Hochul promises more coronavirus tests for New Yorkers on the way

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Kevin P. Coughlin / Office Of Gov. Kathy Hochul

Gov Kathy Hochul gives a COVID-19 update in New York City on Dec. 20, 2021. State Operations Director Kathryn Garcia is at right.

New York continues to break records for residents testing positive for the coronavirus, even though there is a shortage of at-home tests and there can be long waits at testing centers.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said more access to testing is coming.

She said Wednesday that the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus is responsible for the spike.

“This virus is going vertical, it’s going straight up,” said Hochul, who added the state had 28,924 new positive cases Tuesday.

“Another day that we are breaking records,” she said. “Not records that we are happy about.”

Health experts say the variant so far causes mild symptoms in vaccinated and boosted people, but Hochul said the unvaccinated are 20 times more likely to die from it.

The governor said the state has ordered 5 million more take-home tests to ease a chronic shortage. That’s in addition to the 500 million new tests that President Joe Biden said will become available next month to Americans who ask for them.

Hochul said the kits will be distributed to local emergency centers and state-run vaccination sites, and 2 million will go directly to schools. The governor said she wants children to be able to return to the classroom on Jan. 3, after the holiday break.

She added that access to rapid tests will help keep them there, if a student in a class contracts the disease.

“The entire class can go home with state-provided testing kits that the parents will be able to use on their children with directions,” Hochul said. “If they are negative the first day, send them back to school.”

She said the children would use the tests a second time a few days later, and if they continue to test negative, they could remain in school.

“There’s no reason why we have to have such a disruption,” Hochul said.

She said it’s possible that COVID-19 vaccinations could become mandatory for all of the state’s schoolchildren. But she said it would take an act of the Legislature to do so, and that could not occur until next fall.

“Let’s see what happens with this. Is this going to be yesterday’s news in a few months, or are we going to be dealing with new variants all the time?” Hochul said. “But I would not rule that out.”

Despite the rapid spread of the omicron variant, the governor is not recommending that people cancel their holiday plans. She said it’s safer, though, to only gather with vaccinated friends and family members.

She also advised taking precautions to protect the most vulnerable members of any group, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. And she said everyone should obey the state’s mask mandate when out in public.

Hochul said she won’t be gathering with her own extended family, though. She said she will remain at the executive mansion in Albany and visit relatives via Zoom, because she needs to stay well and continue to manage the pandemic over the holidays.