New York's Contact Tracing Program Will Be Done in Coordination with Downstate Region as well as New Jersey and Connecticut
Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University to Build Online Curriculum and Training Program for Contact Tracers
NYS DOH Will Work with Bloomberg Philanthropies Team to Identify and Recruit Contact Tracer Candidates, Including DOH Staff, Investigators from State Agencies, Hundreds of Downstate Tracers and SUNY and CUNY Students in Medical Fields
Partnership with Vital Strategies' Resolve to Save Lives to Provide Operational and Technical Advising
Governor Cuomo: "Once you trace, and you find more positives, then you isolate the positives, they're under quarantine, they can't go out, they can't infect anybody else. This entire operation has never been done before. So, it's intimidating. You've never heard the words, "testing, tracing, isolate," before. No one has It's what we have to do nowWe've put together armies before. Never a tracing army, but we can put together people, we can organize, we can train, and we can do it. And yes, it's a big deal, but it's what we have to do and it's what we will do."
Governor Cuomo: "Every decision we make is going to affect how we come out of this, how fast we come out of this. So, in this moment, more than any other, truth, not what you would like to see, what you'd hope to see, not emotions, truth and facts, truth and facts. That's how we operate here in the State of New York. Truth and facts. Give me the truth and give me the facts. And that has to guide our actions. Period."
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Mike Bloomberg today announced a new nation-leading COVID-19 contact tracing program to control the infection rate of the disease. Mike Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies have committed organizational support and technical assistance to help build and execute this new program. The contact tracing program will be done in coordination with the downstate region as well as New Jersey and Connecticut and will serve as an important resource to gather best practices and as a model that can be replicated across the nation. There has never been a contact tracing program implemented at this scale either in New York or anywhere in the United States. The program will launch immediately.
AUDIO of today's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Good morning. Full crew today. Today is day 53. It's important to get a sense of bearings. Fifty-three days since we closed down New York. Fifty-three days since this nightmare happened. Such a disorienting period. Fifty-three days. Is it a long time or is it a short time? Well, if you look back compared to what other generations have gone through or other periods of crisis in this country, 53 days is nothing. We've dealt with really intense, terrible situations for a long time in the past. It feels very long and it's very stressful. That's across the board.
You have families that haven't had a paycheck come in in a couple of months, meanwhile the bills keep coming in. That's tremendous economic anxiety and insecurity. By the way, it's exactly right. When do I go back to work? When do I get another paycheck? That's a pressure that people feel in the household. Even the good part of it.
Well, my family's together I have all my three girls, in my case, with me and that's nice and that's good news. But you put even the family together and you lock them up, cabin fever, everyone has their own stress that they're dealing with. Everyone's trying to figure out their life and they're all together in this intense period. Even that is stressful. I feel it in my own household. My daughters are getting tired of my jokes, believe it or not. How that can happen I have no idea, but somehow they manage to do that. Even have trouble now picking a movie at night because the rule is if you pick a bad movie then you are on movie probation. You don't get to pick the next movie. Everybody is on movie probation in my house now. That's a problem.
Even the dog, Captain, is out of sorts and relating to stress. Maybe there's too many people in the house and he's having trouble adjusting. Captain doesn't like the boyfriend. I said I like the boyfriend so it's nothing that I said, but all sorts of tension that people are living with. Real tension and then just the day-to-day stress.
Yes, it's a terrible period of time, I get it. We have to deal with it. When you look at the reality of the situation, we are actually in a much better place. We're not home yet, but we're in a better place. The really bad news would have been if we concluded that we couldn't control the spread of the virus. That was a possibility. You looked at all those initial projections. How do you know we could control the spread? We could have done all those close down measures and it didn't work and the spread continued. That would have been bad news.
Relatively, we're in a relatively good place. In downstate New York, the curve is on the descent. The question is now how long is that descent. Is it a sudden drop off? Is it one week, two weeks, three weeks, six weeks? We don't know. Better to be going down than to be going up. Let's keep that in mind. We are going down. How fast, we'll find out, but we're in a better place.
Hospitalizations numbers are coming down. Intubations are coming down. Number of new people coming into the hospital every day is still troublingly high, but better than it was, still problematic. Number of lives lost is still breathtakingly painful and the worst news that I have to deliver everyday and the worst news that I've ever had to deal with as Governor of New York. At least it's not going up anymore and it seems to be on a gentle decline.
