March 16, 2020
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: During Coronavirus Briefing, Governor Cuomo Issues Executive Order Allowing State to Increase Hospital Capacity

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: During Coronavirus Briefing, Governor Cuomo Issues Executive Order Allowing State to Increase Hospital Capacity

State Will Organize National Guard, Building Unions and Private Developers to Identify Sites to Retrofit Existing Buildings and Convert Them to Medical Facilities – Goal of Creating 9,000 Additional Beds

Directs Nonessential State Workforce Statewide to Work from Home Starting Tomorrow

Directs Local Governments to Reduce Workforce by 50 Percent and Allow Nonessential Employees to Work from Home

NYC, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester & Rockland must have childcare, educational services & meal programs in place by midnight and ultimately approved by State

State to Open Drive-Through Mobile Testing Facility on Staten Island — the First in New York City – and in Rockland County

NYS will waive all park fees in state, local and county parks

Cuomo: “I believe we’ve taken more dramatic actions than any state in the United States. I believe we have the most effective response of any state in the United States. I don’t believe we’re going to be able to flatten the curve. Enough. To meet the capacity of the healthcare system. So, this business, plan ahead. Plan forward. Anticipate what’s coming down the road and get ready for it. Expanding the capacity of the healthcare system, for a state, is virtually impossible. Building a hospital is a very elaborate, extensive, expensive undertaking. Again, we need federal government to play its role.”

“Assume the federal government doesn’t do what the federal government is supposed to do. Which would not be a wild assumption as it hasn’t happened to date. Well then as a fall back, the states have to do whatever they have to do. The state has to mobilize to create back up medical facilities and that is what we are going to do. We’re going to organize the National Guard, work with the building unions, and work with private developers to find existing facilities that could most easily be adapted to medical facilities.”

Earlier today, during a novel coronavirus briefing, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued an Executive Order allowing the state to increase hospital capacity to prepare the state's healthcare system to handle the potential influx of patients suffering from COVID-19.

The State will organize the National Guard and work with building unions and private developers to find existing facilities -- such as dormitories and former nursing homes -- that can most easily be converted to medical facilities, with the goal of creating an additional 9,000 beds. The Governor also asked local governments, especially those in the most impacted areas, to help identify available facilities for this purpose. The State Department of Health is also suspending regulations to allow existing hospitals to increase space and capacity.

The Governor has asked the Greater New York Hospital Association President Ken Raske and Northwell Health President Michael Dowling to lead a council to develop hospital surge capacity.

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 of today's remarks will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript is available below:

Happy Monday. I love this new configuration. Less density. Everybody knows everyone who's here. To my far right, James Malatras, President of the SUNY Empire State College. Doctor Howard Zucker, our Health Commissioner. Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor. Robert Mujica, Budget Director. A lot going on. Situation is accelerating. The numbers are accelerating, everything is accelerating and action is accelerating.

First, as I've said before, this is a national problem and we need federal leadership. You look at the countries who have handled this, I don't care if it's China, South Korea, if it's Italy - they were all handled by national leadership. This is a national problem. It cannot be done in a piecemeal method. You need federal parameters to stop the national patchwork of density reduction closings. I did a few national interviews this morning and I was watching the national news.

You see a whole hodgepodge of efforts being taken across the country. This state is doing, this state is doing this, this city is doing this. It's chaos. I think that actually feeds the feeling that the country is out of control. And there is no clear direction and there is no clear path. California is doing this, New York is doing this, Illinois is doing this. It's the same problem across the country. The density may shift temporarily, but it is the same problem. Let the federal government say these are the guidelines. Here are the guidelines on schools, here are the guidelines on businesses, here are the guidelines on travel. Rather than having us scramble every local government, state government trying to figure it out on its own. It makes no sense.

It is also counterproductive, because then what it is does, it allows what I call state shopping. In other words, you don't like the rules in New York, well then you go to Pennsylvania. You don't like what California is doing then you can come to New York. That's the last thing you want. That is the last thing you want. But when you allow this pattern of desperate policies that's exactly what you're driving. And look, I manage the State of New York.

