January 27, 2021
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Updates New Yorkers On State's Progress During COVID-19 Pandemic

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Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Updates New Yorkers On State's Progress During COVID-19 Pandemic
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Following Decline in New Case and Hospitalization Rates, Orange Zone Restrictions Lifted Statewide; 5 Yellow Zones Remain in New York City and Newburgh

Additional Cases of the UK Variant Have Been Found Across New York State, Bringing Total Cases to 42

8,771 Patient Hospitalizations Statewide

1,558 Patients in the ICU; 1,027 Intubated

Statewide Positivity Rate is 5.44%

170 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday

Governor Cuomo: "You see a drop in both the orange and the yellow zones. Turn the valve and these are now existing orange zones and yellow zones. Given the progress, they made, the restrictions are lifted in those zones. The remaining yellow zones, there are no orange zones remaining, the remaining yellow zones, two in the Bronx, one in Washington Heights, one in Queens and one in Newburgh. Those are the only zones remaining. These yellow zones, the orange zones are lifted."

Cuomo: "I understand the situation on the restaurants. New York City, obviously is in a different situation given the density, given crowding, and we're hyper-cautious in New York City, but still following the data. We're going to be talking to all the health officials, we have been already. We'll be talking to them during this week. We'll be talking to the officials, elected officials, I'll be talking to the mayor, I'll be talking to the relevant local electeds, and the restaurant community from a planning point of view, and by the end of the week, we'll have a plan on New York City restaurants. I fully understand how difficult it is that they are closed, not just for the restaurants, but all the people who are employed there. On the flip side is how fast this virus can take off. But we'll have a plan for the New York City restaurants by the end of the week."

Cuomo: "The new strains are a real concern. Everything I said about the holiday surge, we anticipated it. It happened. It's over. The new strains are a real concern and the COVID threat is not over. We still have to be careful about hospital capacity. If we run out of hospital capacity I am telling you today. Why? It will happen. It will happen because a new strain happens and the staff winds up sick. The hospitals will say I don't have enough staff for the beds and their capacity will come down. The only way you prevent that is vaccinate the health care staff."

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that following a decline in new case and hospitalization rates over the past weeks all orange zone restrictions, and some yellow zone restrictions, have been lifted statewide, with remaining yellow zones in New York City and Newburgh where communities continue to qualify under the state's metrics for yellow zones. In New York City, the Bronx, Queens and Washington Heights remain in yellow zones. Existing statewide restrictions remain in place for areas no longer in orange and yellow zones, including capacity limits for certain businesses and restrictions on mass gatherings.

The Governor also announced additional cases of the UK variant have been found in Long Island, New York City, Westchester, Saratoga, Tompkins, Niagara, Onondaga, Essex and Warren Counties, bringing the statewide total to 42 cases.

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 morning. For another 15 minutes. From my left, just to mix it up, because today is day 333, triple threes, Robert Mujica, budget director, Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor. To my right, Dr. Howard Zucker and Mr. Gareth Rhodes. Happy Wednesday. Middle of the week, going to get past hump day today.

Overall statewide positivity, 5.44. statewide deaths, 170. They are in our thoughts and prayers. Hospitalizations down 60, good news. ICU, plus 14, intubations, plus 21. Across the state, percent hospitalized, North Country, .02, Finger Lakes, 05, Long Island, 05, Mid-Hudson, 05, New York City, .04. Positivity, Long Island, 6.8. Long Island, Long Island, Long Island. All the numbers are down across the state, so then we focus on who's highest, obviously. In New York City, it's the Bronx, 6.9 percent, which is significantly higher than surrounding counties and it has been higher for a number of weeks now. So, that's of concern to us. I'm going to mention it in a moment.

Overall, 96 percent of our dosages received are in arms. 96 percent, so we're functionally out of doses and we now go, what we say, week to week. The next week's allocation is coming in today, tomorrow, the next day. It's delivered by the federal government across the state. But, we are now going week to week waiting for the allocation from the federal government. And I have more to say about that in a moment.

It has been very difficult to plan up until now because we don't know what we're going to get next week in allocation. So literally you have to wait to find out what you're going to get from the federal government, what number of doses, and then plan the distribution. And that's very start and stop from week to week. We were getting 300,000, then we went down to 250,000 per week. After we were told we were actually going to be getting more.

President Biden made an announcement yesterday that is very, very helpful in this regard, that we're going to get 16 percent more allocation. So 250,000 per week, up 16 percent. And, frankly, just as important, that's going to be the allocation for the next three weeks. So now at least we can come up with a three-week plan. That doesn't sound great, but it's better than going from week to week. So this is one of the announcements that President Biden made yesterday, and that is very helpful.

