Governor Kathy Hochul confirmed Wednesday she will appeal a federal judge’s ruling that allows healthcare workers to ask for a religious exemption to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“There was a disappointing decision yesterday pertaining to our vaccine mandate, which I will stand behind any day of the week,” Hochul told reporters at her Manhattan office during an Oct. 13 press briefing. “We’ll be appealing this in the Second Circuit, we’ll be working on those papers right now, working with the attorney general’s office as well.”
A federal judge upstate sided with a group of 17 healthcare workers who sued the state for its decision to end religious exemptions for getting the mandatory shot.
US District Judge David Hurd for New York’s Northern District in Utica granted a preliminary injunction on Oct. 12 saying the state’s rule violated healthcare workers’ federal workplace protections giving them the right to seek a religious exemption — even if their employer ends up denying the request.
The Department of Health’s rules still allowed healthcare staff to ask for a medical exemption to the vaccine.
There have been bumps in vaccination rates each time the state expanded the vaccine in recent weeks to cover more kinds of healthcare facilities, and Hochul said the numbers speak for themselves.
“We believe it worked, it has had a dramatic effect on our ability to protect people, particularly healthcare workers,” the governor said.
In the days leading up to the first mandate on Sept. 27 covering hospital and nursing home staff, rates for the first dose shot up by 8-10% to 92%.
When the state expanded the requirement to adult care facilities and home health agencies on Oct. 7, the rates also increased to 95% and 86% respectively.
However, the mandates have also led to a “workforce reduction” of 33,982 staff across the Empire State’s healthcare industry, a rate of 3.5%, according to numbers provided by the governor’s office, which includes people who were fired, quit their jobs, retired, and those who are furloughed as they await the outcome of the court battle.
As of Tuesday, 9,706 nursing home and hospital workers had asked for a religious exemption and 3,045 have received a medical exemption, which amounts to about 1.5% and 0.5% respectively, of the total workforce in those two sectors.
But Hochul reiterated her confidence in the mandates, saying the increases in inoculations has disproven the naysayers.
“Look how many people are vaccinated, and the vast majority of people are on their jobs despite what we had been told by everyone early on that it’s just going to be impossible to implement this,” she said. “People stepped up when they needed to and I’m grateful for that.”