ALBANY — All New York health care workers, including hospital and long-term care facility staff, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 within the next six weeks, state officials announced Monday.
The state Health Department is set to issue an order Monday to require all hospitals, long-term care, nursing homes and other congregate care facilities to develop and implement a policy mandating all employees be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus by Sept. 27, with limited religious and medical exceptions.
“While we have made tremendous progress in getting New Yorkers vaccinated, this pandemic is far from over and more must be done,” Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a prepared statement Monday. “The data and science tell us that getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible is the best way to keep people safe, prevent further mutations, and enable us to resume our daily routines. This mandate will both help close the vaccination gap and reduce the spread of the delta variant.
“I want to thank all New York state’s health care workers for stepping up once again and showing our state that getting vaccinated is safe, easy and most importantly, effective,” he added.
About 75% of the state’s roughly 450,000 hospital workers, 74% of its roughly 30,000 workers in adult-care facilities and 68% of New York’s 145,000 nursing home employees have completed their COVID vaccine series, according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Monday.
Monday’s announcement did not include details about a testing option for health workers to forgo the mandated inoculation.
Hospitals across the state were unclear Monday about a testing option in the Health Department’s guidelines.
“It seems unclear whether there can be a test-out,” said Lynn White, spokeswoman with University of Rochester’s Medicine Noyes Health. “We’re waiting on more information from the state. We’re going to be looking for more guidance from the state in the coming days.
“When it does take effect,” she added, “we’re going to do whatever the state law says and we’re going to work on communicating this to our staff as soon as possible.”
The Health Department is working to finalize the details of the new vaccine requirement, department spokeswoman Jill Montag said.
To date, Noyes Health has strongly encouraged staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and requires employees show proof of vaccination or participate in weekly PCR nasal swab COVID tests to show a negative status starting Sept. 8.
Rochester Regional Health, which includes United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, is also ready to comply with the state’s new vaccine mandate for health employees.
“We will be working on the implementation of this mandate as we learn more about it in the coming days,” spokeswoman Veronica Chiesi Brown said Monday. “Currently, 75% of RRH employees are vaccinated.”
Albany Medical Center spokesman Matthew Markham said the Capital Region system of hospitals is also reviewing the state’s guidance to determine if there is a test-out option for health care workers who decline the COVID vaccine.
“Our health care workers are leading us through the pandemic by delivering skilled, compassionate care; we are also there to care for the most vulnerable members of our community when they need us most,” Markham said Monday. “The vaccine is critical to safely and effectively protect against COVID-19 and, in the case of the delta variant, the vaccine limits the possibility of serious illness. By getting vaccinated, we are continuing to lead by example. We are keeping each other and the people we serve safe, and we applaud the state for moving in the same direction.”
Albany Medical Center and its affiliate Columbia Memorial Health based in Hudson announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for staff, including CMH frontline staff, volunteers, students and operations staff, earlier this month.
“CMH has already announced plans to require staff to become vaccinated,” hospital spokesman Bill Van Slyke said in a statement Monday. “We will review the state’s directive to ensure our plan complies.”
Health workers who wish to apply for a medical or religious exemption or deferral should speak with their hospital supervisors.
Albany Med published information or delivered forms to staff who wanted to apply.
“A team of colleagues from several areas will carefully and thoughtfully review each request,” Markham said.
The COVID vaccine mandate isn’t the first required immunization for employees. Albany Medical Center Hospital required staff to receive the flu vaccine in 2019.
Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth E. Raske said the organization supports the state’s decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all health care workers.
“This is a critical moment requiring bold action,” Raske said Monday. “The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York state has increased nearly 400% in the last month, and 28% in just the past week. Every hospital and health system is working diligently to fully vaccinate their workforce, and numerous GNYHA members have already made the vaccine mandatory. The hospital community’s brave, dedicated workers have achieved impressive vaccination results, but it remains less than 100%.
“New York’s mandate will help ensure that hospitals and other health care providers can deliver the best care for patients while keeping their workers and communities safe,” he added. “I support this state action.”
Cuomo’s aides briefed Lt. Gov. Kathleen “Kathy” Hochul, who will become governor of the state Aug. 24, and her administration on the new vaccine requirement Monday.
“The lieutenant governor supports today’s determination related to the pandemic that was recommended by the Department of Health,” a spokesperson with Hochul’s office said in a statement Monday.
The spokesperson would not say if Hochul will keep the mandate for health workers when she takes office next week.
Hochul suggested supporting mandating the COVID vaccine in schools and other public venues during interviews last week, but has said she is speaking with various national health officials and reviewing U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidance to make a decision. Nothing is off the table, she said in the state Capitol on Wednesday.
“When COVID ambushed New York last year, New Yorkers acted while the federal government denied the problem,” Cuomo said in a statement Monday.
The more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 that originated in India is spreading across the state and nation. New daily positive infections in New York are up more than 1,000% over the last six weeks with more than 80% of recent positives in the state linked to the delta strain, the governor said.
“We must now act again to stop the spread,” Cuomo said. “Our health care heroes led the battle against the virus, and now we need them to lead the battle between the variant and the vaccine. We have always followed the science, and we’re doing so again today, with these recommendations by Dr. Zucker and federal and state health experts. But we need to do more.”
The mandate follows Cuomo’s announcement July 28 that all state employees and patient-facing workers in state-run hospitals must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the Labor Day holiday, or Sept. 6. State employees who choose to remain unvaccinated will be required to undergo weekly COVID testing.
Cuomo has urged local governments, municipalities and private businesses to implement COVID vaccine mandates, encouraging local establishments to admit only vaccinated patrons. The governor continued to encourage the required vaccination policies across the state, including in all school districts and a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for teachers Monday.
The Department of Health authorized a third COVID-19 vaccine dose for New Yorkers with compromised immune systems, following last week’s recommendation from the CDC that moderate to severely immunocompromised people receive an additional dose.
Eligible New Yorkers can receive their third dose 28 days after the completion of their two-dose vaccine series, effective immediately.
New Yorkers eligible for a third COVID vaccine dose include people receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood, people who received an organ transplant or received a stem cell transplant within the last two years and take medication to suppress the immune system; have moderate or severe primary immunodeficiencies such as DiGeorge or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome; have advanced or untreated HIV/AIDS; have an active treatment high-dose corticosteroids, cancer chemotherapy that causes sever immunosuppression or other medications that may suppress your immune response.
Contact your doctor or health provider to determine if getting a third COVID vaccine dose is the right decision for you.