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New York may tap National Guard to replace unvaccinated healthcare workers

FILE PHOTO: An ambulance arrives at the emergency entrance outside Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., April 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Governor Kathy Hochul is considering employing the National Guard and out-of-state medical workers to fill hospital staffing shortages with tens of thousands of workers possibly losing their jobs for not meeting a Monday deadline for mandated COVID-19 vaccination.

The plan, outlined in a statement from Hochul on Saturday, would allow her to declare a state of emergency to increase the supply of healthcare workers to include licensed professionals from other states and countries as well as retired nurses.

Hochul said the state was also looking at using National Guard officers with medical training to keep hospitals and other medical facilities adequately staffed. Some 16% of the state’s 450,000 hospital staff, or roughly 72,000 workers, have not been fully vaccinated, the governor’s office said.

The plan comes amid a broader battle between state and federal government leaders pushing for vaccine mandates to help counter the highly infectious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus and workers who are against inoculation requirements, some objecting on religious grounds.

Hochul attended the Sunday service at a large church in New York City to ask Christians to help promote vaccines.

“I need you to be my apostles. I need you to go out and talk about it and say, we owe this to each other,” Hochul told congregants at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, according to an official transcript.

“Jesus taught us to love one another and how do you show that love but to care about each other enough to say, please get the vaccine because I love you and I want you to live.”

Healthcare workers who are fired for refusing to get vaccinated will not be eligible for unemployment insurance unless they are able to provide a valid doctor-approved request for medical accommodation, Hochul’s office said.

It was not immediately clear how pending legal cases concerning religious exemptions would apply to the state’s plan to move ahead and terminate unvaccinated healthcare workers.

A federal judge in Albany temporarily ordered New York state officials to allow religious exemptions for the state-imposed vaccine mandate on healthcare workers, which was put in place by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and takes effect on Monday.

A requirement for New York City school teachers and staff to get vaccinated was temporarily blocked by a U.S. appeals court just days before it was to take effect. A hearing is set for Wednesday.

The highly transmissible Delta variant has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the United States that peaked in early September and has since fallen, according to a Reuters tally. Deaths, a lagging indicator, continue to rise with the nation reporting about 2,000 lives lost on average a day for the past week, mostly in the unvaccinated.

While nationally cases are down about 25% from their autumn peak, rising new infections in New York have only recently leveled off, according to a Reuters tally.

In an attempt to better protect the most vulnerable, the CDC on Friday backed a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for Americans aged 65 and older, adults with underlying medical conditions and adults in high-risk working and institutional settings.

On Sunday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky fleshed out who should be eligible for the booster shots based on their work in high-risk settings.

“That includes people in homeless shelters, people in group homes, people in prisons, but also importantly, our people who work…with vulnerable communities,” Walensky said during a TV interview. “So our health care workers, our teachers, our grocery workers, our public transportation employees.”

Walensky decided to include a broader range of people than was recommended on Thursday by a group of expert outside advisers to the agency. The CDC director is not obliged to follow the advice of the panel.

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