At her second public appearance as New York state governor, Kathy Hochul issued a universal mask-mandate for anyone entering school buildings and ordered all school personnel to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing to knock down increasing cases of the coronavirus’ delta variant.
Hochul was sworn in as New York’s 57th—and first woman—governor at midnight on Tuesday two weeks after her predecessor former Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace in the wake of a bombshell report finding that he sexually harassed 11 women.
During her second address to New Yorkers, Hochul promised swift action against problems facing the state, mainly, squashing the spread of the more aggressive delta variant and increasing vaccination rates among state residents.
“Priority number one: we get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn and everyone is safe,” said Hochul, adding that for months she has been consulting with parents, teachers, superintendents, and school board members about the upcoming return to classrooms. “ We need to require vaccinations for all school personnel with the option to test out weekly. At least for now.”
New York State United Teachers, an umbrella organization for roughly 900 unions across the state, seems to be on board with the governor’s school-related proposals.
“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. We support universal mask-wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “We also support the governor’s move to require regular COVID testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level.”
In addition, Hochul revealed that her administration plans on launching a COVID-19 testing program to make testing for “students and staff widely available and convenient” as another means of mitigating the spread of the delta variant.
Details on a statewide testing policy for school districts will be announced later this week, Hochul promised. “We need partnerships with all levels of government and I’m working now on getting this done,” Hochul added.
The order comes a day after the United States Food and Drug Administration granted the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine full approval for use on people 16 years of age and older which some officials hope will boost confidence in the vaccine making it easier for institutions and employers to issue vaccine mandates.
The full approval replaces the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine FDA’s previous emergency use authorization.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all Department of Education employees including teachers and principals must get at least one dose of the vaccine by Sept 27, in order to lower the chances of delta spreading in schools in the fall. Between 70 and 80% of all New York City public school teachers and principals have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to City officials.
The move placed New York City in the ranks of Chicago and Los Angeles which have also issued vaccine mandates for public school staff.