ALBANY — At midnight on Aug. 24, Kathy Hochul was sworn in as the 57th Governor of the State of New York and immediately announced her priorities.
“Right now, that means fighting the Delta variant. None of us want to see a rerun of last year’s horrors with COVID-19; therefore, we will take proactive steps to prevent that from happening,” said Hochul, who is New York’s first female governor.
She listed Three “Day One initiatives” on COVID.
Priority Number 1: We get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn, and everyone is safe. As a result, we need to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly—at least for now. To accomplish this in New York, we need partnerships with all levels of government, and I am working now on getting this done.
New York is launching a Back to School COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient. I am also immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools.
Later this week I will announce a series of school-related policies that will be concise and consistent, giving the school districts what they have been asking for.
Priority Number 2: Increase vaccination rates for New Yorkers. Much progress has been made, but too many are not yet vaccinated putting themselves and their communities at risk. With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements. More on that soon.
Priority Number 3: Prepare for Booster shots and make sure they are available and are distributed quickly and reliably. When I consulted with Dr. Fauci last week, we discussed the urgent need to ensure vaccinated individuals receive a booster dose at 8 months. I am prepared to do whatever is necessary, including reopening mass vax sites so that a booster is available to all New Yorkers who meet that timetable.
Hochul expanded on the topic of COVID while making the rounds of talk shows this week. She spoke about the launch of the $580 million back-to-school covid testing initiative that provides every student, teacher and administrator easy access to testing before school starts.
“Mandatory masks, which is something that is not universally popular, but I think it’s an important step toward getting safety in schools,” she told CBS This Morning.
According to the CDC, nearly two-thirds (66.3%) of New Yorker statewide have received at least one dose of vaccine, and just under 60% are fully vaccinated. Those numbers are just over 71%, and just over 67%, respectively, among Saratoga County residents.
“What I don’t have is the ability to mandate vaccines because the legislature did not confer on the Governor at this time the executive powers necessary,” Hochul said.
Speaking in Saratoga Springs at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center four weeks ago, there seemingly was more optimism about the pandemic being in the rear view mirror.
“What happened after the last Pandemic in 1918? The ‘Roaring 20’s.’ It was an amazing time in our country,” Hochul said during press conference at SPAC. “I’m declaring today is the beginning of the Roaring 20’s once again.”
The latest wave of positive infections in Saratoga County began to steadily rise in early July. The week ending July 6 showed 7 positive cases for that entire week. The successive weeks, according to information provided by Saratoga County Public Health Services:
July 6 to 11 – 16 positive cases.
July 12 to 18 – 54 positive cases.
July 19 to 25 – 109 positive cases.
July 20 to 28- 167 positive cases.
The most recent week, ending Aug. 24, counts 373 positive COVID cases among Saratoga County residents over the past seven days. The statistics detail only Saratoga County residents and not visitors to Saratoga who may have potentially tested positive for COVID. Those cases are counted in the visitors’ own county of residence, and those statistics have not been publicly shared by Saratoga County Public Health Services.
This week, the newly minted governor said she was concerned that the state is currently seeing 3,000 to 4,000 positive COVID cases each day, where it was seeing 300 to 400 daily positives in June.
“As we see this resurgence, I’m going to be doing more to empower local government officials who spend all their days training for this, the local health departments, the emergency management individuals who know how to get vaccines out,” Hochul said.
Hochul also promised one of the hallmarks of her administration will be “a new era of transparency,” explaining she will direct state entities to review their compliance with state transparency laws and provide a public report on their findings, require her counsel to come up with an expedited process to fulfill all FOIL requests as fast as possible—and post completed requests publicly online, and sign an Executive Order requiring ethics training for every employee of state government.
Hochul expressed gratitude for the courage shown her by her family - her husband Bill and children Will and Katie for encouraging her to pursue a passion for public service; her father, “making steel by day, getting an education at night, and leaving it all to join a tech start up in the early days of computers.” Of her mother, Hochul said, “despite growing up in an abusive home and losing her own mother at a young age (she) raised six children in Buffalo, all the while engaging in social and racial justice movements. Together, we founded a home for survivors of domestic violence when she was 70 years old—she taught me empathy.”