With election looming, Hochul won't renew COVID emergency powers

Here is one way to tell that the November election is just around the corner: Gov. Kathy Hochul announced recently that she would no longer be renewing New York's COVID-19 state of emergency, effectively ending her emergency powers related to the COVID pandemic. 

"Given that we're in a different place now, we've been making announcements about taking masks off on public transportation, we now have a new booster shot as of a few days ago," Hochul said after an unrelated press conference. "So we're watching the numbers. Right now we're feeling comfortable that we can suspend them."

Every month for almost a year, Hochul has extended two emergency orders that were issued in response to the omicron variant wave that swept New York last year. 

Rep. Lee Zeldin, her Republican challenger, has made Hochul's emergency powers and mandates one of his main platforms, calling it an abuse of power. 

Bill Hammond, a health policy expert at the Empire Center, explained that the term "emergency" might no longer apply to COVID.

"Nobody would say that COVID is over," Hammond said. "But I think a lot of people would dispute the idea that we're in an emergency that requires the government to exercise extraordinary authority."

One emergency order will expire at midnight. This order allowed Hochul to purchase services and goods related to COVID without any oversight. 

In January, Hochul purchased over $600 million worth of at-home COVID tests from a campaign donor at double the cost. Hochul has denied that she gave the state contract to this vendor in a pay-to-play scheme but her Republican opponents have called for an investigation. 

"They bought more tests than they needed, they paid a very high price, they're doing business with a campaign donor and they continue doing that after the omicron wave that passed," Hammond said. 

The other emergency order will expire later this month and allows for emergency personnel like EMTs to administer the COVID vaccine. When FOX 5 NY asked Hochul last month why she chose to renew that order, Hochul said that she wanted this emergency power in place for when school started. 

"They've known school was going to open in September — they could have known that five years ago," Hammond said. "You shouldn't be approaching it as an emergency. You should be approaching it as a predictable event."

Despite the politics, COVID cases and hospitalizations have remained low in New York following the omicron surge last winter. 

Dr. Rabia De Latour of NYU Langone said that while New York is in a better place, New Yorkers should still be aware headed into the fall. 

"We have low case numbers but that doesn't necessarily mean that we should just go back to completely regular business as usual," De Latour said. "If you're sick, you should stay home and avoid people. Get your boosters."

New York still has at least three other ongoing health-related state disaster emergencies: monkeypox, polio, and gun violence.