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Hochul's message of calm, concern comes as New York sets daily Covid case record

Hochul's message of calm, concern comes as New York sets daily Covid case record

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ALBANY – On the day New York saw more Covid positive cases than at any point since the pandemic began, Gov. Kathy Hochul took to national television airwaves Friday afternoon to try to ease growing worries about the rising Covid caseloads and long lines of people seeking to get Covid tests in advance of the Christmas holidays.

Soon after, her office announced 21,027 people tested positive for Covid on Thursday, a one-day record. Officials noted that the level of testing available now is much more robust than during the first wave in late winter 2020. However, the cases also don't include an unknown number of people who are testing positive using at-home rapid tests – and those kits have been selling statewide at breakneck levels.

Hochul, while urging people to wear masks and get vaccinated or boosted, said on MSNBC that she hopes fully vaccinated people can go about their “regular activities” and that she doesn’t want to go back to 2020 economic shutdowns that she said amounted to an "artificial suppression based on fear."

Asked if she supports mandatory vaccines for children in school, Hochul deferred on specifics, saying she doesn’t have the power to order such a step and that it would be up to the State Legislature to examine when it returns in January for the 2022 session.

Americans face an uncertain and anxiety-filled holiday season for the second consecutive year, as the highly contagious Omicron variant threatens to intensify an already alarming surge of COVID-19 cases. Gavino Garay reports.

Hochul said she could sign such an edict into law, which she deemed “important." However, she said such a rule would not be in place, if it happens, until the next school year – more than nine months from now. The Los Angeles school district had ordered a vaccine mandate for students, but said it is deferring the matter until the fall of 2022 because some 30,000 children have not gotten vaccinated and they did not have a network in place to provide independent learning opportunities for so many students.

On CNN, Hochul said no one has a “real handle” on the threat posed by the new Omicron variant, but believes it will become the dominant Covid variant in short time. Hochul, in both cable interviews, stressed her desire to avoid economic shutdowns and keep children in school. “I want to keep the economy open,’’ she said.

As for her new mask mandate – which is facing zero or lackluster enforcement by local governments across the state – Hochul said it will take a “serious decline” in the number of Covid cases for her to reverse course.

Pressed during her MSNBC interview whether she will authorize a redefinition of what it means to be fully vaccinated – to include a six-month booster shot – Hochul said there are complications to the idea because so many people only recently got their first vaccine shots.

“I believe that should happen," she said of the fully vaccinated definition, but said that it is premature to make the decision.

On the issue of long lines of people, especially in New York City, seeking Covid tests, Hochul again said the state has ordered 1 million at-home rapid tests, and that she ordered insurance companies to pay for the costs. However, it’s a month or so away before such insurance coverage will happen for the at-home tests, which have been flying off store shelves as people prepare for gatherings around Christmas and the New Year.

Hochul signaled no sign of the state returning to the days of free, state-run mass testing sites – even as health officials have been urging people to try to get regular Covid testing, especially if they plan to attend holiday gatherings.

After her national TV appearances, Hochul's office released its daily updates on the Covid pandemic for New York.

On Thursday, 60 people died in New York hospitals and nursing homes, and the state's overall positivity rate rose to 7.98% based on 264,000 tests reported Thursday. In New York City, home to the most deaths during the first big wave of 2020, the per-100,000 people average positive tests during the past seven days is now higher than many upstate regions that have been struggling with Covid caseloads for weeks.

Western New York continues to lead the state in its percent positive rate, checking in with a 9.24% level on average over the past seven days. Erie and Monroe counties, at five apiece, had the most Covid deaths on Thursday, according to the state.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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