Hochul says masks will be required for students

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 24 August 2021 at 5:23 pm

New governor also wants teachers to be vaccinated or tested weekly

Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers an address to New Yorkers at the State Capitol this afternoon. (Photo by Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her first address as governor of New York, said fighting the spread of Covid will be a top priority especially with the start of a new school year.

Hochul said the state will be requiring masks for students, and she is pursuing options to have teachers and staff either be vaccinated or tested weekly for Covid.

“My number one priority is getting children back to school and protecting the environment so they can learn safely,” Hochul said. “I am immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools, and we are launching a Back to School Covid-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient.”

Hochul said the state will use $335 million in federal funds for the Covid “Testing in Schools Program” in partnership with local health departments and BOCES in New York State outside of New York City. In addition, New York City has received $225 million directly for Covid testing in the schools.

The state also is launching a back-to-school Covid testing program in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Rite Aid and BioReference to make testing more widely available. Testing appointments will be available to students in grades K-12 at the 115 Rite Aid drive-through locations.

In addition to the new testing programs, the state has more than 4.3 million child-sized clothed face masks, about 10 million adult-sized clothed face masks and almost 55 million non-surgical face masks to provide to students and teachers in schools across the state.

Andy Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers, issued a statement in support of Hochul’s announcement.

“Gov. Kathy Hochul brings a breath of fresh air to Albany, and she already is taking decisive action to bolster health and safety in our schools,” Pallotta said. “We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust Covid testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts. We also support the governor’s move to require regular Covid testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other Covid policies at the local level.”

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said 95 percent of the Covid cases currently in the state are confirmed to be the Delta variant. He said the Covid cases in the state are up 10-fold since early July.

“While a simple measure of prevention, requiring masks now is crucial for protecting the health of our children and ensuring we can get our students back in their schools this fall,” Zucker said in a statement.

Hochul said other top priorities will be boosting vaccination rates throughout the state so fewer people and communities are at risk of Covid. She also will push to make Covid booster shots available and distributed quickly and reliably, which could mean reopening mass vaccination sites.

She also said Covid relief money for renters, landlords and workers has been secured for the state but hasn’t been fully released.

“I am not at all satisfied with the pace that this Covid relief is getting out the door,” she said. “I want the money out—and I want it out now. No more excuses and delays.”

The state will be hiring more staff to process applications to get the relief funds to landlords, renters and people through the Excluded Workers Fund.

Hochul also vowed for a “dramatic change in culture” in the way Albany operates. She is directing an overhaul of state government’s policies on sexual harassment and ethics. All training will be done live in person, instead of allowing people to click their way through a class, she said.

She also said the state government would be more transparent with an expedited process to fulfill all Freedom of Information Act requests “as fast as possible.”

She also is signing an executive order requiring ethics training for every state employee.

“To recap, these are the highest priorities of my Administration in its first days: combatting Delta, getting direct aid to New Yorkers more quickly, and beginning to change the culture in Albany,” Hochul said.