February 15, 2021
Albany, NY

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

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

6,623 Patient Hospitalizations Statewide 

 

1,270 Patients in the ICU; 875 Intubated 

 

Statewide Positivity Rate is 3.53% 

 

103 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday 

 

First New South African Variant Case Identified in New York City; Patient is Connecticut Resident 

 

Governor Cuomo: "We're proceeding down several tracks at the same time. We want to control the COVID infection rate. Second track, we want to increase the vaccination rate, and third, we want to accelerate the reopening and stimulate the reopening of the economy. Many people have had significant pain and suffering with this economic shutdown. MTA is obviously vital to the reopening and the stimulation of the economy and so we're all clear, they're reducing the period of time of closure from 2:00 to 4:00 AM starting Monday, February 22." 

 

Cuomo: "There is a patient in New York City who has tested positive for the South African variant. The South African variant is the variant that they're watching most closely. The UK variant is very transmissible, transmittable, but the South African variant they worry about how lethal it is and how it relates to the vaccine. But, but, and this is an important but, the patient was transferred from Connecticut directly to a New York City hospital. It was not a New York resident. It was a person in Connecticut who was transferred to a New York City hospital for a procedure. We have no evidence of any spread in New York State to date." 

 

Cuomo: "I have long believed that there's a tension in a for-profit nursing home because those institutions are trying to make money. If you're trying to make profit, it's too easy to sacrifice patient care. Everything becomes one of the other. Do you want to hire more staff, or do you want to make more profit? Do you want to buy more PPE, and stockpile more PPE, or do you want to make more profit? Do you want to buy new equipment, new beds, new sheets, new furniture, invest in the facility, or do you want to make more profit? That tension is a problem and that has to be resolved legislatively because I don't want to leave it to these for-profit owners to decide what's right and what's wrong. Let's learn these lessons. We have to implement hospital reform and nursing home reform and we have to do it in this budget cycle. COVID isn't done with us, implement the lessons now and we're going to propose them in the 30-day amendments." 

WYSIWYG

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today updated New Yorkers on the state's progress during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As part of that update, the Governor notified New Yorkers that a Connecticut resident who is a patient in a New York City hospital has tested positive for the South African variant. There is no evidence of any spread in New York State to date.

 

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

 

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

 

Happy Presidents' Day. Happy day 352. Happy Presidents' Day again. Let's go through the numbers today. We have a number of announcements. Overall statewide positivity, 3.53, good news. Statewide deaths, 103. Terrible news. They're in our thoughts and prayers. Statewide hospitalizations, 6,600. That's good news. Statewide ICU, down 15, intubations down six. Good news.

 

Good news overall. The positivity post-holiday increase has continued to decrease. Congratulations to New Yorkers. We went from 7.9 down to 3.7. That is very good news. Hospitalizations are down. Hospitalized percentages, .04 is the high, Long Island, New York City. Positivity, Long Island, 4.6, second, Mid-Hudson, 4.5. Long Island has been a problem for a number of weeks. It continues to be a problem. And in New York City it's the Bronx, 6.1. That is a continuation. We opened Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, but that is a problem. Manhattan is down to 2.7. Queens, Brooklyn, 4.6, 4.5. We have new FEMA sites in Queens and Brooklyn that we're doing jointly with the federal government, state FEMA sites. Those are going to be very large mass vaccination sites. And Staten Island is below Queens and Brooklyn, so that's good news.

 

Variants of interest. This goes in the new dictionary of new COVID terms. And we've been watching these. There is a patient in New York City who has tested positive for the South African variant. The South African variant is the variant that they're watching most closely. The UK variant is very transmissible, transmittable, but the South African variant they worry about how lethal it is and how it relates to the vaccine. But, but, and this is an important but, the patient was transferred from Connecticut directly to a New York City hospital. It was not a New York resident. It was a person in Connecticut who was transferred to a New York City hospital for a procedure. We have no evidence of any spread in New York State to date.

