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Hochul mandates masks in NY child care centers amid concern kids could spread COVID

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 9/15/2021 Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News
Kathy Hochul standing in front of a building: Governor Kathy Hochul delivers a COVID-19 update in the Red Room at the State Capitol on September 15, 2021 in Albany, New York. © Mike Groll/TNS Governor Kathy Hochul delivers a COVID-19 update in the Red Room at the State Capitol on September 15, 2021 in Albany, New York.

Day care and after-school facilities across New York must require staff, visitors and children to wear face masks indoors, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday amid concern that kids too young to get vaccinated could exacerbate the state’s spike in COVID-19 infections.

The new mandate, which applies to anyone older than 2 who’s “medically able” to wear a mask, covers all child care providers registered or licensed by the state’s Office of Family Services, Hochul said in a briefing at the State Capitol in Albany.

Since coronavirus vaccines are currently only authorized for people older than 12, Hochul said masks remain the “best line of defense” in child care settings.

“This new mask requirement ensures that children in our child care facilities receive the same protection as children in our schools,” said Hochul, who has also mandated masks in schools statewide.

In addition to child care facilities, Hochul’s new rule requires masks to be worn in all state-licensed facilities providing mental health, substance abuse, disability, domestic violence and foster care services.

The governor’s focus on educational settings comes as children across New York returned to full-time in-person classes this week for the first time in over a year.

Driven by the extremely contagious delta variant, New York’s coronavirus curve has trended in the wrong direction for weeks — with death, hospitalization and infection rates ticking up — and some public health experts worry that children returning to school en masse could make the situation worse.

Even though kids generally do not develop symptoms from COVID-19, they can help spread it, Hochul noted.

“If you’re watching the national news, the scariest announcements coming out every single morning are the number of children now contracting COVID,” she said.


Video: New York hospital pauses maternity services after dozens resign over vaccine mandate (NBC News)

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In a reminder that the pandemic is far from over, 31 New Yorkers died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, Hochul said.

Still, Hochul said New York is in a far better place than last year.

Hospital capacity — a key indicator of the severity of a COVID-19 outbreak — is still at a reasonable level, Hochul said, with 24% of intensive care unit beds statewide available. In New York City, 20% of ICU beds are available, according to Health Department data.

“We are still in good shape,” Hochul said.

She credited vaccinations for the relatively stable situation, with about 73% of adult New Yorkers now fully inoculated against COVID-19.

There is another logistical challenge on the horizon for New York’s vaccination campaign.

As delta remains a powerful threat, federal regulators are expected to recommend that fully vaccinated individuals get a booster shot this fall or winter to ensure continued protection.

Hochul has set aside $65 million in state funds for local health departments to develop booster shot plans. She said at Wednesday’s briefing that 200 sites have set up such plans so far statewide, with “more coming.”

In order to help administer booster shots once the feds give the green light, Hochul said she’s allowing basic EMT workers to work as vaccinators, adding another 2,000 staffers to the state’s immunization campaign.

Beyond mask requirements, Hochul, like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, has made vaccine mandates a key focus of her administration’s fight against the pandemic.

One of Hochul’s mandates requires all healthcare workers in state facilities to get vaccinated. That has resulted in vaccine-hesitant healthcare workers quitting their jobs to the degree that some hospitals are experiencing staffing shortages.

Hochul said the situation isn’t dire at the moment, though she promised to step in and deploy extra personnel to facilities with staff shortages if need be.

“I’ll be there to help,” she said.

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