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Governor Hochul Says Another Winter Surge Of COVID-19 Has Begun; Onondaga County "Braces" For More Cases

Governor Kathy Hochul delivers remarks during a COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol.
Mike Groll/Mike Groll/Office of Governor Ka
Governor Kathy Hochul delivers remarks during a COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol.

Governor Kathy Hochul is warning that the state could face rapidly rising rates of COVID-19 in the coming weeks, based on early data and trends in Europe, where waves of the disease have often preceded surges in the U.S. But she says she has no plans to try to enforce a statewide mask mandate that began Monday, and is leaving it up to local governments, business and individuals to choose to comply.

Governor Hochul says an uptick of the coronavirus has already begun, with the rate of infection rapidly increasing in recent days.

“That winter surge is in full force, and I believe it’s going to get even stronger and more virulent,” Hochul said. “We are in for a rough ride this winter season."

Her health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, presented charts that document a “substantial” surge, with hospitalization rates at the highest levels in several months and still growing. Bassett says at the same time, vaccination rates have flattened, with just over 68% of New Yorkers now fully vaccinated.

We are in the midst of a delta surge,” Bassett said. “We have omicron in the wings.”

Bassett says if the omicron variant becomes the dominant strain, the rate of transmission will grow exponentially.

The governor is urging New Yorkers to abide by the mandate imposed on Monday. It requires businesses to either require customers to wear masks or show proof of vaccination. Several counties have refused to enforce the new rules, saying they either do not agree with it or do not have the resources to do so.

Hochul says she is not going to use state inspectors to enforce the mandate.

“This was never intended to be heavy-handed, in fact the best way to do this is self-enforcing,” said Hochul, who said she hopes the recalcitrant counties will change their minds if the winter surge worsens.

They start seeing their hospitals taxed even further, and they get anxious, they may change their minds,” she said. “But it’s really up to the people and the businesses, and I thank all of them who have stepped up and said they are going to do the right thing.”

The governor says she’d rather use staff at the state health department to focus on increasing the vaccination rates, encouraging booster shots, and getting home testing kits out to parts of the state where there’s a high percentage of unvaccinated people.

Hochul says most of the counties are on board with the mandate, and many are following up to make sure people comply. She adds that it’s not that big an inconvenience to put a mask on, and it will result in saving lives.


COVID case numbers and hospitalizations remain relatively stable in Onondaga County, but County Executive Ryan McMahon is warning of what’s to come due to the omicron variant.

"We need to brace ourselves for higher case numbers, and know that the most important metric is the hospitalization numbers and the ability treat our sick throughout the community, not just COVID patients, but others who are in critical condition."

McMahon says right now, Delta is the dominant strain driving hospitalizations. He says 140 residents are hospitalized, 35 in the ICU. McMahon says about 86 percent of those in the ICU are unvaccinated, so he’s urging people to get vaccinated and boosted to maintain hospital capacity.

Meanwhile, McMahon is trying to order more home testing kits, mainly for families with school age children who may want to test-to-stay in school after an exposure. But he says home testing in general will skew the county’s numbers because they’re not capturing all the results.

"That's why the positivity rate is useless, essentially, because all the at home testing being done...these are people who might have gone to our testing sites. If they're negative, great, throw it out, go about your day, that test result never gets reported. Your positivity rate right now is a positivity rate of the sick."

Until the home tests are more widely available, McMahon is encouraging residents to take advantage of asymptomatic rapid testing sites next week before gathering for the holidays. The civic center will be open Monday through Thursday. Testing will be done Tuesday at the Fabius Community Center, and Wednesday at the Cicero American Legion.

In addition to vaccination and testing, the state’s indoor mask mandate also aims to prevent disease spread. McMahon says many people seem to be complying.

"I've been out and about. I think it's going well. If the goal was to have more people wear a mask, I think that's mission accomplished. You've heard very clearly from the governor this week that enforcement of this is next to near impossible. I think overall, there are more people wearing masks in the community."

McMahon has stopped short of publicly refusing to enforce the mask mandate as about a dozen of other counties have. But he has questioned if it’s effective policy, and worries about the burden put on businesses to try and enforce it.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.
Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at