 

Let's talk vaccinations: 3.1 million, 2.1 million first doses, 1 million second doses. Over 1 million New Yorkers now have received doses one and two, which is great news. There's been a lot of confusion about the vaccinations, and I understand that. Buffalo News wrote an editorial asking questions which, frankly, are commonly asked questions. I've received them a number of times. So I just want to make sure people understand what's happening with the vaccinations. The Trump Administration had said they were increasing eligibility and they were going to increase the supply of the vaccines. States increased eligibility. What happens is the Trump Administration did not increase the supply. The Biden Administration comes in, basically the cupboards were bare of enough dosages. The Biden Administration, in a very short period of time, went back, secured more dosages. They're now talking about getting 600 by the end of July. 600 would do 300 million Americans twice so the nation would be fully vaccinated. But, there are more people eligible nationwide than there are now doses available.

 

Federal government, as I mentioned, increased the eligibility but never increased the supply, so now in New York State, you have 10 million people eligible, 300,000 doses per week. 300,000 people chasing the doses. 10 million people chasing 300,000 doses.

 

How does the federal government allocate doses? The federal government allocates to states based on the population of the state. Population of New York, population of California, you get an allocation based on your population. State allocates to counties, regions, by the population that is eligible for the vaccine. 1a, 1b, comorbidities, et cetera. The federal government set up multiple distribution points when the program first started. Local governments also wanted to be in a position to distribute themselves. This is now the distribution system that we have in place. Federal governments give directly to pharmacies, an allocation that goes directly to pharmacies. Federal government has an allocation to pharmacies for nursing homes, which is called the federal nursing home program. Federal government gives directly to what's called Federally Qualified Health Centers, community-based centers, directly from the federal government. Federal government then gives to the state for FEMA operated joint venture sites. We now have one in Queens and Brooklyn, and we're working for others Upstate. But that's feds directly to those joint sites. Federal government then allocates the state separate from all of that.

 

The state then also allocates to pharmacies. The state also allocates to Federally Qualified Health Centers. The state allocates to hospitals. The state runs mass vaccination sites. And the state then gives it to local governments. The local governments then allocate some to the Federally Qualified Health Centers, allocate them to pharmacies, and locals set up mass vaccination sites. That's why you have this massive distribution network. Many points of distribution, many options for people, but it also creates confusion. Let me have one site where I can go and find out where I can get a vaccine in Buffalo. That's now how the system was set up from day one. That's what creates the confusion. And if I could figure out how to get this slide to advance, that would be good.

 

When does this end? Because the system is set up the way it is, it's not really going to end until you have increased dosages. When you have increased dosages, that extensive distribution network will wind up being a positive and not a negative, because then you'll have multiple pharmacies getting allocations from multiple sources, multiple mass vaccination sites. But, there is a downside to coordination in the meantime. Again, with the additional purchase of the vaccinations from the federal government, June, May, you should see the situation flip where all those distribution points will make it easier for the consumer. But right now, yes, there are multiple distribution points. County runs a site, the State runs a site, the City runs a site, federal government gives to pharmacies, et cetera.

 

The NGA, National Governors Association, I met with the President last week. We sent a letter today asking for more coordination and clarification of this distribution site. The letter basically said, when CDC does their reporting, please separate out all of these different distribution points so it's clearer for people. In other words, when we receive allocations from the federal government, we being the state, some are for the first dose, some are for the second dose, some are for the first dose, some are for the second dose, some are for the nursing home program and then you have the federal government sending to pharmacies and the federal government doing the same thing to federally qualified health centers.

 

We need better coordination between the federal government and the State government so we know what pharmacies they're sending to, we don't send to the same ones. Local government doesn't send to the same pharmacies because some pharmacies do a better job than others. Some pharmacies are already getting a distribution so if the federal government is sending to CVS then I wouldn't send to CVS. We're asking for coordination with the federal government in those regards.

 

On COVID overall, follow the signs, follow the data. My great graphic with the valve that nobody likes. The COVID numbers are down so we adjust. We've opened indoor dining in New York City, we adjusted the curfew. Today we're going to talk about the MTA and increasing capacity there. We have two special guests, we have Sarah Feinberg and Pat Foye from the MTA and there they are. Smiling Pat Foye. Take off the mask so we can see you smile, Pat. There it is.

