On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said adult care facility staff were meeting their mandate, with 92% of them having been vaccinated before the Thursday deadline. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Joan Gralla, Bart Jones and Nicholas Spangler. It was written by Jones.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday expanded her mandates for health care workers to get vaccinated to psychiatric facilities and related mental health institutions, while Long Island continued to keep below a 3% average for positivity in testing in its fight against the COVID-19 delta variant.

Workers at the psychiatric hospitals and related facilities must show proof of at least the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 1, with no test-out option allowed. Before that, unvaccinated workers must submit to weekly testing starting Oct. 12.

"Vaccine requirements work in getting people to do the right thing, and all professionals in health settings must take every basic precaution against COVID-19, including the vaccine, so they do not spread the virus to the people coming in for treatment," Hochul said in a statement.

"We have an obligation to extend this assurance to those who need to receive mental health services and special care," she added.

It was the latest mandate Hochul has implemented in the health care field. A similar order had a Sept. 27 deadline for workers at hospitals and nursing homes. Another one goes into effect Thursday for adult care facilities, home health agencies, long-term home health care programs, AIDS home care programs, hospice care, and diagnostic and treatment centers.

The new mandate applies to employees who work in facilities offering health care to individuals served by the Office of Mental Health and the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, Hochul said.

Mandates spur more inoculations

Hochul said the hospital and nursing home mandate prompted many staff members to get inoculated against COVID-19, and the state is seeing the same trend with this week's order.

Parents rally at John J. Burns Park in Massapequa in June...

Parents rally at John J. Burns Park in Massapequa in June against masks in school. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The number of compliant workers in adult care facilities jumped from 77% on Aug. 24 when Hochul took office to 92% now, she said.

"We are seeing that those deadlines have a way of focusing the mind on doing the right thing," she said.

But groups representing home health aides are asking Hochul to delay the mandate, saying its implementation on Thursday could cause shortages of workers.

On Long Island, the seven-day average for positivity in test results from Monday was 2.82% in Nassau and Suffolk counties, down from 2.92% and 2.97% the previous two days. It has been below 3% since Friday.

Long Island was above 4% for weeks throughout the summer. As recently as June 29, the level was 0.35%.

The average jumped starting in mid-July because of the highly contagious delta variant, the loosening of many COVID-19 mandates such as social distancing and mask wearing, and because many people refused to get vaccinated, according to medical experts.

Infected LI student goes to school

Long Island continues to report hundreds of new COVID-19 cases. Nassau registered 208 new cases in test results from Monday, Suffolk had 354, and New York City registered 1,153.

Across the state, 38 people died on Monday of causes linked to COVID-19, Hochul said at a news briefing in Albany. The fatalities included four in Suffolk and two in Nassau.

The number of "breakthrough" cases of vaccinated people who get infected with COVID-19 inched up slightly in the state this week, she said. The percentage of vaccinated people who got infected rose from 0.7% to 0.8%, she said, adding that vaccinated people are still far safer from the virus than unvaccinated.

A Sachem middle school student who tested positive for COVID-19 Saturday entered Samoset Middle School on Monday, Principal James Horan said in a letter to parents.

Some students and staff who came into contact with the student may be asked to quarantine, Horan wrote.

The letter did not say how many people had been asked to quarantine and did not explain why the student entered the school building after being diagnosed with the virus.

A district representative said in an email to Newsday that the district "cannot comment on individual student matters as this is a violation of privacy laws. If any students or staff are required to quarantine due to a positive case they are notified directly and on an individual basis."

Since Sept. 13, 14 students and three staffers at the 880-student school have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data on the district website.

New York State has asked a court to reject an attempt by two Long Island school districts to overturn the state's COVID-19 school mask mandate, arguing that state officials were justified in acting "to protect the public from a disease that has killed more than 3 million people worldwide."

A 17-page filing from Assistant Attorney General Michael McCartin late Friday is the state’s formal response to a lawsuit filed last month by the Massapequa and Locust Valley school districts. Those districts asserted a requirement that all students, staff and visitors be masked in schools was "irrational" and "unreasonable" and that Hochul and others had exceeded their authority in making the Aug. 27 emergency order.

The districts had not shown the mandate had caused any injury, McMartin wrote, and officials had "broad authority" to protect public health.

State Department of Health Deputy Director Johanne Morne said in an accompanying affidavit that state health officials were following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends universal indoor masking for schools. Arguments that mask-wearing can lead to heightened levels of carbon dioxide or bacterial infections are "specious" and "discredited," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Eastport-South Manor schools said that district’s board of education had voted to join the suit, but Newsday did not find any legal filings to reflect that.

NYC doubles number of substitutes

In New York City, more than twice as many substitutes as usual were needed to fill assignments done by some 4% or 5% of unvaccinated Department of Education personnel who were barred from schools after a vaccination mandate took effect Monday.

On an ordinary school day, the system uses about 3,000 substitutes for a variety of reasons unrelated to the pandemic, such as teacher absence, according to Lauren Siciliano, the department’s chief administrative officer. On Monday, she said, the system used about 7,000 substitutes.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking at his daily news conference, said fewer substitutes would be needed as more school personnel were vaccinated.

De Blasio said on Monday 600 personnel got the shots.

"That just changed the math again: 600 more vaccinations means we need fewer substitutes than we originally thought we need," he said.

Meanwhile, flawed COVID-19 vaccination websites that were too hard for individuals whose sight is impaired to use have been fixed by Nassau, Suffolk, New York City and New York State, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York said Tuesday.

The problems investigators identified included systems that prevented this group of people, one of the categories protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, from "identifying what steps they needed to take to complete forms, or from readily navigating the websites," Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement.

And on other websites, the contrast between the letters and the background was set too low, she said.

"In the midst of the ongoing global pandemic, people with vision impairments must be able to access information about how and where to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations," Kasulis said.

In addition to Long Island’s two counties, the city and state health departments and the New York City Health + Hospitals agency have certified the problems had been corrected.

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