I am pleased to see the State University of New York (SUNY) college system ended its outdated COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which had created confusion and frustration for students across the state. The decision came a day after President Joe Biden announced the official end of the nation’s emergency response, but it should not have taken nearly that long as the true emergency ended long ago. With the decision to finally align the state’s policy response with reality, we can once again allow our state’s college campuses to return to normal.
Outside of the symbolically-important step of dropping the mandate, I am especially happy future New York State Pathways in Technology (NYS P-Tech) program high school students, who have an opportunity to hone their trades at higher education campuses, are no longer at risk of having their education disrupted by this confusing mandate. Under the SUNY COVID mandate, faculty members were allowed on campus without vaccination and high school students were allowed in their traditional classrooms without vaccination, but P-Tech students attending on-campus instruction were prohibited.
This made little sense and created unneeded stress and anxiety for the students. In fact, after hearing many complaints from families in my district, I reached out to SUNY Chancellor John B. King to highlight the issue and encourage him to remedy this discrepancy.
Our Conference has advocated for a post-pandemic plan that mirrors the actual severity of the risk to the public. The time for emergency protocols and vaccine mandates ended many months ago, and it is unfortunate it took so long for us to get to this point. For that reason, we have also advocated for stronger protections against the abuse of emergency executive powers and for a better balance of power in the immediate aftermath of a public health crisis. I sincerely hope the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic help shape a more effective public health plan going forward.
This week’s announcement is welcome news for students and an important milestone in our return to pre-pandemic norms. It is also an important reminder we must do better in the future. New York was not prepared for a public health crisis like the one we experienced in 2020. As legislators and representatives of the public’s interest, we must take this opportunity to strengthen our future responses with effective, timely and common-sense-driven policies. Anything short of that is a disservice to those who suffered the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.