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The COVID-19 pandemic enters the race for New York governor

In this Friday May 21, 2021, file photo, New York Attorney General Letitia James acknowledges questions from journalists at a news conference in New York. James has announced that she is running for governor, according to three people directly familiar with her plans.
Richard Drew
Associated Press
New York Attorney General Letitia James

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread to every inch of New York state — and now it’s entered the race for governor.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, the latest entrant to the race, called for a new strategy on the pandemic from the state Wednesday, citing New York’s growing indicators.

“We’ve got to be prepared for the worst,” Suozzi said. “We need to know there’s a comprehensive plan in place if the wheels fall off. What’s going to happen if rates start spiking?”

He outlined a handful of recommendations that he said would help New York stop the spread, like wider availability of COVID-19 booster shots, a testing and quarantine policy for international travelers, a more targeted approach at the local level, and more.

But he wasn’t the first candidate for governor to push for additional measures from the state amid the latest surge of the virus. In late October, New York was recording about 1,900 hospitalizations from the virus. That’s now up to about 3,000.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who announced her own run for governor at the end of October, released her own recommendations for curbing the COVID-19 pandemic the week before last.

At the time, she said the state could be doing more to stop the spread, particularly in upstate counties that have seen the most aggressive spike in positive tests.

“We need to change how New York operates and that starts with big ideas that break up the status quo,” James said. “Sadly, New York has been making the same mistakes over and over again on COVID.”

James’ plan differed from what Suozzi presented. She said the state should focus on local outreach, an expansion of testing sites, stronger incentives for vaccines, and more.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Hochul’s third challenger, has also jumped into the discussion, criticizing a recent goal set by the governor to have workers back to the office in-person by next year, according to NY1.

Hochul, meanwhile, has focused much of her COVID-19 strategy in recent weeks on access to the vaccine, and booster shots in particular, while also taking new steps to respond to the virus.

She declared a state of emergency last week, which will allow the state to limit procedures at hospitals that aren’t time sensitive. That’s to free up more beds where they’re needed. The state has also offered to make staff available to health care facilities lacking personnel.

New York has also required masks to be worn in schools and health care settings, but hasn’t tried to reimplement a statewide mask mandate just yet. It’s still on the table, though, Hochul said this week.

“That is an option,” Hochul said. "The people who won't get vaccinated are probably the people who won't wear a mask as well ... I'm very targeted in my approach of this because we know so much more."

New York’s COVID-19 numbers are expected to get worse before they get better as families gather during the holiday season. After last year’s spike in December, numbers began to fall in January.

That’s when the race for governor will likely heat up as next year’s legislative session gets underway. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is also considering a run, which would bring the number of declared Democrats to five.

Recentpolling has shown Hochul with a firm lead in the contest, though those surveys haven’t included Suozzi, who only entered Monday. Next year’s primary will be held in June.