December 9, 2020
Albany, NY

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

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

4,993 Patient Hospitalizations Statewide

952 Patients in the ICU; 521 Intubated

Statewide Positivity Rate is 5.44%

95 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday

Governor Cuomo: "Fifty percent of the population says right now they don't want to take the vaccine. They don't trust the approval process, they're worried about vaccines in general, but 50 percent are now saying they don't want to take the vaccine. You cannot get to 75 percent if 50 percent don't take it. ... So we need a real public education to dispel the skepticism that already exists."

Cuomo: "This has to be done in a way that protects social justice. The health care system discriminates against Black, brown and poor communities. By effect you have fewer health care facilities in poor communities. That is a fact. Higher death rate in these communities, higher infection rate in these communities, higher percentage of essential workers in these communities. We want to make sure when we do the vaccine that it is done in a just and fair and equal way."

Cuomo: "I can't think of a government operation that has been commenced that is more difficult and intricate than what governments will be asked to do here. ... New York has been very good at scaling up and we've been very good at tackling challenges during COVID, like COVID testing, but this is going to test capacity all across the board."

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo updated New Yorkers on the state's progress during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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 to be with all of you. For those of you who may not know people who are with us today, from my very far right, Mr. Gareth Rhodes; Chancellor Jim Malatras; Commissioner Howard Zucker, Commissioner of Health, Dr. Zucker; to my left Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor; to her left Robert Mujica, Budget Director.

Today is day 284 of the COVID crisis experience journey. As I mentioned I'll be doing regularly scheduled briefings Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 11:30. Depending on the circumstances we may do additional briefings. We're now following additional CDC guidance that they have been updating and offering, very partitions that we now have which are part of CDC guidance.

The numbers for New York State for today, the statewide positivity without the micro-cluster zones which are our high intensity zones is 4.86. If you include statewide with those high intense owns it's 5.4 percent. The positivity in those micro-cluster zones is 7 percent.

We did 194,000 tests. Again New York does more testing than any other state. That gives us more data, more information, we make decisions based on the data, the more tests the more data. Statewide deaths, 95. That is a sad number. Number one numbers of death is a said number. Number 95 is extremely sad and those New Yorkers are in our thoughts and prayers. Hospitalizations up about 158, ICU up 46, intubations up 28.

We now are conducting three COVID operations basically at the same time. First, we're managing hospitals under what we call "surge and flex" program. This is a hospital capacity crisis and more and more it's becoming a greater crisis for hospitals as their capacity is further diminished. We sent a letter to all the hospitals in the state talking to them about the situation and what they're going to need to do. They're going to have to be extraordinarily flexible and nimble to handle the additional case load that is coming up. Hospital systems have to work as a system and balance caseload among hospitals in their system. We then may get to the point where we have to shift patients before they're admitted to hospitals to other hospitals that have a greater capacity, so it is a management logistical nightmare and the more cases go up, the harder it gets. We released a letter that went to all hospital administrators and there's going to be a meeting with them today. So that's one operation that's going on.

Second operation is continuing to work to slow the spread of the virus. We have the Thanksgiving surge if you will and we're starting to see the full effect of that now and we're analyzing the data on the Thanksgiving spread. We also talked to, literally we've been blessed with international experts who have given us guidance and are looking at our data and our situation and actually recommend adding new factors to our plan which I think is good advice and we're going to do that and will announce a new plan on Friday.

And then third, we have the vaccine which is the weapon that will win the war. If people take it, if we get it produced, if we get it delivered, distributed and actually in people's arms, right, so those are the big ifs and that's what we are working on and that's what we want to talk to you about today with the vaccine.

First, we're going to have a real public education campaign to battle of the skepticism. Just think of the math on this - you have to get to 75 to 85 percent of the overall population vaccinated for the vaccine to be affective. Fifty percent of the population says right now they don't want to take the vaccine. They don't trust the approval process, they're worried about vaccines in general, but 50 percent are now saying they don't want to take the vaccine. You cannot get to 75 percent if 50 percent don't take it. Even I can do that math. So we need a real public education to dispel the skepticism that already exists.

Second and very important to us here in the state of New York, this has to be done in a way that protects social justice. The health care system discriminates against Black, brown and poor communities. By effect you have fewer health care facilities in poor communities. That is a fact. Higher death rate in these communities, higher infection rate in these communities, higher percentage of essential workers in these communities. We want to make sure when we do the vaccine that it is done in a just and fair and equal way.

