New York has mandated that all state workers get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo frequent testing amid a rise in infections, driven by the spread of the Delta variant.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a Zoom call with the nonprofit Association for a Better New York on Wednesday that the state’s roughly 250,000 government workers have until Labor Day – September 6 – to get vaccinated or face weekly testing to continue working in their public sector jobs.
Frontline healthcare workers at state-run hospitals, meanwhile, will have no choice but to get the shot in order to work, he said.
Those employees, at hospitals across areas including Syracuse, New York City and Long Island, will not be able to opt for testing as an alternative to getting the jab.
Cuomo admitted this was an ‘aggressive step’ but said ‘we need dramatic action to get control of this situation’ as cases have surged 400 percent since the end of June.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (pictured Wednesday) has mandated that all state workers must get the COVID-19 vaccine or undergo frequent testing amid a rise in infections, driven by the spread of the Delta variant
The governor also called on private businesses to order their employees back to the office by Labor Day and to only allow vaccinated customers into bars, restaurants and theaters in a move to ‘incentivize’ more New Yorkers to get vaccinated.
The ‘aggressive’ moves mark the latest effort from officials to ramp up the vaccine rollout as inoculation against the virus has stalled nationwide and the Delta variant is sending COVID-19 cases soaring again.
Cuomo called the vaccine rules for state workers ‘smart’ as he vowed to try to prevent a repeat of the start of the pandemic, where New York was the virus epicenter of the world.
‘We have to go back and remember what we learned, painfully but successfully, over the past 18 months.
‘We did have COVID first and worst in the nation,’ he said.
Mandating state workers get the shot is ‘smart, it’s fair and it’s in everyone’s interest,’ he said.
‘What we’re seeing is a pandemic among those unvaccinated people, but it affects everyone.’
Cuomo said the mandate for all patient-facing healthcare workers would ‘help keep both patients and workers safe.’
‘There will be no testing option for patient-facing health care workers. That is a point of contact that could be a serious spreading event and we want to make sure those health care workers are vaccinated – period,’ he said.
He acknowledged not everyone would be happy with the move.
‘It is an aggressive step. And there will be pushback,’ he said.
There about 256,500 state employees, according to New York state payroll system data.
It was not immediately clear if the mandate would cover employees outside of executive agencies, like state court workers.
New York state regulations already require hospital workers to be vaccinated against measles and rubella.
The governor called on local governments across New York to follow suit as he said officials will work with state unions to implement the policy quickly.
Some unions representing government workers in New York City have objected to the ‘get vaccinated or get tested’ mandate there, which is set to take effect in mid-September.
CSEA President Mary Sullivan, whose union represents New York state and local government workers, said it supports Cuomo’s vaccination policy.
‘[We] cannot slide backwards now or we put our members, workers, our families, children and all of us at greater risk,’ she said.
This summer, the state’s public university system launched its own vaccinate-or-test policy for employees, according to SUNY spokesperson Leo Rosales.
United University Professions president Fred Kowal said the additional mandate for some state hospital workers announced by Cuomo would have to be negotiated, ‘which I am willing to negotiate.’
However, Republicans blasted Cuomo’s announcement with state Senator George Borrello saying state workers who fought COVID-19 on the frontlines ‘don’t deserve to be bullied into being vaccinated.’
Cuomo’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about who will pay for testing for unvaccinated workers, potential penalties for unwilling workers, and whether workers at state-run veterans homes must get vaccinated.
Cuomo also urged school districts to consider vaccination-or-testing policies if numbers keep increasing.
‘A school can become a superspreader,’ he said. ‘We’ve seen that too many times in the past.’
His comments mark a shift from last fall, when he and other New York officials said the available data suggested schools weren’t driving COVID-19 infection.
While the state can mandate vaccination for state employees, Cuomo is unable to implement a similar mandate for private sector businesses without the support of state lawmakers.
However, he said private businesses can legally introduce their own rules.
The governor called on businesses to do so, urging them to turn away customers who have refused to take the shot.
‘You can admit vaccinated only people into your establishment.
‘I can argue that it is a smart business practice, because I want to go to a safe restaurant,’ Cuomo said.
‘And it will be an incentive for people to actually get the vaccine. And I urge you all to do it.’
He urged private businesses to also bring their workers back to the office by this fall in an effort to boost the state’s economy, by increasing footfall in public places.
‘We need people coming back. We can do it safely, we can do it smartly,’ Cuomo said.
‘Say to your workforce, by Labor Day, everyone is back in the office.’
He added: ‘Everyone has to be back to the office… We need that volume to support the shops, the restaurants, the services.’
The renewed drive to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated comes as cases are rising in the Empire State – a trend seen across the US.
Cuomo announced 2,203 new daily infections Wednesday, pointing out that just one month back cases stood at just 275 as he warned that the numbers show the Delta variant is ‘real.’
‘There is no doubt that the delta variant is real. You see it in the numbers. Today we have 2,203 new COVID-19 cases statewide,’ he said.
‘One month ago today we had 275 new cases, so the increase in the numbers is real.’
New infections have climbed more than 400 percent since the end of June, and hospitalizations have jumped 68 percent over the past two weeks.
The Delta variant now makes up almost three quarters (72 percent) of cases in the state, Cuomo said Monday.
In New York, vaccine take-up has been high compared to other parts of the country.
Cuomo said around 75 percent of all adults have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
Nationwide, 69.1 percent of people aged 18 and over had received at least one dose, with 60.1 percent fully vaccinated as of July 27, according to the CDC.
This is still short of Joe Biden’s goal for 70 percent of adults to have at least one shot by the July 4 holiday as vaccination rates stalled over the past few months.
In mandating either the shots or frequent testing for government workers, Cuomo is following on the heels of California and New York City, which announced similar policies for employees earlier this week, as well as a pending announcement from the president.