Governor Cuomo: "I did two things: I had to talk to the people of the state, explain the situation, explain the facts, lay out a plan and then hope they supported the plan because it was based on facts. Look at what we were asking: stay home, close your business, no school, don't hug, six feet from everyone. The government can't impose that. If New Yorkers had said to me, "forget it. We think that's political. We think you're overreacting." It would have been all over. It was all up to them and that's actually what's so beautiful about it at the end of the day. They did do the right thing for themselves and others."
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on NY1 with Roma Torre to discuss New York City's reopening and New York State's response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
AUDIO is available here.
A rush transcript of the Governor's interview is available below:
Roma Torre: Governor thank you so much for sitting down with us and I can't tell you what a surprise and a thrill it was to get the call that you wanted me ride with you, but obviously it's because I had asked you that question a couple of weeks ago. Will New Yorkers feel safe on the Subway trains? What do you think?
Governor Cuomo: Well, it was a good question, and you're right, it is because you asked the question, but it was the right question. We're reopening, how do we know it's safe? "Well, government says it's safe. The MTA says it's safe." Yeah, well who's that going to convince, right? And I said look, if it wasn't safe, I wouldn't say it was safe. And how do I judge safe? Safe for you is safe for me. Last night I was up late working on the issue of opening summer camps for children, is it safe. And I see it through the eyes of my kids. If I wouldn't send my kids, I'm not going to say you can send your kids. So, how do we know the subway's safe? Good question, I'll ride the subway on the day we reopen because if it's safe for me it's safe for you.
Roma Torre: When we got into the Court Square subway station in Long Island City, I noticed it was very clean, there was a table set up with disinfectants and masks to hand out to folks. A lot of cynical New Yorkers would say that was all a show to benefit you, and then when we got on the train and we tweeted out the picture, people saw it was empty and they said oh, they cleared out the car for the governor. What do you say to those folks?
Governor Cuomo: Look, I'm a cynical New Yorker, right. I'm a Queens boy through and through, so I get it. It's not true but you know, you can't disprove it. You happened to be there, we just walked into whatever car it was.
Roma Torre: I picked the car, actually. Full disclosure.
Governor Cuomo: So it's not true. But I understand the cynicism. The facts are, this subway system has never been cleaner than it is today. It's not even close. I went to the MTA facilities over the past few weeks, and I know what they're doing. I've seen them doing it in the train yards. They're literally disinfecting trains. I mean, the train is cleaner than my bathroom, Roma. I mean they are doing a phenomenal job. And we did do things here that should have been done. To disinfect the trains, they have to stop the trains from running for a few hours every evening. And to disinfect the trains, they have to make sure everybody's off the trains. So for the first time in decades, getting everyone off the trains means people who are homeless also have to get off the trains, which is right for everyone. We want to help the homeless. You don't have the homeless by letting them sleep on a subway car. Get them into a shelter, get them services, get them help. And that's what this has done. Everybody off the train. If you're homeless, it's an opportunity to reach out to that person. I started in my 20s, building housing for the homeless. This is the right thing to do, and the trains have never been cleaner, and the stations have never been cleaner. Even the reduction in the ridership over the past a few months has allowed them to do more work. We announced today that they are accelerating construction because the ridership is down. So no, the system has never been cleaner than it is today.
Roma Torre: It does seem like a win-win but how long can we afford these extensive cleanings, because I know the MTA workers are working overtime to make sure that the trains are properly disinfected. And then we're just hearing now from Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez would like resume overnight train service for essential workers. Is that in the offing at all?
Governor Cuomo: Well you can't disinfect the cars and clean them the way they're cleaning them and have around-the-clock service. And frankly, we get back to the first point, I'm not going to tell someone they can ride the subways unless I believe they're safe. And the essential workers need them and I think the safety of the essential workers comes first. And if it's a couple of hours at night--
Roma Torre: Four hours.
Governor Cuomo: --and the MTA has alternative transportation during those four hours, I'd rather use alternative transportation been have those essential workers using subways that we know are not disinfected. I think safety first.
Roma Torre: So this will continue then, the extensive cleaning?
Governor Cuomo: None of this can go on forever. None of all of this. This has to end at one point. We're phasing, phasing, phasing - it has to end. It ends when you have a treatment for the virus. It ends when you have a vaccine for the virus. That's when it will really end globally.
Roma Torre: That could be another year or so, right?
Governor Cuomo: I don't know. Depends on who you talk to. The President has a number, but I speak to many of the companies who are working on the vaccine. I think it's fair to say about one year. But yes, we're going to be at this new normal until you know that this is resolved or should be in a new normal until you know this is finally resolved.
