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Deadline firm for COVID-19 vaccinations of health care workers, Gov. Hochul says

Demonstrators rally near city hall to protest against

Demonstrators rally near city hall to protest against COVID-19 vaccination mandates by the state and New York City on Aug. 25 in Manhattan. Credit: Associated Press/John Lamparski

Gov. Kathy Hochul says she is sticking hard to a Monday deadline when health care workers in state-run facilities must be vaccinated against the coronavirus, and she's coming up with contingency plans in case some resist.

At the same time, Hochul said Thursday that nearly all COVID-19 cases in the state were the delta variant, "breakthrough" cases of vaccinated people getting infected or hospitalized were rare, and the state had launched two new websites to keep people updated on the variants and breakthrough cases.

The delta variant continued to spread in the state and on Long Island, with five people dying in Nassau and two in Suffolk of causes linked to the virus on Wednesday. Long Island registered more than 900 new daily cases.

The governor did not specify what would happen to health care workers who refuse to get the shots, but said Thursday that state officials were in talks with the workers’ unions. Workers are mandated to have at least one of the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna shots, or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, by Monday.

"I will be announcing a whole series of initiatives that we are doing to be prepared for a situation on Monday, which I hope doesn’t happen. It does not have to happen, my friends," she said. "What is looming for Monday is completely avoidable, and there’s no excuses."

She has a contingency plan prepared, she said, and the state is working with the unions to ensure no facilities are short-staffed.

"We will have a deployment program that we are going to be announcing possibly in anticipation, but this can be 100 percent averted," she said.

Importing workers possible

One possible solution to a health care worker shortage should some refuse to get vaccinated would be to bring in workers from other countries such as the Philippines, she said.

New York State officials have been in talks with the U.S. State Department about the possibility of "freeing up" the visa system for temporary workers, Hochul said.

Several lawsuits over the mandate would not have an impact on the Monday deadline, she said, because they involved religious exemptions and a limited number of people.

She argued that patients in the facilities deserved to know they would not get infected with the virus by workers.

Health care workers and their attorneys who filed the lawsuits contend they have a right to refuse the vaccines based on their religious beliefs. At least one judge has issued an injunction against the mandate, but Hochul insisted the state could proceed.

She pleaded on Thursday with health care workers who were not vaccinated to get the shots, and praised the ones who already had.

"I want to say to the 84 percent of health care workers who are vaccinated: 'God bless you,' " she said. "Thank you for doing what you know is right. Because every single person who ends up in your care has the right to know that they are as safe as they can be, that there is no chance that they will be infected by the person charged with protecting them and their health."

She added: "Those who have done the right thing don’t want to be with people who are not vaccinated, either. It’s frightening for them to be with co-workers who are not vaccinated. They’re entitled to a safe workplace as well."

New variant, breakthrough websites

In launching the new websites, Hochul said the delta variant accounted for 99.4% of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Just 0.7% of fully vaccinated people in New York State had been infected with the virus in a "breakthrough" case, she said. Of fully vaccinated people, 0.05% were hospitalized with the virus.

So far, there have been 78,416 "breakthrough" cases and 5,555 cases of fully vaccinated people hospitalized with the virus, the new websites showed. Hochul said they would be updated regularly.

Nassau County registered 393 new daily cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while Suffolk County had 535, for a total of 928, according to state data released Thursday.

Across the state, 39 people died on Wednesday of causes linked to the virus.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus continued to inch down on Long Island, dropping to 3.59% from the previous day's 3.68%.

Meanwhile, New York State officials on Thursday warned residents to not use or buy fake COVID-19 vaccination cards.

"As more and more places are requiring proof of vaccination, scammers are taking advantage of this opportunity by selling fake verification tools including fake cards, certificates, test results or even doctors’ notes," the state Division of Consumer Protection said in a statement.

Using fake vaccination cards is a crime and could land people in jail, the agency noted.

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