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Again defending mask mandates, Hochul says New York seeing Covid holiday surge

Again defending mask mandates, Hochul says New York seeing Covid holiday surge

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ALBANY – Gov. Kathy Hochul, for another day, found herself defending a new indoor mask mandate across New York, saying she had no choice given rising Covid-19 caseloads and hospitalizations that have spiked since Thanksgiving.

“We can all do this, New Yorkers. It is not that hard to do,’’ Hochul said of her masking rule, which applies to all indoor settings except private residences.

Hochul said her mask order, issued last Friday and implemented on Monday statewide, is supported by county leaders who represent 73% of the state’s population, she said.

“I commend all the county leaders and businesses who have stayed with us during this (and) who are doing the right thing,’’ she said.

What Hochul didn’t say, though, was what percentage of counties are actually enforcing her mandate. A number of county leaders, as well as a group representing county health commissioners, said Monday they back the idea but have no interest in levying fines up to $1,000 per violation against businesses that let people in their facilities without a mask.

A frustrated Hochul, noting Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of when the first Covid vaccine dose was administered to a New Yorker, said 30% of the state’s residents are still not fully vaccinated. Only 11.7% of 5- to 11-year-olds have been vaccinated, and the number of vaccines administered since Thanksgiving is up just 2%.

What is rising, Hochul said in a press briefing in Manhattan this morning: Covid cases and hospitalizations. New York is in the grips of a full-blown holiday surge – and that's before gatherings on Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Covid cases are up 58% since Thanksgiving based on average caseloads per 100,000 people.

“These are not trending in the right direction,’’ she said of the ongoing rise in Covid cases in some regions.

Just last Friday, when she announced the mask mandate, Hochul said the Covid hospitalizations had increased 29% since Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, she said that increase now stood at 70%.

Hochul has gotten some criticism for the way in which she rolled out the mask mandate; some say county leaders were only told of the specifics hours after she made an announcement last Friday, and that the details changed dramatically in some ways from what Hochul advisers told them on conference calls.

Hochul on Tuesday said there may have been some “technical” changes in the hours after she unveiled the mask mandate as state officials sought to build in some flexibility to the rule. She stressed it is temporary, and a far better approach than what some feared. She again said she has no plans to issue shutdown orders to businesses.

In response to questions, the Democratic governor was vague about a plan she is working on to get more at-home test kits sent for free to New Yorkers; she said there is some idea about sending such tests in ways targeted by ZIP codes. She also said the state, as many are already considering, might at some point have to change the definition of being "fully vaccinated" to include booster shots. But she said there are no plans to do so in the near future. Some believe full vaccination will morph to include booster shots six months after completing a vaccine regiment. 

Hochul brought in several upstate business owners, via video links, who cheered on her mask mandate and her Covid response efforts. She said her mask policy is business-friendly and will help save businesses by focusing on masking instead of the mass shutdown orders first issued last year by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Simply ask people to wear a mask and you can stay open. That’s what this is about, keeping you open,’’ she said in imploring businesses to cooperate with the mask rule.

Businesses can opt out of the mask order if they put in place a process to require proof that all patrons entering are fully vaccinated. Many businesses, though, don’t have enough staff for such an effort. Still, the governor said it is her “sincere hope” that many more businesses will only let in vaccinated patrons.

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