New York state’s newly sworn-in Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered her first address on Aug. 24, laying out priorities for her administration that include tougher measures to combat COVID-19, including universal masking in schools and a staff vaccine mandate with a testing opt-out.
“Your priorities are my priorities—and right now that means fighting the Delta variant,” Hochul, a Democrat, said during a ceremony in the Red Room at the State Capitol in Albany.
The former lieutenant governor made the remarks after taking the gubernatorial helm from former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations that he has denied.
Vowing to take “proactive steps” to prevent “a rerun of last year’s horrors with COVID-19,” Hochul said her top priority would be to enhance school safety protocols while noting that New Yorkers more broadly “can expect new vaccine requirements.”
Hochul said she would immediately direct the state’s public health authority to impose a universal masking requirement for anyone entering a school. She also called for a vaccine mandate for all school staff with the option to opt-out by undergoing weekly testing.
“New York is launching a back to school COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient,” she said, noting that a detailed series of school-related policies would be announced later in the week.
Hochul also noted that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Aug. 23 has set up new vaccine requirements in the pipeline for New Yorkers throughout the state. She didn’t provide further details on the vaccine mandates, saying there would be “more on that soon.”
Following the FDA’s announcement, President Joe Biden called on private sector entities such as businesses and nonprofits, as well as state and local authorities, to ramp up their imposition of vaccine requirements.
“If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, a state or local leader, who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that—require it,” Biden said at an Aug. 23 briefing.
As part of the focus on taming the outbreak, Hochul said New York state is gearing up for the distribution of booster shots.
“When I consulted with Dr. Fauci last week, we discussed the urgent need to ensure vaccinated individuals receive a booster dose at eight months,” Hochul said. “I am prepared to do whatever is necessary, including reopening mass vax sites so that a booster is available to all New Yorkers who meet that timetable.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the topic of vaccine booster shots in an Aug. 19 interview on MSNBC. He cited data from an observational study from Israeli health care provider Maccabi Health Services, which found that a third shot reduced the risk of infection in the 60-plus age group by 86 percent and against severe infection by 92 percent.
“It is very clear right now that when you give someone a booster … it increases the level of antibody level that’s associated with protection to a very, very high level,” Fauci told the outlet, noting that such research is evidence that the decision to make third doses available to the public “was the right call.”
Hochul also called for more COVID-19 related aid to New Yorkers throughout the state and vowed to enhance transparency at the governor’s office.
“To recap, these are the highest priorities of my administration in its first days: combating Delta, getting direct aid to New Yorkers more quickly, and beginning to change the culture in Albany,” she said.