May 20, 2020
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Announces Results of State's Antibody Testing Survey at Churches in Lower-income NYC Communities of Color Show 27 Percent of Individuals Tested Positive for COVID-19 An

TOP Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript:...

Continues Partnership with Ready Responders to Expand Testing from 8 to 40 Public Housing Sites Across NYC


State is Partnering with SOMOS to Establish 28 Additional Testing Sites at Churches and Community-Based Providers in Predominately Minority Neighborhoods; Total of 72 Faith-Based Testing Sites in Partnership with Northwell Health & SOMOS


Directs All Local Governments to Expand Testing in Low-Income Communities and Develop Outreach Programs


Religious Gatherings of No More Than 10 People and Drive-In and Parking Lot Services Will Be Allowed Statewide Beginning Thursday, May 21st


State is Convening Interfaith Advisory Council to Discuss Proposals to Safely Bring Back Religious Services


Announces Finalists for Wear a Mask New York Ad Contest; New Yorkers Can Vote Through Memorial Day at


Confirms 1,525 Additional Coronavirus Cases in New York State - Bringing Statewide Total to 354,370; New Cases in 42 Counties


Governor Cuomo: "So be smart. Let's use the numbers, let's research. Where are people who are infected? Where are new cases coming from? Where is the spread continuing? Low-income communities, communities of color. They tend to be high Latino, high African American population. And we are seeing that pattern continue in zip codes, lower-income, predominantly minority."


Cuomo: "It seems like a simple thing, wearing a mask, and it's apparently so simple that people think it's of no consequence. It happens to be of tremendous consequence. It is amazing how effective that mask actually is. Don't take my word for it, I am not a doctor, I am not a public health expert. Again, look at the facts."


Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the results of the state's antibody testing survey at churches in lower-income New York City communities and communities of color show 27 percent of individuals tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, compared with 19.9 percent of New York City's overall population. The data was collected from approximately 8,000 individuals and shows high positive rates and continued high community spread in these low-income communities.


To address these continued high infection rates in low-income and minority communities, Governor Cuomo announced the state is continuing its partnership with Ready Responders to expand testing from eight to 40 public housing developments across New York City. The state is also partnering with SOMOS to establish 28 additional testing sites at churches and community-based providers in predominately minority communities, for a total of 72 faith-based testing sites in the state in partnership with Northwell Health and SOMOS. The state will also work to stop community spread in these neighborhoods by increasing PPE availability, providing hand sanitizer, enforcing social distancing and expanding public health and education in these communities.


Governor Cuomo also directed all local governments to expand testing in low-income communities and develop outreach programs to help address the disparities in these communities.


The Governor also announced that beginning Thursday, May 21st, religious gatherings of no more than 10 people will be allowed statewide where strict social distancing measures are enforced and all participants wear masks. Additionally, drive-in and parking lot services will also be allowed beginning Thursday.


The Governor also announced the state is convening an Interfaith Advisory Council to discuss proposals to safely bring back religious services. A list of the members of the Interfaith Advisory Council is available here.


The Governor also announced the five finalists for the Wear a Mask New York Ad Contest, which was launched by the Governor on May 5th and is being overseen by his daughter Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, asked New Yorkers to create and share a video explaining why New Yorkers should wear a mask in public. Over the past two weeks, the state collected more than 600 submissions from New Yorkers across the state. New Yorkers can vote for the winning ad until Monday May 25th at The winning ad will be announced on Tuesday, May 26th, and that ad will be used as a public service announcement.


VIDEO of the Governor's remarks is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.  


AUDIO of today's remarks is available here.


PHOTOS are available on the Governor's Flickr page.


A rush transcript of today's remarks is available below:


Good morning. It's always good when you know the difference between morning and afternoon, it's a good way to start the day. From my left, we have budget director Robert Mujica, always smiling, because that is our financial forecast, all smiles. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor. From my far right, we have Dr. James Malatras, Dr. Howard Zucker. To my immediate right, Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, who is on special volunteer assignment for the state, working for her father, a very pleasant boss. A little sad today, Mariah and I, because the boyfriend has left the premises, returned to his home state. That's okay. That old expression, you love something, let it go and it will return to you, and if it doesn't return, then it was never meant to be. Words to that effect.


Numbers are headed in the right direction today. Hospitalizations are down, net change in hospitalizations are down, intubations are down again. Number of new cases, down. But it was a long road down, slow decline. Fast spike, slow decline. This was what has happened all across the country. Number of deaths, still painfully high. Not down, up a little bit. The overall direction is right, but this is a painful, painful, tragic number of lives lost and they are all in our thoughts and prayers.


You look at the entire experience, you see we're stabilized basically with where we were before we had this dramatic increase, and one of the things we've learned through this is smart wins. It's not about politics, it's not about motion. You're dealing with a virus, the virus doesn't respond to politics, the virus doesn't have an ideology, the virus isn't red or blue. It is a virus that is attacking people. It's about science, it's about numbers, it's about data, and smart wins the battle. If you follow that guidance and that theory, we're always looking at researching the numbers, where are the cases coming from, how do we reduce the numbers?


