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Hochul plans to distribute COVID tests, masks as 'this is a northeastern phenomenon right now'

Gov. Kathy Hochul (left) and state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett at Monday's COVID-19 briefing.
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Gov. Kathy Hochul (left) and state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett at Monday's COVID-19 briefing.

On Monday, more than 5,500 New Yorkers were hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest hospitalization since February. Hospitalizations are also on the rise in recent weeks among children, many of whom are still not vaccinated against COVID.

Most people who have gotten seriously ill or have died of COVID-19 have been older adults, but kids can get the coronavirus and be hospitalized from it.

New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett tried to hammer that reality home at a COVID briefing on Monday.

“Many people thought [and] continue to think that children don’t become infected with COVID. This is not true. Children become infected and some will be hospitalized.”

Out of about 3,500 New Yorkers hospitalized with COVID in early December, 70 of them were children. That’s a small fraction, but pediatric hospitalizations have been climbing this month. The following week, 104 kids were hospitalized and the week after that, ahead of Christmas, 184 kids were in the hospital with COVID.

Bassett said she wants everyone to know that pediatric hospitalizations are on the rise.

“We’re releasing these data because we want pediatricians to be alert to making the diagnosis of COVID in children and we also want parents to be alert to the diagnosis.”

Parents have a key role to play in this moment. Not only should they be on the lookout for COVID symptoms, Bassett said, but they’re also the ones who have to give consent to get their kids getting vaccinated. State data shows most kids hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated.

Vaccination rates are especially low among kids from 5-11 years old, at just 16%. That age group wasn’t approved for the vaccine until early November.

At Monday’s briefing, Gov. Kathy Hochul urged parents to get their kids vaccinated.

“Parents, I’m calling on you. This is the time. You have the kids home from school," Hochul said. "There’s plenty of vaccination opportunities, from your pediatrician, to a site set up by the State of New York, our urgent care centers– so many places– drug stores where you can go get your child vaccinated before they get back to school.”

Many kids will return to school next week.

“We have seen a major uptick in cases all around us," Hochul said. "This is a northeastern phenomenon right now. Washington and all of the north, the Atlantic seaboard, New Jersey, all around us, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, are all being hit hard, almost equal numbers as we are. So we're seeing cases per 100,000 statewide up to 180, which is high. You can see where we're trending they're not a surprise, not something we weren't preparing for, not something we're not ready for. But it's always disturbing to see those numbers continue as they do."

The Democrat said the majority of tests coming from the federal government will be distributed to New York schools. One million kits are being distributed outside of New York City, with 100 trucks delivering them this week.

Hochul said she remains steadfast that schools stay open amid the surge in cases.

“Most cases are not being transmitted in schools. Children are wearing their masks. We want more vaccinated, we want them boosted at some point, as soon as possible, but we understand it’s not a good option to say children are going to be returning home again,” she said. “Subject to possible changes in the future but right now that is absolutely where our position is. It’s unwavering.”

Cases among New York nursing home residents have also soared since the beginning of December. Hochul said nearly a third of the state’s nursing homes have at least one resident with COVID.

“We’ve been very aggressive in providing the booster shots to our nursing home population but again, you cannot get a booster unless you’ve been vaccinated, and we’ve been trying to, ever since we required all nursing homes to make boosters available, back around Thanksgiving, and if they had been successful, we wouldn’t even have a problem right now,” she said.

As a Federal Emergency Management Agency team embeds at the state’s emergency operations center — helping with ambulances, mobile testing and emergency clinical staffing — Hochul said she will unveil a new winter COVID plan on Friday, New Year’s Eve.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.