And third, we want to expedite it. It's a massive undertaking. I think frankly people have not focused enough on the extent of what this undertaking means. I can't think of a government operation that has been commenced that is more difficult and intricate than what governments will be asked to do here. The scale of vaccinating every person in your state is just massive. New York has been very good at scaling up and we've been very good at tackling challenges during COVID, like COVID testing, but this is going to test capacity all across the board.

The way the vaccine is going to work is the federal government will be responsible for the procurement and the distribution. The military is doing the transportation. They're actually using private companies in part. Fed-Ex, other private companies, to distribute the vaccine to the different states. The federal government looks to the state to set the distribution locations. They will send it where we ask them to send it. We then set the priorities for not only where it goes but who gets it as a first set of priorities. Our priorities have basically tracked the federal governments suggestion on prioritization.

The first shipment is allocated on the base of number of health care workers and nursing home residents in the state. The first allocation is for nursing home residents, nursing home staff and high-risk health care workers. That's how we're allocating what Buffalo gets versus Monroe versus Essex versus New York City.

The state has set up 90 regional distribution centers that are capable of cold storage. This is a different definition of cold storage. This is like really, really cold storage. Not every facility can do it. Not every hospital can do it. We've identified 90 regional centers that can keep the vaccine at the required temperature and they'll act as distribution centers for that region.

Pfizer's vaccine is expected to be approved by the FDA tomorrow. Immediately after that, our New York State panel will convene and review and approve it. They've already been speaking to the FDA about the process. I think the New York panel as a second panel to approve is going to go a long way toward battling that skepticism about the approval process. We hope that it does.

If the FDA approves, it's expected to be 6 million doses available nationwide. Half of those will ship immediately, the other half will be held for the second dose for those individuals who receive the first dosage. Remember, everyone who gets this vaccine, you have to get two vaccines. They'll ship now the number of vaccines to do the first vaccination; they will then ship the - 21 days later - the appropriate amount to vaccinate the people who received the first vaccination.

New York expects the initial allocation of 170,000 doses. The federal government is doing the allocation based on state population. Again, they distribute it to the state, the state then turns around and does an allocation within the state. It could arrive as soon as this weekend. That assumes the FDA does act right away. The FDA does approve it and the military turns around and ships it immediately. It could actually be coming this weekend. Further allocations will be in the following weeks.

Our state priority: Nursing home residents first, nursing home staff. There was a discussion about if you do the residents or do you do the staff. New York, we decided to do both residents and the nursing home staff. Then you go to high-risk hospital workers. We have about 700,000 hospital workers in this state so its's a very large population. We'll prioritize the high-risk hospital workers within that overall health care population. We have rules that we have established that we will send to hospitals about what is a quote, unquote high-risk health care worker. The hospitals will select the actual individuals who will get the first vaccines within that guidance. Emergency room workers, ICU staff, pulmonary department staff.

The allocation by region, again, this is based on number of nursing home residents, number of nursing home staff and number of high-risk health care workers. The 90 locations across the state that can provide the cold storage will receive enough doses for roughly 90,000 patient-facing hospital staff. That is 40 percent of the total hospital patient-facing workforce of 225. The 225,000 is a subset of the overall 700,000, obviously. By the end of week two, if all goes well and the federal government sticks to the schedule, we expect all high-risk staff will receive the vaccination. Staff at every hospital will have access to the allocation, even if their hospital doesn't have this cold storage capacity. They will have access to the vaccine by a hospital in their region that does have that storage capacity. After we take care of all the high-risk healthcare workers, we'll then move to all long-term and congregate care staff and residents. NEMS and other healthcare workers and then essential workers, general population, starting with those who have the highest risk.

The federal government offered a program that New York State opted into, whereby pharmacies will do the vaccinations in nursing homes, which will take a burden off the nursing home staff, and New York has opted into that program. It's run by the federal government, but basically they subcontract with private companies to do the vaccinations in nursing homes. Flu vaccine we do this way. New York by participating in that program, we provide part of our allocation to that program, so we actually have enough vaccinations to cover all residents. Part of the future allocations will ensure enough doses to make sure we complete that program. Completion is all nursing home residents and staff.

We expect deliveries to begin next week. The federal administration says they're going to start by 12/21. New York is dedicating part of our initial allocation to the program, but we do expect to have enough to cover all residents and all staff. The staff is actually vaccinated on a rolling basis to make sure they have staff that's receiving the vaccine and staff that's working at all times.

We're also pleased that the New York National Guard has been selected by the Department of Defense as a pilot program where they will vaccinate people from the National Guard who have been working on our COVID-19 task force. And New York is pleased to participate in that. And the National Guard who have been doing a phenomenal job for the past nine months as we've worked through this barrage, they'll be eligible for the vaccine also.

