August 19, 2020
Albany, NY

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces 12th Straight Day New York's COVID-19 Positivity Rate Is Below 1 Percent

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Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces 12th Straight Day New York's COVID-19 Positivity Rate Is Below 1 Percent
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0.78 Percent of Yesterday's COVID-19 Tests were Positive

6 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday

SLA and State Police Task Force Observes Violations of State Requirements at 5 Establishments

Confirms 631 Additional Coronavirus Cases in New York State - Bringing Statewide Total to 427,202; New Cases in 37 Counties

Governor Cuomo: "The numbers are very good news. The numbers have been very good news for months. ... What's the disclaimer? The disclaimer is I say that and people think, oh, everything is great. COVID is over. We've handled it. We've mastered the situation. It's over for us. That's factually not true. Maybe we are at half-time in the game and we ended the first half in good shape after a brutal first half and we're in the locker room. COVID is not over by any stretch of the imagination and the feeling of complacency poses an obstacle in and of itself."

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that for the 12th straight day, New York State's rate of positive tests was below 1 percent. The number of new cases, percentage of tests that were positive and many other helpful data points are always available at forward.ny.gov.

AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

I have Melissa DeRosa, Robert Mujica, Jim Malatras, Gareth Rhodes, Kelly Cummings, Beth Garvey on the phone with me, whole ensemble.

On coronavirus we have good news today. I'm going to give you a disclaimer afterwards but today is day 172. We did 80,000 tests. 631 were positive - that's .7 percent. That is great news. Numbers are just, the numbers have been great - it's the 12th straight day that we're under 1 percent so that is great news. Six New Yorkers passed away from COVID. They're in our thoughts and prayers. 548 were hospitalized - that's up 11. 131 in CU - that's up 5. 60 intubated - that's flat.

The numbers are very good news. The numbers have been very good news for months. The numbers have been extraordinarily good news - 12th straight day under 1 percent.

What's the disclaimer? The disclaimer is I say that and people think, oh, everything is great. COVID is over. We've handled it. We've mastered the situation. It's over for us. That's factually not true. Maybe we are at half-time in the game and we ended the first half in good shape after a brutal first half and we're in the locker room. COVID is not over by any stretch of the imagination and the feeling of complacency poses an obstacle in and of itself. I've been saying don't get cocky, don't get arrogant but then on the other hand I've also been saying great news today, great news today, great news today.

I understand the mixed, the duality of the truth here. But the reason we're doing is because we're being smart and if people's behavior doesn't remain disciplined we're going to have a problem and you'll see the numbers change. The compliance we see, gross violations of the rules we see them - bars and restaurants. We're using the SLA and the State Police to complement the local police and the SLA last night found another 5 establishments in violation but people have to be as diligent about their compliance. Local governments have to do their job. The SLA and the State Police cannot substitute for local police departments. The NYPD has to do its job, not the Sheriff's Department in New York City. There's something like 150 sheriffs. There are 30,000 NYPD. This is law enforcement. We need the NYPD doing this. We need the Nassau County Police Department doing it. We need the Suffolk County Police Department. We need the Town of Southampton Police Department. So, complacency is the issue because we are very much in the midst of it.

I said, I announced that I'm doing a book on COVID. Some people say, "oh you're doing the history of COVID." No, my book is not about the history of COVID because it's not over. It is what we have learned, what we should learn, what we must do, how we handle this and what we need to do in the second half of the game. We are still in the midst of it, my friends. Don't write about it in the past tense. And — we are — as we sit here today, just to give you a dose of reality, we need to prepare for the second wave. Now the second wave is not the second wave that they originally talked about. When they said "second wave" originally, they were referring to the 1918 pandemic, which had one wave and then a second wave, quote unquote. The second wave was a mutated virus. The virus mutated and came back as a second virus. Once it mutates, it's technically a second virus. When we started talking about COVID, we talked about a second wave: could COVID mutate and come back in a second wave?

We're still in the first wave. The virus hasn't mutated but we do have in effect a second wave, which is the flu season is starting. You put the flu season on top of COVID — this is a very difficult situation to deal with and that is going to be the second wave. Dr. Fauci talks about a terrible fall; that's what he's talking about. The CDC says we're going to have a terrible fall. Why? It is a, poses a host of complexities. Schools are doing temperature checks on the way in and they're looking for symptomatic children. First of all, symptomatic children. You don't have to be symptomatic as we've learned; it can be asymptomatic. But second of all, symptomatic children. You're in flu season — who doesn't have sniffles or a cough? I mean, to pick symptomatic children out of a line is going to be very, very hard. Second, all across the board, you're going to have the same complexity. How do you do the flu tests and the COVID tests at the same time? Meaning, we have deployed almost all our lab capacity to do COVID tests. You know what our lab capacity normally did? HIV tests and flu tests. We now have everybody deployed doing COVID tests. They're going to now need to reduce their COVID tests to do flu tests. We were so effective at commandeering testing capacity for COVID tests that there is no flex in the system.

Department of Health, state Department of Health, is going to send out a letter today to every county health department asking just this question: what plans have you made to perform the necessary flu tests, which commence basically in September, and COVID tests simultaneously? That letter's going to go out today. This is going to be difficult and challenging. It will require a reduction in the number of COVID tests or in the turnaround time on COVID tests, and we already had issues on the turnaround time on COVID tests. So we want to get ahead of this and that letter from the Department of Health is going to do that, and that letter goes out today. But I'm telling you, there's going to be no easy answer to that riddle.

