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WPCNR ALBANY ROUNDS. Transcript of Governor Kathleen Hochul comments on National Public Radio this morning on Covid and schools. August 25, 2021:

Governor Hochul: Well my task right now is very immediate. I have to get COVID under control, protect the safety of New Yorkers, and I started with a mask mandate in schools effective immediately. Also, get more vaccinations out there and particularly if we’re looking at the booster shots there’s a lot of older people who feel very insecure and invulnerable because they would have had their first shots just about eight months ago, and that’s when I spoke with Dr. Fauci and the time he said people should be getting their next booster shot. So, I’ll be having a very aggressive program to get the boosters out. But there’s still a lot of people who never got their first dose, and that’s going to be a barrier to getting people feeling secure about going to schools and to work. So I’m laser focused on those two big initiatives.

Steve Inskeep: Do you feel that you’re taking office in a crisis that has nothing to do with Andrew Cuomo’s crisis? You were at 300 new cases per day in New York not long ago, and I think you’re now up to 5,000 new cases a day.

Governor Hochul: Yes, so it’s very concerning. There’s no doubt about it. I was in the trenches during the first months of last year’s pandemic. I was literally embedded with the local health officials and county executives in upstate New York, so I know how scary this is and what people went through and I have a different approach. We were successful last year, but also as we see this resurgence I’m going to be doing more to empower local government officials who spend all their days training for this, the local health departments, the emergency management individuals who know how to get vaccines out. So, in my opinion it does not have to be so top heavy, but we also need to engage our local partners. That’s something I’ve done all my life from my career in local office to county office to Congress and on up, so that’s natural for me but it’s going to be a different approach, but we’ll get to the same place where we eventually drive this down and protect people the process.

Steve InskeepDo you have some people who think that you are being top heavy by imposing a statewide mask mandate?

Governor Hochul: This is actually the results of an effort of outreach I did to school superintendents, school boards, teachers, all kinds of groups I assembled on a Zoom call a couple days before I took office. They told me they want this to happen, they just want to cover. They want to be able to go back to their parents at a school board meeting and say this is a state mandate, we had to follow it. So, because they did have that they were the ones that were that front of all the criticism and I have no trouble, problem at all, assuming that responsibly. I’m going do that. The vast majority of my conversations have been this is in the no brainer category as much as politically divisive in some other states. In the state of New York, yes, people criticize, I’ve already heard from them, but the vast majority of New Yorkers want to get through this as soon as possible.

And, number one, keep kids safe in schools. I mean, I’m a parent. This is a time of high anxiety for every mom and dad or anyone who sends kids to school, and I want to alleviate that by saying you know what, your child is going to be protected. We know masks work and then we’ll work on getting the vaccinations are and we’ll have done everything we possibly can to ensure that that environment is safe so kids can start learning again.

Steve Inskeep: Did you literally have school superintendent saying that to you? Force me to do this, twist my arm?

Governor Hochul: Oh yes. We had a conversation with leadership on a call and the leadership, I can’t say they speak for every single member, and I’ve represented the most conservative parts of New York as a member of congress, I know that there will be individuals who disagree with that. I’m balanced, we have to make a decision that affects New York State as a whole for now but also my flexibility is that I’m willing to release the restrictions based on what’s happening in different geographic areas. We’ll have a statewide mandate to start, however I’m going to monitor closely. I’m watching the data like a hawk all day long to see what’s happening. And if there’s an area that’s not really that affected, they’re coming out of it, they have good vaccination rates that we can allow them to lift them.

So, I’m not going to be a dictator about this. I’m going to be flexible.

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