Governor Cuomo: "You have local officials all across the state who are considering different options. Different communities have different ideas. But at the end of the day, they have to be approved by the state, Errol, because it has to be statewide. There's no such thing as geographically isolated initiative that doesn't affect everyone else."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on NY1 with Errol Louis to discuss New York's plan to combat the novel coronavirus crisis.
AUDIO is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Errol Louis: We're joined right now by Governor Cuomo. He joins us by phone. Good to hear from you, Governor.
Governor Cuomo: Good to be with you, Errol.
Errol Louis: There's a little bit of a controversy, hopefully we can squash this. It developed in the course of the day. At your press conference earlier today, you mentioned among other things, that localities in the State of New York, including New York City, would have to get state approval before imposing something as drastic as a quarantine or a shelter in place order. We heard hours later from the Mayor saying that it was under consideration and would be talked about or considered over the next 48 hours. Those are not necessarily incompatible, but what's your understanding of the status of this question and are you considering it?
Governor Cuomo: They are incompatible. You have local officials all across the state who are considering different options. Different communities have different ideas. But at the end of the day, they have to be approved by the state, Errol, because it has to be statewide. There's no such thing as geographically isolated initiative that doesn't affect everyone else. If Nassau closed bars - they decided to close bars - all that would do be to cause the people in Nassau to drive into New York City or to drive to Suffolk. If New York City says, well you can't come out of your house, all that will do is cause the people of New York City to go stay with their cousin in Westchester, right. So it's one state, but we all have to be coordinated.
I've taken it so far this year that I actually coordinate with the surrounding states. Because even if New York takes an action, I say no restaurants, no bars, you just drive everyone to New Jersey or you drive everyone to Connecticut. As broader and as geographic region as we can determine is better. We're bringing, hopefully, Pennsylvania into our group. So you'll have Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania hopefully all adopting the same policies so you're not, what I call, shopping different jurisdictions.
Also we have a problem with the virus, Errol. We have a bigger problem with the fear and the panic around the virus. You look at what's going on in stores. You look at the mania. It's deep breath time. There's not going to be any quarantined, where we contain people within an area or we block people from an area. Individual mobility is what we're all about. There's not going to be any "you must stay in your house" rule because again, that will just cause people to go somewhere else and it would just be counterproductive.
Errol Louis: Okay, so, it's good to hear that. And I don't want to press the point further than I have to but when you say localities can't make this decision without approval from the state and that it needs to be statewide or possibly regional, that's a practical consideration. What's the legal status of that question?
Governor Cuomo: It's the law also. Look, Westchester can't put in place rules that are going to negatively impact New York City. Nassau can't put in place rules that are going to negatively impact New York City. And New York City can't do that to Westchester and Nassau. And again, on a voluntary basis, not a legal basis. I'm doing that with the Governor of New Jersey and the Governor of Connecticut. I don't want to cause people to rush to Connecticut or New Jersey. So the larger the geographic area that we can keep the same rules the better. And that's working very well.
Errol Louis: I want to ask you about something that we heard from the mayor which is that he's established a deal with a private provider to conduct through New York City public hospitals as many as 5,000 tests per day, which even for New York City if you start adding up the days, we can get through a sizeable percentage of the population fairly quickly. Are similar testing capabilities being developed across the state and at what point will you feel satisfied that we can actually test as much as we need to statewide?
Governor Cuomo: Good question. What was happening with testing is it was being controlled by the federal government, and the federal government frankly had higher standards of reason for central control, but it was slowing the process. I spoke to President Trump last week, I said let the states control the testing, decentralize the testing. New York State has 200 laboratories within it, let New York State control the testing. And the president, to his credit, agreed, and now New York State is controlling the testing. So the lab that is doing business in the city.
For example, John Combs Lab, it's from New Jersey, it's called the BRC I think, they have automated testing capacity. NYU Langone - automated testing capacity. Mt. Sinai - automated testing capacity. We're up statewide to 10,000 test capacity. Now, 10,000 per day sounds like a lot. It's more than we've done to date, by the way, as a state. But, 10,000 is still nothing compared to the demand. We have 19 million people in this state. If you put out a sign today, Errol, that said anyone who wants a test can get one, you'd get 18,999,000. The fear is that high right now. So 10,000 a day sounds like a lot but we still have to have a statewide protocol that basically prioritizes who can get a test. And we have that up on the website.