You look all across the country, it's lower income communities, predominantly minority, where we're still seeing an increase in the numbers. We looked at that in New York City. We did a very extensive research project and it is true. You can look at where the cases are coming. Look at the testing data, by geographic area, by zip code, and find out where the cases are coming from. We asked Northwell Health, which is the largest health system in the state, to do an extensive test for us. We're in the midst of that test, but we have back about 8,000 tests, which is a very large sample, and the data is very powerful and informs what we're doing going forward. The test was done in New York City, because that's where we have the highest predominance of cases. But, in lower income communities, communities of color, we partnered with the faith-based community, with churches, to conduct tests. We found about 27 percent of the individuals testing positive. 27 percent, that's compared to the New York City general population of about 19 percent. The Bronx had the highest percentage, 34 percent. Again, compared to a citywide average of 19 percent. Then Brooklyn, then Manhattan and then Queens. Staten Island was at the New York City overall number.


But you take a place like the Bronx, it is 34 percent, compared to 19 percent. Just to give you an idea. The data shows not just a high positive, not just that a high number of people had the positive, but the spread is continuing in those communities and that's where the new cases are coming from, okay? And you can literally do that on a zip code basis. For example, you are seeing in the Bronx, 43 percent of the people tested positive. 43 percent. Compared to the New York City general average of 19 percent. Hospitalization rate, 3.2 people for every 100,000. Compared to 1.8. It is double the hospitalization rate.


So be smart. Let's use the numbers, let's research. Where are people who are infected? Where are new cases coming from? Where is the spread continuing? Low-income communities, communities of color. They tend to be high Latino, high African American population. And we are seeing that pattern continue in zip codes, lower-income, predominantly minority. Brownsville, Brooklyn, 41 percent. Double the city average. That happens to be 80 percent African American, but again, just about double the rate of hospitalization.


So that's where the cases are still coming from. That's where the virus is still spreading. But again, you look at the data and you see it over and over again, by zip code, by select communities within the city. My old neighborhood, Hollis, Queens, 35 percent compared to 19 percent. So, it's all across the city. Less in Staten Island, higher in communities of color and lower-income communities. I want to thank the congressional delegation who helped organize this partnership between Northwell and the faith-based community. Getting 8,000 tests in a short period of time is not easily done.


Congressman Hakeem Jeffries came up with this idea about 10 days ago, organized it quickly. I want to thank Hakeem - I also want to thank Congresswoman Velázquez and Congresswoman Clarke, for helping us get it organized. The faith-based community has been great here. Reverend Brawley and Reverend Rivera organized those churches for us. So we have the data, we have the research and now we have to take the next step, okay? We did the research, we have the data, we know what's happening, now what do we do about it? That's always step two and we're going to develop targeted strategies to these highly impacted communities. What we're seeing in New York City is going to be true across the state. Northwell Health is going to double the number of churches that they're working in. Forty-four total churches. We're going to partner with Somos Community Care and I want thank them very much for stepping up. They're going to open 28 additional testing sites in these zip codes that fit this profile. We're going to focus on public housing.


When you think about everything we're talking about, social distance, et cetera. and then think about public housing and how hard it is in public housing to do the things we're talking about. I worked in public housing all across the country when I was the Housing and Urban Development Secretary during the Clinton administration. Social distance - how do you socially distance in an elevator in a public housing complex? How do you socially distance in the hallways of a public housing complex? How do you socially distance in the lobby? How do you socially distance in a small playground that's attached to public housing. We understand the challenge and ready responders are going to increase the testing in 40 public housing developments in New York City.


This is going to be a very extensive effort between Northwell and Somos. You'll have 72 faith-based sites. You'll then have ready responders in public housing and we want to now take the next step which is outreach programs, getting the PPE into the community, getting the hand sanitizer into the community. Explaining social distancing and why that's so important and explain how this virus spreads. It's a public health education effort. I've been all across the state, you drive through some of these communities and you can see that social distancing isn't happening, PPE is not being used and hence, the virus spreads.


Again, we did the research in New York City because that's where we have the predominance of cases. It is going to be true in every community across this state and across this nation. You tell me the zip codes that have the predominantly minority community, lower income community, I will tell you the communities where you're going to have a higher positive and you're going to have increased spread and you're going to have increased hospitalization.


I'm asking all local governments to do the same thing that we did in New York City. Focus on low-income communities, do the testing and do the outreach. Do the testing and do the outreach. That's where the cases are coming from. That's where the new hospitalizations are coming from. That's what's going into the hospital system. That's where you're going to see the highest number of deaths. That is our challenge.


On reopening, which we're doing across the state. We do it on the numbers. We do it on the metrics. Every New Yorker can go to the website and find out where their community is. Capital District will reopen today. We're working with religious institutions. Right now they can have up to 10 people with strict social distancing guidelines at religious gatherings. We ask them to consider drive-in and parking lot services for religious ceremonies. We're going to be working with our interfaith advisory council. Our interfaith advisory council has representative of the religious community across the state, all different religions. I understand their desire to get back to religious ceremonies as soon as possible. As former altar boy, I get it. I think even at this time of stress and when people are so anxious and so confused, I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting. But we need to find out how to do it, and do it safely, and do it smartly. The last thing we want to do is have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected. A religious ceremony by definition is a gathering, right. It's a large number of people coming together. We know from New Rochelle, Westchester the first hotspot, that religious ceremonies can be very dangerous. So, we all want to do the same thing, the question is how do we do it, and how do we do it smartly and efficiently. I will be talking with members of the religious community on doing just that and I'm sure we can come up with a way that does it, but does it intelligently.


