TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—As positive COVID-19 tests climb around New York State and the country, Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press briefing on Wednesday during which he announced several new initiatives designed at stemming renewed spread of the coronavirus from the Delta variant and boosting vaccination rates.

Most notably, Cuomo made clear his intention to establish a vaccination mandate for any employee of New York State by Labor Day, or they will face a weekly testing regimen. Those who have been vaccinated will not have to adhere to the testing schedule.

“An employer can enact a vaccine mandate for public-facing employees, and we’re going to do it,” Cuomo said, acknowledging that he would have to negotiate an agreement with unions representing those employees but expressing optimism that an agreement would be reached. The move follows in the footsteps of reports that President Joe Biden’s will announce similar requirements for federal employees. Cuomo did not address how the state would handle people who are not medically able to receive the vaccine.

“New York State is doing the same, and we’re working with our unions to get this implemented quickly and fairly,” he said. “I encourage all local governments to do the same.”

Additionally, any patient-facing healthcare worker in state-operated hospitals must be vaccinated—Cuomo said there would not be a testing option alternative for those people (Cayuga Medical Center, the closest hospital for Ithacans and much of Tompkins County, is privately owned and thus not subject to these rules).

Beyond that, Cuomo also weighed in on possible state involvement in how school districts handle the impending reopening in September. Essentially, he communicated that he believes school districts have the legal authority to mandate vaccines from teachers and staff members themselves—even without direction from the state.

“If the numbers continue to go up, I think school districts in those infected areas should strongly consider taking more aggressive action,” Cuomo said.

Through his tone and rhetoric during the presser, it was fairly clear that Cuomo would like to see more pressure applied to those who have thus far refused to receive the vaccine, calling on businesses to implement more vaccine requirements for entry and urging the Food and Drug Administration to give the COVID-19 vaccines full authorization, beyond the current emergency use authorization that each vaccine has. The latter request, Cuomo said, would allow states to more readily install vaccine mandates.

“Once the vaccine is finally approved, then the state has more legal authority to mandate the vaccine,” Cuomo said. Continuing on the separate topic of private businesses mandating vaccine proof upon entry: “You can admit vaccinated-only people into your establishment. I can argue that it is a smart business practice, because I want to go to a safe restaurant, a safe theater, a safe bar. I think it’s good business for the private sector, I also think it provides a real incentive for people to get the vaccine.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com