Hochul adamant on deadline for New York health care workers to receive vaccineOctober 4, 2021
Saying New York has a right to “self-defense,” Gov. Kathy Hochul reiterated her stance Monday that health care workers in the state must get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the day or face the consequences.
Monday is the state-imposed deadline for all health care workers in New York to get their first dose of a vaccine. It was an order initially made by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 16, just days before his previously announced departure.
In his order, Cuomo granted exemptions for workers who have religious or medical reasons. However, on Aug. 31, Hochul announced the state would not allow for any “test-outs” from workers at state-licensed health care and long-term care facilities.
Hochul’s change led to federal lawsuits filed against the state by health care workers who claimed their religious beliefs prevented them from receiving the vaccine. That led to U.S. District Judge David Hurd issuing a temporary restraining order against the state from taking action against a health care worker seeking an exemption because of their faith.
Hurd initially set his order to take effect on Monday. Last week, he extended the order Oct. 12 as he was deciding whether to approve a preliminary injunction, which would last until the court case was settled.
Speaking at a senior center in the Bronx late Monday morning, Hochul felt confident the state would prevail in getting the order lifted.
“There are not legitimate religious exemptions because the leaders of all the organized religions have said, there’s no legitimate reason, and we’re going to win that in court in a matter of days,” she said.
As of Monday afternoon, it did not appear that anyone claiming a religious exemption in New York has been disciplined by a health care company. However, a lawyer for the firm representing 17 workers in upstate New York told The Center Square that Hochul’s tactics were “demagoguery.”
Christopher Ferrara, special counsel with the Thomas More Society, added that the governor is using strong-arm tactics to force workers against their will. Those actions show “disrespect, at a minimum, if not outright hostility” to New Yorkers who hold deep religious beliefs against the vaccine.
“The governor’s bullying is intended to coerce as many as possible into taking the vaccine before the court rules,” Ferrara said. “And now she threatens to declare a state of emergency based on the emergency she herself has created by firing dedicated front-line healthcare workers who were yesterday’s heroes but are suddenly pariahs because they will not bend to the governor’s arbitrary will.
“The same doctors and nurses who treated patients for 18 months without being vaccinated – often contracting COVID, recovering, and returning to front line medical care – are now being depicted as disease-carrying villains. This is not science. This is demagoguery.”
According to the state Department of Health, there are more than 521,000 hospital workers in New York and 145,500 people employed at long-term care facilities. As of last Wednesday, 84 percent of all hospital workers were fully vaccinated, while 89 percent of long-term care workers were vaccinated as of Sunday.
However, those numbers vary by county and region, and Hochul said she has plans in place to ensure proper coverage would not be affected by workers who refused to get vaccinated.
The governor’s plan included identifying health care workers from other parts of the state who would be willing to go to areas that needed additional staffing. She also indicated she would sign an emergency order that would allow her to deploy National Guard troops to facilities in need, allow retired professionals to come back on a short-term basis and authorize out-of-state professionals to work in New York.
She said, however, she’d prefer unvaccinated health care workers decide to get a shot and not force her hand.
“That is not my first position, though, my friends,” Hochul said Monday, “My desire is to have the people who’ve been out there continue to work in their jobs, working them safely. And to all the other health care workers who are vaccinated, they also deserve to know that the people they’re working with will not get them sick.”
According to the DOH guidelines, it’s up to the health care company to devise a plan to implement the state’s vaccine order and determine what happens to those who decline the vaccine for whatever reason.
On Monday afternoon, Newsday reported that Northwell Health fired about two dozen workers who refused the vaccination order.
Over the weekend, Hochul announced that the state Department of Labor notified companies that workers terminated because they refused to take the vaccine would not be able to claim unemployment unless they had a valid medical accommodation supported by a physician.
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