The federal long-term care facility plan runs as a separate plan. That is a federal plan where we were vaccinating people in nursing homes, federal government uses pharmacies to run that program. All nursing home residents have been offered a vaccine. 72 percent have been vaccinated. So 100 percent have been offered, 72 percent have accepted the vaccine. Some people don't want to receive the vaccine. We're seeing that all across all subgroups. In nursing homes, that number's 28 percent. Some may change their mind, some may not have been ready yet, some may say "I want to watch other people go first", but that's 72 percent. The staff in nursing homes are being vaccinated in tranches, one third, one third, one third. The federal thinking was, they didn't want to vaccinate all the staff just in case there was a reaction through the vaccine, so they're doing one third, one third, one third. 44 percent have been vaccinated. They'll all be finished or offered by February 7th.

This is the vaccinations to date by the long-term care facilities, and you see there's a variance across the state. But all have been offered, and 72 percent is the overall norm. Some areas have taken a higher percentage, some have taken a lower percentage.

Little context, where we are, because things are changing as they've always been changing for 333 days. If we go back to day 277, which I don't remember, but let's call it December 2nd. What we said on December 2nd was, we were coming into the holiday season and we expected to see an increase through the holiday season, because the holiday season brought more socialization, more groups, more spread, how high would the spike go was dependent on what people did and how they acted, and we cautioned every day, be careful, be careful, masks, celebrate smart. That's what we were saying, and we then started the holiday season, starts at Thanksgiving, goes through really until New Year's. And we said, don't be a turkey, or I said don't be a turkey on Thanksgiving, playing at the Thanksgiving, turkey, be smart about it. At that time, Dr. Fauci said there could be a surge on a surge, if you remember. We came up with a plan for the winter, for that holiday season, and we adjusted the valve on economic activity, expecting a surge. We said we were going to get ready for hospital surge and flex, because the nightmare is always the hospitals get overwhelmed. Micro-cluster strategy, target areas of growth and cautioning about small gatherings, family gatherings, you think you're safe, "I'm only with family". But that can be quite illusory.

There was a spike, and it went from 2.9 percent to 12 percent. That was the positivity rate of growth over those 37 days. We said hospitalizations would increase, went from 2,800 to 10,500. So there was a dramatic holiday spike. We went up that high, but we did not overwhelm the hospitals for a number of reasons. With our surge and flex plan, it was an increased capacity of hospitals, roughly 50 percent. We grew our hospital system but we saw states and we saw countries where the hospital system became overwhelmed. If you did not manage your hospital system and you allowed just individual hospitals to operate, you would have overwhelmed this hospital system. You look at those numbers, 10,500, you would have seen individual hospitals overwhelmed, which by the way, is what happened in the spring if you remember with Elmhurst Hospital. That did not happen and congratulations to the hospital administrators who literally never operated this way before and they did a great job.

That was a statewide phenomenon all across the state. Remember the red line for hospital capacity is 15 percent availability. If any hospital gets to a point where they're under 15 percent availability, then we will go to a red zone and close down. Availability meaning beds and staff, beds and staff. What hospitals will tell you is they always have enough beds because we increased to 50 percent, the red line is really about staff shortages and that's a function of staff getting sick.

We've seen that in some nursing homes now where they will talk about staff shortages because the staff is getting sick. Hospital capacity today, we are in a good place all across the State. North Country is probably the highest at 51 percent capacity. Southern Tier is 43; Long Island, Capital Region, Mohawk Valley would be at 24, 24, 29 - but all obviously better than 15 percent which is the red line.

I think at this point it's safe to say the holiday surge was anticipated, the holiday surge did happen, but the holiday surge is over. If you look at the numbers over the past week, you see positivity on the decline, our high point was 7.9, we're down to 5.6. You see the hospitalization rate on the decline, first the increase slows, we've even had some negative days. Every curve in every region, this is not just scribbling of a 4th grader - different curves in different regions, but every curve statewide is down. That's good news.

We will then adjust the valves to those facts. This is not emotion, it's not anecdotal - follow the facts, follow the science and follow the numbers. The micro-cluster zones are down all across the State. You look at where they were, Erie County was 7.8, they're down to 5.1. Chemung was 7.1, they're down to 4.3. These are dramatic. Onondaga 8.8, down to 4.4. That's true all across the board. Monroe was up to 10.5, down to 4.5. On the yellow zones, Oneida, 11 down to 5. You see a drop in both the orange and the yellow zones. Turn the valve and these are now existing orange zones and yellow zones. Given the progress, they made, the restrictions are lifted in those zones. The remaining yellow zones, there are no orange zones remaining, the remaining yellow zones, two in the Bronx, one in Washington Heights, one in Queens and one in Newburgh. Those are the only zones remaining. These yellow zones, the orange zones are lifted.

