covid-19 cases
Gov. Hochul holds a Covid-19 briefing at the University at Albany on Jan. 14. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

By Isabel Song Beer

Gov. Kathy Hochul was welcomed by University of Albany President Hávidan Rodgríguez on Friday as she held a press conference at the campus to go over the new statewide Covid-19 case data, which is beginning to see a decline for the first time since the winter surge began in late 2021.

Gov Hochul new statistics on downward trend of COVID positivity cases in New York State. Graph courtesy of Gov Hochul’s office 1/14/21

“From the very beginning of the pandemic, UAlbany has been actively engaged in the state’s [COVID-19] response,” said Rodríguez on Friday. “From April 2020 to April 2021, we hosted a state testing site that administered more than 160,000 tests. One year ago tomorrow, one of the first state-run mass vaccination sites opened here on our campus at the University of Albany.”

Following Rodríguez’s introduction, Hochul took to the podium to begin discussing how the state is planning to continue to fight the battle against to COVID-19 pandemic. It was at that time that the governor discussed the introduction of a new protocol for pool COVID testing.

“[Students] pool together four of [these spit tests] at a time,” said Hochul on Friday. “So if they all come back negative, then they know there are four people that are clear. If one tests positive, they can do [the test] again. And [this] has been made available not just on college campuses here, but all the campuses in the region so they can get very quick results and know exactly what to do.”

After Hochul’s introductory statements, the governor welcomed Jackie Bray acting Commissioner of the Division of Homeland Security to speak more on federal aid regarding emergency service providers like ambulances.

“The President yesterday announced two more disaster medical teams on their way, arriving at the end of this month – first to Brooklyn and a second to the Bronx,” said Bray. “We have 80 ambulance teams, each team has two people. 30 of those teams are serving Western Central New York and upstate. We’ve got 50 of those teams serving our downstate region, we’ve 30 more of those teams arriving in-state on Sunday which will give us 110 teams in total (…) that are able to transfer patients long distance and stay with them until they are admitted which really opens up our local EMS (Emergency Medical Service).”

Hochul also announced that the NYS COVID positivity rate seemed to be trending downward – news that is sure to provide New Yorkers with a bit of relief.

“Here’s the newsflash,” said Hochul, “Turning the corner – I’ve been waiting to say that. Seven-day cases are starting to decline. 49,027 cases yesterday. Our highest point was how long ago? One week ago. We had over 90,000 cases a week ago today – 49,000 right now. That is a very positive trend.”

Corroborating this was acting Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, who announced the extension of open enrollment for health insurance – which plans to ideally include undocumented New Yorkers – as well as free vaccinations still being offered and the importance of getting children receiving the vaccination and health insurance.

“I want to make sure that everybody remembers that COVID vaccinations are entirely free, and we still need people to get vaccinated, especially children,” said Dr. Bassett. “We still have thousands of New Yorkers who are eligible for health insurance and haven’t attained it. So today, the Federal Health and Human Services extended the public health emergency from June 16, 2022 for an additional 90 days.”

Both the Governor and Dr. Bassett stressed the importance of healthcare access during the pandemic when record unemployment occurred in direct correlation with COVID-19. According to Dr. Bassett, there was a “huge surge” of enrollment at the beginning of the pandemic, with 1.5 million New Yorkers added to the enrollments.

“If New Yorkers want to get coverage for March 1, [they] have to enroll by Feb 15, 2022,” said Bassett.

“We have been proactive, we have been making smart decisions, we have been putting in what we think are common sense requirements to protect [public] health, but they are all short term,” said Hochul. “We are going to keep monitoring the situation to make sure that there is not a trend that changes quickly, but yes there will come a time when we assess this and determine how long any restrictions need to be put in place any longer, but in my opinion the shorter the better.”

This story first appeared on amNY.com.

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