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Cuomo: Vaccine mandate for patient-facing state hospital workers, state employees can be tested

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — New York state employees will have to either be vaccinated or face regular testing by Labor Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

Cuomo said the state is aligning itself with the federal government, which will reportedly hold the same mandate.

The governor also said all patient-facing healthcare workers at state-run hospitals will have to get the vaccine and will not have a testing option.

State-run hospitals and facilities include:

SUNY Stony Brook
SUNY Upstate
SUNY Downstate
Long Island Veterans Home at Stony Brook
Helen Hayes Hospital
SUNY College of Optometry
Montrose Veterans Home
St. Albans Veterans Home
Oxford Veterans Home
Batavia Veterans Home

Cuomo also encouraged other businesses to adopt similar plans, but it is not mandatory.

Cuomo says he understands it’s an aggressive step and plans to continue talks with unions.

President of the Civil Service Employees Association Mary Sulivan shared this statement with News10NBC:

“CSEA supports the Governor’s vaccine-or-test policy. New York has come a long way in overcoming COVID-19 together and we cannot slide backwards now or we put our members, workers, our families, children and all of us at greater risk. We need to continue to be diligent in protecting everyone in New York against COVID and this helps accomplish that. This procedure is already being effectively used in the SUNY system and all that’s happening here is it is being expanded, which CSEA supports.”

Other unions are not happy. The New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association said:

“The NYSTPBA was caught off guard by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s abrupt announcement regarding mandatory vaccinations or weekly COVID tests for state employees. While we await contact from the governor’s office with more information, we are reviewing our legal options since we believe this is a change in the terms and conditions of our employment.”

The governor also encouraged local governments to implement the same policy, but for now, it looks like not all local governments will be doing the same.

Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said Wednesday that the state vaccine mandate will not change things in Monroe County for two reasons.

“Mandating one group of people to take it, not another group… what you’re gonna find is people will shift to different jobs and move around to look at what’s right for them, and so I think it needs to be part of a much larger community conversation, number one,” Bello said. “Number two, I just don’t think it’s necessary yet at this time.”

Livingston County Executive Ian Coyle said something similar.

“We employ about 1,200 people full and part-time across all of our 32 departments,” Coyle said. “We are not going to mandate the vaccine. We have not gone down that path of mandation.”

According to the CDC’s COVID data tracker, Livingston County is currently considered “low risk” and Monroe County is considered “moderate risk.”

“We’re not at the point yet where I would call that a crisis,” Bello said. “You know, we’re not seeing a high rate like some other parts of the country where hospitals are filling again and we’re getting vaccination rates around 10 or 20%, but we are headed in the wrong direction.”

A spokesperson for the City of Rochester sent News10NBC the following statement: “City is currently evaluating whether to change its vaccination policies as it relates to its employees.”

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie announced that the Assembly will be requiring vaccinations or regular testing for those not vaccinated.

The New York State Unified Court System announced that in the coming weeks, it will require judges and non-judicial employees who have not been vaccinated to undergo regular testing for COVID-19. It said more details will be announced in the coming days.

Legal experts say the state’s decision to require the vaccine for its employees doesn’t break any laws.

“It’s legal to require the vaccine, or for the individual to be vaccinated, unless they have… there are some exemptions,” said Derrick Hogan, partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC. “You could have a religious exemption, or you could have an exemption for a health-related reason.”

State employees who claim a medical or religious exemption may be asked to show paperwork in order to back up their claim.

The news comes just a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it was switching its masking guidelines, which recommend that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. with high COVID-19 infection rates.

The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the country with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. That includes 60% of U.S. counties, officials said.

As of Wednesday, Monroe County reported 47 new cases in one day. Monroe County’s estimated population as of 2019 was 741,770, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The 7-day average positivity rate for Monroe County based on combined PCR and antigen test results was 2.2% and the 7-day average of new cases was 37 as of Tuesday.

Cuomo said the state is continuing to review the masking guidance.

The governor previously said he would mandate vaccines for students, a decision that is pending the full federal approval of the vaccines. But that still faces a legal challenge. As for workers, Cuomo said he is on “legal grounds.”

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