 

Pat Foye: How are you doing Governor?

 

Governor Cuomo: Sarah Feinberg. Good to see both of you. We've been talking about increasing capacity in the MTA. The numbers are down. Let's start with Sarah Feinberg and then we'll turn it over to Pat to tell us what the thinking is and who wants to go first? Pat, it's up to you.

 

Pat Foye: Governor, let me start and then I'll turn it over to Sarah.

 

Governor, thanks for inviting us today. We're today to update on two key issues, Governor. First is the safety and security of our system and second is a phased reopening of the subways coinciding with New York's gradual reopening from COVID-19.

 

First, a word on the events this weekend. The crime spree that occurred and resulted in 2 people tragically losing their lives was horrifying and shocking. We grieve with the victims of these terrible crimes and their families. I want to personally assure every customer and every single employee of the MTA that your safety is our highest priority. That's why yesterday my colleague Sarah Feinberg, the New York City Transit Interim President and I, sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner Shea requesting that an additional 1,000 NYPD officers be assigned to the transit bureau of the NYPD to patrol subways and buses.

 

As you remember, the MTA began calling for additional police officers in the system well over a year ago. It was the right call then and it remains the right call now. Make no mistake, however, we also need more mental health resources from the City of New York dedicated to addressing the growing crisis facing the City so that those suffering have access to the critical services they need and deserve.

 

We and our customers and our employees need the City to meet its obligations on both these fronts. Additionally, this additional infusion of police officers will be crucial as we are planning a phased reopening of the subways, coinciding with the gradual reopening of the City of New York. We are seeing positive changes as you've outlined, Governor, with the deployment of the vaccine, a drop in the infection rate, the resumption of indoor dining, extended hours for bars and restaurants and the reopening of stadiums and arenas.

 

Today, we are announcing the goal of beginning a phased reopening of the subway on Monday morning, February 22. As we all know, the subways have been closed overnight from 1 AM - 5 AM since May 6. Under this plan's change, the subways will stay open until 2 AM and reopen at 4 AM. At the same time, this 2 hour service suspension will allow us to continue our enhanced disinfecting regime, which is lead the subways to be the cleanest they've ever been.

 

We will never stop doing everything we can to protect riders and employees. Now, I'll turn it over to Sarah Feinberg.

 

Sarah Feinberg: Thanks, Pat. First, I just want to echo what you said and say my heart goes out to the victims from the crimes of the weekend and to their families. No one should ever be victimized in our system and certainly no one should ever be victimized and certainly not in our transit system. I want to thank the NYPD for their effective work over the weekend which led to the apprehension of the individual they believe is responsible for the weekend acts of violence.

 

Since joining the board at Governor Cuomo's invitation 2 years ago and becoming President of Transit one year ago, I've had to be focused on the issues of safety and security to a significant degree. On this issue of crime and those experiencing mental health illness, we started asking for additional resources nearly 2 years ago. By my count, myself and the chairman have asked the City for additional policing and mental health assistance in the subway system more than 30 times in the last 18 months. We've called for more uniformed officers, we've asked for them to be in stations and on trains. We've asked them to assist in the overnight shutdown, but also at other hours.

 

I would point out that our understanding of the transit bureau's current staffing means that at current staffing levels, plus the additional 500 officers added by Commissioner Shea over the weekend, plus the additional 1,000 officers requested by us over the weekend, would bring the number of officers and the transit bureau to nearly 4,000. Four thousand officers is the number of officers we had in the system more than 2 decades ago prior to the NYPD transit police merger.

 

Additional policing will not solve the mental health crisis or the fact that so many in the subway system are experiencing homelessness and therefore are more likely to be victimized. We have to put additional resources to these items as well. To that end, we've called on the City to expand the 311 system into the subway so people using the system, including our own employees, are better able to report those who are clearly experiencing a mental health crisis. We've also called for additional resources to house individuals who do not have other options or those who don't feel safe in the shelter system.

