December 30, 2020
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces Executive Order Requiring Death Benefits for Families of Frontline Government Workers

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces Executive Order Requiring Death Benefits for Families of Frontline Government Workers

Executive Order Requiring Death Benefits for Families of Frontline Government Workers Extended for Additional 30 Days

More Than 200,000 New Yorkers Have Receive First Dose of Vaccine

7,892 Patient Hospitalizations Statewide

1,250 Patients in the ICU; 702 Intubated

Statewide Positivity Rate is 8.66%

144 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday

Governor Cuomo: "New York pointed out first, it's not a question of reopening the economy or public health. We said from day one it was doing both and we were right and we are still right and now in 2021 the question is, how do you use science and technology to open quickly but safely? How are you smart and safe in reopening? That's the challenge in 2021 and we want to be ahead of it because we are New York and we're piloting an expansive testing plan to give us an opportunity to reopen businesses safely and smartly."

Cuomo: "We're going to pilot the approach at the Buffalo Bills playoff game. A football playoff game obviously is outdoors which is a much better situation from COVID spread and the stadium is a controlled venue. ... We believe we are the first state in the nation to run this kind of pilot. We think it can be very instructive to us going forward because as I said, the premise is we're going to have to find a way to reopen businesses smartly and safely."

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced he is signing an Executive Order to extend the requirement that death benefits be paid out to families of frontline government workers for an additional 30 days. The legislation providing these benefits, signed by the Governor in May (Chapter 89 of the Laws of 2020), would otherwise expire on December 31. The Governor also announced that more than 200,000 New Yorkers have now been vaccinated with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and beginning next week, New York will open vaccination criteria to ambulatory care health workers and public-facing public health workers, including those administering COVID-19 tests.

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 the Governor's remarks is available below:

Good afternoon. Exciting day, a lot of good news, a lot of good things happening in the State of New York and we are going to tell you about them.

From my far right Gareth Rhodes, to his left Chancellor of the SUNY system Dr. James Malatras, Beth Garvey, Special Counsel, Dr. Howard Zucker, to my left Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor, to her left Robert Mujica, Budget Director.

Day 305. 2020 is coming to an end. I say amen, not fast enough, but we are going to create a new 2021. 2021 is going to be literary what we make of it. We're coming out of probably the most traumatic year that we've had in decades, I believe a transformative, traumatic year, and we will see in 2021 what it changes us into and the future is very much a blank page and you you're going to have cities and states and regions all across the world trying learn from 2020 and create a new reality in 2021 and that's going to be the challenge for New Yorkers and we are up to it.

One of the first points we're going to star with in 2021 is we can't keep the economy closed until the vaccine hits critical mass. If you listen to what they say, 'they' in quotes, first was about 70 percent of the population has to be vaccinated to hit critical mass. Some people say it's 90 percent but whatever, 70 to 90, that is a very large percentage of the population.

If you listen to the time frame they're talking about, it started at about six months we'd be in critical mass in June and then went to about September. Now some people are talking about the end of the year. You have massive undertaking that people have underestimated from the get-go to both produce and administer this vaccine. The nation over 10 months hasn't done as many COVID tests as will be required for the vaccination. We haven't done that many COVID tests over 10 months. That's with every drugstore, every hospital doing COVID tests and COVID tests are just the nasal swab. This is a vaccination. This is roll up your sleeve and I'm going to give you a needle and then we have to do it twice so this has been grossly underestimated, how big an undertaking and how long it's going to take.

I think President-elect Joe Biden did the nation a service by pointing just this fact out the other day, that if you look at the pace of production and delivery, this could take years at this rate, so this going to be a massive undertaking for the new federal government but it can't be that we start 2021 with the expectation that the economy will reopen when the vaccine hits critical mass. We can't take six months, nine months, 12 months of a closed down economy. We can't take the economic cost, we can't take the psychological cost, we can't take the emotional cost. We have to be prepared for it, how do we use science and testing to reopen, and to be smart and safe in our reopening.

