New York State is mandating that all state employees get vaccinated or tested weekly and that all patient-facing health care workers in state-run hospitals receive the vaccine by Labor Day.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday declared it was time for "dramatic action" to stop the delta variant's rapid spread.
Cuomo added the state was reviewing the CDC's recommendation that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors on Long Island, New York City and other parts of the United States with a high level of COVID-19 spread.
He called for New York's local governments to consider mandating vaccines for their workers and for school districts to prepare to use tougher mitigation efforts, including requiring shots for teachers, if numbers continue to rise.
"I think we need dramatic action to get control of this situation," the governor said.
"It will be hard and I understand the politics, but I also understand if we don't take the right action, schools can become superspreaders in September," Cuomo said, while addressing a virtual breakfast for the Association for Better New York, a New York City-based nonprofit coalition of organizations across the public and private sectors. "It will happen, we have seen it happen before."
His announcement came as the number of new daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 neared 400 on Long Island.
Meanwhile, the White House is strongly considering requiring federal employees to show proof they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or otherwise submit to regular testing and wear a mask — amid growing concerns about the spread of the more infectious delta variant, according to The Associated Press.
The possible vaccine mandate for federal employees — regardless of the rate of transmission in their area — is one option under consideration by the Biden administration, the AP reported. The White House is expected to announce its final decision after completing a policy review this week.
The CDC on Tuesday recommended that vaccinated people again wear masks indoors in places where the coronavirus is surging.
Citing new information about the delta variant's ability to spread among all people — vaccinated or not — the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
"The state is going to do a full review of the CDC guidance," Cuomo said. "I was on the phone with them this morning and I was talking to federal officials, and we’re also talking to international health experts. This is happening in other places so we can learn from that, but the CDC guidance should be seriously considered by local governments where there are currently high rates of transmission."
Cuomo said the requirement for shots for state workers could help curb the virus. "It's smart, it's fair and it's in everyone's interest," he said. New York has 130,000 state workers.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement Wednesday the county "continues to closely review updated recommendations from the federal and state government. My Administration is working with key stakeholders to determine the best way forward for keeping our employees and the public safe. That may include additional COVID-19 testing. Meanwhile, Nassau County urges all eligible residents, especially public-facing workers, to get vaccinated."
Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County's commissioner of health, said: "We are considering all options when it comes to keeping our workforce and the public safe from COVID-19. Our public health officials will continue to monitor the positivity rate and hospitalization data daily moving forward."
Cuomo said vaccines would be mandatory for "front-line" workers at state-owned hospitals. Those employees could not opt to undergo frequent virus testing.
State-run hospitals on Long Island are Stony Brook University Hospital and Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook.
COVID-19 indicators continue to go up in New York, he said. The number of new daily confirmed cases has multiplied nearly tenfold in a month, Cuomo said Wednesday, rising from 275 on June 28 to 2,203 in the latest test results.
"The increase in the numbers is real," he said. In New York State, 75% of adults have received at least one shot, leaving 3.5 million adults unvaccinated.
Medical experts say cases are increasing because the highly contagious delta virus is spreading rapidly, many mitigation measures such as mask wearing have been lifted, and large segments of the population refuse to get vaccinated.
Roger Clayman, executive director of the 250,000-member Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said Wednesday that Pigott appeared at an executive board meeting Monday to talk about the importance of vaccination for union members.
"We certainly understand the importance of everyone being vaccinated," Clayman said, adding: "It certainly makes sense that people are vaccinated."
He said member unions were "having discussions" about required vaccinations and there had been "back and forth" but most members "don't want to make it mandatory."
However, he said, legal counsel has told the board that it appears the state — or any other employer — has the legal right to mandate vaccination.
"It’ll be an issue with some people. … But, the law as we understand it, will allow employers to do it. Some union members will argue that, but we will keep telling our unions and union members that it’s vitally important that everyone get vaccinated … that it's just common sense," Clayman said.