Business lobbyists in Albany say they’re looking for signs that New York’s next governor will go slow on pandemic mandates such as mask requirements.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said Wednesday she plans to work with the New York State Department of Health to put a mask mandate in place for schools, leading some businesses to wonder whether they’ll be next.
Hochul is to be sworn is as governor next week following the resignation of the scandal-scarred Andrew Cuomo (D).
Positive coronavirus cases in New York state increased dramatically to 4,737, up from 823 positive cases a month ago, due largely to the Delta variant, according to state data released on Wednesday. Hochul has said she’s “open to all options” to fight the resurgent pandemic.
“The fear of course is the uncertainty of what’s next,” said Frank Kerbein, director of the Business Council of New York State’s Center for Human Resources. “The business community has paid the cost of this pandemic in general in terms of income replacement, lost revenue because of the restrictions placed on their businesses, and we don’t want to go back to that.”
Centralized guidance from the state makes more sense for schools than for businesses, said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York Association of Counties. “One size fits all doesn’t work right now,” he said.
Before imposing any executive orders, Hochul has to figure out what the law allows her to do now that a new state law has revoked temporary emergency power granted to Cuomo.
“The Lieutenant Governor is evaluating the current law and regulatory authority regarding health guidance,” Hochul spokeswoman Haley Viccaro said in an email.
State Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera (D) said the governor has the constitutional authority to put regulations in place without the legislature’s permission.
“For there to be continuity, for it to correspond to the interests of the state as a whole, I do believe that we should act as a state,” he said.
The health department has the authority to impose regulations to protect public health, though it’s likely that officials wouldn’t make major decisions without consulting the executive chamber,” Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried (D) said.
Hochul plans discussions with the business community in the days and weeks ahead as she officially becomes governor, according to her office.
Greg Biryla, New York senior state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said his group favors a policy of leaving the mask decisions up to each business. “One-size-fits-all mandates present genuine challenges when operating a business and can negatively impact different businesses in different ways,” he said in an email.
The state has put vaccine mandates in place for some industries, including hospitals and long-term care facilities, state employees, and Port Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees working in New York facilities. State employees who choose not to get vaccinated must undergo weekly Covid-19 testing.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) imposed a vaccine mandate on restaurants, gyms, and other indoor venues. Many in the hospitality businesses feel they’re being singled out because it applies to some industries and not others, said Melissa Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association.
“If things were to dramatically change and the virus pose a significant health risk to a large number of people, then something would have to be done again, but until then, until that crisis level is reached, businesses should be free to make decisions about what’s best for their business,” Kerbein said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at firstname.lastname@example.org