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NY sets new vaccination requirements for state workers, health care staff

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wears a gray suit while sitting at a brown desk.
Office of the Governor
Cuomo delivers his remarks to the Association for a Better New York virtually Wednesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will mandate that frontline workers in New York state-run hospitals be vaccinated against COVID-19. All other state workers also have to be vaccinated or be subject to weekly testing.

But the governor stopped short of imposing new mask mandates, despite advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that masks be required indoors in areas where the virus is spreading, due to the more contagious Delta variant.

Cuomo said the nearly 100,000 state workers will have to show proof of vaccination by early September or submit to weekly coronavirus tests. Front-line workers at state-run hospitals also will have to be fully vaccinated, but they will not have the option of weekly testing instead.

“The frontline workers must be vaccinated, period,” Cuomo said.

State-run hospitals and facilities include:

  • SUNY Stony Brook
  • SUNY Upstate
  • SUNY Downstate
  • Long Island Veterans Home at Stony Brook
  • Helen Hayes Hospital
  • SUNY College of Optometry
  • Montrose Veterans Home
  • St. Albans Veterans Home
  • Oxford Veterans Home
  • Batavia Veterans Home

The announcement follows decisions by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is requiring all city workers to be vaccinated, and by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is mandating that all state workers and employees of public and private-sector hospitals get their shot.
Employees of the New York State Legislature will not be included under the mandate. Cuomo, in June, ended a more than year-long pandemic state of emergency and no longer has the power to compel other branches of government to comply with pandemic-related rules.

State Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced that Senators and their staff, as well as all other state Senate employees, will also be subject to mandatory vaccines or weekly testing requirements.

The state’s court system is also adopting similar rules for judges and their staff.

Cuomo said because none of the vaccines have yet received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, it’s not legally possible to widen vaccination mandates right now. The law only allows employers to enact vaccine requirements for their workers.

The governor, speaking to a New York City business group, the Association for a Better New York Wednesday, urged companies to require vaccines for their employees.

Despite growing concerns over the rise of the Delta variant and incidences of breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people, Cuomo said businesses should require that all of the workers return to in-person work in their offices in September. He said it will help boost the city’s and the state’s economy.

“By Labor Day, everyone is back in the office,” Cuomo said. “We need that volume to support the restaurants and the shops and the services.”

The governor is not imposing any new statewide mask mandates right now, but he urged localities where the virus is spreading at a high rate to impose local mask mandates. And he said his administration is doing a “full review” of its mask policies now that the CDC has altered its recommendations.

He’s also urging schools to consider reinstating mask mandates for teachers and students, a step that is now recommended by the CDC.

Cuomo said schools, when they open in the fall, have the potential to become superspreader sites. He said school districts have the legal authority to require that teachers and all other workers receive vaccinations, and that schools may have to take more “dramatic” actions if the situation worsens.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.