New York pointed out first, it's not a question of reopening the economy or public health. We said from day one it was doing both and we were right and we are still right and now in 2021 the question is, how do you use science and technology to open quickly but safely? How are you smart and safe in reopening? That's the challenge in 2021 and we want to be ahead of it because we are New York and we're piloting an expansive testing plan to give us an opportunity to reopen businesses safely and smartly.

We're going to pilot the approach at the Buffalo Bills playoff game. A football playoff game obviously is outdoors which is a much better situation from COVID spread and the stadium is a controlled venue. The Department of Health has been working with the Buffalo Bills and the National Football League to come to an agreement on how to do this. We believe we are the first state in the nation to run this kind of pilot. We think it can be very instructive to us going forward, because, as I said, the premise is, we're going to have to find a way to reopen businesses smartly and safely. The agreement with the Department of Health, the State of New York, the Buffalo Bills, will allow fans at the first playoff game that the Buffalo Bills are going to play.

The agreement is for 6,700 fans that will be socially distanced, masked required. But every fan will be tested before the game. Obviously if they test positive for the virus they won't be attending the game, and they'll get the treatment that they need, and and then post-game there will be contract tracing so we'll find out exactly what happened, was there any spread at the game, etc. Again, this is a pilot to find ways where we can smartly and safely reopen businesses. The partnership that put this together, I thank them all: Department of Health, State of New York. Bio Reference is the laboratory that's doing all the tests. The Buffalo Bills have been very cooperative and helpful, and we thank them all. Again, the Department of Health will then monitor the day of the game, and then monitor post-game contact tracing afterwards.

For all the Bills fans, please, everyone, take these measures seriously. We have made progress on the COVID virus over the last few weeks. The numbers are down. We want to keep them down. People don't have to be malicious to spread the virus. Most of the viral spread is from people who didn't even know they had the virus. So, I understand the mood. I feel the mood, the excitement about the Buffalo Bills, it's been a long time, and they have captured a certain energy and charisma that is infectious, but we have to be smart. Not just at the stadium. You have to be smart when you're at home, you have to be smart if you're at a party, you have to be smart at an event. We really have to take this seriously.

We don't want the fact that the Bills are in the playoffs to wind up being a negative in terms of COVID, right? So, no tailgating, no no-mask gatherings, that's not what we want to see, and it's not good for Buffalo, it's not good for Western New York, that's the last thing that the Bill want to see. So let's just be smart.

Two people who have worked on this very hard is Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker and the Budget Director Robert Mujica. That picture of Commissioner Zucker is from when he was saying, "And for you Governor, we have a needle this big." That's what the Commissioner was saying. And Robert Mujica has a slightly dour look on his face. That was after the state deficit report, saying that we have a $15 billion deficit, and that's why he doesn't look happy and peppy.

With that, let me turn it over to Dr. Zucker for some comments on the agreement, and then we're going to be joined by Kim and Terry Pegula to discuss the Bills game.

Dr. Zucker: Thank you very much, Governor. Under the pilot, which was developed cooperatively, as the Governor said, between the Bills, New York State, and Bio Reference Laboratory, 6,772 fans will be allowed to attend the game only after first obtaining a negative COVID-19 test result. Contact tracing will also be conducted after the game.

This is the first stadium reopening pilot plan in the nation that will require all of these measures. Under the plan, the team staff will control all exit and entry points to the stadium. Only fans with a documented, negative COVID-19 test will be allowed inside. Testing will be conducted in partnership with the BioReference lab. Once inside the stadium, fans will be required to wear a mask at all time, and adhere to the strict social distancing protocols. Fans who refuse to comply with these protocols will be removed from the stadium. Ushers will also be present throughout the stadium to ensure that all fans are in compliance. As part of the state's review, personnel from the Department of Health traveled to other stadiums outside New York, where similar protocols are in place, to confirm their effectiveness.

