NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Governor Andrew Cuomo held a briefing Monday morning to update New Yorkers on the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.
“We have a situation, as they say, and it’s a serious situation, so I wanted to address it,” Governor Cuomo said. “This variant of the COVID delta has brought a lot of confusion not only to the people of the state, but also to people across the country. Local governments are trying to figure out how to deal with the guidance and just a sudden turnaround by the CDC so abrupt that cynicism and confusion can become frankly and that’s where we are.”
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New York State COVID-19 state of emergency ended at the end of June, but rates are rising again statewide, and nationwide, as the delta variant became the dominant coronavirus strain in the US
“The delta variant is spreading very quickly,” Governor Cuomo said. “Over the past month, the number of hospital admissions has essentially doubled and the number of new cases has quadrupled. So yes, the delta variant is spreading very quickly. If you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to get it, and it’s very different to be hospitalized.”
This weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Monroe County, among others: several other New York counties, with “significant” transmission of COVID-19.
“If you are not vaccinated, the delta variant should be a major concern for you and you should be concerned about it,” Governor Cuomo said. “Well New York has done a great job with the vaccine. 75% of the adult population has one chance, yes, but that means 25% don’t and that’s 3.5 million people.”
The CDC’s report comes days after it’s recommended areas of “significant” and “high” transmission mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
“Vaccinated people can spread the delta variant,” Governor Cuomo said. “This is the fact that the CDC quickly changed its stance. This is what they called a pivotal discovery, based largely on the Massachusetts situation, in Cape Cod, and they have other examples across the country.
“How bad can it get? Nobody knows,” Governor Cuomo said. “It can get really bad, and then it’s a series of assumptions, but if 25% of unvaccinated people get sick, that’s millions of unvaccinated New Yorkers.”
The governor said last week that state health officials review the CDC’s new guidelines regarding vaccinated people and wearing masks indoors, but he said local governments should adopt that policy if they are in an area with higher transmission rates.
“Local governments, follow CDC guidelines for masking,” Governor Cuomo said. “It is up to the local authorities. The CDC doesn’t oblige local governments to do it, they recommend it. The state has strongly advised local governments to do it, but it’s up to the local governments. The only way to overcome local government is with a state law, which is what we did last time if you remember.”
For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other. When vaccination rates soared in April, the agency relaxed its guidelines on wearing masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans no longer had to cover their faces unless they were in a large crowd of strangers.
In May, the CDC further relaxed its guidelines for fully vaccinated people, putting them… to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor environments. The guidelines still called for masks to be worn in crowded indoor environments, such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it paved the way for workplaces and other locations to reopen.
Subsequent CDC guidelines said fully vaccinated people also no longer had to wear masks at summer camps or schools.
“Right now, this is all up to local governments,” Governor Cuomo said. “If they don’t do anything, we’ll be where we were last year, where it’s going to be a statewide emergency and the state needs to step in.
“My take on the facts — as a New Yorker and not a governor — I’m going to wear a mask,” Governor Cuomo said. I’m vaccinated, I don’t think the delta variant will put me in the hospital, but if I’m a high risk place, and the place says there is a mask, I’m going to wear a mask. I wore a mask for a year and it’s not the biggest deal in the world because I could get the delta variant and then I could spread the delta variant, so better safe than sorry.”
While the governor said he supports local governments in adopting the new mask guidelines, he said masks can’t do much.
“Mask policy will be important, but I don’t believe a mask policy will be enough — I think we’re going to have to talk about a vaccination policy,” Governor Cuomo said. “What does that mean? Well, we’ve taken the first steps; the federal government has done it, the state government has done it, and some local governments have done it, which means you either have to get the vaccine or have a weekly test. That is the first step, but it is only the first step.”
The governor announced that New York City’s MTA Port Authority is adopting the vaccine mandate, which will take effect on Labor Day, similar to what he announced last week for state employees and patient-centered health professionals at state hospitals.
On Monday, he encouraged local school districts across the state to do the same with a vaccine mandate.
“I believe school districts today should say that teachers should be vaccinated or tested weekly, if you are in a CDC risk area, the red or the yellow zones,” said Governor Cuomo. “I think they should say that to teachers today.”
The governor said school districts should hold off on enacting vaccine policies because teachers need time to get one or two shots before school starts in a month.
“I think school districts should say ‘vaccinate or test,’” Governor Cuomo said. “Schools will open in a month and if you don’t make a policy today, you will have chaos in a month.”
The governor said there should be a mandatory vaccine policy for employees who come into contact with the public in high-risk situations.
“New York state is the first state in the nation to do it,” Governor Cuomo said. “In our hospitals, public employees must be vaccinated and, if not vaccinated, tested once a week. “Oh, that’s a very harsh measure, no other state has done it.” Yes, but I don’t agree with the word hard, it’s smart. If you’re a receiving nurse or a receiving doctor, and you have people coming from the audience, and you’re dealing with dozens of people, you should get vaccinated — or not work in a front-line position. We’ve put this in place, it’s controversial, you believe in it. I understand the controversy, but it’s smart and I think it can be expanded, but legally I can only do it for our own hospitals.
“Provinces run hospitals, local governments run hospitals,” said Governor Cuomo. “The government is supposed to take charge of mandatory vaccines for public health workers. Then we look at the numbers and adjust as the numbers adjust, but everything should be on the table and we should talk about it now, because if these numbers go up and start to go up fast, it can’t be that we not ready to move . If the numbers don’t drop, I think you should consider mandatory vaccines for nursing home workers.
“These are the intersections,” Governor Cuomo said. “These are the places where one person can infect literally dozens in the course of a day, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to ask people to get vaccinated. I believe it’s a good thing and 75% of New Yorkers have done it. It’s accepted as social policy, and if you want to teach it to my kids, I think you should get vaccinated. If you want to take care of my mother in the nursing homes, I think you should get vaccinated.”
The governor said that if a COVID-19 vaccine receives formal approval from the FDA, unlike the current state with emergency use approval, a law could be passed for vaccine mandates.
“That would require a law passed by the legislature,” Governor Cuomo said. “It will be what the legislature wants to wade into that situation. That would be a law. I could mandate my employees today since I am acting as an employer and the law says an employer can grant a mandate but if there is federal approval and you go beyond emergency use permission for final approval the legislature can mandatory vaccination.”
The governor said the most proactive ways to reduce further spread are to increase vaccination, encourage more vaccination and encourage local governments in areas with high transmission rates to adopt the new CDC guidelines.
“Everyone should be vaccinated,” Governor Cuomo said. “Outreach, outreach, outreach – deploy community groups, engage people who have credibility in the communities, such as religious leaders. Educate people who still think this is made up.”
The governor encouraged private companies to move to a mandatory vaccination policy for their customers.
“Private companies, I ask them and suggest that they only get authorization for vaccines,” said Governor Cuomo. “Go to vaccine-only admissions. We did this a few months ago at Radio City Music Hall, reopened just the vaccine and sold all the shows. It will help, not harm your business. If you say to these people, ‘If you don’t have a vaccine, you can’t enter these institutions,’ you will see a real incentive to get vaccinated.”
This is a story in development. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.