All the local governments in the State of New York must have the same policy. Why? Otherwise, we would be creating this same problem that the federal government is creating. You can't have Albany with one set of rules, but Schenectady with a different set of rules and Rensselaer with another set of rules. People will be confused and again, if you don't like the rule you get in your car, you drive 15 minutes, you're in a different jurisdiction, subject to a different set of rules. So in New York, you cannot shop New York City versus Westchester versus Nassau versus Albany versus Schenectady. It's one set of rules for the entire state. And it should be one set of rules for the entire nation. And that is the role of the federal government and national leadership and it is lacking.

The federal government should put one position in place and coordinate it with the states. If the federal government isn't going to do what it should do, then the states have to try their best, right. And the best way is for me, not only to have a uniform policy within the State of New York, but to the extent you can, cooperate with surrounding states so you all have a common set of practices. I don't want to close down bars in New York, but Connecticut leaves the bars open. Why? Because many people will get in their car and they'll drive to Connecticut to go to a bar. It's the last thing you want. Now we have people who are drinking and driving. It makes no sense. I don't want to have one set of rules here and a different set of rules in New Jersey, because then I close down the bars, you'll get in the car, you'll drive to New Jersey. It makes no sense.

Well then get the states to coordinate themselves. Yes. Very hard to do. Luckily, we have set a template where our regional states work together. Many of you came to our regional meeting on marijuana laws. And I have a good relationship that I've developed with the surrounding governors. So we have actually deployed that here and I just did a call with Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey and Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut and we are adopting the same polices. So, there is no benefit to try to shop New York versus Connecticut versus New Jersey. There will be no more gatherings of 50 plus people. So, if you were hoping to plan a graduation party. You can't do it in the State of New York. You can't go do it in the State of New Jersey and you can't go do it in the State of Connecticut.

Casinos, we all have casinos. If I close my casinos and New Jersey keeps their casinos open, we are going to have the same problem. All casinos will be closed effective 8pm tonight and they will stay closed until further notice. All of these closings, they are until further notice and hopefully I can coordinate with the other governors so we can have the same opening period - just the way we have the same closing period. Gyms are closed effective 8pm tonight. I know that is a specific hardship for the people in this room because I can see you are all in masterful shape, buff even. There are other ways to exercise.

Theaters closing at 8pm tonight until further notice. Any bar or restaurant closes at 8pm tonight. However, there is a silver lining for these establishments because we are also very aware of the consequences for these establishments. So, the State Liquor Authority is going to change its rules, they will have guidance up by 5pm this evening that will allow bars, restaurants, distilleries to sell their products off premises.

So, whatever you could order in the bar, restaurant, distillery, or winery, you can purchase through takeout. And we hope that goes a long way toward alleviating any economic hardship. Stay home and order from your favorite restaurant, order from your favorite bar, order from your favorite winery, order from whatever establishment that you were thinking of patronizing. Just order it and stay at home. And again the Liquor Authority will change their rules to allow that. It is not currently allowed. It is only allowed during this period of closure, but I think it I will help those businesses. As you know, we have done a lot of work with the wineries and distilleries to grow that industry in New York and I want to make sure we protect them.

Now everybody is at home and they are at home with their kids. My kids are a little older but I remember the old days when you were in the house with the young kids. The house can get very small very quickly. The kids can get very rambunctious very quickly. We are going to wave all park fees in all state parks, local parks and county parks. So you want to get out of the house, great. Go to the park. The weather is changing. Take a walk. Enjoy your family and do it in an environment that is not a dense environment, which is exactly what the parks provide.

Other actions, all local governments must reduce their workforce by 50 percent minimum. I am directing all local governments to allow their non-essential personnel to stay home, work from home, with a 50 percent minimum. Local government can go higher than 50 percent but it must be 50 percent minimum. Work from home which is the same thing I am asking private businesses. If we can ask private businesses to do that, government I think leads by example. So not just for New York State government, which will do this also, all local governments, non-essential people work from home and a minimum of 50 percent of the workforce must stay at home.