Tailgating remains banned under this plan, and New Yorkers are reminded to avoid gatherings and parties beforehand, during, and after the game, as these events are prime for viral spread. The Department of Health will monitor the postgame fan testing and contact testing and tracing and regardless of whether you attend in person or not, be safe socially distance, wear a mask, no tailgating, no parties of that nature, no large gatherings and be safe and be smart. We look forward to the game. Thank you.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much doctor. Now I turn it over to Robert Mujica, Budget Director and I want to thank you very much. As you heard from Dr. Zucker, no state has done this before. It took a lot of work and lot of creativity so thank you very much, Robert.

Robert Mujica: Thank you, Governor and thank you Dr. Zucker. The plan that we have and the protocols that we put in place take into account all of the guidance that we have, both from the World Health Organization, from the CDC, from the New York State Department of Health, and other health experts from around the world. As the governor mentioned, and Dr. Zucker mentioned, all fans will have to show a negative test 72 hours before. BioReference will be conducting tests in the two days prior to the event for 13 hours each day in the parking lot, drive-through testing. Those results will all be back before game day. On game day, fans will have to show evidence of a negative test. The team will also have the results from the tests, they then will have to go through separate checkpoint, where they'll have to show tickets to enter the stadium. They will be required to make wear masks from the time they exit their vehicles in the parking lots to the time that they re-enter their vehicles and the exit. Fans will be sitting in pods throughout the stadium, so we'll be sitting with the groups for which they came in blocks and they will be separated from other fans by rows and other seats. So, we think that this plan is the safe way for the Bills to have fans in the stadium. People watching the game in the stadium will probably be the safest out of anywhere in the state watching the game because they will have had negative tests. So, with that, I think- it is an experiment, and it will be the first time but this plan that's been approved by the Department of Health the safest way to conduct this and we look forward to the results.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much. I believe, if the technology works, which is always a big if, but it works! We have Kim and Terry Pegula joining us. Thank you so much. Good to be with you. Good to see you, Terry. Good to see you, Kim. Thank you for all the time you've spent, all the work in putting this plan together. I know it's novel but everything we nowadays is novel, but it's another first and good for New York. Good for the Bills. We're glad that we're going to be able to do this and do it together. We're all so excited about the Bill. They have charged the entire State of New York. They've given us good news in a year where we really needed good news. The team is doing so great and they play with such a great energy. All New Yorkers are excited about it and again I wanted to thank you so much for all the help in putting together this plan. I look forward to seeing you out there, we'll keep our fingers crossed but thank you. I hope you guys are excited as we are.

Terry Pegula: Yes, Governor. Kim and I thank you and your staff for working diligently with the Bills organization and getting us to this point. As you know. the entire Bills organization misses the energy our fans at our games. We know they're there, but we want them here, if you know what I mean, at the game. And even though they will be in limited we will feel and deftly soak in their support at this game and any issues that arise is a result of what we're trying to do here, we will passionately try to resolve to pull this off. And I want to tell our fans, remember, our objective here is to support our team in as many ways as we can. And I ask them to be safe, be smart and most importantly be loud. Thank you, Governor.

Kim Pegula: We know that the fans have been waiting 25 years be able to attend a playoff game and we're so excited to be able to allow the limited amount of fans that we can. I wanted to say that we are so hopeful that there will be many more games that all fans can attend. For us to do that, as you mentioned Governor, we all need to be safe starting today, even beyond the game.

We just want to thank you and your team and we want to encourage everyone out there, all our fans that we just need to do our part. Again, wear your mask, be compliant with the CDC, social distancing. We all know what needs to be done and we all need to do our part to get it done so we can have everyone back in our stadium soon.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much, Terry and thank you, Kim. I think that's right. This is a great opportunity to cheer for the Bills, cheer for New York. You're right it's been a lot of years and the message is right. Everybody gets it. It's a time to be smart, which helps us and helps everyone. We're in control of our destiny. How we act is going to determine what happens with this virus. We've seen what happens when we're smart and we're responsible, we can bring it down and that's what we're trying to do. Thank you, we're all excited.

