Governor Kathy Hochul says she is working on a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all school personnel in New York, where teachers and other staff will need to take the shots or agree to weekly testing. Her team is also pursuing a universal mask mandate where everyone must wear face coverings inside school buildings.
The proposals came during Hochul’s first televised address as governor, where she also said she had spent months speaking with lawmakers, teachers, school boards, and superintendents before determining that vaccinations for all school personnel were the right decision. Testing will be an alternative option for school personnel, “at least for now,” Hochul said. She did not say whether eligible students will need to be vaccinated, too, though she said more school policy announcements will be made later this week.
The state will also launch two back-to-school programs to make it easier for students and staff to be tested regularly for COVID-19. The Hochul administration plans to use $335 million in federal funds to back one initiative in partnership with local governments and the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. The second testing program will involve a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid pharmacies and BioReference Laboratories, which is based in New Jersey.
Increasing efforts in battling coronavirus as the delta variant compromises gains made in New York is one of her first orders of business, Hochul said. But the new governor offered few details, specifically a timeline for the vaccine mandate.
This spring, the state legislature restricted Cuomo’s abilities to act unilaterally during the pandemic. As a result, Governor Hochul might need legislative approval for new statewide policies or to find executive loopholes. Her pledges come a week after her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, mandated all state health workers to receive a vaccine under an obscure Section 16 order issued by New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.
A policy summary, released by Hochul’s office, said the universal mask mandate would be delivered via “a regulatory action provided by the Public Health and Health Planning Council.” It also stated that New York State had acquired 4.3 million child-sized masks, 10 million adult masks and 55 million non-surgical masks to give to students and teachers.
Her announcements come a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered public school teachers to get at least one dose of the vaccine by September 27th and that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Under the city’s policy, medical and religious exceptions will be made. Hochul also hinted at broader vaccine mandates being implemented statewide now that a vaccine is fully approved.
Hochul was sworn in at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday in a private ceremony. It was followed by a ceremonial swearing-in shortly at 10 a.m., with Hochul standing alongside legislative leaders. In the hours leading up to her announcement, Hochul met with State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in her first meeting as governor.