A federal judge in Utica on Tuesday sided with a group of health care workers who have filed a legal challenge to the state's COVID-19 vaccination mandate who are seeking a religious exemption to the requirement. 

The ruling issued by Judge David Hurd blocks New York state health officials from retaliating against health care workers who refuse to receive a COVID-19 vaccination on religious grounds. 

The vaccination mandate for health care workers broadly remains in place; the ruling affects those health care workers who are seeking exemptions based on religious claims. 

"The Department of Health is barred from taking any action, disciplinary or otherwise, against the licensure, certification, residency, admitting privileges or other professional status or qualification of any of the plaintiffs on account of their seeking or having obtained a religious exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination," Hurd wrote in a 27-page ruling.

At the same time, state health officials cannot act against health care employers who accept religious exemptions as well. 

The decision by Hurd essentially keeps a temporary restraining order in place and allows health care workers to continue to apply for a religious exemption amid the state's vaccination requirement. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration has placed several vaccination mandates on those who work in critical fields, including health care and workers who provide support for people with developmental disabilities. Hochul has pointed to rising vaccination rates among health care workers in recent weeks as a sign the mandates are working. 

Hours after the ruling, Hochul sent out a statement in response defending the mandate and promising to continue the court battle.

"My responsibility as Governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe," she said.