Second, I am directing local governments to make sure that all their local police departments and emergency management services are supplied with masks, surgical masks. You have police officers who are encountering people in all different circumstances. EMS workers who traditionally wear masks, police officers who traditionally do not. But I was at the New Rochelle drive-thru testing center the other day. If you are a police officer, you are walking up to a car, stopping a driver, they roll down the window, by definition you are within more than 6 feet. You don't know who you're talking to, people are positive who don't even know that they're positive. I want all the police officers who are showing, all first responders, are showing great courage, getting up, great courage, getting up and going out and doing their job every day. I want them to know that we understand the situation they're putting themselves in and we're providing the necessary precautions. So every local government must provide their local police department EMS workers with masks.

New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland must have childcare educational services and meal programs in place by midnight. We said that those schools will be closing but we need to take care of the negative downside of closing the school. This is not an easy decision. There are negatives when you close a school. Most notable you don't have child care for central personnel. You don't have childcare for health care workers. Remember, remember, please, the greatest challenge and the greatest damage is going to be done by an overwhelmed health care system. Nurses, health care workers, 1199 members, don't have alternatives to child care. Public education is also this state's child care system. It's this nation's child care system and it's not that easy to say well let them get a babysitter. They can't afford it, it's hard to find, and we would have created a true negative situation if we lost health care workers or first responders because we closed the schools and they had to stay home with their children.

This is solved easily enough. You're closing schools? Don't close all the schools. Leave a couple of schools open or parts of schools open to provide child care for the essential personnel. We also have to have meal programs and meal services in place and educational services in place. On that condition I ordered the schools closed - but it's on that condition and I want those plans and I want them in place by midnight and they have to be approved.

We strongly advise that only services and businesses that are essential stay open after 8 p.m - grocery store, gas stations, pharmacies, medical facilities. We want people home, we want less density. We strongly advise this. This is not mandatory but it is strongly advised and it's not mandatory at this time and it may be in the future. But it is strongly advised at this time.

Testing - we have had a phenomenal increase in testing. We've been able to use our laboratories. Our emergency management team has done a very good job of reaching out to our state labs, getting them on track, getting them coordinated. Our testing numbers are way up as you'll see. Next week, by the end of this week, we think we'll be up to about 7,000 tests per day which is an exponential increase of what we have done. I made this suggestion to the Vice President. I made it to the President. I often tell you when I am unhappy with the federal response to the state. Fairness dictates that kudos where kudos are due and here the Vice President and the President responded very quickly so I want to thank them for that.

We started a drive-through testing facility in New Rochelle, Westchester, where we have one of the highest clusters - one of the first in the United States. I believe it's actually the first on the Eastern seaboard. It has worked very well. It's safe for everyone. You drive up in your car. You never get out of your car. You're tested in your vehicle. They take the test kits back. The time that it takes to take the test is actually faster than we thought. That doesn't normally happen in government. We allotted 15 minutes per car. It's actually running ahead of that schedule. We want to replicate that because it's just smart. The worst thing is a person walking into an emergency room. If you are positive you infect other people. If you're negative you may get infected by walking into the emergency room. So this is the best way to test someone.

We said we were going to open one on Long Island after the positive New Rochelle experience. We're also going to open one on Staten Island. Staten Island does not have an abundance of hospitals. Staten Island is a community where people drive. And Staten Island, I believe, is an appropriate location for this. I also think that Staten Island feels that they have not gotten the level of attention of health services that they need. I've spoken to Max Rose, I've spoken to Senator Andrew Lanza, and I believe this is going to make a difference. We're also going to open one on Rockland County on the same day. We're going to a new phase of this entire process. We talked about early detection, we talked about testing, we talked about containment.

You see those numbers are going up, that means we're moving towards a mitigation phase, and you're moving towards a phase where you must expect a significant inflow into the hospital healthcare system. Now again, this is the great curve they talk about. Plus or minus. Flatten the curve, flatten the curve, flatten the curve, that's what you hear every day on TV, you see this curve, we must flatten the curve. Concept is right. Flatten the curve, slow the spread so the healthcare system can handle it. When they say this, I don't think of a curve. I think of a wave. And the wave is going to break and the wave is going to break on the hospital system. We're doing everything we can to flatten the curve.