 

Additionally, we've not just asked for more from the City, we've asked for more on our end as well. We surged MTA police officers into the subway system for the last year. A year ago, the Governor called for and the MTA approved, the hiring of 500 additional MTA Police Officers. We began executing on that hiring and hired and onboarded more than 200 and that hiring has now begun again. We've dramatically increased the number of cameras in our system. When our Capitol program had to be stalled due to the financial crisis, Transit took on cameras and started installing cameras throughout the system on platforms and trains. We started tracking incidents in the system in real time so that our officers and security forces could better predict and respond to hotspots.

 

We fought for and in cooperation with the Governor and Assembly and State Senate, passed legislation that will allow recidivist criminals to be banned from the system on a temporary basis. There's no question that we've been doing all we can, but there's also no question that these additional resources are needed in the system.

 

I feel responsible for every customer and every member of the transit workforce from the moment they enter our system until the moment they exit our system. Not only do they need to be kept safe and secure, they have to feel safe and secure. We need our customers to feel confident and safe as they use the system. Whether they continue to use it daily as they're commuting as an essential worker or whether they're contemplating returning to their commute as the City begins to reopen.

 

That confidence is critically important and we know how important it is to our customers because they've told us in survey after survey that the most important things to them are feeling safe in the system from both COVID and criminal activity.

 

We will continue to work on all tracks, policing, mental health and our all of the above approach to cleaning. On our phased reopening on the subway system for overnight service, one year into the pandemic and 10 months into our overnight closure, New York is starting to look at a return to normalcy. As we look at the reopening of the City and the economy, we have been planning in recent weeks for our own return of overnight service.

 

We have determined that certain overnight closure is an appropriate step forward toward the return of around the clock service. To be clear, we will continue our cleaning regimen. We've been doing so for many months now and we will continue to do so. We clean our system 24 hours a day. We clean and disinfect stations twice each day, we clean and disinfect subway cars multiple times each day. That will continue.

 

When we were closed from 1-5, we are able to clean much more efficiently without customers in the system. That window of cleaning will now go from 1-5 to 2-4. We are confident that we can maintain the cleaning and disinfecting that we have been able to do thus far. The CDC and New York State Department of Health, FTA and EPA all continue to advise that we should continue with our all of the above approach to cleaning and we will do so. Again, public confidence is paramount.

 

In order for the City to truly reopen, the subway system has to be safe and secure and our customers need to feel that. To our customers, I thank you for your patience and vigilance and for sticking with us.

 

Thank you, Governor.

 

Governor Cuomo: Thank you, Sarah and thank you Pat.

 

Sarah Feinberg: Thank you, Governor.

 

Governor Cuomo: Well, thank you Sarah and thank you, Pat. The MTA is critical to what we're trying to do. As you know we're proceeding down several tracks at the same time. We want to control the COVID infection rate. We want to, second track, we want to increase the vaccination rate, and third, we want to accelerate the reopening and stimulate the reopening of the economy. Many people have had significant pain and suffering with this economic shutdown. The MTA is obviously vital to the reopening and the stimulation of the economy and just so we're all clear from 2:00 to 4:00, you're reducing the closure period in the middle of the night. It is going to be reduced to 2 to 4. That goes into effect when?

 

Pat Foye: Monday morning, February 22, Governor.

 

Governor Cuomo: Monday morning, February 22. Okay. You'll still be cleaning the trains which is very important. CDC says it, the health experts say it, the COVID virus is not transmitted as much as they originally suggested on surfaces, but it still can be transmitted on surfaces and I think it's very important, Sarah said it, you want to be safe in the MTA system from crime and from COVID and I think the cleanliness makes a very big deal. Also, when you're as old as I am- the trains have never been as clean as they are now. You know, silver linings. It is remarkable. I can't tell you how many people comment to me that you walk onto a train, you walk into a subway station, it looks different, it feels different - I think that goes a long way towards confidence. So kudos to you and to the entire team.

