Vaccination mandates on workers, supplying vaccine booster shots and bringing back mass testing sites to some areas of the state and putting in place stronger communication were among the issues raised Tuesday by county government leaders in Albany to meet with Gov. Kathy Hochul.
But while the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing budget issues that have long been a source of consternation for local government officials dominated the conversation, county leaders called the meeting a refreshing one given how rare it was in the last decade to meet with the governor of New York.
The meeting comes as Hochul has pledged to take a more collaborative approach with local governments and their leaders in the state, especially as the pandemic continues to drag on.
"It was really nice to soak in the moment and have that opportunity," said Albany County Executive Dan McCoy.
County executives met with Hochul and her senior aides for an hour at the Executive Mansion near the Capitol for a breakfast meeting of blueberry pancakes and coffee.
But county leaders, nevertheless, are eager to see some changes. McCoy has pushed for a return to mass COVID-19 testing sites as the delta variant this summer has led to a spike in hospitalizations. In turn, people seeking COVID tests in Albany County and elsewhere have led to a backlog.
"Our hospitals and our first op clinics are backed up for hours," said McCoy, a Democrat. "It would be helpful if we get back to mass testing sites."
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, meanwhile, pointed to the vaccination mandate for those who work with people with developmental disabilities in New York. Hochul's administration has continued to push forward with vaccination requirements for health care workers amid legal challenges and reports of hundreds of employees being furloughed or fired as a result of the rule.
"If the state moves forward with a vaccine mandate for those workers, there's a significant concern in the direct care community that the industry would be hollowed out," said Molinaro, a candidate for a Hudson Valley House seat.
County governments have in recent weeks moved to soften the blow of the potential departures.
"Individuals would have no alternatives" if direct care aides were to leave their jobs, Molinaro said.
Hochul, a former town and county government official herself, has said she wants to work more with county governments on the pandemic response as the state begins to pick up efforts for qualifying people to receive COVID-19 booster shots. Hochul also has not shied away from taking on her own statewide pandemic rules for mask wearing in schools.
But more prosaic and long-standing budget issues could still present a challenge. County governments have along complained about required state spending, which officials have in turn blamed on increased property taxes. A boost in federal pandemic aid hasn't solved those complaints, either.
"The stimulus is a one-shot deal," said Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus. "We're worried the state has received that federal money [and] has not utilized the money to fix their budgetary problems going forward."