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Cuomo: Wadsworth Laboratory has begun research of new COVID-19 strain

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Tue, Dec 22nd 2020 02:25 pm

Wadsworth Laboratory has partnered with 6 hospitals across state to obtain additional samples

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced Wadsworth Laboratory has begun aggressive research of the new, highly contagious COVID-19 strain that has been discovered in the United Kingdom. Already, Wadsworth has looked at more than 3,700 virus sequences identified in New York, but has yet to find the U.K. variant present in any of the samples. Additionally, Wadsworth and the Department of Health have forged agreements with six hospitals from across the state to obtain additional samples and is continuing to make arrangements with other hospitals to do the same. Those hospitals with agreements already in place include:

  • Montefiore
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering
  • Northwell Long Island
  • University of Rochester
  • Albany Medical Center
  • Saratoga Hospital

The governor said that, to date, 50,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered throughout New York. The state has received 630,000 doses thus far and expects to receive another 300,000 doses next week. With Christmas and Kwanzaa rapidly approaching, Cuomo called on hospitals, nursing homes and medical personnel to continue providing vaccinations throughout the holidays to ensure nursing home patients and frontline health care workers are protected as quickly as possible.

"The U.K. variant is a real issue – not only is it believed to be 70% more contagious than previous strains, but there is a very real chance it is already here. Upon learning of this new variant, we immediately worked with airlines to ensure that anyone getting on a plane from the U.K. bound for New York tests negative, but we need federal action and we need it now," Cuomo said. "We know that the virus originally got on a plane and came to New York from Europe in the spring. It's inexcusable that the federal government has failed to learn that lesson, and we need them to do the smart thing and institute testing requirements for travelers entering the United States from any country. In the meantime, it's on the rest of us to be smart and continue fighting to stop the spread. Just remember – celebrating smart stops shutdowns. So as everyone prepares to celebrate the holidays, do your part and socially distance, wear a mask and wash your hands."

Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2020

Cuomo also signed the New York Automatic Voter Registration Act of 2020 (S.8806 / A.8280C) into law, requiring designated state agencies to establish an automatic voter registration system as he proposed in the State of the State in 2019 and 2020. His team said, “This modernized system will expedite voter registration and create a straightforward process for New Yorkers applying for services at designated agencies to also register to vote. The law will help increase voter turnout while reducing administrative barriers to processing voter registration applications.”

Cuomo said, "The right to vote is one of, if not the most, sacred pillars of our democracy and, for too long, bureaucratic red tape has made it unnecessarily difficult for New Yorkers to exercise this right. From instituting early voting to making necessary reforms to the absentee ballot process, New York has already made elections more accessible, but we are far from finished. With this new law on the books, we are taking this work a step further and not only instituting automatic voter registration, but creating a single uniform platform for registering online."

New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris said, "At a time in our country when voting rights are under assault, New York is living up to our potential as a progressive leader. Access to the ballot box should be easy and fair, and enacting automatic voter registration will go a long way towards improving voter participation. I am proud and thankful that the governor has signed this bill, paving the way for over a million more New Yorkers to vote."

Assembly member Latrice M. Walker said, "I am proud to be the prime sponsor of this monumental election reform bill. New York's antiquated voter registration system is in dire need of updating and modernization. It is time for New York to join the growing number of states who have implemented automatic voter registration (AVR). This bill will remove one of many barriers in our election system to help New York improve its dismal record of voter turnout. This modernized voter registration system automatically transmits voter registration information from some of our most utilized state and local government agencies. This will reduce costs involved in processing voter registrations and maintaining updated and accurate voter registration lists.”

The new law designates the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies that interact directly with New York residents to work with the State Board of Elections to integrate agency and voter registration applications. This new, single application will serve as both an application for services and a voter registration application.

Only eligible voters may register, and applications will be transmitted to the State Board of Elections with the signature and consent of the applicant. Applicants will also be given the opportunity to choose a political party. 

Pursuant to changes agreed to by the Legislature, the DMV will come online in 2023, followed by the Department of Health, Department of Labor and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance in 2024. The State University of New York will come online in 2025.

Legislation Suspending Use & Directing Study of Facial Recognition Technology in Schools

Cuomo also signed legislation (A6787-D/S5140-B) suspending the use of facial recognition technology and other kinds of biometric technology in schools, directing a study of whether its use is appropriate in schools and issuing recommendations. The legislation places a moratorium on schools purchasing and using biometric identifying technology until at least July 1, 2022, or until the report is completed and the state education commissioner authorizes its use, whichever occurs later. It applies to both public and private schools in the state.

"Facial recognition technology could provide a host of benefits to New Yorkers, but its use brings up serious and legitimate privacy concerns that we have to examine, especially in schools," Cuomo said. "This legislation requires state education policymakers to take a step back, consult with experts and address privacy issues before determining whether any kind of biometric identifying technology can be brought into New York's schools. The safety and security of our children is vital to every parent, and whether to use this technology is not a decision to be made lightly."

The call for this legislation follows concerns raised about potential risks posed to students by some existing facial recognition and other biometric technologies, including reported high rates of misidentification of women, young people, and people of color, as well as the safety and security of biometric data and corresponding student privacy concerns.

Under an agreement reached with the Legislature to be passed in the upcoming legislative session, the state Office of Information Technology will work with the State Education Department and will seek feedback from teachers and parents, as well as experts in school safety, security, data and student privacy issues. The study will address specific considerations outlined in the legislation, including the technology's potential impact on student civil liberties and privacy and how the data collected would be used.

New York State Sen. Brian Kavanagh said, "It makes no sense to bring this aggressive surveillance technology into our schools when no one has made a compelling case, either that it will meaningfully improve security or that it can be used without violating the privacy and civil rights of students, staff and visitors. This law will ensure that state education officials review this technology and vouch for it before any young people are subjected to it. I expect that they will conclude that it is neither necessary nor appropriate in schools.”

Assembly member Monica P. Wallace said, "Before spending millions of dollars on this new and unproven technology, we owe it to students, parents and taxpayers to take a hard look at whether facial recognition software is appropriate for use in schools. I thank Gov. Cuomo for signing this legislation and recognizing the need to further study the issue. There are serious concerns about misidentification, misuse and data privacy that must be considered before allowing this technology to be used in schools across the state."

Where it finds biometric identifying technology appropriate for use in schools, the study will also identify restrictions and guidelines to govern its use.

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