As unvaccinated health-care workers lose jobs, Hochul says: ‘It was the right thing to do’

— From the KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor

ALBANY COUNTY — Three county residents have succumbed to COVID-19 in the last two days — a person who was at least 100 and two people in their seventies — bringing Albany County’s COVID-19 death toll to 406.

“It breaks my heart to have to report two more county residents who have lost their battle with COVID, and my thoughts and prayers are with both of the families,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy in a statement on Friday morning, announcing the latest county COVID data.

“On top of that,” he went on, “hospitalizations continue to trend upwards and we now have the most county residents in ICUs with the virus since February 14. This is especially concerning given the strain currently on hospital systems due to the shortage of healthcare workers.”

At midnight on Monday, a state mandate went into effect, requiring health-care workers in hospitals and nursing homes across New York to be vaccinated. They are not allowed to test out unless they have a medical or religious exemption.

The order that currently sustains religious exemptions will be heard in federal court on Oct. 12. “I’m confident we’re going to win,” said Governor Kathy Hochul at a news conference on Thursday.

Hospital and nursing-home workers are being furloughed and let go if they are not vaccinated.

“It was the right thing to do. I will stand by that,” said Hochul.

She conceded, though, “It’s hard to force people to do something that you truly wish they would do voluntarily.”

Hochul explained that, while the state’s Department of Health was able to mandate vaccines for hospitals and nursing-home workers, health-care workers in other settings like prisons or facilities run by the state’s Office of Mental Health are not governed by the state’s health department.

“That being said, we have been working and continue to be working on regulations that would cover all those services being promulgated from the Office of Mental Health and other facilities,” said Hochul. “That is going to happen.”

There is no reason to have an exception, Hochul said. “We will have the legal authority to announce that very shortly …. Testing will not be an option.”

She went on, “I just have to get the regulations to make sure that, when we get the inevitable lawsuit, that we have all the protections and the defenses to make sure we can establish that we did this properly with the right authority. I did not have the right authority under what we did with the hospitals and nursing homes. Otherwise, I assure you I would have.”

Hochul also said that, since she took office on Aug. 24, vaccination rates at hospitals and nursing homes have increased: 77 percent of hospital workers were vaccinated on Aug. 24 and now 92 percent are; 72 percent of nursing-home workers were and now 92 percent are.

On Oct. 7, vaccination mandates go into effect for home health-care agencies, for hospices, and for adult-care facilities.

“We are preparing to amass an army of people if necessary,” said Hochul, of filling jobs vacated by unvaccinated health-care workers.

While the National Guard has not been deployed, she said that “thousands of student nurses” are available as are “people whose licenses had lapsed because they had retired.”

“So one more step we took this past week was an executive order that suspended for 30 days, the requirement that there be pre-authorization of the medical care for insurance purposes,” Hochul said.

Many licensed healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, have to spend their time on paperwork, she said. The executive order frees them, if there is a crisis, to “be deployed by their hospital to actually be on the floor and help people.”

 

Vaccinating youth

Hochul said that vaccination for New Yorkers 18 and older is heading in the right direction, at over 83 percent. But, she said, she is “still not happy with our young people.”

Hochul went on, “I’m not sure what other argument I can make to the parents of these 12- to 17-year-olds, other than: What are you waiting for? Your kids need this.”

She noted that children need other vaccinations in order to enter kindergarten and said she is “just beseeching parents to do what’s right for their kids and not let them be one of those children who end up in a serious condition in a hospital or even worse yet.”

On Thursday, Hochul announced 20 more pop-up vaccination sites, bringing the state’s total to over 120, to reach youth at schools and community centers. 

 Locally, the numbers of COVID-19 cases logged on the State’s COVID-19 Report Card, show more cases now than at the same time during the last school year. As of Sept. 30, Guilderland schools had a total of 28 cases, two staffers and 26 students; Vorheesville had nine, eight students and one teacher; and Berne-Knox-Westerlo had 10, eight students, one teacher, and one staffer.