Roma Torre: Here we are, day 100. When all of this started 100 days ago when we had our first case of coronavirus, did you think that it would take 100 days to get to this point or were you really scared that it would go a lot longer?
Governor Cuomo: Oh Roma, I was scared it would go longer. I was scared that it would be worse. When this started, I was talking to every expert on the globe, literally. People who had done China - all the best top experts. Dr. Fauci in Washington. Nobody would say how it ends or when it ends or how bad it gets. We knew the virus was like fire through dry grass, how fast it could spread. We knew there was no treatment. The original forecasts were that we would need 120,000 hospital beds. We only have 50,000 hospital beds in the entire state. That was Italy, by the way. What happened in Italy was their health system was overwhelmed. People died in the hallways of hospitals because they couldn't get a doctor or a nurse.
They said to me, we need 120,000 hospital beds and we only have 50,000. There's no way to make up the gap. Oh yeah - look, if someone had said to me, I would not even have believed that we could have accomplished everything we accomplished in 100 days. We went from the worst situation on the globe. We not only had more cases than any other state in the nation, we had more cases per capita than any country on the globe. We are dense. In this government we don't have the kind of control that China has that these other countries have that made progress. You had to convince New Yorkers of the problem. They had to understand the problem. They had to buy into the solution because I couldn't do the solution.
The solution was dependent on their behavior. So it really became a communication and a trust equation. What I did more than anything, I did two things: I had to talk to the people of the state, explain the situation, explain the facts, lay out a plan and then hope they supported the plan because it was based on facts. Look at what we were asking: stay home, close your business, no school, don't hug, six feet from everyone. The government can't impose that.
If New Yorkers had said to me, "forget it. We think that's political. We think you're overreacting." It would have been all over. It was all up to them and that's actually what's so beautiful about it at the end of the day. They did do the right thing for themselves and others.
Roma Torre: Let me ask you: here we are at Phase 1 and folks are getting a taste of freedom that they haven't had in a long time. When we get to Phase 4 are you confident that we'll be able to contain the spread of the virus sufficiently so that we don't experience a resurgence? We keep hearing about a second wave. That's very concerning. We have protesters rubbing shoulders. We're going to have to the subways back up to about 70% capacity, a lot of people standing very close to each other, not observing social distancing. Can you guarantee or is there any way you can guarantee that by Phase 4 we're not going to slip back?
Governor Cuomo: No. No guarantees. It depends on what we do and that's not a trite answer. That is 100% right. It's the same thing the global experts said to me when we started on day one. It's true on day 100. It's all a function of how people behave. I can't tell you the effect of the protesters. I'm worried about it. We're offering free testing. I'm urging them to be tested but we don't know what that means. We don't know how New Yorkers will react going forward. I can tell you they've been marvelous up until now and that's why the proof is in the pudding. We will know, the best I can tell you is we will know on a daily basis what is happening to the infection rate. It's like getting your blood pressure checked every day. Every day I get on the scale to see what my weight is. A little bit up, a little bit down, and then you can correct, you can adjust. If I stay disciplined the number stays down. If I'm not disciplined the number goes up to him. Silly analogy but it's the same thing here. Weather gets warmer. There are protests, higher density on subway cars, et cetera. Is that going to increase the rate of transmission of the virus? I believe if people are smart and safe it won't but we have to follow the numbers and we'll know literally on a daily basis because 100 days, I've done these briefings every day for 100 days and not just for New Yorkers. Actually people across the nation wound up watching them, all across the world. I get emails from people in international [inaudible] I don't know why they're watching me talk about New York but it's the facts. It's the facts. Nobody's been here before. Information is power. Give me the information so I can make my own informed decision and I will give you the facts every day.
Roma Torre: But you're not afraid to pull back if the numbers start to decline?
Governor Cuomo: Look, we would have to. We would have to, and is there a possibility? Yes. That's why my message is a duality to my message. Congratulations, day 100, we're reopening. We did great. We went from the worst to the first. We bent the curve. Nobody thought we could do it great. Great. Same time, second message - don't lose your discipline, be smart, remember what worked and how we did this and don't get cocky and don't get arrogant and look at those other states that reopened and the number went up. So it can happen.
Roma Torre: A lot of people are crediting you with the success of our ability to fight this coronavirus. I watched you walking through the subway system on the train. You're a rock star, honestly. How do you deal with this newfound celebrity because you know we see you on the networks all the time and you're a spokesperson for dealing with the virus. How has it been for you these past three months?