That New England Patriots game was something, I want you to know. That was really something special. A lot of good energy. As I said, I'm going to take my test, I'm going to be out there to watch the game with you. We look forward to it. Thank you very much for what you've done.

Kim Pegula: Thank you.

Terry Pegula: Thank you, Governor.

Governor Cuomo: We have another special message I think, if the technology works.

[Josh Allen video]

Governor Cuomo: Great. Josh Allen. He is playing phenomenal, he really is. Okay, so that is good news and that is exciting news and we hope that works out all across the board because, again, it would be a great template. If we can figure out how to use testing and rapid testing. Rapid testing, you can get the results in 20 minutes from a rapid test. The question is rather than wait 6, 9, 12 months to reopen the economy, can you start to reopen businesses safely, smarty by using rapid testing? That's the question. Again, we can't wait. We can't stay closed down, but we have to be smart and we have to be safe. That's going to be the path for us to navigate.

That's going to be the path all through 2021, I'm afraid. We have the vaccine. The vaccine is the weapon that will win the war, but it won't win the war overnight. We're going to have to deal with that period. Get the vaccine out as quickly as possible, yes. Slow the spread, yes. But also find ways to start to reopen businesses by using testing. That is the smartest way forward and that's what we're trying to find and explore.

The numbers for today, without the micro-clusters, 8.36; with, 8.66. Positivity in the micro-clusters, 9.47. We did 154,000 tests which is a little low, 154,000. We're still not seeing the testing volume that we did have. We had 200,000 tests, 220,000, 250,000 sometimes. We're getting a smaller subset of people who are testing and we're not quite sure of the analytics. The hospitalizations are up 78, but the discharges are up. During the holidays there were not a lot of discharges from the hospital. During the weekends there were not a lot of discharges so the numbers have been bouncing over the last few days.

Admissions, 1,000; ICU, plus 26; intubations, minus 9. If you look across the country, you are apparently seeing what we talked about which is a post-holiday increase. This is the percent of increase over the past 7 days. New York is actually on the low end - good for you, New Yorkers - with an 8.9 percent increase during the holidays over the past 7 days. But you see Maine, California, 13 percent increase, New Hampshire, 12 percent increase, Massachusetts, 9 percent increase. So there has been an apparent increase post-holiday gatherings, let's call it. We have to watch this. We understood that the holidays would bring people together. You bring people together, if they're not careful, you'll have a viral spread. But we're going to have to watch this over the next few days and find out exactly where we are when this stabilizes.

In New York State, Finger Lakes has the highest percentage of people hospitalized. You see Western New York is down. We're watching the Finger Lakes. It's been a problem for several weeks. It continues to be a problem. We've spoken to the hospitals. I've spoken to the elected leaders. But the community has to understand it. And this will change when the community changes it. I mean, it's almost that simple. They know the precautions, they know the facts about how the virus spreads. It's literally what individual communities choose to do. Why is New York City .03 and Finger Lakes .08? They're acting differently. That's not pejorative, that's a factual statement.

You look at the overall positivity, we see a bump up in the Mohawk Valley and the Capital Region. We hope that is episodic. But there has been a significant increase in those areas, and we're going to be watching them closely. Long Island also has taken a jump. So, we are still in this post-holiday, five days from Christmas. We're still measuring the effect of the holiday gatherings, and that'll be clear over the next several days. New York City, still Staten Island, double, what Manhattan is. They're several miles apart. What explains twice the rate, Manhattan to Staten Island? It's behavior of that community. That's a fact. Everybody gets the same message, it's how people respond.

