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NYS Mandates COVID Vaccines For Its Workers

Governor Andrew Cuomo receives the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine from Dr. Jacqueline Delmont of SOMOS Healthcare at a pop-up vaccination site in Harlem in March.
Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo will mandate that frontline workers in New York state-run hospitals be vaccinated against COVID-19. All other state workers also have to be vaccinated or be subject to weekly testing. But the Democrat stopped short of imposing new mask mandates, despite advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indoor masks be required in areas where the virus is spreading, due to the more contagious Delta variant.

Cuomo says the nearly 100,000 state workers will have to show proof of vaccination by early September or submit to weekly COVID tests. Frontline workers at state-run hospitals will also have to be fully vaccinated, but they will not have the option of weekly testing instead.  

“In state hospitals, where the state is the employer, the frontline workers must be vaccinated, period,” Cuomo said. “Not vaccinated or you have to have a test once a week.”  

The announcement follows decisions by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is requiring all city workers to be vaccinated and by California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is mandating that all state workers and employees of public and private sector hospitals get their shot. 

New York state Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced that senators and their staff, as well as all other state Senate employees, will also be subject to mandatory vaccines or weekly testing requirements. 

The state’s court system is also adopting similar rules for judges and their staff. 

"The recent spike in the COVID-19 pandemic shows that we still have more work to do in order to overcome this terrible health crisis," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement. "In order to ensure the safety of the public and our employees, and consistent with CDC and state guidance, the Assembly will be requiring vaccinations or regular testing for those not vaccinated."

Cuomo says because none of vaccines have yet received full approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration, it’s not legally possible to widen vaccination mandates right now. The law only allows employers to enact vaccine requirements for their workers.   

The governor, speaking to a New York City business group, the Association for a Better New York or ABNY, urged companies to require vaccines for their employees. 

Despite growing concerns over the rise of the Delta variant, and incidences of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people, Cuomo says businesses should require that all of the workers return to in-person work in their offices, in September. He says it will help boost the city’s and the state’s economy. 

“By Labor Day everyone is back in the office,” Cuomo said. “We need that volume to support the restaurants and the shops and the services. It’s not just about your business. It’s about all the spinoff economic activity that your workers bring to the surrounding community.”

The governor is not imposing any new statewide mask mandates right now, but he urged localities where there is high rate of spread of the virus to impose local mask mandates. He says his administration is doing a “full review” of its mask polices, now that the CDC has altered its recommendations.  

He’s also urging schools to consider reinstating mask mandates for teachers and students, a step that is now recommended by the CDC.  

Cuomo says schools, when they open in the fall, have the potential to become super spreader sites. He says school districts have the legal authority to require that teachers and all other workers receive vaccinations. The governor says schools may have to take more “dramatic” actions if the situation worsens. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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