Hochul praised as hero of HERO Act implementation

— Still frame from Sept. 8 press conference

“We have to make the workplace itself a safer environment,” said Governor Kathy Hochul at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul was lauded by the sponsors of the HERO Act, by a union president, and by the state’s labor commissioner for moving the act forward.
The New York Health and Essential Rights Act, known as the NY HERO Act, was signed into law on May 5, 2021 by former Governor Andrew Cuomo. The law mandated extensive new workplace health and safety protections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which were meant to protect employees against exposure and disease during a future airborne infectious disease outbreak.

But it wasn’t until Hochul took office that the state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, designated COVID-19 a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health under the HERO Act, requiring all employers to implement workplace safety plans.

“We have to make the workplace itself a safer environment,” said Hochul at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Although the HERO Act was signed into law last May and went into effect in June, Hochul said, “It never had any teeth …. It wasn’t operational.”

She said that many workplaces did not take it seriously. Hochul also said, “We know that the Delta variant is continuing to rage.”

But, she went on, the state’s economy has been in an “induced coma for far too long.” This makes workplace safety essential, said Hochul.

The act requires employers to create plans with safety measures such as health screenings, masking, and social distancing requirements, workplace hygiene stations, workplace cleaning protocol, quarantine protocol, and building airflow technology.

Employers are required to distribute their work safety plans to all employees and to post the plan in a visible and prominent location within each worksite. 

Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, said, “We couldn’t get the department of health to certify that we were in the midst of a pandemic.”

He also noted that the act empowers workers to monitor the safety of their workplaces and to make reports.

Democratic Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, a nurse from the Bronx, spoke of the fear she saw in patients’ eyes at the height of the pandemic and the worry of running out of ventilators. “We don’t want to be there ever again,” she said.

She said Hochul brought a “refreshing change of tone” and, without her leadership, Reyes said, “We would not be able to fully implement the HERO Act.”

Mario Cilento, president of the New York AFL-CIO, which he said has two-and-a-half-million members, said of the pandemic, “We’re still in this.”

“Nineteen-million New Yorkers in this state are safer today than they were two days ago,” said Cilento of the HERO Act implementation, praising Hochul for her collaborative approach and for her action.

“We are ready to go out and do the enforcement now that we have the designation,” said Roberta Reardon, the state's labor commissioner. She said employees who had complaints about the HERO Act not being followed would lodge a complaint through the state’s labor department just as with any workplace safety concern.


Vax mandates

“The numbers are starting to creep up again,” said Hochul near the start of her press conference as she displayed charts of infection rates in the state’s 10 regions and graph on hospitalization and vaccination.

“We have five times the number we had last year,” Hochul said of hospitalizations as she displayed a chart showing percentage capacity for the various regions. The Capital Region is at 35 percent of its hospital-bed capacity and at 21 percent of its capacity for intensive-care units.

The difference between last year and this year, Hochul noted, is that vaccines are available. “I want to see that number go up,” she said of the number of New Yorkers who are vaccinated — currently at 61 percent.

The vaccines are holding against the Delta variant, said Hochul, calling breakthrough infections — vaccinated people testing positive for COVID-19 — “a rarity.”

She noted that breakthrough cases have been reported in only 0.5 percent of the fully vaccinated population and that only 0.04 percent of the fully vaccinated population has been hospitalized.

Hochul displayed a chart, listing groups of people that are required by the state to be vaccinated:

— All state workers in health-care facilities must be vaccinated; workers in hospitals and nursing homes must be vaccinated by Sept. 27 while workers in home-care agencies, hospices, and adult-care facilities must be vaccinated by Oct. 7;

— State University of New York students at all 64 campuses and City University of New York students must be vaccinated by Sept. 27; and

— Mass Transit Authority and Port Authority workers must be vaccinated by Oct. 12; they have the option of weekly COVID-19 testing instead.

Hochul said staff shortages at hospitals could reach “a crisi level” and touted programs that train helath-care workers in less than a year.

She spoke of the need for all health-care workers to be vaccinated, calling it “a tremendous risk … if they, too, are carrying the virus.”

On Thursday, Will Barclay, Assembly minority leader, and 41 of the 43 GOP members signed a letter to Hochul and Zucker, objecting to the vaccination mandate.