 

And on crime, I can't agree more. When you said, Sarah, we would be at 4,000 would be a level which is going back probably 30 or so years, at 4,000, 4,000 was if the city gave you an additional 1,000 from where we are now, right, you would be, with the City giving 500 more police officers we're at 3,000, not 4,000. If they honored your request for an additional 1,000 above the 500, then we would be at 4,000 and 4,000 is only where we were 30 years ago. Is that right? Did I get it right?

 

Sarah Feinberg: That's right. So you know, obviously I defer to the NYPD on their own employee list, but our understanding of the transit bureau staffing at this point is that they're at about 2,500 officers. With the addition of the 500 over the weekend, that gets you to 3,000. With the additional 1,000 that we're asking for would get you to about the level of officers that were in the system about 25 years ago, 1995.

 

Governor Cuomo: Well look, crime is a problem in the MTA. Crime is a problem in New York City generally. Crime is a problem across the nation, predominantly in urban areas. But if we're going to get the economy back we have to address this problem. You know people don't talk public safety in terms of economic development, but it is the number one issue. If businesses don't feel safe, if people don't feel safe, if your riders don't feel safe they're not going to go to a restaurant, I don't care how many, what we do with curfew, what we do with occupancy, if you don't feel safe, you're not going to get on the subway and go to the restaurant so that is a major concern in many areas.

 

Just please make sure you relate to everyone, to all the workers, TWU, you guys have done a masterful job all through this. I remember Pat got sick early on but you kept the system running. The system has to run. That's how essential workers get to work and you really did a masterful job and I want to thank you all very much on behalf of the people of the state. So thank you and I'll see you soon. Thank you very much for being with us. Thank you, Pat; thank you, Sarah.

 

Pat Foye: Thank you, Governor.

 

Sarah Feinberg: Thank you, Governor.

 

Governor Cuomo: Okay, as I mentioned public safety is a top priority. You want to talk about reopening the economy, you have to talk about public safety. We mandated last year after the George Floyd killing, every locality has to come up with a new public safety plan. It will be different in different parts of the state, but we have 500 jurisdictions that have police departments and I get the tension between the community and the police department and there is no easy answer and there is no one size fits all. But you can't ignore the tension. Ignoring a problem will never solve the problem. That is true in life and that is true in society and that is true in government, so put people at the table, let them vent their issues and they will vent, but then let's come to a collaborative and a consensus and let's move on. Many local governments are doing a great job and again this is a nationwide problem, but it's New York's mandate to lead the way and many local governments are doing a great job.

 

I applaud the New York City Council for putting out a set of proposals. I think that's a positive step forward but you now have to come to an agreement and get a bill signed and that's by April 1 and April 1, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, 45 days to complete.

 

We're also going to be sending amendments to our State budget which is also due April 1. We've had conversations about legalizing recreational marijuana. We don't have an agreement yet but I believe we're making progress. I'm sending an amended bill. Legalizing recreational marijuana is something we've tried to do for several years. It is overdue in my opinion. You have people who are incarcerated for crimes that frankly they shouldn't have a record on. We also need the revenue from legalizing recreational cannabis. It is a controversial topic. It's a controversial and a difficult vote. I get it. I believe if we don't have it done by the budget, we're not going to get it done and I think it would be a failure if we don't get it done this year and I think that would be a mistake. So we're sending up a new bill that reflects the conversations we've had. But I'm hopeful that we can come to an agreement and we can get it done, but I believe because I've seen this movie before, if we don't get it done by April 1 we won't get it done and again that's 45 days. 45 the sounds like a long period of time. In government 45 days is a blink of an eye.

