Vaccine mandates or testing for teachers, staff to become reality ‘very shortly,’ governor says

In her first COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Kathy Hochul reaffirmed her stance that teachers and any staff members in schools should be vaccinated or undergo mandatory testing for the virus, saying the policy would become reality “very shortly.”

“We’re in the process of getting the legal clearance for that as we speak,” the governor said during the briefing at the University at Buffalo.

She said she doesn’t currently have the authority to implement the mandates since the State of Emergency that was in effect last year has since been rescinded.

She said while many teachers and administrators are already vaccinated, it’s the “outliers who could hold back the opportunity for all of us to open up schools in a safe way.”

The State Department of Health on Friday formally issued guidance to school districts that masks would be mandated indoors. That came after the governor’s announcement last Tuesday on her first day in office after replacing Andrew Cuomo, who had left mask mandates up to individual districts.

Ms. Hochul defended the mask decision Tuesday and said she’s well aware of how controversial an issue it became.

“I’m willing to make tough decisions any day, anywhere if I think they’ll protect the people of this state,” she said. “We will take bold, dramatic action to protect individuals in this state, but particularly children.”

She said the masking mandates will not be open ended and could be rescinded in certain regions of the state when the COVID situation improves.

“It does not have to be universal lifting at the same time,” she said.

Ms. Hochul planned to take a different approach in dealing with the pandemic by allowing more discretion up to local health departments and health care workers. She said she won’t be “micro-managing” but instead the state will there “to be the ally” and provided assistance where needed.

She announced $65 million would be made available to local health departments to support booster dose planning and outreach. COVID-19 booster shots will be offered starting at the end of September for those who are eight months removed from their second dose.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Monday announced the county’s recent milestone of reaching 80% vaccinated with at least one dose for residents 18 and older. About 60.1% of the county is now fully vaccinated.

A total of 231 people in Suffolk are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the county health department. An average of 500 new cases per day have been recorded in the county over the past seven days.