Maria Rojas Reyes, of Roosevelt, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from...

Maria Rojas Reyes, of Roosevelt, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Jenni Jimenez at the Roosevelt Health Center of Long Island FQHC on July 8. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Newly installed Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday she may reopen state-run mass vaccination sites, in part to meet demand for a booster shot against COVID-19.

In her inaugural address delivered hours after she was sworn in after Andrew M. Cuomo's resignation as governor, Hochul said she consulted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, about the "urgent" need for boosters.

"I am prepared to do whatever is necessary, including reopening mass vax sites so that a booster is available to all New Yorkers who meet that timetable," Hochul said in her address, delivered online.

While New York has made some progress in the fight against COVID-19, she said, "too many are yet not vaccinated, putting themselves and their communities at risk. With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements, and more on that soon."

She already issued one new vaccine requirement on Tuesday: all staff in schools in New York State must be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

She also mandated that anyone entering a school, including students and staff, must wear a mask.

State-run mass vaccination sites, including the one at Jones Beach, were shut down in recent weeks as demand for shots declined.

After rising steadily for weeks, the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Long Island dipped in test results completed Monday, state figures released Tuesday show. Nassau County registered 294 new cases, while Suffolk County had 312, for a total of 606. The region surpassed 1,000 new daily cases last week.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing on Long Island also dropped below 4% for the first time in days, hitting 3.98%. Although 11 people died of COVID-19-related causes on Monday, none were on Long Island, according to Hochul's office.

Make vaccine mandatory, some say

Meanwhile, medical experts and some educators said Tuesday it may be time to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, including in schools.

Now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, schools, colleges, businesses, governments and other sectors are expected to see a rise in vaccinations.

Some experts think it should become mandatory, although some sectors, including some parents, said it should be their choice.

On Monday, Long Island’s most prominent business group called on business owners and their employees to get vaccinated, saying the delta variant is threatening the economic recovery.

Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer of Northwell Health, said mandatory vaccinations were already underway in some sectors, such as Madison Square Garden, where patrons must be vaccinated to enter for events. Front-line health workers in state-run hospitals also must be vaccinated, as well as teachers and staff in New York City public schools.

The federal government cannot order a national vaccine mandate, Battinelli said, so it will be done on a piecemeal basis in different states.

"It will be a variety of places — school systems, public places, business. And that’s their right, to enforce and have their own health policies," Battinelli said.

"It will be very, very similar to what goes on for measles, mumps, rubella, tuberculosis. All sorts of preventive public health measures," he added.

Vaccines for students already are mandated in New York State for a variety of diseases, including chickenpox and measles. Without those vaccinations, students cannot enter school.

Some educators said Tuesday it may be time to do the same with COVID-19.

"I believe in science. I believe in the rule of law," said Richard Haase, president of the teachers union in the Half Hollow Hills school district.

"We have to do what we can to try to put the virus behind us and keep students and staff safe," he said. "Vaccines have been mandated for a long time."

Some teacher leaders said they were concerned about mandatory vaccination requirements, especially since they feared noncompliance could mean job termination.

Imposing a mandate like New York City did on Monday requiring vaccination for teachers and staff would be a "possibly problematic piece," said Nakia Wolf, head of the teachers union in Amityville.

Some parents said getting the vaccination should be a personal choice, and that mandating it would violate their freedoms. They also voice concern about the safety of the vaccine.

Battinelli said he hoped the FDA approval dispelled those fears.

"We have given hundreds and hundreds of millions of doses, and this is as safe as any vaccine we have ever given," he said. "I think schools should mandate the vaccine … and I think they are safe enough."

Full OK only for certain ages

While the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer shots for people 16 and older, it did not yet do that for children ages 12 to 16. That age group still has emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine.

"Once you have full FDA approval, I think just like we mandate other vaccines for school-age children across the ages, it should be included on that list of mandatory vaccines," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. "Because, at the end of the day, our job is to protect all the children and the adults in the school building."

Until that full approval comes, however, parents should talk to their child’s health care provider about the vaccine, and then decide — though Nachman fully endorses getting the vaccine.

Meanwhile, in a public letter to business leaders, Matthew Cohen, president of the Long Island Association, said the economy was bouncing back from the pandemic. But "to continue this progress, I’m urging you to get vaccinated and asking you to encourage your employees to do the same," he said.

Cohen’s Aug. 23 letter coincided with the FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine.

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