Gov. Hochul affirmed Wednesday that she’s not ruling out mandating coronavirus vaccinations for middle and high school students in New York as inoculation rates among those kids remain troublingly low despite the fall semester being around the corner.
Only about 50% of New Yorkers between ages 12 and 17 are fully immunized against COVID-19, according to Health Department data, and Hochul said that has her concerned enough to keep “all options on the table,” including a statewide vaccination mandate for schools.
“That is certainly an option,” she said in a briefing at her Midtown Manhattan office, “but I’m also aware that, yeah, this is something that parents are very, very anxious about.”
So, rather than requiring vaccinations off the bat, Hochul said she will give parents the benefit of the doubt for now.
“I hope that parents can be listening to us in terms of what they need to do which is best for their children, but I’m willing to take a look at all options,” she said. “Because if these numbers start going up again, and we have to figure out a way to contain that ... I will take more actions if necessary.”
After a year and a half of virtual or partially virtual learning, students will return to their classrooms full time across the state Monday.
The start of the school year has prompted anxiety from some public health experts, who worry kids could exacerbate New York’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases driven by the extremely contagious delta variant.
While children largely do not suffer severe symptoms from the virus, they could help spread it, experts have noted, and that could prove dangerous, considering nearly 20% of New York’s adult population remains unvaccinated.
In an effort to jack up vaccination rates among kids, Hochul also Wednesday announced a new “VaxToSchool” program, under which the state will host pop-up vaccination sites for students in areas with low immunization rates.
One site will be at the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center in the Bronx and another at the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens in Astoria starting Friday and Saturday respectively, according to Hochul’s office. More sites are forthcoming, Hochul said.
Against the backdrop of school starting, New York’s COVID-19 curve is continuing in the wrong direction.
The hospitalization rate — one of the most pertinent metrics in determining the severity of a COVID-19 outbreak — is on the upswing, with 2,451 patients receiving care across the state for coronavirus symptoms as of Tuesday, according to the Health Department.
The increase in hospitalizations is, in turn, putting pressure on health care facilities, with only about 26% of intensive care unit beds in the state vacant as of Tuesday, the data showed.
“That is manageable today,” Hochul said, “but we have to make sure it doesn’t creep much beyond that or we’ll also have to take more dramatic action to increase bed capacity.”
At the end of the day, Hochul said the best tools for fighting the virus remain the same.
“The bottom line is: It’s all about getting vaccinated and wearing the mask,” she said. “There’s nothing new with how we’re dealing with this next phase.”