Despite criticism, Hochul refuses to take statewide action to quell COVID-19 spikes

(Mike Groll / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – Rates of COVID-19 are rising in many areas of upstate New York. So far, local governments have been left on their own to manage the spread of the disease. Now some county leaders are looking to the state and Governor Kathy Hochul for more help.

Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo, has seen some of the highest infection rates since the start of the pandemic.

Erie County Director Mark Poloncarz said there were nearly 800 new cases a day as of the end of last week, the vast majority of them in younger, unvaccinated people. The transmission rate is almost 10%. Poloncarz reimposed a mask mandate on Monday for all indoor public places in the county.

“Customers and staff who face the public and deal with the public, and customers who enter, will all need to wear a mask,” he said.

The rule applies to restaurants, shops, theaters and sporting events, as well as gyms, hair salons and beauty salons.

Poloncarz said he would re-evaluate on Dec. 13 how the mask mandate works, based on positivity rates and the number of people hospitalized with the disease. County hospitals are reaching their maximum capacity. If the numbers do not decrease, he said he would require proof of vaccination for anyone wishing to enter an indoor public space, including restaurants, cinemas and sporting events.

“You cannot enter the facility without having been vaccinated,” he said. “Very similar to what you are seeing in New York right now. “

New York City requires indoor masking and proof of vaccination for all indoor public activities. The virus rate was around 1.5%, the lowest in the state.

In Albany County, where the current positivity rate of nearly 7% is higher than in November 2020, County Director Dan McCoy is asking Hochul for more help. “I’d rather the governor take action, than Albany County has to go it alone,” McCoy said.

He cited the example of President Biden imposing a vaccination mandate on all businesses that employ 100 or more people. McCoy warned his county could also impose mask warrants soon. He said he was reluctant to do so because it punishes the majority of people who have taken their vaccines.

“And why are you penalizing everyone who did the right thing?” Asked McCoy, who added that 75% of adults in his county have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

McCoy also said the governor and his staff could do more to help with the high costs of COVID-19 tests, which cost an average of $ 125 and are often needed for schoolchildren to return to the classroom after an outbreak at their school. .

The New York State County Association wrote a letter to the governor asking for the free mass testing sites to be reopened. The counties also want the state to use its purchasing power to purchase and distribute inexpensive rapid tests, which are often difficult to purchase due to shortages.

Around the same time last year, former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was granted special emergency powers by the state legislature, had more power to declare statewide closures and hide mandates. Cuomo resigned in August following a sexual harassment scandal.

Hochul lacks these powers and has largely left the decision of whether or not to impose COVID-related regulations to local governments.

Poloncarz, who is an ally of Hochul, said he was satisfied with the governor’s decision.

“I don’t think they will revert to the (rules) of the state,” said Poloncarz, who added that the governor allowed local governments to take “the appropriate measures”.

County leaders aren’t the only ones criticizing Hochul.

Her political rival, State Attorney General Letitia James, said “the state government is not acting” to deal with the crisis and has come up with its own plan. James, who is running against Hochul in the 2022 Democratic primary for governor, said more direct action is needed in communities where there are high rates of unvaccinated people.

At the end of the day on Wednesday, Hochul posted a pre-recorded video message. She has not advocated for any new statewide rules to tackle the virus, but said she is working closely with county leaders in the state where the numbers are rising. Instead, she urged voluntary efforts to help curb the spread during holiday dinners and weekend shopping and other activities.

“Limit gatherings to family and loved ones who have been vaccinated. And if you can, get tested before you see someone at high risk. If the weather permits, open the windows and doors, ”Hochul said. “If you feel sick, please stay home. “

Hochul also called on companies to require that their staff and customers be vaccinated and that everyone wear masks in indoor public places. She urged those who have received their vaccines to try to convince unvaccinated resistant family and friends to change their minds.

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