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New York Gov. Hochul announces "parameters of conceptual" budget deal, two weeks after deadline

Hochul promises more COVID tests

 COVID-19 testing at UAlbany in 2020.
COVID-19 testing at UAlbany in 2020.

New York continues to break records for residents testing positive for the coronavirus, even though there is a shortage of at-home tests and there can be long waits at testing centers. Governor Kathy Hochul says more access to testing is coming.

Hochul says the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus is responsible for the spike.

“This virus is going vertical, it’s going straight up,” said Hochul, who added the state had 28,924 new positive cases Tuesday.

“Another day that we are breaking records,” the governor said. “Not records that we are happy about.”

Health experts say the variant so far causes mild symptoms in vaccinated and boosted people, but Hochul says the unvaccinated are 20 times more likely to die from omicron.

The governor says the state has ordered 5 million more take-home tests to ease a chronic shortage. That’s in addition to the 500 million new tests that President Joe Biden said will become available next month to Americans who ask for them.

Hochul says the kits will be distributed to local emergency centers and state-run vaccination sites, and 2 million will go directly to schools. The governor says she wants children to be able to return to the classroom on January 3. And she says access to rapid tests will help keep them there, if a student in a class contracts the disease.

“The entire class can go home with state-provided testing kits that the parents will be able to use on their children with directions,” Hochul said. “If they are negative the first day, send them back to school.”

She says the children would use the tests a second time a few days later, and if they continue to test negative, they could remain in school.

“There’s no reason why we have to have such a disruption,” Hochul said.

Hochul says it’s possible that COVID-19 vaccinations could become mandatory for all of the state’s schoolchildren. But she says it would take an act of the legislature to do so, and that could not occur until next fall.

“Let’s see what happens with this. Is this going to be yesterday’s news in a few months, or are we going to be dealing with new variants all the time?” Hochul said. “But I would not rule that out.”

Despite the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the governor is not recommending that people cancel their holiday plans.

She says it’s safer, though, to only gather with vaccinated friends and family members. She also advises taking precautions to protect the most vulnerable members of any group, including the elderly and those with immune-compromised systems. And she says when out in public, everyone should obey the state’s mask mandate.

Hochul says she won’t be gathering with her own extended family, though. She says she will remain at the executive mansion in Albany and visit relatives via Zoom, because she needs to stay well and continue to manage the pandemic over the holidays.

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.