New York City restaurants, I understand the situation on the restaurants. New York City, obviously is in a different situation given the density, given crowding, and we're hyper-cautious in New York City, but still following the data. We're going to be talking to all the health officials, we have been already. We'll be talking to them during this week. We'll be talking to the officials, elected officials, I'll be talking to the mayor, I'll be talking to the relevant local electeds, and the restaurant community from a planning point of view, and by the end of the week, we'll have a plan on New York City restaurants. I fully understand how difficult it is that they are closed, not just for the restaurants, but all the people who are employed there. On the flip side is how fast this virus can take off. But we'll have a plan for the New York City restaurants by the end of the week.

Good news, President Biden announced yesterday, we had an NGA, National Governors Association call with the White House team, and then President Biden made a public statement, but first they announced what's called FEMA aid. This will provide funding to New York State to perform vaccines, about $450 million. It's actually advancing a reimbursement. The federal government had been reimbursing. New York State would pay out the money to do the vaccine, the federal government would then reimburse. They're going to advance us the money rather than reimburse, which is helpful. They're going got provide funding assistance for the National Guard. States are relying on National Guard much more heavily than they normally do. There's a cost to using the National Guard, and that cost is normally borne by the state. The federal government is going to pay for the cost of using the National Guard, and that's very helpful, because one of the constraints, one of the factors that is relevant to a governor is obviously the cost of operations. Deploying the National Guard can be expensive. So now we have more liberty to use the National Guard. We don't have to worry about the economic consequences to the state budget as much.

Also, the Biden Administration announced that the federal government had not ordered enough vaccine to vaccinate 100 percent of the country, which was really shocking when you think about it. Federal government had only ordered 400 million vaccines. You have 300 million people in the country. Right now, people require two doses. 300 times two is 600 million. They had only ordered 400 million. That doesn't get you to vaccinate the entire population. President Biden announced that they are going to actually order 600 million, which is what you need, and they would be coming in by about six months. So, first it was good news that the federal government is actually ordering enough vaccine because that's what the governors are concerned about just, literally give us the supply. The federal government doesn't produce it but they do purchase it; A state cannot purchase vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna are operating under something called an Emergency Use Authorization. They cannot sell the vaccine. I contacted Pfizer and Moderna and asked to purchase it, they cannot legally sell it. Only the federal government can purchase it and distribute it, and the federal government had not ordered enough to do the entire population. So that was good news.

It's going to take six months to get the full supply but at least we know that there is an end point where we're going to get the kind of supply that we need. This is all great news from the federal government, but the federal government really is key right now in what they do.

The most important thing for the federal government to do is to provide state governments with financial assistance. Every state has paid a dear cost of COVID, just on the economics. Tears address to lives lost. The economics, New York State needs $15 billion to do a budget this year, and that's called state and local financing, and that's going to be key. And the federal government has to repeal the assault on New York when they passed a punitive tax measure ending state and local deductibility. So, those are the two big things and whenever I talk to the federal government, I remind them of those two things. I can assure you.

The Biden administration also announced a 16 percent increase in our allocation, as I mentioned, for next week and the following two weeks, so now we can actually plan. Now I can turn around and say to local governments, you have 16 percent more for the next three weeks, plan on it, and schedule appointments for it. Do not schedule appointments beyond the 16 percent increase because the only thing that can aggravate people more than not being able to get an appointment is people getting an appointment and then you cancel the appointment. So, don't schedule beyond the 16 percent increase, but schedule for your current allocation plus 16 percent over the next three weeks and that's for provider in city departments of health and county departments of health. To local governments, make sure social equity exists in your distribution. This requires forethought and additional planning, but we want to make sure that social equity is maintained in the distribution and availability of the vaccine. The state is open to partner with local governments to achieve social equity. If a local government believes is an area that has received uneven coverage, let us know. We'll partner with you, especially now that the National Guard has been freed up from an economic point of view. The National Guard is great at setting up logistical mass sites, that's what they do. They do it with military precision, pardon the pun, but we could partner with you to do that.