“With an estimated 20 to 25 percent of healthcare workers unvaccinated, we will be facing numerous resignations or firings by the September 27th deadline ….,” the letter said. “What is the Department of Health’s response plan to ensure that New York’s healthcare workforce remains in place? In addition, what can be done for those who are in the healthcare field who have a medical exemption for the vaccine, as they cannot medically tolerate receiving it, or for the many work-from-home medical professionals, such as coders and transcriptionists?”

The letter also said, “Perhaps a more comprehensive solution, instead of a widespread mandate, would be to increase access to PPE, including N95 masks, for healthcare settings and allow for weekly testing of unvaccinated healthcare workers, which is the standard applied to P-12 schools.”



Hochul urged New Yorkers on Wednesday to follow the original precautions — masking, social-distancing, and hand-washing.

She also said that the Mu variant, first identified in Colombia in January, is no cause for immediate concern but is being monitored.

Mu is the fifth variant of interest to be monitored by the World Health Organization since March, according to a United Nations report; it has a number of mutations that suggest it could be more resistant to vaccines, the health agency warned, but stressed that further research would be needed to confirm this.

The state laboratory, Wadsworth, has found that the Mu variant makes up less that 0.5 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state, Hochul said.

The state is awaiting guidance from the federal government on booster shots — a third shot for people who were vaccinated with messenger RNA vaccines, that is, either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, Hochul said.

Pfizer vaccine is expected by Sept. 20, she said, with Moderna to follow.

Sixty-five-million dollars is being allocated to local health departments to administer the booster shots, Hochul said. “They are ready for this. They want to be engaged,” she said.

Hochul added, “I want to have the state available to backfill.”

The state will work with long-term care facilities — which first received the original vaccine doses — for efficient, equitable vaccine access, Hochul said, and local health departments will identify pop-up sites for vulnerable communities.

Albany County Health Commissioner Elizabeth Whalen said earlier that she hopes to get pediatricians and primary-care physicians to administer the booster shots so people can be vaccinated in places where they normally get health care.



Only half of New York 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, Hochul said. “So we have to do better,” she said.

A state campaign was launched on Wednesday to support increasing COVID-19 vaccination rates among school-aged New Yorkers.

As part of this campaign, there is a new, dedicated website at ny.gov/vaxtoschool with resources and materials for parents and guardians of school-aged New Yorkers and school communities.

The new site includes information, and an FAQ for parents and guardians, as well as ready-made signage for school leaders to support #VaxtoSchool education.

The state also launched a new Instagram channel, @VaccinateNY with approachable, interactive content for vaccine information and quick video explainers.

New #VaxtoSchool pop-up COVID-19 vaccination sites will be open in areas where ZIP code data shows the vaccination rate for 12- to 17-year-olds is lower than the statewide average.

“New York’s young people are less likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 but they can still spread the virus, and we need them to take it seriously,” said Hochul in a statement.

At her Wednesday press conference, she said, “I’m asking parents to do what’s absolutely best for their children.”


Newest numbers

On Thursday morning, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported, in his daily release, 86 new cases of COVID-19.

There are now 449 active cases in the county, down from 460 on Wednesday. The number of Albany County residents under quarantine increased to 697 from 678.

There were nine new hospitalizations since Wednesday, and 37 county residents are now hospitalized with the virus — a net increase of eight. There are currently nine patients in intensive-care units, up from six yesterday.

“The last time we had 37 Albany County residents hospitalized with COVID at one time was back on March 6 of this year, when vaccine distribution in New York was in its infancy and only available for those most at-risk,” said McCoy in the release. “Additionally, today marks the single highest increase in new overnight hospitalizations likely since February.

“As we’ve seen here and across the country, the vast majority who are getting seriously ill with COVID, being sent to the hospital and losing their lives are unvaccinated. If you haven’t yet and are able, please get the shot to protect yourself and those around you.”

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, 70.1 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine as have 81.1 percent of county residents 18 and older.

Statewide, 68.5 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose as have 81.0 percent of New Yorkers 18 and older.

Albany County continues to deliver vaccines to homebound residents, which includes seniors, disabled individuals, those lacking childcare, and those with other accessibility issues. Anyone who would like to schedule a time for a vaccine appointment should call 518-447-7198.

Residents can also receive free Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., each week at the Albany County Department of Health, 175 Green Street. Anyone age 12 or older is eligible. No appointments are needed and walk-ins are welcome.

Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll remains at 398.


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