Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul was a guest on PIX11 with Dan Mannarino and Hazel Sanchez.
AUDIO of the interview is available here.
A rush transcript of the interview is available below:
Hazel Sanchez: Well, in just two days, the statewide mask mandate in schools will be lifted. However, schools in New York City will have to wait a little bit longer before getting rid of those masks.
Dan Mannarino: Yeah. Governor Kathy Hochul, she’s letting individual counties really have the final say on the school mask issue, right? This came as big news yesterday. We brought this to you as breaking news during the day, sent it out on our push alert as well. Certainly raising some questions and right after the governor did that, Mayor Eric Adams also talking about some school mask issues in New York City as well. So she joins us. The governor is actually joining us right now to talk more about this. So Governor Kathy Hochul, good to see you right here on the PIX11 Morning News. Thanks for doing this.
Governor Hochul: Good morning. Great to see you as well.
Dan Mannarino: So this was big news, right? Lifting the mask mandate in schools, a huge milestone. So many people have been waiting for this, Governor. So much conversation around this issue. So, what was the final factor that led you to the decision for schools and what’s the current infection rate in schools?
Governor Hochul: Well, first of all, thank you for allowing me the chance to talk about this. If you go back six months for my first day in office, I said, our number one priority, as we’re heading into September, was to keep children in schools. We had just come off the remote learning. It was hard on students and parents and teachers. I said, we have to keep kids in school in a safe way, and masks were the way to do that. But I always said I would watch the numbers and we’ve seen a dramatic drop, a drop of 99% since January 7th of 90,000 cases. We’re now down to about 1,100 positive cases yesterday alone, which given a population of 20 million people is quite extraordinary.
So, our rates in schools are very low. Our vaccination rates are going up, as well as our hospitalizations are down. And then the CDC came out on Friday and gave their recommendations. So we analyzed the data, we listened to the CDC, and we determined that now is the time. And again, it’s optional. Any parent who wants to have their child wear a mask, we encourage them. And we don’t want anybody to be bullied or harassed about doing that. It’s a personal decision starting on Wednesday.
Hazel Sanchez: Well, there was a Siena College poll that just came out last week showing that 58% of people believe schools should keep mask requirements in place until the early data in March is collected and reviewed. And like you just said, you’re leaving it up to individual districts on how they should move forward. But are you at all concerned then that parents though, and districts will be at odds? You know, because some parents want to remove the masks as we’ve seen at some school board meetings and you’ve seen it on Long Island. Any concern about that conflict?
Governor Hochul: Right, and I understand the frustration of parents throughout this process, but I have to be very focused on my objective. It is to focus on the safety of all children. And individual school districts and parents may have a different opinion, I respect that, I really do, but now we’re going to leave it up to them. I just need to get through this time. Literally, in January, we hit the highest peak we had seen in a year and a half. 23% of New Yorkers tested positive. I mean, that was not a time to remove the mask. And I said, I would watch the numbers, do it based on the data, the experts, and as you mentioned, the majority of New Yorkers supported our plan, which was to wait until the February break ended. It ends today.
We want everybody to test. We sent millions of tests kits home, 20 million test kits were sent by the state home with students. Testing this morning before they go to school, test them again, if they test positive keep them home. But now it’s up to the individual parents or the counties or the boroughs. We’re going to leave it up to local control. So we’ve done our part, but we’re going to keep an eye on this. I want people to know we’re going to continue pushing vaccinations and tests and make sure that we get this down to zero someday.
Dan Mannarino: That brings me to the next question here, because we had Mayor Eric Adams right here on this program on Friday, Governor, where he announced dropping masks for outdoor activities at schools in the five boroughs and indoors could be pulled by March 7th after taking a closer look at the numbers, just like you this week. So what were the conversations with Mayor Adams on coordinating really a timeline, right? Because you guys work hand in hand.
Governor Hochul: Yes, we do. We spoke yesterday, I’ve been in regular contact with the Mayor directly. Again, any locality can have stricter requirements than the state, but not less restrictive. So there, we have allowed children across the state to be able to have outdoor masks off when they are outside with recess, for example, they didn’t require them. The City of New York wanted to make it more restrictive, that was their prerogative. We respect that, but the mayor knew that, you know, we talked about once we removed ours, they would just be a couple of days behind us. They have a very large district, they want to get the information out, and we’re issuing our guidance later today as well.
Dan Mannarino: So right now there is 59% of students in public schools, in the five boroughs, that is, only have one dose of the vaccine. How do you plan to get some of those numbers a little bit higher?
Governor Hochul: Yes and I’m proud of the fact that we’re number one in America for having children vaccinated, and that’s something we did very intentionally. We made sure that their were vaccine pop-ups, we had plenty of places in communities. So there’s no shortage of vaccine supply, there’s no shortage of locations, and a lot of people are getting them from their pediatrician. So this is a conversation we want parents to continue having.
I would love it if more students would get that second dose and eventually get boosted, just to fortify them, because we really don’t know, given what we just came through with the Omicron variant, whether or not there is going to be another variant that comes, or whether this is the end for a while. So, not knowing that, I think parents should feel more confident, would feel more confident if they had their kids with the maximum protection. And that’s what the second dose would give them.
