Health messaging or power grab? Hochul’s extension of state of emergency prompts response | Govt. & Politics News

Gov. Kathy Hochul last Thursday quietly extended New York’s state of disaster emergency through Aug. 13, continuing an executive order that grants her emergency powers to pass pandemic-related measures without legislature approval.

Local officials echoed the governor’s emphasis on Covid-19 vigilance and the importance of public health messaging, while Hochul’s critics say they do not believe state Covid-19 rates warrant the continuation of these powers.

Executive order No. 11.8, issued July 14 and signed by Hochul, cited statewide hospital admissions increasing by more than 100 each day, the transmissibility of the omicron variant, the need to expand access to testing, and the coordination of hospital capacity as reasons to continue the state of disaster emergency.

Matt Janiszewski, Hochul’s upstate spokesman, said Tuesday the order “allows New York the flexibility to modify and suspend laws to effectively address the pandemic.” But Hochul’s political foes have called the extension of the executive order a power grab.

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William A. Barclay, minority leader in the state Assembly, tweeted his reaction to Hochul’s executive order: “Gov. Hochul is redefining the word ’emergency’ – it has been clear for months that NY is no longer in a state of emergency but she has continued to assert her powers through executive orders. It’s time for it all to come to an end.”

Zeldin targets Hochul: 'She tries to be whoever her political consultants tell her to be'

Less than two weeks before the June 28 GOP primary, the Nassau County congressman on Wednesday convened reporters to denounce Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s latest extension of emergency powers to deal with Covid-19. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin, who won the Republican gubernatorial primary in June and will challenge Hochul in November, has repeatedly criticized the governor’s Covid-19 response, particularly in the seven monthly extensions of her emergency powers. “The governor of the State of New York should not be executing this level of control,” Zeldin said during his Erie County visit two weeks before the primary. 

Zeldin tweeted July 14: “Kathy Hochul just unilaterally extended her COVID emergency powers AGAIN. The legislature didn’t give her this authority, nor should they. This Governor’s power hungry craving for control over the lives of others is a huge red flag for NYers who want to be in charge of their govt.”

The Erie County Executive’s Office Tuesday supported Hochul’s move. “Governor Hochul has a job to do that is unlike any other, and protecting public health is at the top of the list regardless of ‘backlash,’ ” said Peter Anderson, spokesman for county executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “COVID is still a real thing and people continue to die from it, including five more Erie County residents so far this month.”

The Erie County Department of Health Tuesday emphasized that low Covid-19 case numbers no longer paint the full picture of community spread, as neither Erie County nor New York State data includes at-home test results. With reports of the BA.5 omicron variant and limitations of testing data, public health continues.

“With new COVID-19 variants gaining dominance, some that appear to be more contagious, from a public health perspective we need to remain vigilant in providing safety messages, access to testing and vaccine, and reminders to stay home and away from others when ill,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, the Erie County Department of Health commissioner, in a statement.

Signs of normalcy as Covid wanes, a state of emergency ends and politicians move on

No pandemic-related mandates are still in effect in Erie County, the first time since before the pandemic began in March 2020, Mark Poloncarz said. 

Erie County in early March dropped its state of emergency in response to Covid-19, which had been in effect for almost exactly two years.

Hochul first declared the state of disaster emergency Nov. 26 when New York was experiencing community transmission and hospitalizations similar to April 2020. The emergency order aimed at ensuring hospital capacity in the state by allowing Hochul to postpone non-essential elective medical procedures, as well as bypassing portions of the state’s finance law to provide services and purchase commodities. 

The seven-day average of statewide cases per 100,000 residents is 37.6 as of July 17 data, and that rate hasn’t exceeded 40 since May 27. 

Pandemic Lessons: How can we push through the last few weeks of winter?

We are close to the end of the Omicron variant’s surge through New York. That storm of December and January has become a drizzle now. But be sure of this: Spend enough time in it, and you can still get soaked.

Covid-19 numbers in Erie County have remained low this summer, especially in comparison to the Omicron wave of late December through January. There have been only three days since June 1 where Erie County has registered more than 200 positive cases. The county’s seven-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 people is 16.4 as of July 18; that metric peaked at 283.3 on Jan. 8, according to state data.

Burstein cautioned against relying on testing data and cited wastewater levels as a metric that better reflects community spread. “Wastewater SARS-Co-V2 monitoring data now show a relatively high level of virus in wastewater.”

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.