I believe we've taken more dramatic actions than any state in the United States. I believe we have the most effective response of any state in the United States. I don't believe we're going to be able to flatten the curve. Enough. To meet the capacity of the healthcare system. So, this business, plan ahead. Plan forward. Anticipate what's coming down the road and get ready for it. Expanding the capacity of the healthcare system, for a state, is virtually impossible. Building a hospital is a very elaborate, extensive, expensive undertaking. Again, we need federal government to play its role.

The federal government has tremendous capacity. I was in the federal government. I was a cabinet secretary. I worked with the military. I worked with the Army Corps of Engineers. They have tremendous capacity. This is what they do. This is what they do. They build airports. They build bridges. They build hospitals. This is exactly what they do. Deploy the Army Corps of Engineers to come work with states to build temporary medical facilities. Get us backup bays, so when the hospital is overwhelmed, we can have some of the people who are in the hospital beds go to a backup medical facility. It makes all the sense in the world. And if you don't do it, you know what is going to happen. You're going to overwhelm the hospitals. You only have 53,000 hospital beds. You only have 3,000 ICU beds. Why? Because our health system is basically a private system. They don't build capacity that they don't need. They don't build extra ICU beds just in case, and intensive care beds are very expensive. They don't build a wing of ICU beds that sit vacant for 10 years on the off chance that there's going to be a public health emergency and you'll need the beds. They don't. It's not economics. It's not their business model. So we don't have them.

We have the capacity that people use day in and day out. And that's not just New York, that's every state in the United States. You now have this influx, you can't handle it. And you overwhelm the hospitals. You have people on gurneys in hallways. That is what is going to happen now if we do nothing. That is what is going to happen now if we do nothing. And that, my friends, will be a tragedy. We know what lies ahead. Look at the numbers from China, South Korea and Italy. You don't have to guess. You just have to project. The numbers are on a chart. Our numbers are on a chart. Just extend the current trajectory. Just go dot, dot, dot, dot, and you'll see the numbers rise, and you compare those numbers to our hospital capacity, and it's still math at the end of the day. And it doesn't work.

The federal government must do this. Assume the federal government doesn't do what the federal government is supposed to do. Which would not be a wild assumption as it hasn't happened to date. Well then as a fall back, the states have to do whatever they have to do. The state has to mobilize to create back up medical facilities and that is what we are going to do. We're going to organize the National Guard, work with the building unions, and work with private developers to find existing facilities that could most easily be adapted to medical facilities. Meaning what? Meaning dormitories, meaning former nursing homes, facilities that have that basic configuration that could be retrofit. Even that is easy because you have the construction element and you also have the equipment element. It is very, very hard to get medical equipment now because everybody on the globe is trying to buy this same medical equipment. Everybody wants to buy a ventilator, everybody wants to buy oxygen, everybody is trying to buy the same equipment and it's terribly scarce. That's why you go back again to the capacity of the federal government, which operates and maintains a medical emergency stock where they have stocked medical equipment for domestic issues or for wartime. When you go to war and they set up a wartime hospital, they have equipment. They have a stockpile. That's why they're uniquely suited to do this. In any event, we're going to do the best we can.

I need, first and foremost, to find available facilities that can be converted. I'm asking local governments, especially in the most dense area, to immediately identify a number of beds in facilities that are available. Frankly, I hope they're surplus because we don't have - this is very expensive and I don't want to pay money for acquisition of property and real estate. But we need the communities that are most effected to begin finding available beds. New York City, we estimate conservatively, at this point should identify 5,000 additional beds, Nassau 1,000 additional beds, Suffolk 1,000 additional beds, Westchester 2,000 additional beds. Why more for Westchester? Westchester has the New Rochelle cluster which, as you know, has a significant number of people who tested positive. We will do everything we can, but we need federal assets and we need federal assistance.

