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Hochul expands booster shots as virus rate rises

Gov. Kathy Hochul appears in front of a basketball backboard.
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul gave her COVID-19 briefing Tuesday at the Delavan Grider Community Center in Buffalo.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, saying she is very concerned with the higher rate of transmission of COVID-19 in Western New York and other upstate regions, is expanding eligibility for booster shots to any adult in a high-transmission area who feels that they need one.

Hochul gave a briefing in Buffalo, where the virus transmission rate is above 8%. The Finger Lakes region, which includes the city of Rochester, has an even higher rate of nearly 8.5%. Much of the rest of upstate New York has a positivity rate of 5% or more, higher than it was in the fall of 2020.

"There's no reason why a whole year later, as we're entering our second holiday season, that we have to be doing this, mask or any restrictions at all. It's so avoidable," the governor said. "That's what I find exasperating. This is avoidable and everybody who's done the right thing, they are just as frustrated as everybody else, as well. I'm just saying let's just get this done."

A black and green chart of Erie County COVID-19 Hospitalization Data
Erie County Health Department

Hochul said the solution is to get more people vaccinated. Despite the widespread availability of the vaccine, just under 67% of New York state residents are fully vaccinated. The vast majority of those testing positive for the virus are unvaccinated.

The governor also urged people to get their children vaccinated. Erie County figures say kids 5-17 years old have positivity rates over 10%. A new website has answers to frequently asked questions for parents and guardians of this age group. 

For those who have already received their vaccine, Hochul is expanding eligibility for booster shots. She said any adult who lives in a high transmission area and feels they need the shot is now allowed to receive one.

The governor’s advice goes further than the current federal Centers for Disease Control recommendation that booster shots be limited to those older than 65 or who have serious underlying health conditions.

“There is not a clear metric on this that has been given to us by the CDC,” Hochul said. “But I am telling you, as governor, that anything over a 4% or 5% transmission rate is unacceptably high and is considered a risk area.”

New Yorkers older than 65 have been eligible for booster shots for several weeks, but Hochul said only 47% of seniors so far have received one.

The governor said there’s another worry. The rate of breakthrough infections among vaccinated New Yorkers is also on the rise, though still low. About 1.1% of vaccinated individuals tested positive for the virus last week. That rose to 1.2% this week.

A green and blue chart of Weekly Student and School Staff COVID-19 Cases 2021-2022
Erie County Health Department

In New York City, where masks are mandatory at indoor public settings and proof of vaccination is required for admission to theaters, art museums and restaurants, the positivity rate for COVID has been lower, at about 1%.

"You cannot go into a diner, where I was yesterday, without showing my Excelsior Pass. So that has made a profound difference in those communities and, to the extent and that was instituted by local government," she said. "Those options are out there."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio imposed the mandates. Hochul said, for now, she is not contemplating similar statewide rules and is leaving it up to local governments to decide what’s best for their community

But she recommended that at home holiday gatherings, beginning with Thanksgiving next week, everyone should be vaccinated and wear a mask unless they are actively eating and drinking.

"The smartest gathering is going to have people who are wearing masks and, hopefully, vaccinated. People should encourage it," the governor said. "Before you have Thanksgiving dinner, I would want to know before I invite anybody outside my immediate pod that I've been with the whole time, are they vaccinated? That's a fair and legitimate question to ask. And if Grandma and Grandpa are there, I'd take the time right now to make sure they got their booster shot."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.