NEW YORK CITY (WROC) — Gov. Kathy Hochul held a COVID-19 briefing Thursday morning where she announced the resignation of New York’s health commissioner, a new state-sponsored vaccine incentive, and a reminder for health care workers to get vaccinated by Monday’s deadline of Sept. 27.

Dr. Zucker

New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has resigned from his position, according to Gov. Hochul. The governor confirmed Dr. Zucker’s resignation during her Thursday morning COVID-19 briefing where she thanked him for his service to the state throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Zucker was appointed by former Governor Cuomo as Health Commissioner in 2015. Governor Hochul has said she planned to recreate her administration following multiple scandals during Cuomo’s administration.

“I made it very clear on my first day in office that I’d be looking to build a new team,” Hochul said on Thursday. 

The Governor added that Dr. Zucker would be exploring other opportunities, but did not divulge on what those opportunities would be.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic where he was seen alongside Cuomo during daily briefings, Dr. Zucker worked with the Governor on medical marijuana policies. In 2018, Dr. Zucker announced a new policy that allowed doctors to substitute opioids with medical marijuana.

Prior to becoming New York’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Zucker served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health to President George W. Bush.

A statement Thursday from New York State Senate Republican Leader Rob Ort said:

“Howard Zucker’s resignation is welcome news to all the local public health officials whose input into COVID-19 he ignored, to all the medical professionals who had to endure a Department of Health agenda driven by politics over public health necessities, and to the thousands of families whose loved ones’ deaths were covered up by him, under orders he falsely claimed were based on science.

To be clear, his resignation should’ve happened in January, when I first called for it. Howard Zucker chose to protect Andrew Cuomo’s political career above protecting the health of New Yorkers. We hope that he and Andrew Cuomo have occasion to continue discussing and refining their warped version of science during their retirement from public service.”

Vax & Win

The new vaccine incentive is called the New York State Vax and Win campaign. Folks who get vaccinated will be able to enter a weekly drawing, for five consecutive weeks, for a change to win tickets to NFL games and merchandise from the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, and New York Jets.

“We have enlisted our New York teams to get a powerful message out,” Gov. Hochul said. “We are trying to get everyone who isn’t vaccinated and convince them with special giveaways and videos from our players. you can enter and win merchandise and tickets, weekly for five weeks, and parents can enter for their children.”

Joining the governor for Wednesday’s briefings included team officials and former players from the Bills, Jets, and Giants, including Hall of Fame defensive lineman Bruce Smith and Bills co-owner Kim Pegula.

“I am fully vaccinated and it is important that all of New York gets vaccinated so we can all get back to normal,” Smith said. “Go Bills!”

“The Bills thank you governor for leading this initiative,” Pegula said. “It is our collective goal to keep each other safe so we can beat this virus, and have fun doing it.”

“This truly is a team effort from New York,” Gov. Hochul said. “I’m very competitive, and I want to emerge victorious. That’s our Super Bowl, beating COVID. Winning our Super Bowl, as New Yorkers, is if we can get to 90%, 95%, 100% vaccinated. We’ll go into the endzone together.”

Eligible New Yorkers who received their first vaccine dose September 9 through October 24 can enter online. The first winners will be announced September 29. The drawing schedule is available online.

New numbers

Regarding new coronavirus numbers, the governor reported a statewide seven-day average positivity rate of 2.75%. Each region’s average positivity rate, as of Thursday morning, is as follows:

  • Capital Region — 3.80%
  • Central New York — 4.48%
  • Finger Lakes — 4.46%
  • Long Island — 3.59%
  • Mid-Hudson — 2.81%
  • Mohawk Valley — 4.58%
  • New York City — 1.82%
  • North Country — 5.71%
  • Southern Tier — 3.38%
  • Western New York — 4.26%

The governor said increasing vaccination is helping hospital capacity across the state. She said New York is currently in a good position, with 33% of hospital beds available, and 24% of ICU beds available, throughout the state:

The governor said breakthrough cases continue to be rate in New York. Wednesday she reported that breakthrough cases over the past week accounted for 0.7% of all new COVID-19 cases statewide, and just 0.05% of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Vaccination and deadlines

According to the governor, New York’s vaccination progress is as follows:

  • 24,795,580 total doses administered
  • 50,003 total doses administered in past 24 hours
  • 82.9% of New Yorkers 18 and older with at least one dose
  • 74.4% of New Yorkers 18 and older fully vaccinated
  • 65.1% of New York 12-17 year olds with at least one dose
  • 54.6% of New York 12-17 year olds fully vaccinated

The governor reminded health care workers that the state’s vaccine mandate has a deadline of Monday, regardless of an ongoing religious exemption lawsuit.

“We are focusing on a deadline that’s coming,” Gov. Hochul said. “All health care workers are set to be vaccinated. There’s been plenty of time, plenty of chances. This deadline has been known for many months. Our expectations is that all health workers in the state of New York will be vaccinated by Monday. I will be announcing a list of initiatives in preparation for an unfavored situation Monday. What is looming for Monday is completely avoidable and there is no excuses. I’m calling all health care workers to think about what made you pursue your job. Everyone has the right to know they won’t be infected by the person that’s responsible for their health.”

On Tuesday, a federal judge has ordered an extension on the temporary restraining order blocking New York from forcing certain medical workers to be vaccinated, but this specifically applies for those with a religious exemption.

The order was extended until October 12th. 

For the possibility of staffing shortages due to the looming vaccine mandate for health care workers, the governor said the state is prepared to deploy resources where they are needed most.

“We will have a deployment program,” Gov. Hochul said. “This can be 100% averted. It would be phenomenally unfair for your coworkers and the people that are entrusted in your care. Shame on us if we don’t take advantage of our access to vaccine.”

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.