Hazel Sanchez: Yeah. And your, so your announcement yesterday, excuse me, was about schools. You lifted statewide mask mandate, mask and vaccine requirements back on February 10th, but not for hospitals and nursing homes, shelters. So, can you elaborate here, and whether or not those mandates will be lifted soon? And do you have any kind of a timeline on that?
Governor Hochul: I believe people understand why we would keep them in place in hospitals and nursing homes, two huge points of vulnerability. However, I’ve asked for a review of all of our data related to people in congregate settings, in senior homes, nursing homes, even our prisons. I want the data to see whether or not we’re keeping, maintaining a lower level, or whether or not that it’s sliding back and forth. So once I have the data and analyze it, we’ll be able to make a decision on that. But right now, schools made sense, plenty of testing available. Parents are anxious to be able to see their children’s beautiful smiling faces as are all of we.
Dan Mannarino: Yeah, my goodness, right? And all of this news, Governor, coming at the same time, that Mayor Adams decided to lift the vaccine passports and so-called “Key to NYC” programs. Again, also on March 7th, meaning patrons at restaurants, gyms, indoor venues like Broadway, no longer have to show this proof of vaccination. Do you agree with that point in New York City, including for Broadway theaters? I was just in one over the weekend and they’re tightly packed.
Governor Hochul: It’s absolutely optional, individuals should make their own decision. And I suspect that you’ll see a lot of people in New York City still wearing a mask. I mean, even, they’re not required them to wear them outside, walking the streets. I walked the streets of New York all the time. The majority of people are still wearing masks. So, this is a personal decision. A lot of people will feel more comfortable going into a restaurant or a theater wearing a mask. And again, for those who choose not to, let’s respect each other. I don’t want to have any conflict, let people make their own decisions. So, and also even in schools, parents with children who have asthma or compromised immune systems, they’re going to want to make sure that their children are safe for any teachers who choose to.
So right now, we’ve come through the worst of the pandemic we got through it because New Yorkers followed our guidance. And I’m so proud of all of them. Thank you for stepping up, teachers and parents. I know how hard it was to keep those masks on, but you did it. And as a result, we’ve had a 99% drop in cases. That’s why it’s a good time now to make this decision. But again, everybody who wants to wear masks, they should continue to wear masks, localities want to do it. We’re just removing the state requirement at this time.
Hazel Sanchez: I want to move back to vaccines a little bit again. Last week you decided to delay the implementation of those mandatory booster shots for healthcare workers. Are there staffing issues? Is that what caused that change? Or a low number of COVID cases across the state?
Governor Hochul: A combination of both, but really the staffing issue that you mentioned. We did lose a lot of healthcare workers during the pandemic. I mean, people who were thinking about retiring in a few years, it really was so much. I mean, they are exhausted, they’ve worked so hard, and they were frustrated because they saw people coming to the hospitals, filling the hospitals just a couple months ago.
I mean, literally, in December, in January we had a healthcare crisis. I was sending in the National Guard into hospitals throughout New York and in nursing homes. We didn’t have enough healthcare workers. So, they asked if we could have some more flexibility. Again, we required that all healthcare workers be vaccinated.
I mean, this was the first state that required that, we had to enforce it, it was not easy to do, but we stood with that. But the booster, we just said, if you need a little more time, we’ll give you that flexibility. Again, given that the numbers are down so much lower than they had been.
Dan Mannarino: So Governor, for people who lost their jobs, then, for not getting the vaccine, right? Will those folks be able to get their jobs back or will new applicants be required to get vaccinated? Kind of lay out the logistical planning behind this for those folks.
Governor Hochul: Right. And this is what we’re going to be talking about with our Department of Health today. So we’ll get that information out to everyone. Again, we do believe that if you’re working in a healthcare facility, you should be vaccinated so someone who comes in because they’re sick, they need your care, that they should not get COVID from the person charged with taking care of them. I do believe that that makes sense. So I anticipate that we will keep the vaccine requirement for healthcare workers in place. What we’re just talking about is some flexibility in the timing for booster shots. We’ll make that very clear for everyone.
Dan Mannarino: Governor Kathy Hochul, we’re being told that we are out of time here, but I do want to get your take. I know we’re talking a lot about vaccines, we’re talking a lot about COVID, and I did say I did see a Broadway show this week and it was the Music Man. And I know that you were there for the big opening night. So, I mean, I don’t know if you want to follow the lyrics here. “76 trombones led the…”
Governor Hochul: The big parade. You know, I was at so many plays over the last couple weeks, just to stand on the stage beforehand. I was at Six, a couple of times, went to Chicago, just telling everybody we’re so grateful. The patrons are back. This was the first industry to close, the last to reopen. So if you can support Broadway, we can start getting the tourists back. I’m feeling the energy back in New York City and across the State and it is a beautiful feeling. So thank you.
Hazel Sanchez: Well, so wonderful to have you on the show this morning. We hope you come back.
Governor Hochul: Alright, thank you. We sure will. Alright, thanks so much.