New York’s incoming governor faces difficult decisions as virus cases rise.

New York’s incoming governor faces difficult decisions as virus cases rise.


Across New York the Delta variant has caused a surge of new cases and rising hospitalizations, presenting New York’s incoming governor, Kathy Hochul, with a major public health challenge that is likely to grow between now and the day she officially takes office in two weeks.

Ms. Hochul, who is currently the lieutenant governor, declined to say much that was concrete about the direction she would take on the state’s Covid-19 policies when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo steps down. Mr. Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday after a sexual harassment scandal.

But Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat from the Buffalo area who has kept a low profile as lieutenant governor, will soon confront a raft of difficult decisions on everything from guidance on mask rules to vaccine mandates.

In her first news conference on Wednesday as the soon-to-be-governor, Ms. Hochul did not say whether she would declare a new state of emergency to respond to rising transmission, as Mr. Cuomo did last year in March at the height of the pandemic, a restriction that was only lifted in late June of 2021.

She said she would use the next two weeks — while Mr. Cuomo remains governor — to consult with health experts and federal health authorities as she formulated a plan. She added that increasing vaccinations would be her focus.

“I can assure everyone that we’ll be looking at all options, but I believe that the key to get through this has been before our eyes for months,” she said. “It’s as simple as more people getting vaccinated.”

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Though the number of new infections and hospitalizations recorded each day are well below the peaks of last winter, the current totals still represent a dramatic rise since late June, when the epidemic seemed to be waning.

On Tuesday, the seven-day average of new infections in New York State reached 3,088, up from a low point of 307 on June 26, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations rose to 1,478, from 823 over the same period.

Ms. Hochul said she would work in communities that have high rates of infection and low rates of vaccination to combat resistance to vaccination and increase access to the shots. The current vaccines authorized in the United States protect most fully vaccinated people from developing serious illness from Covid-19, including from the Delta variant.

But getting enough people vaccinated to curb the rise in cases and bring down hospitalizations may require more than just encouragement from officials.

In New York, elected leaders have been reluctant to impose a vaccine requirement on workers — whether in hospitals, schools or nursing homes. Instead, many unvaccinated government employees and health care workers are subject to rules requiring them to be tested weekly — or in the case of nursing home workers, monthly.

Public health experts predict that there may be greater willingness to impose vaccine mandates if cases and hospitalizations continue to climb. Across New York State, about 69.4 percent of people 18 and over are fully vaccinated, while in New York City the number is 67 percent.

Ms. Hochul also faces questions about allegations that Mr. Cuomo’s aides undercounted nursing home deaths from Covid-19 last year to cover up the true death toll. Asked on Wednesday whether she would release full data on nursing home deaths, Ms. Hochul sidestepped the question.

“My administration will be fully transparent when I am governor,” she said. “I’m not governor yet.”