New York. Hochul has been setting a markedly different tone from Cuomo in her first week in office, and she also doesn’t have the emergency powers that he wielded for the first year of the pandemic.
Later Tuesday, she convened an extraordinary session of the state Legislature starting Wednesday to address several matters, most of them COVID-related:
- Finding a way to continue some sort of pandemic eviction moratorium within the parameters of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s attempt to extend such a moratorium;
- Getting financial assistance rolling to landlords who suffered amid the eviction moratorium;
- Amending the Open Meeting law to allow public entities to continue the pandemic-inspired remote meeting model; and
- Putting appointees in place to start codifying the legal marijuana industry in New York.
Speaking at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine on Tuesday, Hochul praised the people who have been fighting COVID hands-on for 18 months:
“One of the takeaways I had from being in the trenches with you is that I understand there is a role for state government and there’s a role for local governments, and I’m prepared to transition quickly as we are now fighting this new wave, this Delta variant, which is brutal.”
She alluded to the confused start to the public vaccination campaign in late 2020, when Cuomo took control of the process from county health departments that had trained for more than a decade for just such an emergency mass-vaccination effort.
“I know that all of your local health departments have been preparing for this. This is what you do,” Hochul said. “I will not be micromanaging, but I’ll be giving guidance based on your input … I will not be imposing state people and locations on all of you without consultation.”
She said she’d make $65 million available to local departments of health to administer booster shots of the vaccine.
The governor said she’s willing to make tough decisions — such as her mask mandate for schoolchildren — and said she’s looking for legally viable ways to expand vaccine mandates at schools and healthcare facilities in New York.
Hochul said the arrival in New York this summer of the more-virulent Delta variant makes it critical that more people in the general population get vaccinated. Only 60% of all New Yorkers and 71% of New York adults are fully vaccinated.
A first-of-its kind study by the state Department of Health on new COVID infections in fully vaccinated people was released in mid-August. It showed that from May through July, the number of breakthrough infections gradually increased, though it did not attempt to determine whether that was due to vaccines losing their potency over time or people increasing their risky behavior.
The study also noted, and Hochul noted Tuesday, that the vaccine seems to not lose its ability to prevent infection accompanied by severe symptoms.
“Hospitals are filled up with the unvaccinated,” she said.
Judging the situation locally is complicated by the fact that the state and some counties don’t highlight information on breakout cases as they make their daily COVID reports to the public.
Those that do provide data on breakout infections don’t always provide it every day and don’t use a standardized format.
For example, only five of the eight Capital Region counties provided data on breakthrough infections Tuesday, and those five presented it three different ways:
- Albany County said 44% of the 27 residents currently hospitalized with COVID were fully vaccinated.
- Rensselaer County said 42% of 12 residents currently hospitalized with COVID were fully vaccinated.
- Saratoga County said Tuesday that 44.3% of county residents with confirmed new COVID infections in the last week had been fully vaccinated.
- Warren County said seven of 24 new infections confirmed Monday were breakthrough infections but 192 of 204 known breakthrough infections in the county to date did not result in hospitalization.
- Washington County said six of 16 new infections confirmed Monday were breakthrough infections but 77 of 80 known breakthrough infections in the county to date did not result in hospitalization.
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