Governor Kathy Hochul expanded Tuesday on the need for weekly testing requirements for unvaccinated school staff, especially amid the rise in delta variant coronavirus cases, to ensure schools are safe.
“I want to make sure that our school staff, anybody who enters that building, will have to be vaccinated or undergo mandatory testing. Mandatory testing. And we’re in the process of getting the legal clearance for that as I speak,” she said during an August 31 COVID-19 briefing at the University at Buffalo Jacobs Medical School. “Last year, every community across the state came together in a profound way to say, ‘We can do this.’ This war is not over and the delta variant is a serious threat, especially for people who are still unvaccinated. We all need to remain vigilant to protect each other.”
The governor said while she knows there was hesitation as vaccinations were pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine getting full approval August 23, that is no longer an excuse.
“It has been approved, and now, we need to get the vaccine approved for younger children, under the age of 12,” Governor Hochul said. “We’re not doing that well getting our 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated, and they are vulnerable to the next virus, which is dangerous.”
The governor said the 76 percent of people 18 and older in New York who have received one dose is “not good enough,” especially with the infection rate climbing to 3.9 percent statewide and 5.6 percent in western New York.
“It only really works when you have two doses, my friends,” Governor Huchul said. “So if someone comes in the door and thinks, ‘OK. At least one. I’m probably OK,’ they’re not OK with this new variant.”
The governor said during her first address from Albany August 24 that the state will be using $335 million in federal funds to start a back-to-school COVID-19 testing program that will be launched to make testing for students and staff available and convenient. The Testing in Schools Program will be in partnership with local health departments and BOCES. New York City has received $225 million directly to initiate the same program.
“I know that all of your local health departments have been preparing for this. This is the Super Bowl for our health care workers — they know how to manage this,” Governor Hochul said. “It’s been a brutal year, year-and-a-half for our children … Parents have tried their best. They’ve struggled. We can no longer hemorrhage the education of our children. It has to stop, and it has to stop this fall.”
The governor said she announced the mask mandate last week as soon as possible because she knows parents’ greatest anxiety pertains to their children’s safety, and she wanted to give everyone enough notice.
“Now, this may seem controversial, but I assure you that it’s not,” Governor Hochul said. “I’m willing to make tough decisions any day, anywhere, if I think they’ll protect the people of this state.”
But, the governor said, she knows circumstances are going to change in some areas over time.
“I’ll be very flexible in allowing localities to talk to me about what’s happening on the ground in their communities,” she said. “So this, while it’s a universal imposition, there does not have to be a universal lifting at the same time. That’s what I want to introduce into this dynamic of ‘We’ as we deal with COVID issues.”
While the governor said she wants everyone vaccinated, and would mandate it if she could, she knows she does not have the authority. She called the testing requirement a “compromise.”
“I don’t want to dismiss the people who already went forward and did it, but it’s those outliers who could hold back the opportunity for all of us to open up schools in a safe way,” Governor Hochul said. “And I don’t want that to be the case. They will have to be tested once a week. We’ll be making that a reality very shortly.”
The governor said she is also exploring options for vaccine mandates for health care facility staff, along with looking at infrastructure and a mechanism to set up mass vaccination sites to ensure booster shots are available and administered.
“We know it has to be a targeted approach, because everyone who got vaccinated eight months ago is vulnerable,” she said. “Boosters are just as important, because as much as I’m an optimist and we all thought we’d be turning the page on anything related to the pandemic certainly by this time, we have not. The battle rages. We have to fight back.”
Governor Hochul said she is making $65 million available to localities to help begin administering booster shots.
Still, she pleaded for residents to continue wearing masks, washing their hands and taking all of the necessary precautions regardless of vaccination status.
“We will get through this together, my friends. We know the recipe. We know how to get this done,” Governor Hochul said. “I will not be micro-managing, but I’ll be giving guidance based on your input. I’ll be giving you the cover you need. I’ll be there to be the ally, but I will not be imposing these things on all of you without consultation. Let’s stay strong. Let’s stay together.”