I am very proud of this state government and what it can do and we have done things that no state government has done before. We've built bridges, we've built airports, we've responded to emergencies. But know what you can't do. We don't have the billions of dollars that you would need to implement an immediate emergency hospital construction program. This state can't do it, no state can do it.

To increase hospital capacity of the existing hospitals in the meantime, DOH is going to be suspending its regulations to allow existing hospitals to increase their space and capacity. DOH has regulations about how many beds per rooms and how much space between beds, et cetera, how wide a hallway has to be. Those are going to be suspended so hospitals can actually use their physical space with more efficiency. We're leaving it up to the hospitals for their discretion and prudence in making these decisions. We do have to get very aggressive about them better using their existing space.

I want the private hospitals to be on notice that we may soon be canceling elective surgery. We are not doing it now. Elective surgery is between 25 and 35% of the beds. Some of the elective surgery is critical. Some is not critical. The non-critical elective surgery may be canceled on a mandatory basis. I'm asking them now as a precaution to start to plan to cancel elective surgery that is not necessary. We will need that capacity in the hospitals when those numbers peak. Michael Dowling, who was the former health commissioner for the state of New York, phenomenal fellow, he worked with my father and was in my father's administration, he was Health Commissioner, he was Deputy Secretary. He's just a jewel of a human being and he's one of the best healthcare professionals in the United States of America. He runs Northwell now, which is a magnificent organization. But Michael and Ken Raske - Ken Raske runs Greater New York Hospital Association, they coordinate all the hospitals. I asked them to convene all the hospitals and now start developing the maximum surge capacity. So if a hospital's capacity is 500, okay, what if we bring in more beds, how many more beds can you hold? What if we brought in more staff, et cetera? We also have a number of efforts going on finding more staff, more doctors, et cetera, not just for the surge capacity but also for the additional facilities we may open.

These are the new number of tests. We're up to 7,000 tests, so it's a dramatic increase, 1,600 new tests. What happens when the testing capacity increases? The number of positives increase by definition. So the number of new cases has gone up from 221 to 950 cases. And you can see New York City is increasing, Westchester is still disproportionate to the population of Westchester that still represents the New Rochelle cluster. Nassau 109, Suffolk 63, Rockland 16, Albany 12, orange 11, Dutchess 10, Monroe 9, Ulster 7. Number of new cases, New York City and Westchester, some in Nassau, some in Suffolk, but you'll see the cases rise in the most dense areas because that's where people are transferring the virus among themselves.

Counties with new cases today - Allegany, Onondaga, Ontario and Wyoming. So you see the spread continues. Most impacted states in the United States, we are now at 950, number one in the country, 676 for Washington State. Again, these cases are more an example of how many tests you are doing and who you're testing rather than a raw number of cases in that area.

Our deaths have increased to seven. Washington is the next highest at 42. Total deaths in the United States - 67. Hospitalizations - 158 out of 950, that's 17 percent of the cases. When we talk about hospital capacity, just take that 17 percent and it's always if you notice, 14 percent, 15 percent, 16 percent, 17 percent, run that 17 percent against whatever you think the total infected population will be and then compare that to our hospital capacity and that will keep you up at night. Hence the situation that Dr. Zucker and myself and my colleagues are in.

Again, perspective, perspective, perspective. I went through the numbers in Italy, I went through the numbers in South Korea and China last night. You look at all these numbers, they're the same story. You look at the deaths in New York, it's the same story. People who had underlying illnesses, if they got the flu in a normal season they would be in grave trouble. Instead they got the coronavirus and they had existing illnesses and they passed away. Remember, before any of this somebody would pass away in a hospital, an older person, and you would say, "How did they die?" And they would say, "Pneumonia." You'd say, "Pneumonia? How did they catch pneumonia?" And they'd say, "Well it wasn't really pneumonia, it was they had heart disease, they had emphysema, they were struggling with cancer, and then the pneumonia comes the accelerant to a bad situation." And that's what's happening here.

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