Make no mistake, this is a profound moment in history. Our actions are going to shape our future and you're not going to have to wait for a 10-year analysis, a retrospective, to find out how our actions affected our future. What we do today, you will see the results in three, four, or five days. You tell me what the people of this state and this country do today, you will see the results in the number of hospitalizations in just a few days. We get reckless today, there are a lot of contacts today, unprotected contacts today, you'll see that hospitalization go up three, four, five days from today. It is that simple. and it's that pressing, that every decision we make is going to affect how we come out of this, how fast we come out of this. So, in this moment, more than any other, truth, not what you would like to see, what you'd hope to see, not emotions, truth and facts, truth and facts. That's how we operate here in the State of New York. Truth and facts. Give me the truth and give me the facts. And that has to guide our actions. Period.
We had a productive meeting at the White House yesterday. Productive visit, everybody says productive visit. Very few people come out and say unproductive visit, right. What does that mean, productive visit? To me a productive visit means we spoke truth, we spoke facts, we made decisions, and we have a plan going forward. And that was accomplished yesterday. And I feel good about it personally. Because it's what should have happened, right? Big issues on the table. In the political process, well he said this, she said this, and you get into a he said, she said, or you get into a blame game, finger pointing. But the meeting was very productive.
And by the way, these are people in the White House who politically don't like me. That's the fact, right. You see the president's tweets. He's often tweeted very unkind things about me and my brother. Politically, he does not, we've had conflicts. back and forth. But we sat with him, we sat with his team, and that was put aside. Because who really cares how I feel or how he feels? Who cares? Get the job done. I don't care if you like him or he likes you. We're not setting up a possible marriage here. Just do the job. When you're at war, you're in a fox hole. Nobody says, well, do you like the person you're in the fox hole with? Who cares? You protect the other person in the fox hole, then you get out of the fox hole and you take the hill, charge up the hill. And that's how we should be operating now. I don't care what your politics are, I don't care what you think about my politics. We both have a job, let's do the job. And that was the spirit of the meeting yesterday. And it was very productive on what were very contentious, unclear issues. So it was very good.
The main issue was testing, which I'll talk more about in a second, but we also talked about state funding. All the governors are united, Democrat and Republican. National Governors Association, every governor is saying the same thing. We have to have state funding. The states have a role basically in a deficit situation, and we need funding from Washington. They've passed bills that help a lot of Americans, that's great. Help small businesses, that's great.
But you have to help state governments because state governments fund the people that the federal government can't fund. State and local governments, we're funding police, we're funding fire, we're funding teachers, we're funding schools. You can't just ignore them. And when you don't fund the states, then you're saying to the states well, you have to fund them, and the states have already said in one united choir, we can't. We can't. So we talked to the president about that.
The president gets it. The president says he's going to work very hard in the next piece of legislation. But, you know, I've been in Washington. I was there for eight years. The congress has to insist that this is in the legislation. And yes, they passed funding for small business and funding for testing, and that's good. That is a good thing, i's not a bad thing. But it's not enough either. And they don't come back every day, the Congress. It's hard to get them to come back. And this was not the time for baby steps. This is when you should be taking bold action. The action is proportionate to the issue. And you haven't had a problem that's any bigger than this that any of the senators or Congress people have ever dealt with. Well, then your action should be proportionate and responsive to the problem. And it wasn't.
The President also agreed, which is a big deal for New York, to waive what's called the state match for FEMA. Normally a state has to pay 25 percent of the FEMA cost. That would be a cruel irony for New York and adding insult to injury. New York had the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country, therefore our cost of FEMA was the highest cost in the nation. Therefore, New York should pay the highest amount. How ironically cruel would that be? You're going to penalize us for having the highest number of coronavirus cases in the country. And at the same time that Congress passed a piece of legislation not even funding the states. So, the President agreed to waive that. That's a very big deal. That's hundreds of millions of the dollars to the State of New York.
But the big issue was testing. We've been talking about testing, tracing, and then isolating. And that will be the key going forward. That's how you're educated and have some data points as you're working your way through this reopening calibration, right? How does it work? You test the person, if the person winds up positive, then you trace the person's contacts. Contact tracing. You have to start with a large number of tests, and we set as a goal yesterday to double the number of state tests, to go from 20,000 on average to 40,000. That is just about the maximum capacity of all the laboratory machines in the state.