The fairness of the vaccine is paramount, and I mentioned it before, but we have to make sure this nation understands that we can't make the same mistake twice. Death rate among Blacks, twice what the death rate among whites is from COVID. Death rate among Latinos, one and a half times the death rate among whites. COVID testing, fewer tests taken in the Black and Latino and poor communities. It was just a manifestation of the disparity in healthcare, and it has to be corrected during the vaccination program. we have to get into public housing. We have to partner with Black churches and Latino churches, community groups. This has to be a fair distribution, and New York will lead the way. We've made these concerns known to HHS, I've sent letters, I've done speeches, I'm working with civil rights groups across the state. Made these points to Congress on several occasions, we're working with the NAACP, Mr. Johnson, we're working with the Urban League, Mayor Marc Morial. But this is a point that we have to bring home and we have to be successful.

We do have good news that we waged a similar effort on the rules for vaccinations for undocumented people. The way the federal government constructed the program, basically they wanted the states to collect social security numbers, passport numbers or driver's license numbers for anybody vaccinated. These are all bells for people who are undocumented, alarm bells. And it sounded like you were trying to use the vaccination to identify undocumented people. We have gone through this with the federal government at length wit the trusted traveler program previously. If undocumented people don't get vaccinated, it compromises their health and it compromises the whole program. again, the program only works if you hit a critical mass of the population. If you say, well, the undocumenteds we're going to exclude practically because they don't come in and participate, you have 50 percent of the population that's skeptical, if we're not going to reach out to the Black, Latino and poor communities, it's never going to be a success. So, we raised this point again. We did letters. I did speeches. I've spoken out publicly and HHS has agreed. The CDC specifically has agreed that the State will not send individual data identifying a person in a way that could be used to document citizenship or deportation, et cetera.

We insisted on that in what's called the data-sharing agreement, data use agreement, and the CDC agreed. So, that is a better vaccination program for this country and for this state. It took a lot of work, but I want to congratulate all the advocates and people who stepped up and spoke up, because it was a good service.

We want to raise one of the topic which is very important. The congressional back-and-forth on financial relief for state and local governments is essential. We sent a letter to Congress today that was co-signed by myself, elected officials, the Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, the Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Mayor Bill de Blasio, all our partners in labor. We need federal aid. Period. We have been very good at dealing with economic circumstances in the state of New York. I have closed many budget gaps. I've closed the largest budget gap and the state's history. I am telling you, we can not close this financial gap without federal aid and that's what the letter to Congress says.

Our most important point is, whenever they come up with a program, there's now a bill for $908 billion, I believe President Biden will come in and will propose a large package. The funding should be distributed by need, not by politics. The funding should be distributed by need. By need, not by politics. The other funds that they have passed, what they call the CARES Act, they distributed that money politically. Everybody got X, they just cut it up like a piece of pie. This is supposed to be funding that goes to help states recover from COVID. To help cities recover from COVID. It wasn't supposed to be a political pork barrel. And the distribution should be by need. Who got hurt by COVID and what is the need from COVID. That's what taxpayers were told they were funding.

New York State paid the greatest price in the nation for COVID. Not because I'm the New York State governor, that is a fact. We were misinformed. We were misled. It was the negligence of the federal government that created the situation in New York. We were all there in the spring, when the federal government was saying the virus is coming from China, it's coming from China; a few cases in California because people from China to California. The virus was in China. It was in Europe. And either they didn't know it or they didn't tell us. I don't know which is worse but the virus was here in January, February, March from Europe. Three million Europeans came and brought the virus, while they were still pointing to China. The China travel ban was February 1st. There wasn't a ban from Europe until March 16th. March 16th the horse was out of the barn.

We had thousands of cases in New York. Planes landing in JFK, and Newark, and LaGuardia airports. If we do not get federal funding, the consequences are going to be devastating to this state, and the families and governments within the state. You can see the layoff of several thousand government workers unless the federal government is truly responsible and accountable, and really gives New York the funding it deserves, you'll see tax increases. You probably will see tax increases in any event, pardon my skepticism about Washington, but you could see dramatic tax increases that would hurt families and hurt the economy. If the MTA doesn't get funding they could lay off 7,000 MTA workers. They would have to raise bus and train fares and tolls. That's the last thing we need now. You have to borrow money for New York City for New York State, just to make the ends meet, and you put all of these things together: government borrowing, tax increases, layoffs - this is the last thing you want to do now. Not just on the state level or city level or a local level. This is the last thing you want to do nationally. You want this economy picking up, not slowing down. Every economist from every ideology says if they starve states and local governments and make states and local governments lay off workers, you will hurt the economy and you could cause a recession. Why you would want to lay off essential workers now when you're just starting this ambitious vaccination program, I have no idea. I mean, more of obnoxious coincidence of facts you could not have. Greatest governmental undertaking on the vaccination program — oh, now we're going to start state local government so they have to lay off the people who do the vaccination. I mean, it's a level of idiocy that is unparalleled, and forget government. You hurt people. You hurt people. You hurt families who don't have a paycheck. You hurt small businesses that have been hanging on by their fingernails for months. It's not politics. I talk to Governors all across the country. Every state is in basically the same situation. They have to act responsibly and they have to act quickly and that's in the best interest of everyone.