I spoke to Mayor de Blasio in New York City about doing a site at Yankee Stadium together where we set it up and make a real difference in through Yankee Stadium at a mass vaccination site. As I mentioned before, the Bronx has a very high positivity. Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx and we want to get that positivity rate down in the Bronx. So, partnering at Yankee Stadium mass site, state and the city, but the state will do that with any local government across the state that has that kind of situation. They should let us know.

The 16 percent increase does not solve the fundamental anxiety that has been created here which was due to the prior administration making so many people eligible with so little supply. Remember the prior administration said 65 plus, plus essential workers and healthcare workers were eligible. In this state that 7 million people. They said they would increase the supply to the state. We were receiving at that time 300,000, they said there was a reserve that they would send. That never happened. We didn't get more than the 300,000. We actually got less. They dropped us from 300,000 to 250,000. So, now you have 7 million people who have been told they are eligible for the vaccine, but the vaccine is scarce. So they go to websites they make calls all day trying to get an appointment for a vaccination, but there is no supply for the 7 million and they never did increase the supply.

Even when you increase the 250 to 300 with the 16 percent, you are still talking about multiple weeks before we can cover just the existing eligible population. We anticipated this. January 15th I said, everyone will say, I don't have enough still saying. Hospitals will say it. Local governments will say it. I will say it and by the way, I'm saying it. I said it on January 15th and I'm still saying it. We don't have enough.

What was startling was President Biden's announcement that the federal government hadn't even ordered enough which is really staggering, but we are where we are, my friends. And this is not just true in New York. This is every state in the country. Some states are still administering their inventory. They haven't used everything they've received. That's not the case in New York. We're functionally out today. When you get to 96 percent, you're out, so you're reliant on what you're going to get the next week. Also, we saw this coming, January 8th when they announced the eligibility, I announced Matilda's rule. Matilda is my mother who is 65-plus. She doesn't like that I say she is 65-plus. I am 63. Mathematically, it would be impossible for my mother not to be 65-plus. So mom, I don't think I'm giving anything away about your age when I say you're in the 65-plus group, but that's a personal family issue. I announced Matilda's Rule which was saying she was eligible, but making the point January 8 that we don't have the supply to get to everyone who is eligible, and we wouldn't for weeks unless the federal supply was increased. So this is not new. I asked on January 8, calibrate our expectations and I ask the same thing here.

The new strains are a real concern. Everything I said about the holiday surge, we anticipated it. It happened. It's over. The new strains are a real concern and the COVID threat is not over. We still have to be careful about hospital capacity. If we run out of hospital capacity I am telling you today. Why? It will happen. It will happen because a new strain happens and the staff winds up sick. The hospitals will say I don't have enough staff for the beds and their capacity will come down. The only way you prevent that is vaccinate the health care staff. That's why the first priority 1a was health care staff. When this started it was nursing homes and health care workers because they are the priority. Health care workers because they are exposed at a much greater factor than anyone else and if a nurse get sick or a doctor gets sick that's a super spreader and the hospital capacity comes down.

We have made good progress on vaccinating health care workers. We still see a disparity in the percentage of health care workers by facility. That is still of concern. We all have a 50 percent differential among facilities in the same region and that is inexplicable to me. I understand there's some demographic differences among staff and there are demographic differences among acceptance of the vaccine. But not 50 percent. Not within the same region. And we need the local governments to help in this regard. They have to look into the lower performing hospitals and get that number up on that disparity. In some regions it's not as bad as others. You see Capital Region, the high is 85, the low is 74; Central New York, 99 to 65; Finger Lakes, 85 to 48, or 50. You know, what accounts for that, and I need the local governments, county department of health in this case to check into this and help us. Long Island, 100 to 50, literally a 50 percent differential. Because we want to get this number up. This is possible. This does jeopardize the hospital capacity in these areas and if you're going to see a hospital run out of capacity, it's going to be these hospitals where the staff have been vaccinated at a lower percentage, and again it's almost a 50 percent differential in some areas and some areas it's even worse. What explains that? And you'll have hospitals by the way that are part of the same system. There are hospital systems that have a number of hospitals, so within the same system you'll have hospitals that are at 100 and you'll have hospitals that are half that, owned by the same company. So I need local governments to help on that. North Country, 89 to 54, 62, 65, 67. Southern Tier, 100 to 47, 47, 54. Western New York, 88, 42. 842.

Also, by the way, these numbers are submitted by the hospitals under penalty of perjury. These numbers are as of yesterday. Now, if you asked them today the number may have coming up a little bit. If you asked them tomorrow, it may have gone up a little bit, but these were the numbers as of yesterday reported by that hospital under the penalty of perjury so it's not a question of State numbers versus local numbers versus someone else. This is their number. Period. There shouldn't be any confusion.