 

On my emergency powers, first emergency powers have nothing to do with nursing homes. I have taken hundreds of actions. The Legislature can reverse any action that I take, not even by a bill, just passing 50 percent of the Assembly and the Senate. They have never reversed a single action. The virus cannot be managed by state boundaries. We've learned that. It can't be managed by county boundaries. We've learned that. I've always consulted with the Legislature. I consult with other politicians. I have no problem consulting with the Legislature. Anyone wants to stand up and raise their hand and say here's my position, great. But these are public health decisions. They're not local political decisions and they have to be made on a public health basis. This virus is serious and I understand these decisions are difficult politically. I get that. It's difficult to close schools. It's difficult to close restaurants. It's difficult to impose curfews. But otherwise people die and these decisions should not be politicized. If you made these decisions by a pole, none of them would happen and more people would die.

 

I want to clarify facts on the nursing homes, which has been an ongoing discussion. New York as everybody knows was ground zero for COVID and nursing homes were and still are ground zero for COVID and losing a loved one is very, very painful. Losing a loved one in a nursing home during this situation was extraordinarily painful. There was no visitation. You couldn't be with the person. You couldn't talk to the person. It was hard to get them on the phone. People in nursing homes are not as conversant and facile on Zooms and on FaceTime. I mean, it doesn't work that way — so I understand fully how difficult it has been and I want to make sure people have all the facts, the facts, the information.

 

This past year, there was a toxic political environment and everything gets politicized and there's political spin and then there are facts — two very different things and I just want to be sure people have facts. Last August, Department of Justice sent a letter to Democratic governors, four of them: New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania asking for information on public nursing homes. New York State Legislature also sent a letter asking for information on nursing homes. We paused the State Legislators' request while we were finishing the DOJ request. We told both houses, the Assembly and the Senate, that we had DOJ request for information and we were prioritizing that. We did give the DOJ request precedence and we told both houses that. The August request, we replied to fully. Separately, DOH got a DOJ letter signed by Jeffrey Clark, the attorney, in October — which we learned about from the New York Post. We didn't even get the letter. The Post called and told us about the letter and that requested information on private nursing homes and we have been voluntarily producing information on that on a rolling basis as recently as January 8 as offered by DOJ —' the rolling basis production.

 

Second, we paused the State Legislature's request. We paused the State Legislature's request. We voluntarily complied with the DOJ request for information. Two very different things, The New York State DOH has always fully and publicly reported all COVID deaths in nursing homes and hospitals. They have always been fully reported. Nursing homes had the most vulnerable population. We know that. Nationwide, 36 percent of the population of deaths are in nursing homes. Do you know what percent of the population are people in nursing homes? 1 percent. 1 percent had 36 percent of the deaths. New York is 34 in nursing home deaths as a percentage of total deaths. 34 out of 50 states. New York I one out of only seven states that counts what's called "presumed fatalities" in nursing homes, where the nursing home presumed the cause of death was COVID. To give you an example, New York State, 13,000 nursing home-related deaths; that's 30 percent of total deaths.

 

Pennsylvania had 11,900; that's 52 percent of their total deaths were in nursing homes. Florida, 34 percent of total deaths in nursing homes. Massachusetts, 54 percent of total deaths. If you look at the entire country, and you look at the percentage of deaths, New York is number 234. If you look at the entire country, and you look at the percentage of deaths in nursing homes New York is 34. You have some states that have up 73 percent of the people who died in nursing homes.

 

COVID preys on senior citizens, older people, weaker people. We've always known that. That's a fact. Now, there is much distortion around what's called Department of Health Memo on March 25 and I want to make sure that we get the facts on this.

 

On March 13, federal Center for Medicaid and Medical Services — what they call CMS— and on March 23, the Center for Disease Control, the CDC, put out guidance sending people from hospitals back to nursing homes. New York State DOH followed that guidance. Twelve other states, at least, followed guidance. The CDC, CMS, DOH reasoning at the time — residents who were leaving the hospitals were not likely to be contagious because at that time, the viral load is so low that you're not contagious and they were going to be what's called "cohorted;" Cared for on areas that are separately with other people under the right precautions. Patients should now remain in hospitals longer than necessary because they can get a secondary infection. That's true all across the board, especially with seniors. They try to get the procedures done, they try to get people out of the hospital before they can come up with a secondary infection that's problematic.

