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As COVID numbers rise, Hochul urges New Yorkers to get the new vaccine

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. At right is state Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald.
Darren McGee
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 update on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. At right is state Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald.

With COVID cases on the rise again, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday resumed briefings on the illness. She recommends that everyone get the new vaccines, which are aimed at the newer versions of the virus and will be available as early as this week.

Hochul said while everyone would like to see COVID in the rearview mirror, the disease is not done with us.

“Everybody now knows somebody who had COVID, recently,” Hochul said. “My daughter had it last week. My son-in-law had it last week. My neighbor had it last week. People at work have had it. Many of my commissioners have had it. So, the reality is setting in, so people are actually saying, ‘Oh, it's back.’”

The governor said data shows cases are ticking up and are now running at about 15 people for every 100,000. That’s still far lower than the 50 per 100,000 just a year ago, and the 300 cases per 100,000 at the end of 2021.

But Hochul said it’s hard to obtain accurate numbers, because testing for COVID has largely become a private matter. People use at-home test kits and stay home a few days until they feel better, but don’t normally notify their doctors or seek a test from a hospital or health clinic.

COVID-related hospitalizations have been increasing since July. State health officials say 60% of all hospitalizations in some regions of the state are due to people having the illness.

Hochul said the good news is that a new vaccine, aimed at providing immunity to some of the newest variants of the virus, will be available in New York as early as Friday. She urged everyone over the age of six months to get it.

“Make this part of your routine health maintenance every fall,” she recommended, “because this is the new normal.”

The shot is not a booster version of previous vaccines but an entirely new vaccine. Dr. James McDonald, state health commissioner, said people should not become complacent if they’ve already had numerous shots. He said the older booster shots are no longer effective against the current versions of the virus.

“People need to look in the mirror and say, ‘How do I protect myself?’” McDonald said. “The virus changed. Now the vaccine has changed. And that's all we're doing.”

McDonald said a new variant known as BA.2.86, which is not a subvariant of omicron, but a new genetic mutation of the virus, has so far not been detected in New York.

Health officials said if you come down with COVID, stay home a few days and rest, and consider taking Paxlovid, a prescription antiviral pill that eases symptoms.

And Hochul, noting that “it’s not the bad old days,” said there are currently no plans to close schools, require masks in public indoor spaces or mandate vaccinations.

McDonald said for now, he’s leaving it up to individual hospitals to decide whether employees and visitors must wear masks.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.