Great quotes from me, "don't be a turkey," one of my most rhetorical expressions but appropriate for Thanksgiving. "Don't get cocky with COVID." These new strains are something to be aware of and something to anticipate and something to watch. We don't know exactly what is going on with the new straits and the concept of not knowing is very troubling for me but we haven't known what was down the road with COVID from day one. Let's be honest. From before day one, we didn't know that COVID was coming here from Europe for three months. And that's why New York had the explosion it had. We have been behind the curve on this virus from day one. Health care professionals will say, you just don't know. People have opinions but this is a virus that mutates and you don't know what it's going to do next week. This is a hard concept.

One of my daughters who shall go nameless called me up and said, and she was obviously amped up and she said, you know, dad, what's going on with this Brazil strain now and the South African strain and the UK strain, first they said it was not more dangerous, now they're saying it maybe is more dangerous, may be more lethal, they said don't worry, the vaccine takes care of it, and now they say maybe the vaccine doesn't take care of it. And she said, what's the truth? I said I don't know. You're right. They say this and then they change because they don't know and I don't know. She said to me, well if you don't know, who knows? First she thought I knew, but I wasn't telling her like it was a state secret. I said no, I really don't know and then she was more anxious and she said well if you don't know, who knows? I said nobody knows. And yes, this produces anxiety produces anxiety. It produces anxiety for me, you know we like to have control in life, right? That's a human condition, you don't like the anxiety of just not knowing. But we don't know. I can tell you where we are today. I can tell you that we're watching these strains. I can tell you that I've seen this with the health officials, and I talk to all of them. The best international minds on the globe, from World Health Organization to the best epidemiologists, all the talking heads you see on TV - I talk to all of them. They don't know. But, there's a big question mark on these new strains. And when CDC and Dr. Fauci say the UK strain may be the dominant strain by March, that's a big question mark, because that would suggest we're going to see the numbers go up.

So yes, it creates anxiety. And all I can tell you is, we watch it and we adapt. This COVID beast has morphed four times since we've been dealing with it. We just went through a morphing during the holiday season. If it changes, we will change, right?

We changed our plan in the winter to deal with the surge, it worked. The surge is down, we can reopen and calibrate to today, but tomorrow could be different. Tomorrow will be different if you asked me. And if something changes, we will change. We can only make decisions based on the facts we have today. If the strains come up with a different set of facts, then we will adjust to the new facts.

Vaccine will take six to nine months, by the production rate of Pfizer and Moderna. The federal government has put in the order, the federal government is buying it, the production rate is the factor that affects the federal supply, right? The White House doesn't make this in their basement. They ordered it, Pfizer and Moderna manufacture it, maybe Johnson and Johnson, which would be great, single dose, no cold storage, which is a very big deal.

But right now we're looking at six to nine months for the vaccine by the supply. We could do literally millions and millions of doses a month, we could probably vaccinate all of New York in a month. Remember we've done as many as 300,000 COVID tests a day, COVID test, nasal swab tests. We did 300,000 per day, we could use those sites to do vaccinations. So we could literally do millions. We'll never get that level of supply, because the federal government won't get that level of production.

Again, it would have been nice if the federal government had placed the order earlier, but President Biden is where he is also, so we're looking at six to nine months. I'm not going to wait six to nine months, and we're not going to wait six to nine months to reopen the economy, we're going to calibrate that valve with the facts, and we're going to start to build assuming the post-COVID reality, because COVID will transform the landscape. A lot of these changes are not going back in the box.

Zoom doesn't go away. This whole remote work style doesn't go away. People have adjusted to a new way of living, a new way of working, and that is going to change the economy. We want to anticipate those changes, not deny those changes, and adjust for it. In our cities, we have to start getting the arts and culture open again. That is what makes a city a city. If you don't have arts and culture, why be in a city? Move out, get more space, if you can't enjoy the assets of a city, and we're seeing that. We're going to start opening the arts, especially in New York City, I outlined a whole plan in State of the State, with our pop-up arts. We're building, it's about building, literally, the future, and we have the most reconstruction and construction program in the nation, and we're starting that now.

I think the federal government will have federal infrastructure funding, but also we're not waiting, because the future is what we make it, I fully believe that. I believe in our capacity and our potential, because we've demonstrated it. We get things done. We can build. And we're going to go ahead and start now, and not wait for anyone, because that's not what we do. We're New York tough, smart, united, disciplined, loving.

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