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Hochul visits ECMC, faces questions on COVID, Bills stadium

During her Buffalo visit, the governor credited the mask mandate here in Erie County with helping to lower the count of new cases.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul visited to Erie County Medical Center on Wednesday to greet health care workers and provide a COVID briefing with reporters.

And 2 On Your Side also asked more about the Bills stadium negotiations. 

First on COVID. Hochul was asked about a new policy for children attending Bills and Sabres games.

If you plan on bringing anyone ages 5 to 11 to any Bills, Sabres or Bandits games they will have to have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A negative COVID test will not work for them anymore.

The new policy went into effect Wednesday morning and impacts all events at both venues.

Pegula Sports and Entertainment says the requirement falls in line with the state's mask mandate for public venues, which allows them to not have a mask mandate if they require proof of vaccination for admittance.

This was already in effect for everyone 12 and older.

While noting the upsurge in cases across the state, especially in New York City, Hochul also credited the somewhat controversial mask mandate here in Erie County with helping to lower the count of new cases.

And on that new vaccine dose required policy for kids who want to attend Bills or Sabres games, she was asked by a reporter if that signaled a new state policy as well.

She said it was more of a local decision based on existing state policy with masking and vaccines and was pleased that it was now ordered by the teams management for these kids 5 to 11 years old.

Hochul said: "I thank them for being the stewards of public health that they are because a lot of people are fans of all of our teams here in Western New York and across the state. And to the leadership who said they're going to enforce this, that's really important. And if that's the incentive to get more children vaccinated before they go back to school, that is a very, very positive outcome."

Then came questions about the idea of a school vaccine mandate policy. Hochul seemed to walk the fine line on this point.

While it is the case for health care workers with a vaccine mandate, from the state there is still a requirement for either a vaccine or weekly COVID testing for teachers and school staff. 

So again, the question that also came up Tuesday for the governor in Wyoming County was, would she ever impose a vaccine mandate for students and staff in schools?  

Hochul's reply: "Right now we don’t have the authority to do that. We'd have to ask the state legislature for passage. Every state is different, but New York State would have to have an approved list the legislature has to consider, so that could not possibly happen at this time. For next school year. So it's something we're looking at, but again, let's see what happens with this. Is this going to be yesterday's news, or will there be a new variant? So I want the flexibility, but I wouldn’t rule it out."

Then finally we pressed again on the Bills stadium, asking about the state's negotiating team and the governor's approach with taxpayer money on the line for a share of the projected $1.4 billion stadium. 

Hochul answered this way: "I appreciate the question, but it's not for me to negotiate something as critically important as keeping the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo in a forum like this. We are very conscious that negotiations are important, that there will be taxpayer dollars on the table, and that I'll be sure that as the governor of this state I'll make sure that we are constructing the best arrangement that we can possibly get to achieve the outcome, that I believe not just Western New Yorkers support, people all over the state are big supporters of a team like the Buffalo Bills."

She added: "I have a large team engaged in this, in terms of different people bringing in different perspectives on state budgeting and policy, so we'll be giving more information when we can."