NY Gov. Kathy Hochul vows to fight court decision blocking medical worker vaccine mandate
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday vowed to challenge a court order temporarily barring enforcement of the state's medical worker vaccine mandate for those seeking religious exemptions in New York.
The comments came after a federal judge in Utica issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the mandate in relation to religious beliefs, citing a lawsuit that claimed the removal of a religious exemption was unconstitutional.
The mandate requires most medical workers statewide to get the first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Sept. 27, or lose their jobs.
U.S. Northern District Justice David Hurd in Utica issued the restraining order after 17 Catholic and Baptist medical professionals sued state officials Monday. He gave state officials until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit and set a court hearing for Sept. 28.
"We're hoping we will make overwhelming persuasive arguments in support of allowing the state of New York to do what is necessary to protect the public health," Hochul said Wednesday during a media briefing in Albany, referring to the Sept. 28 court date.
"It's the smart thing to do and we have to continue the mandates," Hochul added. "This is not intended to be dictatorial; this is intended to save lives."
What's next in court case over vaccine mandates?
The federal lawsuit over the religious exemption is receiving support from the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based nonprofit law firm involved in religious liberty cases nationally that are opposed to abortion.
The 17 medical workers suing New York state officials, including Hochul and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, noted their religious exemption requests are based in part on beliefs that COVID-19 vaccines were connected to a cell line from aborted fetal tissue, court records show.
The workers requested anonymity, citing concerns of workplace and societal retaliation, court records show.
“What New York is attempting to do is slam shut an escape hatch from an unconstitutional vaccine mandate," Thomas More Society Special Counsel Christopher Ferrara said in a statement Monday about the lawsuit, noting the workers in the case have sincere religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines.
Hochul on Wednesday said state officials intentionally disallowed religious exemptions from the medical worker vaccine mandate, adding many religious leaders support vaccinations.
"I’m not aware of a sanctioned religious exemption from any organized religion. In fact, they're encouraging the opposite...everyone from the Pope on down is encouraging people to get vaccinated," Hochul said.
The governor also addressed concerns raised by some hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers that the vaccine mandate would prompt thousands of unvaccinated workers to quit or be fired, turning current workforce shortages into a crisis.
Hochul noted health care providers are required by state law and regulations to maintain emergency staffing plans, such as the pandemic surge protocols that call for hospitals to be prepared to boost patient capacity by 50%.
She added state agencies are working with health leaders to identify any additional resources or aid needed to alleviate any impact of the loss of unvaccinated workers.
The push to boost medical vaccination rates, Hochul said, is about ensuring that patients do "not have to worry when they go in there for health care that they’re going to contract a virus from one of the people who are supposed to protect their health."
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