Governor Cuomo: You know, Roma, it's a good question. I don't even know that I know to tell you the truth. It's been so much day to day I really haven't had a chance to reflect on where we are. I'm always in the middle of a crisis and everything is an emergency. I feel like I did what I needed to do. I feel that I lived up to my obligation as governor in this moment. I feel in many ways it's everything I learned all my life. I've been in government basically all of my life. I call on everything I had learned. But I feel I did what I needed to do but basically what I did was talk to New Yorkers and talk to people. That's all I did because they told me on day one it depends on what people do. So, give them the facts. Let them understand the situation. Put out a plan, smart plan. Have the government work, get the hospitals ready, get the logistics ready, get a testing program up, get a tracing program up. But then it was all dependent on this wild social experiment of communicating with 19 million people and ask them to do things that they've never done before in their life. Explain the risk without panicking them, because panic is the real problem right. So, yes this was a deadly virus, but we'll be ok. But essential workers still have to show up, but you have to stay home. So, it was a complex message. But I feel good about what New Yorkers did and they feel good about what they did. When they are smiling when we're walking through the subway and they're saying thumbs up and a victory sign. That's their victory, that's not my victory. That's their victory and they know it because I was there every day saying to them, "You can do this. We can do this and we are doing it."
You look at that curve on the way down, every dot is a day. Every dot is a day they stayed home and they had to deal with their kids, and they were nervous, and they didn't know if they lost their job. And every day was a year during this 100 days. They did it and that's why they feel good.
Roma Torre: Does the national platform fuel your political ambitions. Are you looking beyond the governorship?
Governor Cuomo: Do you want to get rid of me, Roma? Is that what you're saying? You want me to go to Washington? You want me to vacate the governor's office?
Roma Torre: Some folks would like to see you in Washington and we've heard people call for you to run for president.
Governor Cuomo: I think they just want me to get out of New York, I think that's what they're saying. No, I'm going to be right here. I think I'm doing a good job. I think I'm improving things. I think I can help. I think I can help from this situation and this position and I don't want to do anything other than be Governor of New York. It's is my home, it's my family, it's my community. I was in Washington for 8 years in the Clinton administration. I've worked in every state in the United States. Been there done that. I'm home and I love it.
Roma Torre: Yeah, one of the most refreshing things about your briefings is your personal reflections and it's very touching to hear you talk about your mom, and your daughters. Do you have any regrets that you can share with us in terms of your handling of the of the pandemic or decisions that you've made?
Governor Cuomo: First on a personal level, I did communicate personally, which I don't normally do. Because this was first and foremost, you used the word in this interview, frightening. Was I scared? You asked me if I was scared. You don't normally ask a governor, are you scared. That was the right question. People were scared. People were on the verge of panic. They were scared. To speak to that emotion, you can't do that with facts. I can't do that with data and hospitalization rate. I wanted them to know I was living it too and I was feeling it too, and I was processing all of that also. So, just not you who's scared. I'm scared and that's okay. You're scared, the governor's scared. It's a frightening situation and anyone who tells you it's not is lying. So, I did live it with them. My brother did get coronavirus in the middle of this thing. Their brother got coronavirus. I was scared when I heard he got coronavirus and then this terrible thing, I can't even go see him. And it was so bizarre, but that's where people were. So, connecting with people emotionally, this was an emotional situation. I made a mistake, I should've brought my mother to be with me before this started. There are number of days where I said, I haven't seen my mother since this started. Because I expose myself to a lot of situations that I probably shouldn't given my age, et cetera, but it's my job. But I wouldn't expose my mother to me now. So, I haven't seen her in three months. I should have brought her with me before, and I knew it, and I thought about it, and I even talked to my mother about it, but I didn't do it. And I haven't seen her in in three months. And I believe my mother would rather be with me during this period of time because I believe I'm my mother's—
Roma Torre: You're the favorite?
Governor Cuomo: I am the favorite. She doesn't want to say it because you know how it is, but I believe--
Roma Torre: Chris would feel differently.
Governor Cuomo: And he'd be wrong.
Roma Torre: Before we end this, I do have to ask you about rumors that were swirling yesterday that the police commissioner, Dermot Shea and the chief of department were either fired or resigning. What can you tell me about that, do you have any insight?
Governor Cuomo: Look, I don't know. I have no information on that. I know that I said the night of looting in New York City was terrible. And I do believe it's not about the protesters, and it's not about the police officers. We have the best police officers in the United States of America, I believe that. I believe it was the management and I believe it was the deployment. It always is, right. We have handled in this city, many bad nights and many riots. You never saw that looting. And I said it was the management and the deployment, and that was my opinion, and it was true. And by the way, it was controversial and I'm sure the management and the leadership of New York City didn't like it. But it got better the next day and that's my job.
Roma Torre: But you don't know anything about them resigning or being fired?
Governor Cuomo: No. No.
Roma Torre: Okay. Governor, thank you so much. I really appreciate this.
Governor Cuomo: Thank you Roma.