We are very concerned about the potential for the new strain from the UK. I'm sorry it took the federal government so long to respond. New York stopped the flights from the UK earlier than any state in the United States, and I'm proud of that. We had the airlines agree that only people would land in New York who were pre-tested before they left the UK. But the federal government didn't act for days. And it was frustrating because this is what happened last spring when the virus first came here. It came from Europe. It didn't come from China. The federal government was wrong, and the federal government was slow to move with the flights coming from Europe, and the federal government was slow here again in moving with the flights from the UK. 120 countries banned or mandated testing on flights from the UK, and the United States did nothing. They finally did something a few days ago. But, I think it was too late and I think the new strain is here. We've been testing for it. We did over 4,000 tests, 350 last week. And this is a lengthy test, it's not a normal COVID test. You have to study the actual genomes. We have not found the strain in New York. We had several specimens sent to the state lab that were suspected of being the UK strain, but over the 4,000 tests we have not found the UK strain in the State of New York. Colorado, according to the CDC, has seen the UK strain. So it's probably in the United States. We haven't found it in New York.

Other news, I'm extending the law providing death benefits to the families of frontline workers who lost their lives fighting the pandemic, and I'm extending them by executive order for 30 days. And going forward, it's going to be a question of getting those vaccines out, getting them produced by the manufacturers, getting them delivered, well, let me take a step back. Produced by the manufacturers, purchased by the federal government, shipped to the states, and then the states getting them delivered. That's what has to happen here. And we've been working very aggressively. We have over 200,000 New Yorkers have already received one vaccine.

Next week we're going to open the criteria, working our way down the priority list: ambulatory care health care workers and public facing public health workers, including those doing the COVID-19 tests. Also good news, we open the Empire State Trail tomorrow. This is a very exciting trail, there's no trail like it in the country we believe. 750 miles of multi-use trail, literally from Manhattan to the Canada border, from Buffalo to Albany. So, wherever you live in the state it is near you, and I obviously haven't had the chance to view the whole trail, but I've seen pars of it and it is magnificent. If you're thinking of something to do over this holiday period, go out and see it. Again, wherever you are in the state it's near you, and it is a heck of an adventure. I'd love to do the whole thing someday.

This morning we opened the new Train Hall, which is across the street from the old Penn Station. It is magnificent. It was really a moving morning. We got it done on time, we got it done on budget, despite the fact that we had to do it through COVID. As you know, COVID was so traumatic and disruptive, and disrupted construction projects all across the country, all across the world, but we got it done on time, on budget despite COVID. We had planned to do a New Year's Eve party at the Train Hall, which could hold thousands of people. We opened the second avenue subway in Manhattan once at a New Year's Eve party, and we were hoping to do the same thing here. But these are different days. It was the idea of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to use what was an old post office, the Farley Post Office, and it wasn't really being used as a post office anymore, and Penn Station. For those of you who haven't gone through Penn, it is a miserable experience. It is like going through the catacombs. It is just a dingy, dark, gloomy space, and it should've been replaced decades ago. And Senator Moynihan's idea was use the post office across the street.

This particular hall has this magnificent skylight. The skylight is massive, and the reason the skylight was there originally was because it was the room where they sorted the mail. So, people had to be able to read the mail, and they used the sunlight to actually bring in and illuminate the room for sorting purposes. We had to redo the entire skylight; it was a massive undertaking, but it was worth it. It's not only beautiful, it's almost uplifting, and it reminds you of how great we can be, and how we can do great things, and we can do them well, and we can do them quickly. You know, we're still New Yorkers, and yeah, 2020 was a dark day, but this project literally brings the light to the situation, literally and figuratively. We can do great things. We can do better things and more than we even believe we can do, and that's what 2021 is going to be about for us. It's going to be about making a better future than we even thought possible, and now is the time to do it.

So, for those people who travel through Penn, around Penn, you'll see this soon enough. It opens on New Year's Day. But it's something special, and I want to thank everyone who was a part of it. New Year's Eve is coming up. We need everyone to stay smart. Celebrate, but celebrate smart. You see masked people celebrating. A mask kiss, I've never seen that before. Actually, there's a reporter here in Albany, Jon Campbell, I've seen him mask kiss someone. But other than that, celebrate smart. That's our New York mantra. Celebrate smart, stop shutdowns.

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