Dr. Mary T. Bassett, New York State's health commissioner, speaks...

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, New York State's health commissioner, speaks at a COVID-19 briefing in January. Credit: Don Pollard

The state will not enforce its mandate that health care workers receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot by Monday, as more than half a million of them haven't had the additional shot.

Meanwhile, Long Island’s one-day COVID-19 positivity rate Friday fell below 2% for the first time since October, state Department of Health data shows.

Fewer than half of health care workers statewide had received a booster by Tuesday, according to state data. That meant potentially hundreds of thousands of employees would have been out of compliance on Monday and could have possibly lost their jobs.

"The reality is that not enough health care workers will be boosted by next week’s requirement in order to avoid substantial staffing issues in our already overstressed health care system," health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a statement on Friday.

The state will "reassess" the booster mandate in three months, a department statement said.

What to know

  • The state will not enforce a mandate that health care workers receive a COVID-19 booster dose by Monday. Officials will “reassess” the mandate in May.
  • The move came as more than half of health care workers statewide remain without a booster shot, although the state said some are willing and planning to get boosted.
  • Those not complying with the mandate risked termination, and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said delaying the mandate avoided “substantial staffing issues.”

Statewide, fewer than 46% of health care workers had received a booster by Tuesday, although another 29% of employees were classified by the health department as "willing and awaiting booster," which includes people not yet eligible for one.

That leaves about 249,000 of the state’s more than 982,000 health care workers who were not in either category as of Tuesday.

Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the CUNY School of Public Health in Manhattan, backs the mandate but said it was not realistic to fire hundreds of thousands of health care workers, so a delay was necessary.

Low numbers in nursing homes

Even so, he was especially alarmed by how only 51% of nursing home employees were boosted or considered willing to be boosted — the lowest proportion of any type of health care worker. That compares with 95% of hospice employees and 84% of hospital and home-care workers.

"That’s scary to me," Nash said, noting how "extremely vulnerable" many residents of nursing homes are.

Boosters reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting the virus and "protect workers and protect their patients," Nash said.

At Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack, 85% of employees were boosted as of Friday afternoon or were scheduled to get the shot, said Stuart Almer, president and CEO of Gurwin Healthcare System.

Gurwin’s pharmacy would continue to administer boosters over the weekend, he said.

"I have every belief if the date held as per the state, we would have been close to 100% by tomorrow evening," Almer said Saturday.

"Many people just tend to comply at the last minute," Almer said, pointing to the large number of vaccinations of health care workers in the days before the state required at least one vaccine dose by late September or early October.

At Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside, about half of the staff had been boosted by mid-January, and hundreds more have been boosted since then, including more than 200 on Friday alone, said the hospital’s president, Dr. Adhi Sharma.

Eligibility for a booster for most people begins five months after receiving two vaccine doses, or one Johnson & Johnson dose. Many employees waited until just before the Sept. 27 deadline — fewer than five months ago — for their first shot, so a number likely are planning to get boosted but are not yet eligible, Sharma said.

Most accept boosters

Employees have two weeks after eligibility to get the booster, under the mandate Gov. Kathy Hochul issued on Jan. 7.

Sharma said "the vast majority of our staff are accepting" of a booster.

The 45.7% of health care workers with boosters is only slightly above the 43.1% of all fully vaccinated New Yorkers who were boosted as of Saturday, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

State health department officials said Friday they would make it easier for health care employees to receive boosters, including by offering more shots directly in health care settings.

Sharma said in-hospital booster pods would continue for South Nassau employees, who also could get the shot in their own neighborhoods from the hospital’s traveling "Vaxmobile."

"We’re going to continue to promote and engage and encourage boosters with our staff," he said.

Nash said the state should eventually enforce the mandate. The health care system was stressed during the omicron surge because many health care workers were out sick as the number of COVID-19 patients spiked.

"If another surge happens and we still are not in a place where people are not boosted, it will be a bigger challenge for the health care system, and they’re going to be in a situation where health care workers are going to have to work while they’re infected," Nash said.

Just six weeks ago, during the peak of the omicron surge, Long Island’s seven-day average of positive test results was nearly 27%. On Friday, it was 2.5%, the lowest since Nov. 5.

There were 308 new COVID-19 diagnoses out of 17,660 test results, for a rate of 1.74%, the lowest since Oct. 28.

There were 429 people with COVID-19 in Long Island hospitals, and five Long Islanders died Friday of the disease, three from Suffolk and two from Nassau.

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