The latest survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, published on Thursday, Sept. 20, found almost one in four parents of a child attending in-person school (23 percent) say their child has been required to quarantine at home due to a possible COVID-19 exposure since the school year began.

Five months after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine’s use in children ages 12 and over, nearly half (48 percent) of parents of children ages 12 to 17 say their child has received at least one dose of a vaccine, the survey found.

The share of parents who say they want to “wait and see” before getting their 12- to 17-year-old vaccinated has decreased to 15 percent, down from 23 percent in July. Just 4 percent of parents say they will only get their teenager vaccinated “if their school requires it,” and one in five (21 percent) say they will “definitely not” vaccinate their child, similar to the share measured in previous months, Kaiser found.

On Sept. 20, Pfizer announced that clinical trials showed their COVID-19 vaccine was safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11. Kaiser, conducting interviews between Sept. 13 and 22, with the bulk of them before Pfizer’s announcement, found that about a third of parents (34 percent) say they will vaccinate their 5- to 11-year-old child “right away” once a vaccine is authorized for their age group.

About a third of parents (32 percent) say they will “wait and see” how the vaccine is working before having their 5-to 11-year-old vaccinated. Notably, the share who say they definitely won’t get their 5-to 11-year-old vaccinated remains steady at one in four (24 percent).

Parents continue to be more cautious about getting their younger children vaccinated with about one in four (23 percent) saying they will get their child under the age of 5 vaccinated right away once a vaccine is available for that age group and about a third (35 percent) saying they will definitely not get their child under 5 vaccinated for COVID-19.

Many schools are requiring students and staff to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status — in New York State, masks are mandated in schools. A local lawsuit is challenging that requirement.

Overall, Kaiser found, a majority of parents (58 percent) say K-12 schools should require all students and staff to wear masks while at school, 4 percent say they should only require unvaccinated students and staff to wear masks, and about a third (35 percent) say schools should have no mask requirements at all.

Seven in 10 parents (73 percent) who are vaccinated for COVID-19 themselves say schools should require all students to wear masks, while about six in 10 unvaccinated parents (63 parents) say there should be no masking requirements at all.

Notably, Kaiser says, mothers are more likely than fathers to say schools should require all students and staff to wear masks (70 percent of mothers as opposed to 42 percent of fathers).

 

Newest numbers

Albany County has 110 new cases of COVID-19, McCoy announced on Friday morning. The county’s five-day average of new daily positive cases is now up to 92.

There are now 565 active cases in the county, up from 552 on Thursday. The number of Albany County under mandatory quarantine increased to 934 from 910.

There were five new hospitalizations since Thursday, and there are now a total of 38 county residents hospitalized with COVID — a net increase of one from the last update. There are now 13 patients in intensive-care units, up from 11.

According to the state’s vaccine tracker, 71.5 percent of Albany county’s 307,117 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine as have 82.6 percent of county residents 18 and older.

As of Sept. 29, as a seven-day rolling average, according to the state’s dashboard, Albany County has an infection rate of 3.8 percent; statewide, the infection rate is 2.6 percent.

Of the state’s 10 regions, the North Country has the highest rate at 5.6 percent and New York City has the lowest rate at 1.4 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the community transmission rate for Albany County remains high as it does for New York State and the rest of the nation, save California, where the rate is substantial. This means masks should be worn in public indoors regardless of vaccination status.

More Regional News

  • Two more Albany county residents — a man in his sixties and a woman in her eighties — died of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy reported on Thursday morning. This brings Albany County’s death toll from the virus to 495.

  • New York State Capitol

    Starting on Monday, visitors to the capitol must be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours, the Office of General Services announced on Saturday. The office also announced that the Legislative Office Building will be closed until further notice “as a necessary precaution in response to the evolving COVID-19 situation.”

  • “While New York as a whole is showing signs of statewide COVID infections possibly hitting their peak, that is clearly not the case for Albany County as we report nearly 1,600 new positive cases in a single day, the highest increase we’ve ever experienced since the pandemic started nearly two years ago,” said Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

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