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Hochul will need COVID support

Kathy Hochul, right, is sworn in as the

Kathy Hochul, right, is sworn in as the governor by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore while her husband Bill Hochul looks on. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

On her first day in office Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she's willing to be "bloodied and marred" to do what's right for New York.

She may not be too far off in bracing for the battles ahead, particularly on two critical pandemic-related issues she has promised to tackle: Masking and vaccination.

Hochul said she would direct the state Department of Health to institute "universal masking" for all schools. Hochul plans to use regulatory action to make the masking mandate a reality and also promised additional school policies soon.

The importance of masking can't be overstated. A mask requirement in schools will protect children and adults alike, particularly younger students who cannot be vaccinated. But Hochul must make sure any mandate is legally ironclad, to avoid nasty fights that could upend her efforts and cause chaos as the school year begins.

The same is true for Hochul's plans on vaccination. Mandating teachers and staff statewide to be vaccinated or tested weekly is certainly a good place to start. Hochul rightly left the door open for that to morph into a pure vaccine mandate. More broadly, she said New Yorkers "can expect new vaccination requirements" soon.

Also key: Hochul's emphasis on widely available testing for students.

The governor sounded the right notes, but it remains unclear how, exactly, any statewide requirements will be issued and enforced.

During her comments Tuesday, Hochul didn't mention the need for additional emergency powers, or the role of the State Legislature. But she'll need the support of legislative leaders, whom she met with Tuesday, if not new executive powers or legislative moves, to accomplish her goals.

That's important in a contentious environment now likely to become even more contentious. Hochul's plans will incur the wrath of some parents and teachers, particularly on Long Island where school board fights are ongoing. Beyond making sure her efforts stand up to legal challenges, Hochul will have to sell her message, utilizing all levels of government to help.

That's where Hochul's promise of collaboration and partnership comes in. That's easy to pledge on Day One. It's a lot harder to deliver. That was made clear Tuesday as a barrage of special interests issued lengthy to-do lists for Hochul, which she'll have to balance with the state's own massive needs. Among her priorities, Hochul mentioned COVID rent relief funds, the environment, small business, job creation, crime and systemic racism. She notably focused little attention on some of her predecessor's key issues, like transit and economic development, in the brief address. Hopefully, there'll be more on that to come.

Hochul is correct to turn her attention to COVID first. She has the right goals and hopefully, the right tools. Now she just needs to win the war.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.