 

The patients were not sent to nursing homes. The nursing home had to agree that they could agree to care for this person. That is a matter of law. They cannot accept a patient who they are not prepared to care for properly: staff, PPE, ability to cohort. That is in the law. If they don't do that, they violate the law. At the time, remember what was going on in March. The experts were projecting that our problem and our critical need was hospital capacity. We sat here every day with the hospitalization chart. We were looking at up to 140,000 people hospitalized. We have less than 50,000 hospital beds. That is the calamity. Remember, March 25, that's right when the New York City Health & Hospitals collapsed. It was national news.

 

I remember it like yesterday and we're watching the TV every night and we're watching Italy collapse and people due because they can't get into a hospital> We're watching China with a hospital capacity issue where they were building thousands of new hospital beds. That is what was going on. That's why the CDC and that's why the CMS made those decisions and at the time, CDC, CMS, there were White House Trask Forces, there were daily briefings, Everyone was focused on this issue. This was not a little issue. All the best minds were looking at it.

 

Fact: of 613 nursing homes, we have 613 nursing homes in the state; 365 received a person from a hospital. Of the 365, that received a person from this March 25 guidance which was superseded in May — 98 percent of those 365 already had COVID in their facility.

 

 

COVID did not get into the nursing homes by people coming from hospitals. COID got into the nursing homes by staff walking in to the nursing homes when we didn't even know we had COVID. Staff walking into a nursing home even if they were asymptomatic because the national experts all told us you could only spread COVID if you had symptoms and they were wrong.

 

 

 

COVID may have been brought into a nursing home because visitors brought it in and didn't know they were contagious because the guidance was, you can only be contagious if you have symptoms: if you're sneezing, if you're coughing. That turned out to be wrong. That's how COVID got into the nursing homes. 98 percent of the people who took a person back from a hospital, who was probably no longer contagious, already had it in the facility and they signed and agreed that they could handle it because they already had people who were COVID positive in the nursing home.

 

If you look at the rate of death before the March 25th order and after the order was rescinded, the rate of death is the same. By the way, if you look at the rate of death in the nursing homes in the spring overall and in the second surge­-the winter/fall surge- the rate of death rate of death is the same. These decisions are not political decisions. They're all made based on the best information the medical professionals have at the time. And in New York we talked to the best experts on the globe and I've said to the people of this state many times, nobody has been here before. Nobody knows for sure. COVID is new. They're all giving you their best advice at the time. And these are really quality people: Dr. Osterholm, Dr. Fauci, all the main institutes that were giving advice to the nation, we had people come from the World Health Organization who dealt with China who came to Albany, literally, to advise us. We are blessed to have Dr. Howard Zucker as our health commissioner. He's trained at Harvard, UPenn, Johns Hopkins; served at HHS, WHO, NIH. He teaches at Columbia and Yale University. If we had to pay him what he was worth, we couldn't afford him. And he gave his best advice on the information that he had at the time. I would trust Dr. Zucker with my mother's care. That's why I trust him with your mother's care. I wouldn't have anyone as the health commissioner who I wouldn't trust with my mother and that's why I trust him with your mother.

 

To be clear, all the deaths in the nursing homes and in the hospitals were always fully publicly and accurately reported. The numbers were the numbers, always. People did request information beyond the place of death - not just where, not just how many in a nursing home. Not just how many in a hospital. They did request different categorizations beyond those counts. "How many people died who were in a nursing home but then went to a hospital? How many people died who were in a hospital but then went back to a nursing home? How do you count presumed COVID deaths?" Everyone was busy. Everybody was here every day. We're in the midst of managing a pandemic. There was a delay in providing the press and the public all that additional information. There was a delay.

 

What did we learn from this entire situation? What are we still learning? There are hospitals that perform well and there are hospitals that perform less well. We still see hospitals performing less well. When you look at those vaccination numbers, hospitals with the same demographics of workforce in the same region with different vaccination rates of their staff, that's indicia of performance of those hospitals. There are nursing homes that performed well and there are nursing homes that did not perform as well. We have to learn from it, and we have to correct it before we have another surge and another pandemic and, by the way, we're going to have another pandemic. As I sit here, I would plan on it. And yes, this was never seen before and yes, hospitals had to deal with something they never had seen before and yes, nursing homes had to deal with something they had never seen before but they will see it again. And now we have to learn from it before it happens again.

