Gov. Kathy Hochul, speaking to reporters Tuesday on the pandemic, said it's now clear that herd immunity will be more difficult to achieve due to the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, and that the state needs to get "more creative" in increasing vaccination rates.
She said that almost 84% of New Yorkers over 18 years old have had at least one dose of the vaccine.
"That's good, but we were always told last year that if we hit 70%, we were going to be in great shape. Now we're moving the goal line and we're being told it's about 90% that we have to achieve. So we're within striking distance, but we have to keep pushing," Hochul said.
The governor said Covid-19 infection rates are trending downward in the state, but the Delta variant of the virus does not appear to be abating, which will require that state health officials stay ahead of it.
"As you've heard me say for 45 days now, the focus is on keeping young people in school, returning people to work and reopening New York State safely," said Hochul.
To that end, getting more people to get vaccinated and convincing them to wear masks in public is vital.
"We know the vaccine works. We know vaccine mandates work. We're going to talk about some more going forward. It's not my favorite thing to do, but sometimes it's necessary," said Hochul. "We literally have to find more creative ways to convince people that getting a vaccine is smart for them."
In addition to the vaccine mandates that she issued for hospitals and nursing homes, the governor said a new one requiring the vaccinations of workers at adult care facilities goes into effect on Thursday. She said the closer people get to the compliance deadlines, the better the compliance rate.
"This is a good place to be in, and we saw last time a dramatic increase (in vaccinations) as the days wound down," Hochul said.
The governor said the statewide vaccination rate has increased from 77% when she first took office Aug. 24.
"And we're approaching the numbers we need to hit. We're seeing that those deadlines have a way of focusing the mind on doing the right thing," Hochul said.
She urged pediatricians across the state to start signing up to get full access to vaccines for children under age 12 once the expected approval is granted by the federal government.
Hochul said breakthrough infections – those found in people who are fully vaccinated – are trending upward, now representing 0.8% of all new Covid cases.
"Again, unvaccinated people still have 10 times more risk of developing Covid, and that should be the headline: 10 times the risk and more severity when it does happen, as opposed to someone who's vaccinated," Hochul said.
Data provided separately by Erie County on Tuesday showed that, as the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated increases, so too is the percentage of people hospitalized with breakthrough infections. However, that data shows the vast majority of individuals hospitalized with a breakthrough infection are elderly.
According to county statistics, 81% of the 286 people who died of Covid-19 from April to September were not fully vaccinated. However, from July 1 to Sept. 30, of the 103 Covid deaths, just 57% were not fully vaccinated. However, of the deaths recorded, only one person who was fully vaccinated and younger than 60 died from Covid-19.
Staff reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this story.