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Despite a winter wave of COVID-19, Lee Zeldin rallies against New York mandates

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York
J.D. Allen
WSHU Public Radio
Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York

New York Governor Kathy Hochul continues to defend a mask mandate for indoor businesses that went into effect last week. This comes as the Omicron variant is expected to be the dominant coronavirus variant in New York by the new year, and hospitalizations are on the rise.

Republican Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin rallied in Albany on Monday to fight the mandate. He is running for governor against Hochul next year.

“Six-year-olds who have to show their papers in order to go eat in a restaurant or to go to a museum or a movie theatre. The statewide mask mandate that has businesses scrambling and losing businesses,” Zeldin said.

Several counties statewide, including Nassau County on Long Island, say they won’t comply with the mask mandate because some businesses are worried they’ll lose customers. Hochul announced on Monday $65 million to help county governments enforce mask protocols.

The mandates were put in place amid a winter wave of the virus. New York is on its fourth consecutive day of record levels on positive COVID-19 cases. The state saw more than 23,000 positive cases on Sunday. Long Island is experiencing its largest wave of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Daily coronavirus cases over the weekend reached 9%.

Still, Zeldin said wearing a mask and vaccines should remain a choice. He said New York has the tools, including COVID-19 testing and vaccines, to be able to fight the virus.

“It’s a shame that at this point, this far in, that we have been unable in this state to allow New Yorker’s to rapidly get access to testing quick answers,” Zeldin said. “That is a disincentive right now in the middle of this cold weather to have to wait on line for hours for your test. It’s going to result in New Yorker’s saying ‘I’m not even going to bother.’”

“If you’re out there and you want to wear a mask, feel free to wear masks. You can wear an N95 mask. There are medical grade masks that, if you choose as you go about your lives, you absolutely can wear them,” he said.

Zeldin called on the state to make at-home COVID tests more available. On Monday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced the opening of new testing centers in Nassau County and six other local governments. The state has also received 5 million at-home COVID-19 testing kits, with another 5 million on the way by the start of the new year. New Yorkers soon will be able to obtain the kits through an online portal.

"Testing is a high, high [priority] because what we anticipate is more and more people are going to be testing positive," Hochul said. "We want them to, even if they're testing at home, just stay home, do not go out. Don't go to work. Don't go see your family. That's how we can start isolating the spread."

Zeldin also wants to eliminate a mandate imposed by Hochul that requires all healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated or get fired. He calls it a “lack of respect for New Yorkers.”

“Healthcare workers who were treated like heroes turned to zeros,” Zeldin said. “They were given parades and now they are put out on the streets. FDNY and NYPD not getting a paycheck because they haven’t gotten the vaccine.”

On Long Island, Northwell Health has fired over 1,400 employees since the mandate went into effect in October. About 9,000 New York City municipal workers were put on unpaid leave last month for not complying with the vaccine mandate.

Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case filed by several Long Island nurses to stop the state mandate.

Zeldin said he doesn’t want New Yorkers to suffer from a rise in coronavirus cases. He said he hopes that reactions from Omicron are mild and the virus doesn’t test the capacity of limits on beds at hospitals. Hochul has an emergency order in place to suspend nonessential procedures at hospitals with low bed capacity and staffing shortages. Zeldin said he’s been keeping an eye on hospital space in Suffolk County, and they still have available hospital beds.

He said he is concerned that school children will once again be the target of mandates in the New Year.

“They’ve been wearing masks for almost two years,” Zeldin said. “It’s important that one, the state does not go back to remote learning, and two, if Governor Hochul wants to keep our kids in masks from Monday through Friday from very early in the morning until the middle of the afternoon then the governor should try that out herself … to get a feel for what these kids are going though.”

Students who are exposed to the virus and frequently test negative for COVID-19 are allowed to stay in school.

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.