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Hochul: Weekly COVID-19 tests for all unvaccinated school staff in New York

Health care professionals test for COVID-19 at the

Health care professionals test for COVID-19 at the ProHEALTH testing site in Jericho on March 24. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced late Thursday that unvaccinated teachers, administrators and other school staff will be required to submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.

"We are now issuing guidance to make sure our school staff are vaccinated or tested regularly for themselves and their families, our students, and our communities. Our children deserve to be safe and protected in schools, and I am doing everything in my power to guarantee that," Hochul said.

The state’s Special Public Health and Health Planning Council authorized, during an emergency meeting Thursday, the health commissioner to mandate routine COVID-19 testing "in certain settings, which may include schools, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings, and which may distinguish between individuals who have received full vaccination against COVID-19 and those who have not."

The late announcement from the governor Thursday reported that Commissioner Howard Zucker had made the determination. The emergency regulation, which authorized the Commissioner to require weekly testing or proof of vaccine, will apply to all schools in the state until it is no longer necessary.

Schools must have capacity and offer screening testing for any teachers and staff at least once a week, according to the state. Schools must also have the capacity to provide diagnostic testing for any student, teacher, or staff member who is symptomatic or has been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19.

There are a variety of options and significant funding to achieve this testing and schools should continue to work closely with their local Department of Health, the governor's office reported.

The emergency regulation, approved earlier Thursday by the panel, outlined how schools could implement testing. Districts that use a nucleic acid amplification test, such as a PCR, must have the testing done off-site by a fully permitted clinical lab, though the sample could be collected at the school and sent to the lab.

Rapid tests, however, could be performed at the school site by a limited-service laboratory.

The additions to public health law, approved by the panel, also included a maximum $1,000 fine for violations.

The same panel passed a mask mandate in late July, which was mandated by the health department in late August.

"The whole intent here is to achieve vaccination and we want to incent and motivate it in a variety of different ways," said Jeffrey Kraut, chair of the planning council and executive vice president of strategy and analytics at Northwell Health.

Long Island had 898 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday — 377 in Nassau and 521 in Suffolk. That is 69 more cases than the previous day, according to state figures released Thursday.

The state had 33 COVID-19 related deaths, including two in Nassau and two in Suffolk, the figures show. The number of people hospitalized in the state rose by 34 to 2,319, according to state figures.

Long Island's seven-day average positivity rate was 4.27% Tuesday, the most recent figure available, slightly down from Monday's seven-day average of 4.44%, the figures show.

Another 6,016 Long Islanders received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine Wednesday, for a total of 1.75 million, the figures show. And 4,532 Islanders completed their vaccine series Wednesday, for a total of 1.56 million, the figures show.

A total of 67.5% of all New Yorkers have received at least one vaccine dose, and 60.3% have completed the vaccine series, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"As we address challenges and work to rebuild on several fronts, it's critically important that we double down on all the essential efforts and precautions we've been taking to beat back the virus," Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a news release Thursday. "The delta variant is a serious threat, and we cannot let down our guard. If you still need to get your shot, please don't hesitate another day."

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