The COVID-19 pandemic will likely shape the early weeks of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul's gubernatorial administration when she takes office in 12 days, as the spread of the delta variant has led to a new level of uncertainty surrounding schools and businesses heading into the fall.
Hochul acknowledged as much in her remarks to reporters on Wednesday afternoon when she addressed the public for the first time since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday, set to take effect Aug. 24.
"Our children are heading back to school soon. There’s a lot of anxiety from the moms and dads I speak to, and the teachers as well. It’s going to take all of us working together to keep our children safe, our teachers safe, and anyone who works in a school safe," Hochul said. "Small businesses are just starting to bounce back into an uncertain world. We need to reassure them that they’ll be okay. And our workers are once again debating whether they should even go back to their jobs, or go back to their offices, go back to their factories."
Hochul may have fewer options than Cuomo, who held emergency powers for much of the crisis, enabling him to issue executive orders and put plans in place to mitigate the spread of the virus. It's unlikely state lawmakers, even with a new governor, would be willing to grant such latitude again in the future.
Still, the rise in COVID-19 cases and hospializations, as well as a continued urgency for New Yorkers to get vaccinated, will be a predominant issue taking place against the backdrop of a mid-year transition.
Already, Republicans are calling for Hochul to make a clean break from the Cuomo era and fire Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, pointing to the state's nursing home policies in the early weeks of the crisis.
"Make no mistake: The cover-up of nursing home deaths, the gross misuse of state resources for the writing of a book that personally enriched the governor, and the cover-up -- and enabling -- of the governor’s sexual harassment of young women, would not and could not have happened without these Cuomo appointees and other loyalists who are still employed by the people of New York they have misserved," Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said on Wednesday.
Local public health officials, meanwhile, will likely be leaned on heavily for school guidance as well as vaccinations. The New York State Association of County Health Officials on Wednesday in a statement said the transition won't change their approach to the problem.
“The 58 local health departments in New York State have been leading this response at local levels throughout the pandemic without pause," said Dr. Indu Gupta, the group's president and the Onondaga County health commissioner. "Local public health professionals will continue to share information with community members on Covid-19 transmission rates; effective disease mitigation strategies; current rules and regulations; and access to equitable vaccination sites. They will also continue with contract tracing, and quarantine and isolation activities for those impacted."