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On her 1st day, N.Y. Gov. Kathy Hochul announces plan to mandate masks and vaccinations in schools

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Hours after being sworn in as New York’s first female governor, Kathy Hochul delivered her first address from Albany, laying out an agenda largely focused on combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Hochul, the state’s former lieutenant governor, who replaced Andrew Cuomo following his resignation in the wake of a report that found he had sexually harassed 11 women, said Tuesday that she was ready to take “proactive steps” to curb the rapidly spreading Delta variant of COVID-19, particularly when it comes to reopening schools.

“I am also immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools,” Hochul said.

Vaccination against COVID-19 will be required for all school personnel, she said. Those who do not wish to be immunized will have the option to undergo weekly testing for the virus, and the state will make tests more widely available in the coming weeks.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters after a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters after a ceremonial swearing-in at the state Capitol in Albany on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Hochul pointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, saying that “New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements” as a result.

New York is gearing up for the distribution of booster shots, Hochul said, adding that she had consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci to ensure they would be “available and distributed quickly and reliably.”

Although the new governor did not mention Cuomo in her speech, she made it clear that she would follow through with her pledge to make sure her office was free of the toxic environment that former staff members said characterized the administration of her predecessor.

New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore swears in Kathy Hochul as the first woman to be New York's governor while her husband Bill Hochul holds a bible during a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore swears in Kathy Hochul on Tuesday while Hochul's husband, Bill, holds a Bible. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

“That begins with a dramatic change in culture, with accountability and no tolerance for individuals who cross the line,” Hochul said.

She also announced that she will “overhaul state policies on sexual harassment and ethics” and require live ethics training classes for all New York state employees.

Her final priority, Hochul said, was to make sure New Yorkers receive financial assistance in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, including relief for renters and landlords, with aid for undocumented immigrant workers set aside as part of the Excluded Workers Fund.

In the coming days, Hochul will continue working on filling out her Cabinet. On Monday she appointed two women to top government posts. Karen Persichilli Keogh will become secretary to the governor, the highest-ranking appointed position in the state, and Elizabeth Fine will serve as counsel to the governor. The lieutenant governor, whose position Hochul left vacant, is yet to be determined and is expected to be announced next week.

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