We have private labs, about 300 of them that we regulate, they have purchased the machines over time. These are expensive machines. If you took every machine we had, and they had all the supplies they needed from the national manufacturers, and you ran that machine seven days a week, 24 hours a day, how many tests could you do? About 40,000. So that's, if you put your foot to the floor, you brought the engine up to maximum RPM, up to the red line, you brought it up to 6,000, assuming the red line was 6,000, and you held it there, 7 days, 24 hours a day, at red line, how many tests could you do? 40,000. Now, there's a lot of buts and ifs in there. But the machine has to stay together for 7 days, 24 hours a day. You have to have enough people feeding the machine. But that is our maximum potential. So where did we set the goal? At our maximum potential. Why? Because we need to. "Well, it's unrealistic." Might be a little unrealistic. But I'd rather set the bar high and try to get there, and whatever we get is what we get.
But once you do all those tests, every positive you have to go back and trace. And the tracing is a very big, big deal. Once you trace, and you find more positives, then you isolate the positives, they're under quarantine, they can't go out, they can't infect anybody else. This entire operation has never been done before. So, it's intimidating. You've never heard the words, "testing, tracing, isolate," before. No one has. We've just never done this. There are a few textbooks that spoke about it, but we've never done it. And we've never done anywhere near this scale. So, it is an intimidating exercise. But I say so what? Who cares that you've never done it. That's really irrelevant. It's what we have to do now. So, figure out how to do it! Well, we have to put together a tracing army. Okay. We've put together armies before. Never a tracing army. But we can put together people, we can organize, we can train, and we can do it. And yes, it's a big deal, but it's what we have to do and it's what we will do.
We want to operate on a tri-state basis. I've spoken to Governor Murphy in New Jersey who's doing a great job, and Governor Lamont in Connecticut is doing a great job. They've been very great neighbors to New York. It's best to do this tracing on a tri-state area. Why? Because that's how our society works. The virus doesn't stop at jurisdictional boundaries. "Oh, I'm at the town of Brookhaven, I stop here." No - the virus doesn't say that. The virus just spreads. And you look at the spread of the virus, it is in a metropolitan area. So, we'll work together. This will be a massive undertaking.
Good news is, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has volunteered to help us develop and implement the program. Mayor Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, as you know - three terms. As governor, I worked with Mayor Bloomberg. He's developed an organization where he works with mayors across the world, literally, providing them guidance. He has tremendous insight both governmentally and private sector business perspective. Remember, his company, Bloomberg, went through the China close down, open up, they went through the European close down, open up. So, he's had quite a bit of experience in this area. It's a very big undertaking, and we thank him very much for taking it on, because it is going to require a lot of attention, a lot of insight, a lot of experience, and a lot of resources.
We're also going to be partnering with Johns Hopkins and Vital Strategies in putting together that tracing operation. It will be coordinated tri-state and downstate. Why downstate? Because, again, downstate operates as one area. About 25 percent, 30 percent of the work force that goes into New York City comes from outside of New York City. I have a house in Westchester. I work in New York City. Who's supposed to trace me? Westchester or New York City? If I turn up positive, yeah, my residence is in Westchester County, but I work in New York City and I would have contacted many more people in New York City than I would in Westchester.
Because if I work in New York City, that's where I'm contacting people. I live in Suffolk, but I work in New York City. I'm a police officer who has a house in Rockland, but I work in New York City. I'm a firefighter, who lives in Rockland or Orange, but I work in New York City. I live in New Jersey, but I work in the city. I live in the city, but I work in Connecticut. Right? So all those interconnections. If you're going to do these tracing operations, you can't do it within just your own county. Because you'll quickly run into people who are cross jurisdictional. So understand that going in. Blur the governmental jurisdictions because they don't really make sense. Put everybody together, work together. Harder done than said, but 100 percent right, there's no doubt about that.
We're going to take the initial tracers that people have now. The state has about 225 today. Rockland has 40, Westchester 50, Nassau 60, New York City 200. They are going to work together. Mayor Bloomberg is going to start with that core, but we have to build on that because we'll literally need thousands. SUNY and CUNY have 35,000 medical students that we're going to draw from, but we have to put together a significant operation because the numbers get very big very quickly here.
