Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged local governments on Monday to institute a mask-wearing policy and for private businesses to run a vaccine-only establishment for admittance in many circumstances in hopes of stopping an explosion of COVID-19 infections.
Fueled by the Delta variant, COVID cases in New York State quadrupled from July 1 to Aug. 1 and virus-related hospitalizations more than doubled from 349 to 788 in that same period.
Cuomo was adamant that local governments should set policies for masks patterned after the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for their employees and visitors to municipal grounds before the situation becomes more serious.
“Local governments, you should adopt that CDC mask guidance,” the governor said. “Learn the lesson from last year. Don’t deny the reality. Better safe than sorry.”
He then said it is likely that a mask mandate will be inadequate and that at some point a vaccination policy would have to be considered.
Cuomo applauded the MTA and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for requiring that all of their New York employees get vaccinated or take a weekly COVID-19 test by Labor Day. The state government has already introduced the policy and called on local governments to follow suit for all public-facing employees, Cuomo mentioned.
He also strongly recommended that school districts act similarly, requiring teachers to get vaccinated or get tested regularly, particularly if the district is in a high-risk area as defined by the CDC.
“School opens in one month,” Cuomo said. “If you don’t set a policy today, you’re going to have chaos when school opens because it will be impossible for a teacher to get the two shots done (in time).”
With the state of emergency having expired on June 24, Cuomo is unable to mandate any of these potential steps except for state employees and facilities. State-run hospitals also require vaccinations of all employees who work directly with the public.
Instead, the state legislature would have to come back into session and approve a law that would once again declare a state of emergency or provide the governor with powers to make those decisions.
The jump in cases comes as 75.5 percent of New York’s adult population 18 years old and up have received at least once vaccine dose, according to the latest figures from the state’s vaccine tracker.
On Sunday, the state’s 10 regions as defined on the COVID-19 tracker ranged from the lowest positivity rate of 2.4 percent in Western New York) to a high of 4.4 percent in Central New York. The Mid Hudson region, which includes Westchester and Putnam County, was at a 2.6 percent infection rate.
The seven-day rolling average saw the North Country with the state’s low of 2 percent while the Capital Region registered a high of 3.6 percent.
Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said the agency is ramping up its efforts to get all employees vaccinated. Management is consulting with the Port Authority’s unions on how best to convince those who have yet to be vaccinated to get the shot, he said.
John Lieber, chief development officer for the MTA, said that it is imperative that all of its employees are vaccinated. There have been 168 MTA workers who died from COVID-19, overwhelmingly in the early months of the pandemic. Currently, just under 70 percent of its workforce is vaccinated, he said.
“At the MTA, we have no higher priority than the health and safety of our workforce,” Lieber said. “The new vaccination and testing mandate is being introduced to make sure that our employees are as protected as possible from the Delta variant as the city’s and the region’s economy picks up speed.”
Passengers on all public transportation are required to were masks in order to travel.
Cuomo said private businesses, particularly restaurants and bars, should welcome the vaccination, calling it “in your business interest to run a vaccine-only establishment.” Radio City Music Hall has required vaccinations since it reopened in June and has had few, if any, problems, and the state’s sports stadiums and arenas were able to open its doors, he said.
The governor said health officials will continue to monitor the rise in cases and act accordingly. He cited statistics that it is more than four times more likely for an unvaccinated person to be infected than someone who is vaccinated and that 1.25 cases per 100,000 unvaccinated people land in the hospital compared with .19 per 100,000 vaccinated individuals.
“Everything should be on the table, and we should start talking about it now because if these numbers rise and they start to rise quickly, it can’t be that we’re not ready to do more,” Cuomo said.
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