February 22, 2021
Albany, NY

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Updates New Yorkers on State's Progress During COVID-19 Pandemic

Audio & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Updates New Yorkers on State's Progress During COVID-19 Pandemic

5,804 Patient Hospitalizations Statewide

1,148 Patients in the ICU; 780 Intubated

Statewide Positivity Rate is 4.33%

89 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday

Governor Cuomo: "What these numbers should say to you is that behavior makes a difference. Look at how that positivity rate has changed and look how many times it's changed and look how the regions have fluctuated. Western New York was at the top of the list for a period of time. Long Island was at the top of the list. Mid-Hudson was at the top of the list. Southern Tier, we had a real problem at one point. Behavior matters. A community's behavior matters and once they get that you can see how they can reduce the positivity rate but it's up to their behavior."

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today updated New Yorkers on the state's progress during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to note that data, including test results and hospital rates, reported early in the week are often not completely reflective of the current situation due to lower discharges and testing volume over the weekend. Data trends over a period of time, such as using 7-day averages, are a preferred metric.

AUDIO of today's remarks is available here

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

Morning guys. Andrew Cuomo. I'm joined by Melissa DeRosa, Howard Zucker, Robert Mujica, Kelly Cummings, Beth Garvey, Gareth Rhodes. We have a number of things to go through in terms of news.

Number one, I was at Medgar Evers College this morning in Brooklyn, and we're doing something very exciting there. The state is being very aggressive in social equity vaccination. I've spoken for many months about how COVID hit the Black, Hispanic and poorer communities harder than any other communities. There was less COVID testing, there was higher positivity, and there was higher death rates.

On the vaccine, we're seeing nationwide, and we're seeing in New York, hesitancy, quote unquote, especially with the Black community. Hesitancy, I call lack of trust in the system, for good reasons. So we're working very hard to combat that, and making special efforts above and beyond the overall vaccination process. We partnered with the federal government on an initiative that is going to do social equity vaccinations, what they call vulnerable communities. Brooklyn, Medgar Evers, we're going to do Queens, and then we're going to do Westchester, Buffalo, Rochester, and Albany.

The way it works in Brooklyn, which we announced today, the site opens Wednesday of this week, but the surrounding zip codes that are most heavily impacted have a priority for appointments. It opened last Saturday at 8 a.m. It goes until this Saturday at 8 a.m. and they have a priority to make appointments. And that's exciting. It's joint federal-state, so you have federal officials who are working there, you have state National Guard. It will be the largest vaccination site in the state, doing 21,000 per week, 3,000 per day, seven days per week. And that opens Wednesday. And then we'll be talking about a site in Queens, and then we'll be talking about sites Upstate that we're still working on.

Today is day 359. We did 142,000 tests. The positivity, this is a Monday, so take it with a grain of salt, 4.3. 89 New Yorkers passed away. They are in our thoughts and prayers. 5,800 hospitalized, 1,100 in ICU, 700 intubated. On the seven-day positivity, New York City, 4.4. Long Island, 4.3, Mid-Hudson, 4.2, North Country, 3.7, Western New York, 2.4, Finger Lakes, 2.3, Mohawk Valley, 2.03, Capital Region, 1.9, Central New York, 1.2, Southern Tier, .79. Statewide positivity, 3.5.

What these numbers should say to you is that behavior makes a difference. Look at how that positivity rate has changed and look how many times it's changed and look how the regions have fluctuated. Western New York was at the top of the list for a period of time. Long Island was at the top of the list. Mid-Hudson was at the top of the list. Southern Tier, we had a real problem at one point. Behavior matters. A community's behavior matters and once they get that you can see how they can reduce the positivity rate but it's up to their behavior.

Within New York City, Bronx 5.7, Queens 4.9, Brooklyn 4.3, Staten Island 4.3, Manhattan 2.7. So, the Bronx is still high and it has been for a while. It is down but it is still high, and then Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island all about in the same place. Manhattan, again 2.7, is much lower. Behavior matters. Again, weekend data is often a little skewed so watch the one-day data.