 

Our focus, I believe, is going to be on the for-profit nursing homes, low-performing hospitals but also for-profit nursing homes. I have long believed that there's a tension in a for-profit nursing home because those institutions are trying to make money. If you're trying to make profit, it's too easy to sacrifice patient care. Everything becomes one of the other. Do you want to hire more staff, or do you want to make more profit? Do you want to buy more PPE, and stockpile more PPE, or do you want to make more profit? Do you want to buy new equipment, new beds, new sheets, new furniture, invest in the facility, or do you want to make more profit? That tension is a problem and that has to be resolved legislatively because I don't want to leave it to these for-profit owners to decide what's right and what's wrong. Let's learn these lessons. We have to implement hospital reform and nursing home reform and we have to do it in this budget cycle. COVID isn't done with us, implement the lessons now and we're going to propose them in the 30-day amendments.

 

If you're a for-profit nursing home I believe it should be mandated, how much you put back into the facility and how much profit you can make. I believe that. Hospitals that have these issues, they have to improve, and we have to take it into consideration when there's a surge. If there is an influx into hospitals, not all hospitals can handle it equally. And that's why you saw some hospitals fail.

 

If you could do it all over again, just rewind the tape: I understand the public had many questions and concerns and the press had many questions about nursing homes primarily, and I understand that they were not answered quickly enough, and they should have been prioritized and those requests prioritized sooner. I believe that. I understand the reasons. I understand that there was a lot going on. Everybody was working 24 hours a day. Everybody was overwhelmed. We were in the midst of dealing with the pandemic and trying to save lives. They were answering DOJ and nursing homes and the hospitals were also in the middle of Hell, and in the middle of a pandemic. And they were scrambling, and they were managing the crisis. I understand all of that. But the void we created by not providing information was filled with skepticism, and cynicism, and conspiracy theories which furthered the confusion.

 

Nature abhors a vacuum - so does the political system. If you don't provide information, something will provide the information. Most of all, the void we created allowed for disinformation and that created more anxieties for the families of loved ones. I've had hundreds of conversations. People couldn't get into the facility to see their loved one; they couldn't get them on the phone; they couldn't get staff on the phone to get answers. They were powerless. They were helpless. They were literally and physically removed and isolated. Loved ones died alone. Loved ones died alone. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters died alone. It was horrific. It was horrific and then the void in information that we created started misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and now people have to hear that, and they don't know what the truth is. The truth is everybody did everything they could. The truth is you had the best medical professionals and advice on the globe. The truth is, it was in the middle of a terrible pandemic. The truth is COVID attacks senior citizens. The truth is, with all we know, people still die in nursing homes today. People still die every day. We're testing the staff twice a week, there's no visitation, and people still die. You would have to hermetically seal a nursing home - they actually tried this in France - where the staff lived in the nursing home. Anybody can bring it in. A delivery man brings it in; the heating repairman brings it in; the food service brings it in. A staff person goes home, meets with their family, someone in their family has it, the staff member comes back, they bring it in. Even when you're testing twice a week, you'll get people who have it, and you'll miss them twice a week. That is the reality. But, not providing the information creates a void.

 

The void allowed misinformation and conspiracy, and now people are left with the thought of, "Did my loved one have to die?" And that is a brutal, brutal question to pose to a person. And I want everyone to know, everything was done. Everything was done by the best minds in the best interest and the last thing we wanted to do- the last thing that I wanted to do was to aggravate a terrible situation. There is no good answer when you lose a loved one. I lost my father years ago. I still go through it over and over and over again. What should I have done? What could I have done? What should I have said to the doctor? I probably always will. The last thing I wanted to do was to aggravate that for anyone.

0
Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office