During her Wednesday briefing in Albany, Governor Kathy Hochul urged everyone eligible to get vaccinated as we head into the fall and winter seasons and defended her vaccine mandate for all health care workers in hospitals and nursing homes.
The state issued the mandate on Aug. 28 requiring that all health care workers get at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27. However, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state’s order on Sept. 14, after workers sued, claiming their Constitutional rights were being violated as the mandate disregarded religious exemptions.
Hochul said she will not be making any amendments to the regulations and left out the religious exemption intentionally.
“It’s the smart thing to do, we have to continue the mandates,” Hochul said. “I’m not aware of a religious exemption from any organized religion. In fact, they’re encouraging their members to get vaccinated.”
Eighty-two percent of New Yorkers above the age of 18 have at least one dose of the vaccine. Hochul said vaccine rates are trending upwards as more mandates are put in place.
“That is affecting people’s decisions,” Hochul said. “If you did not know enough on your own to do this, at least some of you are doing it now because it’s a requirement of your job and that’s the effect we wanted to have.”
The state has until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit. Hochul said they will appeal the Sept. 14 ruling.
“We are going to make sure that we defend the right of the state of New York to ensure that anyone in a health care facility will not have to worry that they’re going to contract a virus from one of the people who are supposed to protect their health,” Hochul said.
Hochul addressed some concerns over whether or not this mandate will result in a loss of health care staff. The governor said that hospitals are supposed to already have temporary staffing plans available and will send state support to hospitals if that issue arises.
“I think people need to start realizing that when you stand up and say, ‘I want to be a public health official,’ in any capacity, we count on you to be healthy yourselves,” Hochul said. “I am pleading with them: this is not intended to be dictatorial, it’s intended to save lives.”
Hochul cited recent studies which found that unvaccinated individuals are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19.
“I’m not sure who wants to play that Russian roulette,” Hochul said. “I don’t know why anyone, knowing that, would take this gamble.”
As booster shots become available, the governor wants to prepare for a possible staffing shortage like the one experienced last year. To address that, Hochul announced that basic EMT workers, with fire departments and health agencies, will now be administering vaccines.
“That adds over 2,000 fully trained vaccinators,” she said. “We have 50,000 now eligible for training. This is going to help alleviate a staffing situation. I’m not anticipating a problem, but on the other hand, we’re preparing as if it is.”
Hochul also said that if the rates of infections and hospitalizations increase, she will look into vaccine mandates for children and is leaving all options on the table.
“I know this is an area of great sensitivity for parents,” Hochul said. “I’m not looking to trample on their rights as parents, but I also need to do more to convince [them] that this is what has to happen for your child to have a healthy existence in school.”
The governor also announced a series of universal mask mandates to combat the rise of the delta variant. Face coverings are required at state-regulated child care facilities for ages two and up for all staff and visitors regardless of vaccination status.
“For children under 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, masks are the best line of defense against COVID-19 infection,” Hochul said. “This new mask requirement ensures that children in our child care facilities receive the same protection as children in our schools.”