NEW YORK — COVID-19 booster vaccine doses will be mandated for all New York health care workers and a negative coronavirus test will be required for visitors to state nursing homes and adult-care facilities as part of the state’s latest efforts to slow virus transmission, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday.
All health care workers in the state must get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot within two weeks of eligibility or face suspension or termination.
“Staff is getting sick, they’re leaving,” Hochul said. “We need them to get well. We need them to have the best fortification they possibly can and that means getting a booster shot as well.”
The order with more details was not released as of press time Friday afternoon.
The requirement will not allow health workers to have a test-out option and only permits requests for medical exemptions.
All state health personnel were required to have at least one dose of an approved COVID vaccine by Sept. 27 or potentially lose their employment. A court challenge to allow religious exemptions for the mandate was struck down in the fall.
Opponents of the rule say it will exacerbate staffing shortages burdening an exhausted workforce as the pandemic continues for the 22nd month.
Hochul countered Friday the state’s limited health workforce has increasingly gotten sick with the surging COVID-19 infections, and the order would increase vaccine boosters in the state health workforce to prevent them from severe illness.
“We get them the booster and they can get back to work faster without symptoms,” the governor said. “...We think it’s worth it to ask them to do the right thing one more time.”
The state’s visitation rules for nursing homes and adult-care facilities will also require all visitors and vendors provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours.
Visitors must also wear a disposable surgical mask while inside the facility.
“The last thing we want to do is create a situation where visitors are coming in and out and are getting people that they love or their neighbors in the next room sick,” Hochul said of rising nursing home infections.
The guidelines were not released as of press time Friday.
The new COVID protocols come after weeks of continuous rising infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths.
Following the anticipated winter and holiday season surge, the state’s COVID-19 infection rate has climbed to more than 22% — its highest since 2020.
Representatives with Hochul’s office referred to the governor’s statements during the briefing Friday about why the requirements to curb the spread were not implemented earlier.
The governor spoke with U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officials on the phone this week requesting they allow New York to place restrictions on visitors after the federal agency put a broad ban on visitor restrictions.
“Ideally, every visitor would be vaccinated and boosted, but we don’t have the authority to create that restriction because of the CMS laws, which they enacted, the regulations they put in place,” she said.
The state will send a supply of COVID testing kits to all adult-care facilities to help test visitors, but the governor asked New Yorkers to get a test with the proof of negative result beforehand to relieve stress on overtaxed staff.
“I ask you to do it in advance not to overtax the workers in the nursing home,” Hochul said. “...Bring the results, show us or do it in the parking lot. But we’ll make sure that every nursing home has the supply they need to make sure that visitors are tested and not positive when they walk in the door to go possibly expose an entire facility.”
The state has deployed 120 National Guard medics to assist, but has exhausted the resource. Eighty additional guard members will be deployed to help medical facilities in a matter of weeks, Hochul said, as they complete training.
The White House will send 50 ambulances to the state after Hochul requested additional staffing and teams while on a call with White House officials this week, she said.
A little less than half the number of people hospitalized in the state with the coronavirus are receiving treatment for severe infections, Hochul said.
An average of 42% of the state’s 11,548 total COVID patients in the hospital were admitted for reasons unrelated to their infection.
About 32% of people hospitalized with coronavirus infections in the North Country and Finger Lakes, and 22% of virus patients in the Capital Region, are there for other purposes.
The state reports 155 New Yorkers died from virus complications Thursday, totaling at least 60,166 total fatalities.