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Cuomo: N.Y. Needs Stronger Vaccination Policy, Stops Short Of Issuing More Mandates

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Mark Lennihan
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said with the alarming spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in New York state, he is extending a mandatory vaccination policy for state workers and employees of state-run hospitals to include Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers. He also urged nursing homes and schools also require mandatory vaccines for employees.

Under the new federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on COVID-19 and the spread of the more contagious delta variant, indoor mask wearing is now recommended in several counties in New York. So far, few counties have imposed new mask mandates.

Cuomo, who is vaccinated, said he has decided to resume wearing a mask in indoor settings if he is in a “high risk” locality.

“I wore a mask for year; it’s not the biggest deal in the world,” Cuomo said. “I could get this Delta variant, and I could spread the Delta variant. So, better safe than sorry, I’m going to wear a mask.”

But he said he does not believe that new mask mandates will be the answer to tamping down the spread of the Delta variant. He said the state needs to instead intensify its efforts to get more of its population vaccinated.

Currently, just over 57% of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated, below the levels considered necessary to reach herd immunity.

The governor said if the spread of the Delta variant continues, then nursing homes should impose mandatory vaccination policies for all of their employees, and schools should require teachers to get the vaccine before school starts next month.

The governor’s call for mandatory vaccines for teachers drew a negative response from the state’s largest teachers’ union. In a statement, New York State United Teachers said while they support “local efforts to encourage more vaccinations,” and stepped up testing requirements for the unvaccinated, they are not in favor of vaccine mandates.

“If you don’t set a policy today, you’re going to have chaos when school opens,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo, once again, is urging bars and restaurants to only allow vaccinated patrons to eat and drink at their establishments.

Restaurant groups, including the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said while they support owners who have already made the decision to only accept vaccinated customers, they understand why it would be difficult for many bars and restaurants to on their own impose and enforce vaccine mandates.

“Restaurants can’t afford another wave of pandemic-related business restrictions, especially when the industry faces such a long road to full recovery,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. “We support restaurants and bars that are enforcing vaccine requirements to protect the safety of their workers and customers, and also appreciate that the decision has become more complicated for other businesses to follow.”

While Cuomo extended the vaccine mandate to the 50,000 or so employees of the state-run mass transit system, he no longer has the power to impose similar policies on anyone not directly employed by the state of New York. The governor ended the pandemic state of emergency in June, and now can only recommend that private businesses and local governments adopt similar rules. The governor warned, though, that if the virus continues to increase, then he’ll consider declaring a new state of emergency.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.