Gov. Kathy Hochul at a press conference last month about the state's health care vaccine mandates. Courtesy photo: Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Responding to “warning signs” of another winter surge in COVID-19 cases in New York and the expected impacts of the new coronavirus variant of concern, Gov. Kathy Hochul yesterday declared a new state of emergency in New York.

The omicron variant has not yet been detected in New York, but “it’s coming,” Hochul said in a press release late yesterday announcing the executive action.

The new variant, reported by South Africa this week, has an unusually high number of mutations and is believed to be highly contagious and have some potential to evade immunity provided by vaccines or prior infection. That led the World Health Organization to quickly classify it as a variant of concern and assign it a Greek alphabet letter for public communication purposes.

New York is already experiencing COV1D-19 transmission at rates the state has not seen since April 2020 and hospital admissions have been increasing over the past month, according to Executive Order No. 11, which Hochul signed yesterday, declaring the disaster emergency.

The disaster emergency declaration is in effect statewide through Jan. 15.

>>> More COVID-19 coverage

The declaration allows the State Department of Health to use the “surge and flex system” which may include ordering hospitals with to postpone non-essential elective procedures. Hochul said in the press release “limited capacity” is when staffed bed capacity is under 10% or is otherwise determined by the health department to be limited “based on regional and health care utilization factors.”

The new protocols will begin on Friday, Dec. 3, and will be re-assessed based on the latest COVID-19 data on Jan. 15, the governor said.

The declaration also implements the State Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan, which gives state agencies broad authority to assist local governments and individuals in responding to the emergency and provide any assistance necessary to protect public health, welfare, and safety.

With the declaration of a state disaster emergency, the governor has broad powers to temporarily suspend or modify any statute, local law, ordinance or regulation if compliance with with them would hinder or delay action necessary to cope with or respond to the disaster.

The governor yesterday temporarily suspended certain provisions of state law to allow the state to purchase commodities, services, and technology without following standard procurement processes and to allow the state to purchase food, supplies, services and equipment, and provide various centralized services, to assist affected local
governments, individuals and other non-state entities in responding to and recovering from the disaster emergency.

“The Executive Order will also enable New York State to acquire more quickly any critical supplies to combat the pandemic,” the press release said.

Hochul said “urgent steps” are needed “to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months.”

She also signed an executive order yesterday extending, for the second time, Executive Order No. 4, signed Sept. 27, issued to alleviate hospital staffing shortages. That order implemented a long list of measures, many of which eased registration and licensing requirements for health care practitioners and others that expanded the role of emergency medical services organizations in testing for and vaccinating against COVID-19.

Mask protocols in health care and P-12 school settings, correctional facilities and detentions centers, public transportation and at transportation hubs remain in effect.

“The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic, and I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated, and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated,” Hochul said.

The administration continues to focus on boosting vaccination rates, including increasing vaccine access points, vaccinating school-aged children, providing incentive program and combatting vaccine misinformation campaigns.

Currently 66% of all New Yorkers have completed their vaccine series and more than 2.2 million booster and/or additional doses have been administered in New York, according to the state health department.

First Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin, the presumptive Republican and Conservative nominee for governor quickly denounced Hochul’s actions, which he called “ill-advised mandates” that would “limit necessary health services” and hurt New Yorkers.

“Throughout the pandemic, New Yorkers had to limit their doctor visits and elected procedures with increased risk and harm related to major long term negative health consequences,” Zeldin said in a statement issued by his campaign yesterday evening. “Going backwards now to limit necessary health services will result in massive negative harm that absolutely must be avoided,” he said.

Zeldin said the state has a major staffing shortage in the health field that he claimed Hochul “greatly exacerbated with her COVID-19 vaccine mandate.”

The state vaccine mandate for workers in hospitals and nursing homes, which went into effect Sept. 27, was announced by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in mid-August. The mandate resulted in 34,000 workers in hospitals and nursing homes losing jobs or being placed on leave, about 3.5% of the workforce, according to according to statistics released last month by the governor. About 20,500 home health workers, representing about 8% of the industry’s workforce, lost their jobs for noncompliance with the mandate, according to the data.

The vaccine mandate prompted about 55,000 hospital and nursing home workers to take the shot in the week before the deadline, according to state data.

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