A New York State Supreme Court judge in Nassau County ruled Monday that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s mask mandate, including for schools, is unconstitutional because she did not have the authority to enact it.
“There can be no doubt that every person in this State wishes, wants, and prays that this era of COVID ends soon and they will surely do their part to see that is accomplished,” Judge Thomas Rademaker wrote in his decision. “However, enacting any laws to this end is entrusted solely to the State Legislature.”
Hochul released a short statement Monday evening asserting her opposition to the ruling.
“My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” she said. “We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.”
School officials will likely be scrambling Tuesday morning to consult counsel and get a handle on the ruling.
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Hochul’s rule requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors, one of her first actions as governor in August, has faced pockets of opposition across the state. More recently, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman issued executive orders on Jan. 6 ending enforcement of mask mandates and giving schools the option to require masks.
State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa released a statement that day saying she expected school boards to “follow all legal requirements, including the face-covering regulation.”
Blakeman hailed Monday’s ruling as a “major win for students & parents” in a tweet.
Rademaker was ruling on a case brought by several people against Hochul and state Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett, on behalf of all school children in the state, seeking to have the mask mandate thrown out.
In his ruling, Rademaker wrote that he was not questioning or taking a position on the “efficacy, need, or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus.”
Rather, he wrote that the mask mandate was not properly enacted and therefore cannot be enforced.
The decision said that Hochul did not include the mask mandate in an executive order because the state Legislature would not allow it, so she had the state Health Department improperly include the mandate in an emergency rule.
“The Court cannot find any law enacted by the State Legislature that specifically gives the Department of Health and its Commissioner the authority to enact a law,” Rademaker wrote.
COVID cases in Rochester NY region
Monroe County reported 5,031 cases and 34 deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 9,288 cases and 27 deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 141,951 cases and 1,432 deaths.
Ontario County reported 901 cases and five deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 1,292 cases and eight deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 17,900 cases and 162 deaths.
Wayne County reported 841 cases and seven deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 1,107 cases and six deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 15,504 cases and 148 deaths.
Livingston County reported 513 cases and two deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 786 cases and two deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 10,627 cases and 100 deaths.
Orleans County reported 337 cases and one death in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 603 cases and one death. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 7,996 cases and 106 deaths.
Genesee County reported 603 cases and seven deaths in the latest week. A week earlier, it had reported 959 cases and three deaths. Throughout the pandemic it has reported 12,769 cases and 174 deaths.
Across New York, cases fell in 60 counties, with the best declines in Queens County, with 24,374 cases from 60,369 a week earlier; in Kings County, with 29,685 cases from 54,438; and in New York County, with 17,740 cases from 32,284.
New York ranked 7th among states in share of people receiving at least one shot, with 87% of its residents at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 75.5%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are the most used in the United States, require two doses administered a few weeks apart.
In the week ending Sunday, New York reported administering another 581,185 vaccine doses, including 173,715 first doses. In the previous week, the state administered 523,202 vaccine doses, including 144,133 first doses. In all, New York reported it has administered 36,261,653 total doses.
Within New York, the worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Bronx County with 1,526 cases per 100,000 per week; Onondaga County with 1,284; and Richmond County with 1,262. The Centers for Disease Control says high levels of community transmission begin at 100 cases per 100,000 per week.
Adding the most new cases overall were Kings County, with 29,685 cases; Queens County, with 24,374 cases; and Bronx County, with 21,635.
In New York, 1,601 people were reported dead of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. In the week before that, 1,201 people were reported dead.
A total of 4,701,632 people in New York have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 63,413 people have died from the disease, Johns Hopkins University data shows. In the United States 70,700,678 people have tested positive and 866,540 people have died.
More NY kids ending up in hospitals due to COVID
Dr. Tina Sosa has recently spent a lot more time consoling heartbroken parents as their COVID-19 infected children lay in hospital beds, struggling to breath.
Most of these mothers and fathers were tormented by their decision to decline to vaccinate their children against the respiratory disease, said Sosa, a pediatric hospitalist at Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester.
But many of the parents were also far from anti-vaccine, but rather thoughtful guardians who agonized over the risks and rewards of COVID-19 vaccines — until it was too late, she said.
“These past two years of the pandemic have been incredibly challenging for parents for a variety of reasons, and one is the decision around this vaccine,” she added, noting the COVID-19 threat to children was comparatively much lower than adults for most of the pandemic.
The risk calculus, however, has rapidly evolved since early December as the highly contagious omicron variant sent record-high numbers of kids to hospitals.
“Parents are realizing that what we’re dealing with in this stage of the pandemic is different,” Sosa said, adding the rise in hospitalized children is also distressing pandemic-weary health care workers.
“We never want to see a child die from a vaccine-preventable disease,” she added, noting the COVID-19 vaccines have proven safe and effective at limiting severe illnesses for children ages 5 and above.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates among ages 5 to 11 have all but stalled in some counties in New York, which reported a 25% vaccination rate for the age group statewide on Friday.
For ages 12 to 17, the vaccination rate statewide stood at about 66%, though many counties lagged well behind that pace, excluding heavily vaccinated Westchester County and parts of New York City and Long Island.
Yet efforts to identify some barriers to vaccination — such as those linked to potential gaps in reaching Black and brown children — are hindered by the fact that state and federal officials have yet to release pediatric vaccination data by race and ethnicity.
USPS to begin shipping free COVID-19 tests
Free COVID-19 test kits for people who ordered them from COVIDtests.gov will begin shipping via the U.S. Postal Service this week, according to the government website.
Americans are supposed to be able to order four kits per address under a federal program that launched last week.
Tests are expected to be mailed within seven to 12 days from when they are ordered. Customers should receive email notifications with shipping updates, including estimated delivery date and a tracking number on USPS.com.
“All tests distributed as part of this program are FDA-authorized at-home rapid antigen tests,” the website says.
The White House also announced last week that it will begin making 400 million N95 masks available for free at pharmacies and community health centers.
When will omicron infections peak?
The nation’s top infectious disease expert is “as confident as you can be” that most states will have reached a peak of omicron COVID-19 cases by mid-February.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” said several states in the Northeast and Upper Midwest have seen cases peak and begin to decline sharply but that cases are still rising in the South and West.
“You never want to be overconfident when you’re dealing with this virus,” Fauci said, adding that the coronavirus “surprised us in the past.”
Fauci said there may be “a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations” in parts of the country where a higher percentage of people have not been fully vaccinated or have not received a booster shot.
Fauci said the goal is to get infections under control to where the virus isn’t eliminated but the level is low enough that “it’s essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections” that Americans have learned to live with.
How many people in Monroe County have received a COVID-19 vaccine?
75% of people in Monroe County have received at least one dose of the vaccine, for a total of 560,019 people
70% of people in Monroe County are fully vaccinated, for a total of 519,476 people
For a county-by-county look at the vaccination rollout, see our COVID-19 vaccine tracker, which is updated daily.
How many people in New York have been vaccinated so far?
86% of people in New York have received at least one dose of the vaccine, for a total of 16,807,366 people
73% of people in New York are fully vaccinated, for a total of 14,229,580 people
COVID vaccinations for kids and boosters
The percentages in this story reflect the total share of the population that has received vaccines. That now includes people as young as 5 years old, for whom vaccines have been authorized.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Monroe County NY COVID cases, free test kits and vaccination rates