Vaccines, 3.75 million we administered, 2.4 million first doses, 1.3 million second doses. 93 percent of the doses we received from week 1 to 10 have been actually put in arms. We had serious weather delays not just in New York but across the country and the good news is those places that had deliveries delayed, it should be starting to hit today and this week.

We're announcing a number of reopenings, watching the valve and the infection rate and the meters. Movie theaters in New York will be brought in line with the rest of the state, 25 percent capacity, no more than 50 people per screening, masks, assigned seating, social distancing, staff to control occupancy, traffic, and seating to ensure compliance. They need the enhanced air filtration ventilation and purification standards that DOH has specified.

We then have weddings and catered events, 50 percent capacity, up to 150 people at each event. Anyone who wants to get married, no excuses. As we previously announced, all patrons must be tested prior to the event. We have said testing is the key - I can go in and meet with the President of the United States if I'm tested - sign-in with contact information to assist with contact tracing. Venues must notify the local health department in advance, masks required at all times except with seating, eating or drinking, guidelines for ceremonial and socially distanced dancing. Rob has more information on that if you need it beginning March 15.

School reporting - President Biden has made it a national priority to open schools. We're going to ask the local districts to report on how many teachers have been vaccinated. As you know, local districts have been vaccinating essential personnel: police, fire, teachers. How many teachers have been vaccinated? How many teachers are doing in-class teaching? We're asking the counties, the local governments, the cities, how many teachers have you vaccinated? How many teachers are doing in-class teaching and what percentage is now in-class?

Teachers are very concerned that before they return to the classroom, they're vaccinated. The question is how many have been vaccinated and how many are in-class and teaching. We will notify the local districts today if they can start reporting on Wednesday and then we'll ask them that on a weekly basis. I think we need clarity on that matter because opening schools is very important as we know. Opening schools is very important for children and it has economic consequences beyond that.

Nursing home visitation, Dr. Zucker and Beth Garvey are on the phone and they're going to give you details now on the nursing home reopening plan for visitation. Dr. Zucker?

Dr. Zucker: Thank you, Governor. Regarding the indoor visitation for the nursing homes, there's 4 points that I want to make about this. The first one is that we focus on the county rate of COVID infections. We've broken this down into those with less than 5 percent in the county and no testing will be required, but we encourage testing for those in counties with less than 5 percent. If the county has 5-10 percent then they should be tested within 72 hours. The testing can be either through a PCR test, a binex test, rapid test and we can give the nursing homes the assistance to do them.

If it's greater than 10 percent then no visitation will be allowed except for compassionate care. The other reason you would have to restrict visitation is if there have been cases within 14 days. This is the CMS guidelines on this. Point number one, under 5 percent no testing required, but we encourage it. Five to ten percent, testing required within 72 hours, PCR or binex test. Greater than 10 percent, no visitation except for compassionate care.

The second point on the issue of visitations is a little tricky. Within the 5-10 percent category, instead of testing, if a visitor - I want to make this point clear, it's about visitors - we have vaccinated all the nursing homes staff and residents. If a visitor has had 2 vaccines and it has been 14 days since their second vaccine and they're still within 90 days of that second dose of the vaccine then there's no need for a test. However, we encourage testing anyway at the site and the reason I say that is because you can still have it in your nasal passages. So, it's beneficial to be tested to be sure that you don't have it in your nasal passage. I reiterate always the need to take all of those necessary health precautions: wearing a mask, washing your hands, et cetera. Point 3 is that the nursing home facilities, if the maximum number of visitors you can have is to accommodate for 20 percent and the rest of the facility obviously can handle that. The maximum is 20 percent of residents at one time. Obviously, the next day you can have other visitors for other residents, but we're trying to make sure we don't overwhelm the nursing homes. And the fourth point is we're working with the nursing homes to make sure that they either have a separate room or the visitor is alone in their room at that point in time. I think those are the four key points to make about visitation at nursing homes at this point.

Governor Cuomo: Beth, do you have anything to add on that?