I'm pleased today to be joined by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is going to discuss this topic with us today. We're also joined by Mario Cilento, who's the President of the AFL-CIO.

Obviously, this has a dramatic effect on the people who work for the state, the people who work for businesses that rely on the state. And New York City, which really dealt the brunt of the burden in the spring. Remember those planes? They landed at JFK, they landed at Newark, those people were going to downstate New York and the need, the cost, the human sacrifice was nowhere higher. We're dealing with it nationwide now, but New York was ambushed. We were ambushed. We never saw it coming. We had no warning. We had no notice, and we went from one case to literally thousands of cases in a matter of weeks, and I do hold the federal government responsible. New York City, New York State — we don't do international global pandemic watchdogs. That's not what we do. It's what the federal government does. It's what the CDC does, and the NIH does. They track global pandemics, and they missed it on this one. Or they didn't miss it and they didn't tell us about it, but that's the issue that we're facing now.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you very much for being with us today. Were all meeting these new CDC protocols. I don't know if I need a piece of Plexiglas between me and a Zoom screen yet. That's probably next week's protocol, but good to be with you and thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

Mayor de Blasio: Thank you, Governor. Plexiglass does not solve every problem. I just want to say it's like it's like duct tape — it solves a lot of things but not everything. But Governor, look. I want to join with you emphatically in reminding our colleagues in Washington what really happened here. You are [inaudible] right, the federal government was not there for us. You know, we found out months and months later that the disease was already spreading in New York City in February when we had no testing resources from the federal government. They wouldn't even let us do our own local testing; when we said we are ready, they said, "no, no, no, no." Think about the lives that were lost because the federal government was missing in action. And Governor, we all experiencedwe were at those hospitals. I went to Elmhurst Hospital. I went to Bellevue Hospital. I talked to the families who lost their loved one. I went to public housing. I heard the pain of New Yorkers who felt this silent killer arriving. They wondered how on earth this could happen in America? But the truth is our federal government did not warn us, did not prepare us, did not support us even when we raised a warning. You did it. I did it. We begged for that testing. Couldn't get it. So, is there anyone who wants to debate these facts? I don't think they'll be able to. Is there anyone who wants to contest the fact that this state bore the brunt? That this city was the epicenter of the United States of America? In March and April, we went through the worst of this entire country and [inaudible] New Yorkers [inaudible] forever. They can't be here with us to testify, but we testify in their memories. How much pain we went through. So, it's as simple as the way you laid it out. I'm going to amplify it. State and local aid it is absolutely necessary, or else we are ignoring the pain and the death and the suffering that went on in this city and this state. It is literally an insult to the families who lost their loved ones if Congress does not give us the support we deserve. You have to have support for the State government. The State of New York is going through well. We need a strong State of New York. I can say on behalf of all cities, towns, counties in New York State, we all need aid as well or we will not able to stay on our feet. We will not be able to provide the services people need. Governor, people need the services more than ever. The vaccination as you said, but all the other health care services, keeping our schools going for kids, providing safety for people, folks need that more than ever and if we cannot provide those services how are we going to have a recovery? And this is the part that bothers me the most, the people who say they want a strong economy, they want to see America come back, how do you have recovery if cities and states are collapsing all around you if you can't provide basic services? If you cut basic services you cut off the recovery. That is the bottom line here, so I know what we went through. I felt it, I lived it with my fellow New Yorkers. I know we deserve help to recover from a crisis we did not create and our federal government did not [inaudible]. I know states and cities and towns and counties will do our all if we're just given the opportunity to get back on our feet. I also know this city and this state are among the strongest engines of the America and let's not leave this out this discussion. If you want the United States of America to come back you need New York City to come back, you need New York State to come back. In good times, and those good times were as recently as January and February, we were [inaudible] in a strong economy. Now we've been hit back on our heels. Do you really think United States Americans is going to come back without New York City and New York State, returning to our full strength? It's not going to happen. So, Governor, [inaudible] I say to [inaudible] our Senators, our Congress members, but we need you guys now, we need you more than ever. We need you to tell our story and ensure we get just our fair share. That's all we're asking for so we can come back strong for the people of this city and this state. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Cuomo: Well said, Mayor. And by the way, Mayor, what you say is exactly right and there's no disagreement on the facts. We know that the virus was now here in February. We found out too late but scientists will attest to that fact. We know the virus came from Europe. Scientists will attest to that fact. You had Dr. Redfield of the CDC and Dr. Fauci testify before Congress, April, May, that we missed it. We missed that the virus left China, went to Europe, and then came to New York. We missed it. That's what happened to New York City, New York State. They missed it. Okay. It's a quite different conversation about their competence and how much they communicated, but they missed it and they said they missed it. They created it, and your point about you want to bring back the national economy - you don't bring back the national economy without the New Yorker economy. You're exactly right. Thank you very much, Mayor, it's a pleasure to be with you even though we're on Zoom, but at least we don't have Plexiglass.