Today is also the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. When you look at many of the numbers that we're finding, and you look at the disparity between the African-American community, Latino community that has a higher rate of infection than the white community. You start to ask why and you start to study those health disparities. You also find that in those areas where the coronavirus infection rate is higher, they tend to be minority areas, and by the way, those minority areas tend to be the places where we cited plants that pollute the asthma rates. Respiratory illnesses are three times higher among people in the African-American community, three times the asthma rate, respiratory illness rate. They're getting more coronavirus, they're a higher percentage of essential workers. You see how these two factors come together and make a bad situation worse. Let's learn from that. It's one of the lessons that we have to learn, and we have to go forward and we will.
The positive message is look how well we do when we actually focus and we make a decision and we say, "We have to do this." If you had told me two months ago that I would be able to stand up before the people of the state and say by the way, we have to close down everything, businesses closed, everything closes, everybody go into your homes, close the door, lock it, don't come out. I would have said it's not going to work, it's not going to work. You're not going to get 19 million New Yorkers. We're just a defiant group of people, questioning everything, they're not going to do it. Well, maybe if you give them all the facts and they understand, and they'll do it and we did. Look at the potential. Look at the possibility of what you can actually do. Well, then can you really make a real difference on these issues we've been fighting for decades, but we haven't really made the progress we need to--climate change, the environment. Yes, you can.
Last point, my phone is ringing, I'm talking to many local officials. They feel political pressure to open. I understand. I said yesterday that we're going to make decisions based on a regional basis, because just as the nation has different states and different positions, New York State has different regions and different positions. North country is one set of facts, facts. This is about truth and facts. North country has one set of facts, Western New York has a different set of facts, Capitol District has a different set of facts. Make decisions based on the facts, and the facts are different in down State New York in many areas. Also make them on the facts and realize the consequence of what you could do opening one region, but not other regions and how you could flood that one region and give them a host of problems they never anticipated. But make the decision on the facts. I get it, don't make the decision based on political pressure. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that.
This is a profound moment. We make a bad move it's going to set us back. I get the political pressure and I get the political pressure that local officials are under. We can't make a bad decision. I get the pressure, but we can't make a bad decision. Frankly, this is no time to act stupidly, period. I don't know how else to say it and I've said it innumerable times to local officials on the phone. I get the pressure, I get the politics. We can't make a bad decision and we can't be stupid about it. This is not going to be over any time soon. I know people want out, I get it. I know people want to get back to work. I know people need a paycheck. I know this is unsustainable. I also know that more people will die if we are not smart, I know that. I have to do that count every day of the number of people who passed away. We're not going to have people lose their life because we acted imprudently. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do that and I'm not going to allow the state to do it. I'm not going to have the obituary of this period be, well they felt political pressure, so they got nervous and they acted imprudently. That's not who we are.
So, I've said to them look, if you look at any of the facts, the 1918 flu, they're talking about it now. There can be waves to this, right? You walk out into the ocean, you get hit with that first wave, oh great, I'm done. The wave hit me, I'm still standing. Beware, because there can be a second wave, or there could be a third wave. So, don't be cocky just because you got hit by a wave and it didn't knock you off your feet. There can be a second wave and if you're not ready for the second wave, that's the wave that's going to knock you down, because you're not ready for it. So, that's what I'm worried about.
Also, to the local officials and local politicians, I have no problem with them blaming me. It's a very simple answer. I say to everyone whenever they say I agree with you, it's the governor. Because, by the way, it is the governor. It is. These are state laws that are in effect, the local officials can't do anything about them anyway because they can't contradict a state law. It's true, so the local official can say, "It's the Governor. Blame him." It's true and it will stop us from doing something that's counterproductive and it'll also stop us from getting into a dispute between me and the local government where the net message will be to the people there's disagreement or confusion among government. This is not the time for disagreement of confusion among government.
The state laws govern. I get the local political pressure. Blame the Governor, it's the truth and the local laws can't counteract state laws anyway. To this political pressure. This is a quote that I think people should take to heart:
"When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then they ceased to be free."
Edith Hamilton originally, Edward Gibbon in the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. "When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then they ceased to be free." We have a responsibility today to ourselves and to others. There is a codependency and a mutuality among people in society that is more clear and distinct than we have ever seen it. You sneeze, I get sick. You sneeze, I get sick. It is that close a connection.
You have a responsibility to act prudently vis-a-vie other people. Because you're not just putting your own life at risk. You're risking my life and my children's life and my parent's life and you don't have that right. You have to act responsibly and to advocate for total irresponsibility, let's all be irresponsible, no. Not here, not now.