You have to have symptoms that would suggest you actually have the test, you know. I deal with phone calls all day long, people who say well I feel this, I feel this, I'd better get a test. Yeah, I get it. Everyone's nervous. Everyone believes, you know you could have a touch of a cold, a touch of the flu. But we still can't give everybody who wants a test a test. You need a doctor to check the symptoms.
But the testing capacity is way up. We're actually to a different phase, Errol. The testing capacity was the first step. It was to find people who are positive, isolate the positive, and slow the spread. The second way to slow the spread is reduce density. And that's what we did yesterday, closed bars, closed restaurants, closed gyms, etcetera. We may need to take another step on density reduction. Another step would be businesses, you must reduce your workforce, something like that. Because what we are seeing is the numbers are continuing to rise. The healthcare system cannot manage the increase in the number of cases, and that's where we're really going to have a problem in this situation.
They talk about flattening the curve. I see the curve as a wave, and the wave is going to break on the hospital system. Our current projections are we're almost double the capacity of the healthcare system. And that's why I'm working with the president, in partnership, spoke to him this morning, we're looking for the U.S. Army corps of engineers to come in and help. To build temporary hospital space. We're looking to increase our intensive care unit capacity. Because the people who are coming to the hospitals who most likely have underlying illnesses. We had a meeting today with all the hospital administrators in the state. To plan out our capacity and to plan out how to increase our capacity.
Errol Louis: When you say that, governor, does that include the VA hospitals? My understanding is that they have a lot of capacity and that they are supposed to have a lot of capacity when mobilized in a federal emergency, of which this would certainly qualify.
Governor Cuomo: The VA hospital capacity is part of it. But I can tell you this Errol, the current projection is for almost double the current capacity. So, we need additional capacity, be it converting dorms, be it opening old senior citizen centers to use as hospitals and that is why we need the President, for the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA. I was the HUD Secretary. I worked with FEMA during the Clinton administration. When they are good, they can be very good. And I personally said to the President, look I have a lot of differences with the President, I don't know if you have noticed. But I said forget all that. We are not Democrats, we are not Republicans, we are Americans. I want to work with you in partnership. New York needs you. We need those federal resources and I believe the President was sincere and he said the same thing. He then said it at a press conference. And that partnership is going to be very important to us.
Errol Louis: There is a question, Governor, that has been coming up and I know you might not have exact numbers right now, but we don't want to make it seem as if the question of who has been hospitalized, who has been tested, who has died and so forth is only going in one direction. And there are people who have been hospitalized, who have been diagnosed and get better, then leave the hospital, right? There is a net number out there. Will that be part of what we are hearing from your office and other places in the future?
Governor Cuomo: You are exactly right. I say that every day. The hysteria is so high that people are not hearing the facts. You know, Johns Hopkins has traced every coronavirus case since China - about 150,000 cases plus or minus. About 5,000 people passed away. Now, that is terrible. But by the way we lose tens of thousands of people every year to the flu. If you have an underlying illness, you have emphysema, you are battling cancer and you get pneumonia, yes, you're in a grave situation. If you get the normal flu, you're in a grave situation. How many times have you heard a person in a hospital and they say well he died of pneumonia but he had heart disease. He died of pneumonia but he had emphysema. That's what you're going to see here. Eighty percent of the people will self-resolve. They won't even go into a hospital. You're talking about that vulnerable population. We've had our first, some of our first cases that we had on coronavirus. They recovered. The people we have to watch are the senior citizens, the vulnerable populations. The places we have to watch are the senior citizen centers, the nursing homes. That's where it's dangerous.
So the facts, yes, you're going to have a recovery rate of 97, 98 percent, and the people who will fall victim most likely were seriously ill to begin with. They had a compromised immune system. Those are the facts and that's why I said the panic is worse. There is not going to be any quarantine. No one is going to lock you in your home. No one is going to tell you, you can't leave the city. That's not going to happen.
We do need to increase our hospital capacity. We have to get aggressive about it. The federal partnership is very important but that's what this is and the hysteria is not factually based.
Errol Louis: Okay, we are going to leave it on that note for now. We're getting up to the top of the hour. Thanks so much, Governor Cuomo, for the update and I think the take-home message was heard loud and clear. Thanks for joining us.