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Hochul urges New Yorkers get the new vaccine as COVID numbers rise

A woman in a white pantsuit with black lapels stands behind a table with a tv screen behind her and a man in a dark blue suit sitting to her left.
Darren McGee/Darren McGee- Office of Governor
Gov. Hochul gives a COVID briefing with NYS Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald Sept. 13, 2023.

With COVID cases on the rise again, Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday resumed briefings on the illness. She recommends that everyone get the new vaccines, which are aimed at the newer versions of the virus and will be available as early as this week.

Hochul says while everyone would like to see COVID in the rearview mirror, the disease is not done with us.

“Everybody now knows somebody who had COVID, recently,” Hochul said. “My daughter had it last week. My son in law had it last week. My neighbor had it last week. People at work have had it. Many of my commissioners have had it. So, the reality is setting in, so people are actually saying, ‘Oh, it's back.’”

The governor says data shows cases are ticking up and are now running at about 15 people for every 100,000. That’s still far lower than the 50 per 100,000 just a year ago, and the 300 cases per 100,000 at the end of 2021.

But Hochul says it’s hard to obtain accurate numbers, because testing for COVID has largely become a private matter. People use at-home test kits and stay home a few days until they feel better, but don’t normally notify their doctors or seek a test from a hospital or health clinic.

COVID-related hospitalizations have been increasing since July. State health officials say 60% of all hospitalizations in some regions of the state are due to people having the illness.

Hochul says the good news is that a new vaccine, aimed at providing immunity to the some of the newest variants of the virus, will be available in New York as early as Friday. She urges everyone over the age of six months to get it.

“Make this part of your routine health maintenance every fall,” the governor recommends. “Because this is the new normal.”

The shot is not a booster version of previous vaccines but an entirely new vaccine. State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald says people should not become complacent if they’ve already had numerous shots. He says the older booster shots are no longer effective against the current version of the virus.

“People need to look in the mirror and say, ‘how do I protect myself.' That's when the virus changed. Now the vaccine has changed. And that's all we're doing."

McDonald says a new variant known as BA.2.86, which is not a subvariant of omicron, but a new genetic mutation of the virus, has so far not been detected in New York.

Health officials say if you come down with COVID, stay home a few days and rest, and consider taking Paxlovid, a prescription antiviral pill that eases symptoms.

And Hochul, noting that “it’s not the bad old days,” says there are currently no plans to close schools, require masks in public indoor spaces or mandate vaccinations.

McDonald says for now, he’s leaving it up to individual hospitals to decide whether employees and visitors must wear masks.

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.