Number two, I want the schools that are doing their plans to reopen to take into consideration what we've seen in other schools, K to 12, what we've seen most recently in UNC, Notre Dame, 130 infected in one week, and they closed. The lesson to learn there is, yes, when you bring back a lot of people and put them in a congregate setting, you can have an increase. Well, we told the students, socially distance. Yeah, I know. We've been telling young people to socially distance for the past six months. Go look at Manhattan on a Thursday night, Friday, Saturday night, and tell me how well they've been listening. You think their behavior's going to change when they go back to school? 130 students in one week. That is a failure of the testing and contact tracing operations. It shouldn't get to 130.

Look at that, and then look at your school reopening plan, and how would you make sure you don't wind up in that situation. What was your testing procedure? Could it have gotten that big that fast? Now, frankly, on a college, in some ways it's not as bad, because the student was infecting other students. K to 12, if you had a 130 students positive, it's not 130, it's 500, because the student would have gone home and dealt with people in their immediate family. You know in some ways being on a college campus is less problematic from a spread point of view than K-12. But I want the schools to take this situation into consideration and answer the question would this have happened in your school? Could you have caught the spread before it got to 130 students? And if you can't answer yes, then there's a problem. But the basic point on both is opening schools, risky and problematic. That happens in September. In September the flu season starts. It's going to make it much harder to diagnose symptomatic people; it's going to make some people sick with the flu which will then make them in a more serious situation if they get COVID, and then it's going to really stress our testing capacity. That all happens in a matter of weeks. This is not over. The second wave is coming. It's going to be more challenging.

On top of that, we still have states all around us getting infected and quarantine facilities and procedures, and lack of compliance in bars and restaurants, which if I had to guess that lack of compliance is going to be transferred to college campuses all across the state. And we still have local police departments that are not stepping up and doing their job. So, there's a lot yet to come and a lot yet to be written, and yes, 12 days of great news. Yes, months of great news. Yes, much to be proud of. It's half-time. I'm not writing history, because the situation is still ongoing, and there's still much to learn, and eyes that need to be opened across the nation, and federal lessons to be learned quickly.

One other point, the DPS has put out a notice of violation for the response to the past tropical storm. They're sending out a notice of apparent violation t four service providers: Con Edison Orange and Rockland, PSEG, Central Hudson, and Altice Optimum. PSEG has already been notified that they are not going to receive their incentive bonus that was in their contract for good performance. That was a $10 million bonus that was written into their contract if they performed well. After the tropical storm, they're not receiving that bonus. DPS is going to do an investigation. I said last week I am not satisfied with the performance of DPS. I am going to ask the Department of Financial Services, DFS, to work with DPS. DFS has significant investigatory capacity. Linda Lacewell, former Eastern District federal prosecutor - worked with me in the AGs office - she's very strong. They do forensic audits and forensic investigations. What did you know when? What preparations did you take? What emails did you send? So DFS will help DPS on this investigation. I, for one, want a faster more thorough investigation than they've done in the past.

I am also going to be proposing legislation to facilitate, expedite, and clarify the process for a utility to lose their franchise. I wrote a piece of legislation that will define franchise revocation. In other words, if you revoke a franchise, utilizes have franchises from the State. The State can determine that a utility should lose its franchise. The grounds for that are fairly straightforward and the determination is fairly straightforward in the law. If you revoke a franchise from a utility, then what happens going forward? In other words, let's say you revoke Orange and Rockland, any utility - who owns the cables and the telephone poles and the trucks? They were paid for in the utility costs by the rate payers. What is a corporate asset and what is an asset of the rate payers? Could a utility claim, "Well I own the poles and the wires and the cables and the trucks. And you now have to pay me for those assets, which the rate payers already paid for." Or would they just a confounding way to wrap this up in litigation for a prolonged period of time?

Litigation can cause more chaos. The last thing you want to do is get into a prolonged litigation where you don't know who's responsible for turning on the lights in the morning. I'm going to propose a piece of legislation to do that. Frankly, we've gone through this situation too many times and I have personally been on site in these emergencies with these utility companies in their offices, with their chief executives. I have personally been in the tunnels looking at the cables. I've personally been in the sub-stations. I've personally been with the utility workers. I have lived this with them. I understand what happens in a storm. I understand the snow falls on a tree and the tree has branches and the branches collapse and when the branch falls it hits the wire. And when the wire gets hit, the wire breaks. I get it. I get transformers get overloaded. But the service we paid them for is in that precise instance. That's what we pay them for. It's like an ambulance driver saying, "Well I had to get there fast and I had to drive fast and that's why I had an accident because I had to drive fast." I know, you're an ambulance driver. That's what I pay you to do. And that's the skillset you need to do the job. And that's the equipment you need to do the job. I don't need an ambulance driver to take a stroll. These utility companies predict, understand we're going to have storms, we're going to have emergencies and that's the art-form of the business.

So we'll do the investigation, I told you about PSE&G. This is going to be a much faster investigation than before. It's going to be a much more thorough investigation than before. The Department of Financial Services is very good at this and they'll work with DPS and I want to propose a piece of legislation on how to have an accelerated, fair revocation process. And I understand the utilities are powerful but I'm going to say that the legislature, at the end of the day we represent the people of the state, okay? And they've been paying these bills for many years and they're not going to pay twice if there's a revocation.

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