Beth Garvey: No. I think Dr. Zucker laid it out very clearly.

Governor Cuomo: Okay. You want to tell us when it goes into effect?

Beth Garvey: This will go into effect Friday, February 26th.

Governor Cuomo: Okay. So, it follows the CMS guidelines. It goes into effect on Friday, and the Department of Health has additional recommendations for additional precautions. Okay. On billiards and pool halls, which I know many of the people on the phone frequent, we were sued by billiards and pool halls. We actually lost the suit, so we're coming up with guidelines for all the billiard and pool halls. 50 percent capacity, masks required at all times except when seated and eating or drinking. Mandatory social distancing, physical barriers between parties, each party is assigned to a table to avoid comingling, cleaning and disinfecting any rented or shared equipment between use. If you sink the 8 ball when you are shooting for the 8 ball, and playing 8 ball, you automatically lose the game unless it is the called shot and the called pocket. I made up that last rule. Joke, joke, joke.

Two other points that I want to make. One is we have a decision in the ongoing trial with the Seneca Nation. The Seneca Nation, for those who don't remember, 2013 New York reached a landmark agreement with the Seneca Nation recognizing the exclusivity of the Seneca Casinos in Western New York. The agreement was based on trust and respect, and it was one that I was proud to make. This morning the U.S. second circuit court of appeals again affirmed the need for the Seneca Nation to fulfill their obligations and pay what they owe in exchange for those gaming rights. The courts decision was clear, and after years of delay, multiple appeals, and multiple court losses it is high time the Seneca Nation follows the law and pays what they owe, and it is significant funding, especially for the communities involved, as well as the State. Rob, do you want to just remind us of what that -- well, the financial consequences of that are?

Robert Mujica: It's about $435 million that is owed to-date and is almost over $100 million of that is for local governments. The biggest counties in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Salamanca, Monroe and Erie County, but there are over a dozen local governments, county governments, and cities that get direct payments so it's $435 overall and $150 million directly to local governments, and the rest of the money goes to, mostly, education.

Governor Cuomo: Last point: revenue update numbers. The economy is rebounding the revenue is up about another $1.6 billion on an annualized basis from where we had projected. I had said to the U.S. Congress that we need $15 billion to deal with the COVID deficit and the COVID consequences and COVID costs. That's the deficit plus the cost of COVID - cost of COVID is the rental relief that we have to provide to tenants, the rental relief we have to provide to the small landlords, the business relief that we have to provide the small businesses, the loss of revenue for local governments. The federal package does not provide the $15 billion. It's about 12 and change. What I say to my congressional colleagues is, if you are progressive in the minority, you shouldn't become regressive in themajority. This nation should have a tax increase on the wealthiest Americans to provide the relief necessary to states. Otherwise, what you do is you force individual states to raise taxes. When an individual state raises taxes it now puts that state at a competitive disadvantage with other states, and the states that were hardest hit by COVID, primarily Democratic states, are then put at a further economic disadvantage.

COVID was a national problem. The national economy has to recover. Do a national tax increase, which is what the progressive Democrats talked about for years. Now, you're in the majority - do it. Do it so states like New York don't have to do it and redo the inequity of the Trump tax plan, which was clearly regressive and a gift to the wealthiest Americans and the wealthiest corporations. Every Democrat railed against it when it happened, undo the Trump tax gift to the richest, which also stole from the Democratic states with SALT. That has to happen on a national level and that is progressive. And we have a Democratic President, a Democratic Senate, Democratic House, and that's what everyone articulated was the progressive policy, so now you're in the majority, don't become regressive. Get a state like New York the funding it needs, return our SALT funding so we don't have a financial hardship and we can make ends meet.

Also remember during Trump, no state paid a higher price than the State of New York. New York State was victimized during the Trump Administration. New York pays in more to the federal government, gets back less than any state, and then the SALT tax change compounded that inequity, and every Democrat condemned it. You have reconciliation, reverse it. Reverse it. Bring a progressive tax code to this nation.

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