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Hochul says religious exemption not a legitimate excuse to avoid COVID-19 vaccine


Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that she doesn't believe health care workers in New York should be able to cite a religious exemption to avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

The governor, who held a briefing on the status of the coronavirus in the state, was reacting to a court decision temporarily upholding the rights of some health care workers to refuse the vaccine on religious grounds.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Utica issued what’s known as a temporary restraining order against the portion of the state’s vaccine mandate that does not allow for religious exemptions.

Hochul said her health department deliberately excluded religious exemptions from the mandate, which requires all health care workers to be vaccinated by Sept. 27. She said while the state’s attorneys will be arguing the case in court on Sept. 28, her personal opinion is that a religious exemption is not a legitimate excuse.

“I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion, in fact, they are encouraging the opposite,” Hochul said. “Everybody from the pope on down is encouraging people to get vaccinated.”

Hochul said New Yorkers have the right to receive health care without worrying that the person attending them might be unvaccinated and more likely to spread the virus.

The governor, saying that she is concerned about the spread of the delta variant of the virus, also imposed new mask mandates for day care and child care centers. Everyone 2 years old and up will have to wear them, effective immediately, regardless of their vaccination status.

“If you’re watching the national news, the scariest announcements coming out every single morning are the number of children now contracting COVID,” said Hochul, who added a vaccine won’t be available for those younger than 12 for several more months.

Masks will also be required at congregate state-run health-related programs, including mental health and addiction services.

Hochul said she is also authorizing the state’s 50,000 EMTs to be able to administer the vaccine to avoid an expected shortage of workers when booster shots become available later in the fall. She said that could add at least 2,000 more staff able to offer doses.

The governor is leaving the details of how to distribute the booster shots to local health officials, who complained earlier in the pandemic that they were left out of the process in favor of a state-run mass vaccination system. Hochul criticized those policies, enacted by her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

“And now that we’re not mandating that it was all state-run facilities and only state-run employees, we are actually involving the local individuals who were shunted off to the side, there are far more people that are engaged in this,” she said.

Hochul said local health departments, who have said they can run vaccinations better than the state, are on notice to carry out the task competently. The state is providing $65 million to aid the efforts.