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Cuomo pushes local governments for action on COVID-19 vaccines, masks

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked private businesses to go to

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked private businesses to go to "vaccine-only admission." Some Long Islanders said it was a good idea; others disagreed. Newsday's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp; NY Governor's Office; File Footage

This story was reported by Rachelle Blidner, Robert Brodsky, Lisa L. Colangelo and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo strongly encouraged local governments Monday to mandate vaccinations for public-facing workers in government-run hospitals and to take other steps to control the rise in COVID-19 cases amid the spread of the delta variant.

He also pushed local school districts to mandate that teachers get vaccinated if COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and suggested that if these sectors don't do so, the state may mandate vaccinations by law for workers, including in nursing homes.

Cuomo issued his plea as the seven-day average for positivity in testing for COVID-19 surpassed 3% on Long Island, compared to 0.35% on June 29.

The highly contagious delta variant and accompanying sharp jump in COVID-19 cases has turned into a "serious situation," Cuomo said.

"Everything should be on the table and we should start talking about it now, because if these numbers rise and start to rise quickly, it can't be that we're not ready to move. If the numbers don't come down, I think you have to consider mandatory vaccines for nursing home workers" and other workers, including teachers, he said.

At least one local health care system said Monday that it is following Cuomo's recommendation.

New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health sent a message to employees giving them a deadline of Aug. 16 to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. The state’s largest health system previously had announced it was requiring all new hires, students and volunteers to be fully vaccinated.

Northwell, which said 77% of its workforce is vaccinated, also told staffers that if they fail to get tested in a timely manner, they "will face adverse action that could progress up to and include termination."

Catholic Health, which is based in Rockville Centre and operates six hospitals on Long Island, said it is not mandating, but is "strongly encouraging" all employees to get vaccinated.

The governor again recommended that local governments follow new CDC guidelines on wearing masks in indoor public settings, saying the state cannot issue a mandate without a law being passed.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city is urging, but not mandating, that people follow the CDC guidance on vaccinated people wearing a mask in indoor public settings. The mayor also announced that, effective immediately, newly hired city workers must be vaccinated.

A mandate that would require everyone to wear masks in public indoor areas is a good idea, said Dr. Bruce Farber, chief public health and epidemiology officer at Northwell Health and chief of infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

"I didn't feel this way a month ago, but I think with rates rising, and us not knowing who's vaccinated, knowing about delta and knowing that rates change on a weekly and monthly basis … it’s simpler and easier to just have people wear masks all the time," he said.

Farber said it’s not practical to have people try to figure out where the high transmission areas are based on ZIP code data.

"COVID is all over the place," he said. "It’s not like you can isolate it one state versus another state. Rates are climbing all over the United States. And I think it gives mixed messages to people."

A Suffolk County official said Monday there is no immediate plan for a mask mandate, but all options are on the table and officials continue to monitor the data.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran did not say whether she would follow Cuomo's recommendation.

"I encourage residents to continue to use your best judgment and take precautions that suit your individual circumstances," she said Monday.

Other areas around the country, including San Francisco, Washington state and Los Angeles County, have implemented mandatory mask-wearing in public indoor settings.

The governor indicated the state may take stronger action beyond masks.

"Everybody is talking about a mask policy," Cuomo said. "Mask policy will be important. But I don't believe a mask policy is going to be enough. I think we're going to have to talk about a vaccination policy. What does that mean? Well, we've taken the first step" by mandating that some workers get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

Workers under a vaccine-or-test mandate include state and MTA employees, while public-facing workers at state-run hospitals must be vaccinated.

The number of daily confirmed cases in the state has increased from 506 to 2,143 between July 1 and Aug. 1, Cuomo said. The number of people hospitalized in New York with the virus rose from 349 to 788 in the same period.

On Long Island, the positivity average rose to 3.03%, while the statewide average hit 2.53%. The number of people hospitalized with the virus rose by 50, to 788.

Nassau registered 220 new cases, Suffolk had 223, and New York City had 1,202.

Throughout the state, four people died on Sunday of causes related to the virus.

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