Mayor de Blasio: No Plexiglass.

Governor Cuomo: I'll see you soon, Bill. Mario Cilento, our partner, President of the AFL-CIO, good to be with you, Mario. Thank you for the help on this.

Mario Cilento: Thank you, Governor. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it and let me just say this - first I want to thank you for your leadership in the effort to secure funding from Washington. You continue to set a standard for leadership that we can all be proud of and as you said federal aid has to be proportionate to the damage we've already incurred as a state. Working men and women in New York have suffered more than any other state in the country and in every possible way. The damage done economically to New York and to New Yorkers is incalculable, but in addition to the economic hit we have taken, [inaudible] as well as the emotional stress is something so many working people continue to deal with. Workers not knowing, Governor, they don't if they will have a job next week or next month, not being able to buy presents for their children for the holidays, families not sure where their next meal is coming from [inaudible] pay their rant and as a parent myself it kills me to think. So many New Yorkers are going to have to disappoint their children this year and I know Governor you as well, a father of daughters like me, I know you feel the same way and that's why we desperately need the federal aid. This isn't a New York issue. This isn't a union issue. This is a matter of humanity of taking [inaudible] extreme need [because] more harm on those [inaudible] so much [inaudible] who risked their lives and the wellbeing [inaudible] seen their coworkers sickened and in some cases die, and as you said Governor [inaudible] doesn't receive a minimum, as you said, of 15 billion dollars in federal aid we're going to see additional tens of thousands of workers out of work, essential and non-essential-- and I believe everyone is essential. But a cycle keeps to churn: the more people out of work, the more funding we're going to need to help those on unemployment, in addition to funding we're going to need for those who need public assistance, who doesn't qualify for unemployment. And then the higher unemployment hurts the mom and pop stores locally because if you don't have, if you're not getting a paycheck, you can't go to the store and buy a candy bar for your daughter or your son, buy a newspaper, go to the dry-cleaner, you can't afford it. So they're out of business. No federal aid for our state and local governments means a reduction in the services that we all rely on. No money for the MTA means fewer busses and trains to take us to and from work, so now parents and children suffer—as if children haven't enough already through the last year. And worse than that; we hurt our ability to get essential workers to and from work so that they continue to serve the rest of us. It's insane. So, no money for state government and local governments means less money for our schools, for our health system, for our sanitation workers who I think, many of us forget sometimes that they're there every day, fire fighters, on and on. But Governor I strongly believe this: that the measure of an enlightened society is helping those who need our help the most, and it's also defined by having a standard of living and a quality of life we can all be proud of. And without federal help Governor we are pushing the limit on our enlightenment, not just as a country, or as a society, but as human beings. And I pledge to you here today Governor that the labor movement will work with you in all capacities to ensure federal funding, and to ensure that New York continues to have a standard of living and a quality of life that we can all be proud of. My two and a half million brothers and sisters in the labor movement in this state, Governor we will stand by you side by side and shoulder to shoulder, continuing to reach out to Congress and Senator McConnell to let them know how critical the funding is for all of us, and Governor I want to say thank you, and thank you Governor for leading this fight.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you, thank you Mr. Cilento for being with us. You said it so well and it's so true, you know we celebrate the essential heroes, and they are heroes, God Bless what the working men and women did in this state, and all across the nation, and now we want to turn around and lay off the very people who we celebrate as essential heroes? We're going to lay off the people we need to bring this economy back? To do the vaccinations? It is idiocy. We'll stop it, we'll stop it, the way we stopped the undocumented exclusion, the way we'll make sure the vaccination is done fair, we'll stop it. We'll stop it together Mario. God Bless you, thank you very much for being with us.

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