People ask all the time, well now we are reopening, what is going to happen? What's going to happen is what we make happen. There is no predestined course here. There is nothing that is preordained. What is going to happen is a consequence of our choices and a consequence of our action. It's that simple. If people are smart, and if people are responsible, and if the employers who are opening those businesses do it responsibly, if employees are responsible, if individuals are responsible, then you will see the infection rates stay low. If people get arrogant, if people get cocky, if people get casual, if people become undisciplined, you will see that infection rate go up. It is that simple. This has always been about what we do. It has never been about what government mandated. Government cannot mandate behavior of people and it certainly cannot mandate behavior of 19 million people. It can give you the facts. It can give you the facts that lead to an inevitable conclusion. And New Yorkers have been great about following the facts, but we're at another pivot point.


Yes, we're reopening. Yes, the numbers are down. Yes, we can increase activity and increase economic activity. What is the consequence of that? It depends on what we do. Do your part, wear a mask. Now, wearing a mask, I have been trying to communicate in a whole different set of ways. Mariah is heading up a project that she'll report on in a moment that is helping to communicate this message. But it seems like a simple thing, wearing a mask, and it's apparently so simple that people think it's of no consequence. It happens to be of tremendous consequence. It is amazing how effective that mask actually is. Don't take my word for it, I am not a doctor, I am not a public health expert. Again, look at the facts. What shocks me to this day and I would have lost a lot of money on this bet. How do front-line workers have a lower infection rate than the general population? If I said to you, who is going to have a higher infection rate, nurses in an emergency room, doctors in an emergency room, or the general population, who has a higher infection rate, nurses in an emergency room, doctors in an emergency room, or the general population, who has a higher infection rate? I think most people would've said the nurses in the emergency room, the doctors in the emergency room, the hospital staff. They are going to have a higher infection rate because they are dealing with COVID-positive people all day long. Not true.


How do nurses and doctors have a lower infection rate than the general population? How do transit workers who are on the buses and subways all day long have a lower infection rate than the general population? How does the NYPD, police officers who show up who are dealing with people all day long, how do they have a lower infection rate? How does the NYPD have almost half the infection rate of New York City? How can it be? They are the police officers.


They are wearing the mask. The mask works. Those surgical masks work and it's in the data. It's not that I'm saying it. It's in the data and it is otherwise inexplicable. Just look at that list. Transit workers are lower. Healthcare workers are lower. The Police Department is lower. The Fire Department is lower, which also has the EMTs who show up first and help a person get into an ambulance. They have a lower infection rate. The DOCs workers are the correction officials, who are correction officers, who are in a prison. They are at 7 percent. State Police, 3 percent. They wear the masks. Wear a mask. Remember all those pictures of people in China always wearing masks? Oh, I wonder why they wear all those masks. They were right. The masks work. They are protective and they work. Wear a mask.


So on May 5 we launched the contest to come up with video messages prepared by New Yorkers to try to communicate the message of wear a mask better than I was communicating the message of wear a mask because my daughters were quick to point out that maybe it was my communication skills which were preventing the effective communication of the wear the mask message. The caveat is my daughters often say it is my communication skills which are the problem in the home, in society at large. So Mariah volunteered to run a competition where we asked New Yorkers to do a 30-second ad and the winner of the competition would be the ad that the State runs. With that, I will turn it over to Mariah for her update and her report. 


Mariah Kennedy Cuomo: Today we are excited to be sharing the five finalists that our team has selected for the New York State wear a mask ad contest and these finalists, which we will be showing shortly, are in the running for winning this contest and being shown as a public service announcement. Starting today people can go to to vote for their favorite ad and voting will be open through Memorial Day. On May 26 we'll be announcing the final winning ad and we are so grateful to all the New Yorkers who have submitted one of the over 600 submissions. And we will be sharing honorable mentions as well so you can see even more of the great videos.


Governor Cuomo: Great, 600 submissions and these are the five finalists that people can view and vote on. Okay, let's see the five finalists.


[Videos Play]


Governor Cuomo: Great, I know that guy by the way. I see him all the time. So, those are the five finalists. People can vote. They go to the to vote. Vote between now and May 25. Winner announced May 26. How many times can a person vote?


Mariah Kennedy Cuomo: Once.


Governor Cuomo: Once, no voter fraud on this election, no absentee ballots, no polling place. Is there early voting? I don't think so. All right, that is great. Thank you very much for doing that. We will announce that winner May 26. Over 600 submissions though and they are really great. I have seen a number of them. We are going to post the honorable mentions also, but all 600 will be available to look at and they are really creative and have different voices from all across the state. So, I want to thank you very much everyone who participated, because they really are, they are special.

Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office