New York’s freshly sworn-in Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Tuesday a new mask mandate for schools, one of many pandemic-related initiatives she’s tackling immediately upon taking office.
The Democratic governor, who was officially sworn in at midnight and given a ceremonial swearing-in Tuesday morning, delivered her first address as New York’s first woman to hold the title. Hochul listed several issues she plans to prioritize in her first days as governor, many of which pertain to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19’s highly transmissible delta variant.
“Your priorities are my priorities, and right now that means fighting the delta variant,” she said. “None of us want a rerun of last year’s horrors with COVID-19. Therefore, we will take proactive steps to prevent that from happening.”
Hochul said her first priority is making sure children can attend school in person and in a safe environment. She said she will immediately direct the state Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering a New York school. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking for the new school year.
Hochul said that as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, she consulted with parents, elected officials, teachers, school boards and superintendents about how best to implement public safety rules to create a classroom environment safe from COVID-19.
“We need to require vaccinations for all school personnel, with an option to test out weekly, at least for now,” Hochul said Tuesday. “To accomplish this in New York, we need partnerships with all levels of government, and I’m working now on getting this done. New York is launching a back-to-school COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient.”
New York City has already announced vaccine mandates for teachers and staff at public schools, where classes begin Sept. 13. That announcement came the same day as the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine ― a move that officials hope will increase public confidence in the vaccine and spur institutional willingness to implement mandates.
Hochul said she will announce a series of school-related policies this week that will be “concise and consistent, giving the school districts what they have been asking for.” While these are her “day-one initiatives on COVID,” the governor said she will give regular updates and announcements soon.
“Much progress has been made, but too many are not yet vaccinated, putting themselves and their communities at risk,” she said. “With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements, and more on that soon.”
Hochul said she believes “that this is our time ― our time to escape the oppression of a deadly virus and make our schools and workplaces safe to return.”