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COVID-19 vaccine required for in-person SUNY, Hofstra students this fall, officials say

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday that

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday that SUNY and CUNY students must be vaccinated before returning for in-person classes in the fall. Here is Newsday's Cecilia Dowd with the report. Credit: Howard Schnapp; Facebook / Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; File Footage

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Alfonso A. Castillo, Lisa L. Colangelo, Cecilia Dowd and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Colangelo and Reich-Hale.

All students returning to in-person instruction at SUNY and CUNY schools statewide this fall must be vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday, while Hofstra University said it would institute the same requirement beginning in September.

"Everybody should be doing everything they can to get people vaccinated," Cuomo said during a briefing at his Manhattan office, noting the state's vaccination rate has decreased in recent weeks, mirroring a national trend.

Hofstra's mandate covers all students except those who are in fully online programs or those taking in-person classes remotely. There will be a process for those who want to seek a medical or religious exemption, university officials said.

"Being vaccinated helps to restore our 'normal' day-to-day operations and campus life, and we all look forward to return to a pre-pandemic campus environment," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz told students in an email sent Monday.

What to know

  • SUNY and CUNY students will be required to have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to in-person learning in the fall, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. SUNY officials would not say if there would be exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
  • Vaccines will also be required for in-person Hofstra University students, with officials adding that there will be a process for those seeking exemptions.
  • There will be Johnson & Johnson vaccines offered at the Hempstead LIRR station and at Penn Station from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. from Wednesday through Sunday, as the state continues a push to drive up vaccination rates.

Adelphi University said Monday it will begin offering incentives to its faculty, staff and students who receive the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of the fall 2021 semester, but has no current plan to make vaccinations mandatory.

The incentives, which begin next month, include gift cards, raffles for tickets to Mets and Yankees games, as well as LIRR tickets and a reserved parking spot on the Garden City campus.

Molloy College in Rockville Centre is not requiring the shots, but recently offered a weeklong on-campus vaccination clinic where about 350 students, faculty and staff received voluntary vaccinations, according to president James P. Lentini.

"Currently, we are strongly recommending the vaccine for the fall," Lentini said. "We continue to review best practices and will update our policies as needed to support the health of the Molloy community."

St. Joseph's College president Donald R. Boomgaarden said the school, which has a campus in Patchogue, was "weighing all options but has not yet made a determination on this issue for the fall."

It was not immediately clear if other private colleges and universities on Long Island also would mandate a vaccine.

SUNY officials would not say whether there will be exemptions for students who decline to take the vaccine for religious or medical reasons, but said they are putting together a plan to implement the governor's directive.

Cuomo said mandating students to be inoculated hinges on a decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fully approve the vaccines, which currently are administered under an emergency use authorization.The governor said it is widely expected that the federal government will take that action in the coming months. He said vaccines approved under an emergency use authorization cannot be mandated.

Experts said the issue of mandating vaccines being used under emergency use is a murky one.

"While numerous colleges and universities have moved to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for their students, and in some cases faculty and staff, it is still unclear whether COVID-19 vaccination can be legally mandated while [under emergency use], and the courts have not yet ruled on this issue," said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "It is possible that there will be additional federal guidance, particularly as we get closer to the new school year, and more and more workplaces grapple with what to do."

Some Hofstra students on Monday said they were in favor of mandating vaccinations for anyone returning to in-class learning.

"It makes me feel a lot safer, because I know I'm vaccinated, but I wouldn't want to pass COVID on," said Tasfia Taj, 18, a freshman at the university.

She added the mandate would "prevent a lot of people from dying."

Sarah Siddiqui, a 19-year old freshman from Jericho, said knowing the school is mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for students makes her feel more comfortable coming to campus.

"And I feel lot more excited be able to hang out with friends and have more of a college experience," she added.

Vaccinations for LIRR riders

The effort to increase the vaccination rate will extend to the transit system. People who get vaccinated at Penn Station and the Hempstead LIRR station, as well as select New York City subway locations beginning Wednesday through Sunday, will receive free round-trip LIRR rides or seven-day unlimited MetroCards as an incentive.

Vaccinations will be available at the Hempstead LIRR station and Penn Station 34th Street corridor from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. each day.

The sites will be able to inoculate about 300 people a day, on a first-come-first-serve basis with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. MTA chairman Patrick Foye said the locations were chosen because they are high-traffic stations.

"I want to urge all New Yorkers who haven’t been vaccinated to consider these sites, because the more folks we vaccinate, the sooner the region can return to normal," said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit.

In a sign of the progress already made in that return to normalcy, the MTA announced that it set new pandemic ridership records across all its agencies last week. For the first time since the pandemic began, the LIRR carried more than 100,000 riders on Friday.

The 101,600 passengers carried represents about 32% of the average weekday ridership in 2019.

About 46% of the LIRR’s 7,200 employees havereceived at least one vaccination shot.

The LIRR/subway pilot program includes four subway stations: 179th Street, Jamaica in Queens; Broadway Junction in Brooklyn; East 180th Street in the Bronx and Coney Island in Brooklyn. Vaccinations will be available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Coney Island, Jamaica and East 180th Street and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Broadway Junction.

At Grand Central Terminal, which is a hub for both the subway and Metro-North, shots will be available at Vanderbilt Hall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The program could be adjusted for different days, times and locations depending on the response, the governor said.

"We want to see how it works," he said. "It’s never been done before."

The rate of new positive COVID-19 cases in the state remained low at 1.4%, according to figures released Monday. There were 1,580 new positive cases recorded on Sunday, including 107 in Suffolk and 88 in Nassau.

Cuomo said the challenge will be getting more young people vaccinated as well as those who are reluctant to get the vaccine because they are philosophically opposed or don't trust it.

"As the vaccination rate goes up, the positivity rate goes down," he said. "It’s the one global fact that everybody agrees on."

Cuomo also said 50% of ticket sales to see the Islanders in the playoffs at Nassau Coliseum will be sold to vaccinated people, who will be spaced out by 3 feet.

He added that all fans will be required to wear a mask.

Further combating the vaccination slowdown

More than 9.6 million people in New York have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 7.8 million have been fully vaccinated, Cuomo said.

According to the CDC, 45.8% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 34.4% have been fully vaccinated.

Cuomo said COVID-19 vaccinations in New York are now open to any U.S. resident over the age of 16. Later on Monday, the FDA expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to include 12- to 15-year-olds.

The slowdown in vaccinations is apparent, with many appointments readily available throughout New York. Northwell Health's website on Monday morning had about 1,000 vaccination appointments available statewide, including more than 500 on Long Island. Pharmacy chain CVS listed more than 40 Long Island locations as having varying amounts of appointments available.

New York City will begin incentivizing individuals to get vaccinated for COVID-19 with free tickets to popular local attractions, including Lincoln Center, the Bronx Zoo or a membership to the Public Theater, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

The effort comes as the city passed 7 million total doses of the vaccine administered to New Yorkers.

"It’s extraordinary to see this constant growth," de Blasio said at his daily news briefing. "Even with challenges, people keep coming out and getting vaccinated, and we are going to make it easier and easier and better and better all the time."

The city is also working with local pediatricians to administer the vaccine kids, although there is no immediate plan to open public schools as vaccination pods, Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi said.

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