NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a briefing Monday morning to update New Yorkers on the state’s COVID-19 response efforts.

Delta surge

“We have a situation, as they say, and it’s a serious situation so I wanted to address it,” Gov. Cuomo said. “This COVID delta variant has brought much confusion, to not just the people of the state, but people across the nation. Local governments are trying to figure out how to deal with the guidance and just a sudden reversal by the CDC, so abrupt as to cause cynicism and confusion to be frank and that’s where we are.”

New York state’s COVID-19 state of emergency expired in late June, but rates are again on the rise statewide, and across the nation, as the delta variant became the dominant coronavirus strain in the U.S.

“The delta variant does spread very quickly,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Over the past month, the number of hospitalizations basically doubled, and the number of new cases increased four-fold. So yes, the delta variant spreads very quickly. If you are vaccinated, you’re less likely to catch it, and you’re very unlike to be hospitalized.”

This weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Monroe County, among several other New York counties, with “substantial” COVID-19 transmission.

“I you’re unvaccinated, the delta variant should be a major concern to you and you should be worried about it,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Well New York did a great job with the vaccine, 75% of the adult population has one shot, yes, but that means 25% don’t and that’s 3.5 million people.”

CDC guidance

The CDC’s reporting comes days after it recommended areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

“Vaccinated people can spread the delta variant,” Gov. Cuomo said. “This is the fact that caused the CDC to change their position quickly. This is what they called a pivotal discovery largely based on the situation in Massachusetts, in Cape Cod, and they have other examples across the nation.

“How bad can it get? Nobody knows,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Could get very bad, and then it’s a set of assumptions, but if 25% of the unvaccinated get sick, that’s millions of unvaccinated New Yorkers.”

The governor said last week that state health officials were reviewing the new guidance from the CDC regarding vaccinated people and wearing masks indoors, but he said local governments should adopt that policy if they are in an area with higher rates of transmission.

“Local governments, follow the CDC masking guidance,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It is up to the local governments. The CDC doesn’t mandate local governments to do it, they recommend it. The state has strongly recommended that local governments do it, but it’s up to the local governments. The only way you overcome the local government is with a state law, which is what we did last time if you remember.”

For much of the pandemic, the CDC advised Americans to wear masks outdoors if they were within 6 feet of one another. Then in April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers.

In May, the CDC further eased its guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings. The guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.

Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.

“Right now this is all up to local governments,” Gov. Cuomo said. “If they don’t act, then we’ll be where we were last year where it becomes a statewide emergency and the state will have to act.

“My opinion on the facts — as a New Yorker and not as a governor — I’m going to wear a mask,” Gov. Cuomo said. I’m vaccinated, I don’t think delta variant will put me in the hospital, but if I’m a locality that is a high-risk locality, and the locality says where a mask, I’m going to wear a mask. I wore a mask for a year and it’s not the biggest deal in the world, because I could get the delta variant and then I could spread the delta variant, so better safe than sorry.”

Vaccine mandates

Although the governor said he supports local governments in adopting the new masking guidance, he said masks can only do so much.

“Mask policy will be important, but I don’t believe a mask policy will be enough — I think we’re going to have to talk about a vaccination policy,” Gov. Cuomo said. “What does that mean? Well, we’ve taken the first steps; the federal government has done it, the state government has done it, and some local governments have done it, which is you either have to get the vaccine or a weekly test. That’s the first step, but it’s only the first step.”

The governor announced that New York City’s MTA Port Authority is adopting the vaccine mandate, going into effect by Labor Day, similar to what he announced last week for state employees and patient-facing health care workers in state hospitals.

Monday he encouraged local school districts statewide to do the same with a vaccine mandate.

“I believe school districts should say today, teachers must get vaccinated or tested weekly, if you are in a CDC high-risk area, the red or the yellow zones,” Gov. Cuomo said. “I think they should say that to teachers today.”

The governor said school districts should delay in setting vaccine policies, because teachers will need time to get one or two shots before school starts in a month.

“I think school districts should say ‘vaccinate or test,'” Gov. Cuomo said. “Schools open in one month and if you don’t set a policy today, you’re going to have chaos in one month.”

The governor said there should be a mandatory vaccine policy for public-facing workers in high-risk situations.

“New York state is the first state in the nation to do it,” Gov. Cuomo said. “In our hospitals, public-facing employees must be vaccinated and if not vaccinated, testing once per week. ‘Oh that’s a very harsh measure, no other state has done it.’ Yes, but I disagree with the word harsh, it’s smart. If you are a receiving nurse, or receiving doctor, and people are coming in from the public, and you’re dealing with dozens of people, you should be vaccinated — or don’t work in a frontline position. We put this in place, it is controversial, U believe in it. I understand the controversy, but it smart and I believe it could be extended, but legally I can only do it for our own hospitals.

“Counties run hospitals, local governments run hospitals,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Government is supposed to lead mandatory vaccines for public-facing health care workers. Then we watch the numbers and adjust as the numbers adjust, but everything should be on the table and we should start talking about it now because if these numbers rise and start to rise quickly it can’t be that we’re not ready to move. If the numbers do not come down I think you have to consider mandatory vaccines for nursing home workers.

“These are the places of intersection,” Gov. Cuomo said. “These are the places where one person can infect, literally, dozens in the course of a day, and I don’t believe asking people to take vaccination is a bad thing. I believe it’s a good thing and 75% of New Yorkers have done it. It’s been accepted as a social policy, and if you want to teach my kids, I think you should be vaccinated. If you want to take care of my mother in the nursing homes, I think you should be vaccinated.”

The governor said if a COVID-19 vaccine receives formal approval from the FDA, opposed to its current state under emergency use authorization, a law could be passed for vaccine mandates.

“That would require a law passed by the legislature,” Gov. Cuomo said. “It’s going to be what the legislature’s appetite is to wade into that situation. That would be a law. I could mandate today for my employees, as I’m acting as an employer and the law says an employer can mandate, but if there’s a federal approval and you go beyond emergency use authorization for final approval, the legislature could mandate vaccination.”

The governor said the most proactive ways to reduce further spread are increase vaccination, incentivize more vaccination, and encourage local governments in areas with high transmission rates to adopt the new CDC guidance.

“Everybody has to get vaccinated,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Outreach, outreach, outreach — deploy community groups, deploy people who have credibility in the communities, like religious leaders. Educate people who still think this is made up.”

The governor encouraged private businesses to go to a mandatory vaccination policy for their customers.

“Private businesses, I am asking them and suggesting to them, to go vaccine only admission,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Go to vaccine only admission. We this at Radio City Music Hall a few months ago, reopened vaccine only, and sold out all the shows. It’s going to help your business, not hurt it. If you say to these people, ‘well if you don’t have a vaccine, you can’t get into these establishments,’ then you will see a real incentive to get vaccinated.”

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.