ALBANY, N.Y. (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York will mandate COVID-19 vaccination for state employees and patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals.
The governor said state employees will have the option to test regularly instead, while the health care workers will not.
The governor said he is targeting Labor Day for this mandate to go into effect, and says the decision was made because of a recent COVID-19 surge fueled by the delta variant.
“There is no doubt that the delta variant is real,” Gov. Cuomo said. “You see it in the numbers. Today we have 2,203 new COVID-19 cases statewide. One month ago today we had 275 new cases, so the increase in the numbers is real.”
The governor, speaking virtually at a meeting for Association for a Better New York, said 75% of adults statewide have been vaccinated, but said the remaining 25% poses a risk.
“What we’re seeing is a pandemic among those unvaccinated people, but it affects everyone,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We have to go back and remember what we learned, painfully but successfully, over the past 18 months. We did have COVID first, and worst, in the nation.”
The governor announced that all New York state employees — approximately 130,000 people — must get vaccinated, or test for COVID-19 on a weekly basis.
The governor said this vaccine mandate will take effect by Labor Day, and the state is working with unions to implement the requirement quickly and fairly.
“We’re working with our unions to implement this quickly and fairly, and I encourage all local governments to do the same,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It’s smart, it’s fair, it’s in everyone’s best interest.”
According to the governor, the state employee mandate does not include teachers, who are employed by local school districts. The governor further explained the distinction during an interview Wednesday with CBS News:
A spokesperson from New York State United Teachers released the following statement Wednesday regarding vaccination:
“We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one. We would support local efforts to encourage more vaccinations, like through programs that require that those who are not vaccinated get tested on a regular basis. But it’s critical that districts come up with plans to make testing available on site and at no cost.”
The governor announced a similar vaccine mandate for patient-facing health care workers at state hospitals, but without a testing option.
“I think we need dramatic action to get control of this situation,” Gov. Cuomo said. “So in New York, and in our state hospitals, all patient-facing health care workers must get vaccinated. There will be no testing option for patient-facing health care workers. That is a point of contact that could be a serious spreading event and we want to make sure those health care workers are vaccinated — period.”
State-run hospitals and facilities include:
- SUNY Stony Brook
- SUNY Upstate
- SUNY Downstate
- Long Island Veterans Home at Stony Brook
- Helen Hayes Hospital
- SUNY College of Optometry
- Montrose Veterans Home
- St. Albans Veterans Home
- Oxford Veterans Home
- Batavia Veterans Home
The governor said the U.S. Department of Justice recently released a memo that let employers mandate COVID-19 vaccination.
“We’re saying, in the state hospitals, where the state is the employer, the frontline workers must be vaccinated, period,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We’re taking that position for public employees, in the hospitals that are front-facing, we’re mandating vaccinations.
“There will be push back and I’m hoping to have more conversations with the unions about it, but we know what we’re dealing with,” Gov. Cuomo said. “You have a public-facing person, who by definition the public must be exposed to. That person has an added responsibility of not transmitting the virus and I don’t have a problem as an employer saying that.”
The governor also called for the FDA to expedite formal approval for the COVID-19 vaccine so government can have more authority in terms of mandate, which it does not have in the vaccine’s current emergency use authorization state.
“Emergency use authorization states are limited as to what can be mandated,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Once the vaccine is finally approached, then the state has more legal authority to mandate the vaccine.”
CDC’s new masking guidance
The governor said Wednesday the state is “reviewing the CDC’s new recommendations” on masking.
“The state is going to do a full review of the CDC guidance,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I was on the phone with them this morning and I was talking to federal officials, and we’re also talking to international health experts. This is happening in other places so we can learn from that, but the CDC guidance should be seriously considered by local governments where there are currently high rates of transmission.”
The governor said most of the state’s zip codes identified as areas of high rates of transmission are downstate, but there are more than two dozen Upstate New York zip codes as well. He urged local governments in these areas to strongly consider adopting the new CDC masking guidance until the state is
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated Americans who live in areas with “substantial and high” virus transmission should wear masks in indoor public spaces in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases. The CDC also stated that this fall in Kindergarten through 12th grade schools, everyone should wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.
For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet of one another.
Then in April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers.
In May, the CDC further eased its guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.
The guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.
Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.
For months COVID cases, deaths and hospitalizations were falling steadily, but those trends began to change at the beginning of the summer as a mutated and more transmissible version of the coronavirus, the delta variant, began to spread widely, especially in areas with lower vaccination rates.
The governor said if the COVID-19 rates continue rising, it could impact schools in the fall.
“If the numbers keep going up the way they’re going up — I think school districts in those affected areas should strongly consider taking more aggressive action,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It will be hard, and I understand the politics, but I also understand that if we don’t take the right actions, school can become super spreaders in September. It will happen, we have seen it happen before.
“Trepidation and politics, that stops and feeds the virus,” Gov. Cuomo said. “The virus feeds on our lack of action and on our apathy and our fear. Schools in September will be places of congregation and they can be super spreaders, especially when you put it together with the fact that you already know you have a high concentration of infection in those targeted areas.”
Private sector impact
The governor said private sector businesses could potentially help boost statewide vaccination rates.
“I think private sector businesses can help,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I think you can play a major role; you can admit only vaccinated people in your establishment. I can argue that is a smart business practice because I want to go to a safe restaurant and I want to go to a safe theater, and I want to go to a safe bar. I think it’s good business for the private sector, I also think it provides a real incentive for people to get the vaccine.”
The governor also called on private sector businesses to ask employees to return to their office buildings to help stimulate local spin-off economy’s like restaurants, retail, and services located near business centers.
“To my private sector friends, I want to say to you, ‘you have to be part of this,'” Gov. Cuomo said. “Everyone has to be back in the office. I understand remote learning, I understand remote working, I understand trepidation, but the numbers are down, and we know how to do this safely. We need private sector companies to say to their employees ‘I need you back in the office.’
“Remote working for a short period of time? Fine, but that’s not how the entrepreneurial economy works and that’s now how the entrepreneurial spirit works. It’s the synergy, it’s the stimulation, it’s having people in a room banging around ideas. It’s dynamic what is generated, and I don’t care what you say about Zoom, it’s just a different experience. We need people coming back, we can do it smartly, and we can do it safely. Say to your workforce, ‘By Labor Day, everyone is back in the office.’
“We need that volume to support the restaurants, and shops, and services,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It’s not just about the businesses, it’s all about this spin-off economy that your workers bring to the surrounding communities, and that’s what we need.”
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.