ALBANY — The leader of the Medical Society of the State of New York registered concerns Wednesday, March 31, that state officials are relaxing COVID-19 restrictions at a time when coronavirus infections are increasing both in New York and nationally.
“This is a time we need to be doubling down on our prevention efforts — in terms of being vigilant about wearing our masks, making sure we are still social-distancing, washing our hands and encouraging everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated,” Dr. Bonnie Litvack, the association’s president, told CNHI.
Infection rates have increased in recent days in New York particularly among young adults, with Litvack suggesting spring break travel and the lessening of restrictions have been factors.
She said New York’s physicians sympathize with business owners that want to “get back to booming,” noting the best way to reach that goal is to promote vaccinations so herd immunity can be reached as quickly as possible.
“We are not out of the woods yet.” Litvack said. “If we can get everybody vaccinated by the summer and reach herd immunity then we can really scale back on many of these things we are doing that we would prefer not to be doing. But at the moment with with the variants increasing out there, and with the infections increasing, that is a signal we have to really be smart.”
The concerns about easing restrictions come at a time when there is national debate revolving around the idea that so-called vaccine passports as a credential for gaining access to events and air travel. Some businesses have also been researching ways to require vaccination proof to get their services.
Some Republicans and civil liberties experts are arguing a government vaccine mandate would be an infringement on individual freedom.
“While there are legitimate circumstances in which people can be asked for proof of vaccination, we don’t want to turn into a checkpoint society that outlasts the danger of COVID and that casually excludes people without credentials from facilities where vaccine mandates are not highly justified,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a blog post.
Assemblyman John Salka, R-Madison County, said a vaccine passport mandate would be viewed as such a “government overreach” that it could spark a “powderkeg” of opposition from people already fed up with what they view as intrusive restrictions on their freedoms.
“This passport is a bad idea and I’m dead set against it,” said Salka, whose district includes Oneonta, Cooperstown and several towns in Otsego County.
Salka said when he mentioned the vaccine passport in a Facebook comment, more than 300 people responded, with nearly all of them condemning the idea.
Tourism in upstate New York has been negatively impacted by the closure of the U.S./Canada border due to the pandemic. Health officials in Canada have reportedly been looking into a vaccine passport program to ensure people traveling within the country have received vaccinations for the contagion.
Earlier this month, a Digital Green Certificate was proposed in the European Union to facilitate the ability of Europeans to travel amid the public health crisis there.
On the New York side of the Canadian border, Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, R-Niagara Falls, said efforts should be made to evaluate how getting people vaccinated will impact travel, but pointed out he would be opposed to “trampling on civil liberties” with government mandates.
But residents of the United States, Morinello said, will be powerless over the travel restrictions imposed by other countries, leaving individuals with a personal decision as to how they wish to deal with that situation.
“You have to be willing to accept the results of your decision,” the assemblyman said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s Newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org