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Hochul in Broome County promises more COVID-19 testing, mask enforcement, hospital staffing

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Broome County’s mass vaccination and testing site on Monday. Hochul thanked healthcare workers and National Guard members working at the state-run site, which opened last week.

“I've been visiting various hospitals today, making sure that we let people know how much we appreciate what our hospital personnel have been going through, but also at these sites to just say, we are unbelievably grateful to all of you,” Hochul said.

Hochul also answered questions and gave updates on the current mask mandate, hospital capacity and testing, in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.

New York has received a million more test kits

The state has been working to make sure there are plenty of tests available, Hochul said, and added that another million kits arrived recently.

With a recent surge in COVID-19 cases across New York and holidays coming up, demand for testing has increased.

Hochul said if possible, residents should get tested before socializing for the holidays. Even if you’re vaccinated and boosted, she noted, it’s important to remember you could still spread the virus to vulnerable loved ones.

“I would say if anyone can get a test before you sit down with your family, absolutely do it,” Hochul said.

Broome County’s state-run site in Johnson City offers tests Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Residents can also get tested at the Broome County Health Department.

Support for counties enforcing mask mandate

New York state will also be providing support to counties to help them implement the state-wide mask mandate, the governor said. She added implementing the mandate is still up to counties, but that the state is ready to help.

“We have resources from the state to give to the counties to assist them with enforcement. And that money will be flowing immediately,” Hochul said.

Last week, several counties across the state expressed concern that they did not have the staff or resources to enforce the measure.

Hochul said so far, there’s been widespread compliance with the mask mandate, but the state will be sending inspectors to do spot checks at businesses to ensure compliance.

Given the higher transmissibility of the omicron variant, Hochul said the mask mandate should prevent the possibility of another shut down. She said with a ready supply of tests, masks, and vaccines, the state and counties are now better equipped to handle spread.

Staffing remains a challenge to hospital capacity

Hochul said the biggest obstacle facing hospitals,as far as capacity, is still staff shortages.

“There's plenty of beds. It's the staffing that's been a problem,” Hochul said.

In addition to suspending elective surgeries at certain hospitals, the state has deployed the National Guard to support healthcare staff. Hochul said that they have also added state contracts, to help hospitals hire temporary staff more easily.

Hochul noted that even if omicron turns out to cause less severe symptoms, the high transmissibility of the variant could still put pressure on hospitals. There could be an increase in hospitalizations if more people become infected with COVID-19.