December 31, 2021
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Announces Winter Plan 2.0 and Updates New Yorkers on State's Progress Combating COVID-19

Video, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Announces Winter Plan 2.0 and Updates New Yorkers on State's Progress Combating COVID-19

Governor Hochul: “Remember this, we're going to keep kids in school, number one. We’re going to keep wearing masks and keep testing, number two. We're going to prevent severe illness and deaths number three. We're going to keep increasing our vaccines and boosters in adults and kids and we're going to keep working in collaboration with local leaders.”

Click Here To View The 5-Point Plan

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the event is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.

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

Governor Hochul: Good morning and happy New Year! Delighted to say goodbye to 2021 in anticipation of a much better, much healthier, much safer 2022. Thank you all for joining me on a holiday. My family and friends and staff do not know it's a holiday, I thought I'd tell them it isn't. It actually is a holiday. We'll enjoy this more next year. And I'm joined by New York State's incredible dream team, who are focused on this nonstop, and that is Kathryn Garcia, our Director of State Operations; Dr. Mary Bassett, our Department of Health Commissioner; Jackie Bray, the Division of Homeland Security Emergency Services Commissioner. Karen Keogh is also behind the scenes, making sure that all runs well to ensure that we have our operations smoothly running, which we do.

New Yorkers should know we are working around the clock to fight this surge. And as we hit this new year, it's an also an opportunity to reflect and reset. And we've been saying for a long time, we were going to experience a very serious winter surge. You know, we talked about it over the first weekend in October, we talked about it again at the end of October, we talked about it again before Thanksgiving, we talked about how we on the very first day that Omicron was identified by the World Health Organization.

On November 26. We literally declared a State of emergency here in the State of New York, the first in the nation to make sure that we were prepared and had all the tools at our disposal to be able to proactively anticipate what was coming, but also to react when necessary.

So why I want to talk about a 2.0 plan, is simply a reminder that we're heading into a new season. A new year. Kids are coming back to school, our hospitals are overstretched. And so we wanted to amplify the policies that have been working thus far, and also analyze where we're going next. So let's look at the data. It's not a wave, like the waves of the past. And as we can talk about this, the wave, the numbers, the cases do continue to rise. There's no disputing, state-wise, our numbers per a hundred thousand, which is really the best way to analyze what is the true picture of what's going on statewide. It's 271 cases per 100,000, and you can see the chart here that, that just continues to go up from where we were, just early in November. So we have 76,000 positive cases. Today, 76,555 cases today.

It's almost not worth it to say we're breaking records. We're breaking records every day and we'll probably continue to do so until we hit that downward trend, which we hope happens sooner than later, but we don't have a lot of precedent, other than looking at what's happened a few other places, but it's also important to put this in the context of what New York has experienced in relation to the other states.

The trend is identical, Washington, DC, where my children live, and are always conscious of the impact of this on their lives, and I hear what's going on in DC all the time. New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. This is happening everywhere. And so, just to remind New Yorkers that we're not unique in this. We are being hit very hard without a doubt, but this is also a national phenomenon, a global phenomenon in fact. And also we are testing more. That's one of the reasons we're seeing high numbers, and that is a good thing. It is a good thing that we have so many tests, kits, and locations, and availability of tests, all over.

And in terms of where we are with respect to the rest of the nation, we're number three in the country for per capita testing. Number one in the large states, which is incredible. While, if you compare us to some of the smaller ones, they might be a little bit ahead of us, but you look at the larger states and we are doing a really good job in terms of getting testing out, we can always do more. And this is all according to John Hopkins University, which is tracking the trends. So we are testing more without a doubt, a priority of our administration, we've executed, and now we have the results to show.

So our hospitalizations continue to rise, closing in on 8,000, which is not a milestone we've hoped to hit, but it's also very concerning. We know that hospitalizations are putting a lot of stress on an already overtaxed healthcare system. Again, I had a chance to go out and meet some people in the North Country, you know, from Plattsburgh and Potsdam and Watertown, really just to go and engage to the leaders of the hospitals.

What they're going through, the nurses in the emergency rooms, the doctors, the line nurses, people clean the rooms. I mean, it's just been such an exhausting experience for so many, and you know, they're frustrated. You ask anyone in healthcare right now, who works in a hospital, and they know it did not have to be this way. If we had more people vaccinated, fully vaccinated, to deal with this highly transmittable variant known as Omicron. So those are our numbers.

You can see the positivity, individuals in the hospital, the number of people who are COVID patients in hospitals by region, right there. New York City, nearly 4,000 hospitalized with COVID right now, putting a lot of stress on our systems. And sadly yesterday, we lost 80 New Yorkers closing out a very tumultuous, challenging year for all families, but particularly the families that had to say goodbye to someone they cared about.

And it's gotta be heartbreaking to lose someone anytime, but certainly over the holidays, and our hearts go out to all of them. So you can, again, put it in context of where we were, our seven day average, where we were last January, again, a very high percentage of deaths. We are seeing more cases, but not the correlating number of deaths, which is a good number. You know, this is the snapshot we have right now. And the sooner we can start the downward trend of this spike will also be, I'm sure the deaths will decline right now, but we're not out of it. I'm not here to say we're out of this. We're still addressing a very serious situation.

We also continue to monitor what's happened elsewhere. Places like South Africa where Omicron was identified before anywhere else, we saw how hard it hits all eyes of the world are watching what happened there. And also wondering when it was going to stop going upward. And the data from the South African Health Department showed that they passed their peak and without a major spike in deaths and they're beginning to decline.

So we don't have a guarantee that this is our future, but it sure looks optimistic in terms of how quickly the numbers decline after a major spike, which is what we're going through right now. So we're watching South America, as well as the other countries that have gone before us. Also, we know how to get through this. It's been about vaccinations. And if you think back to March of 2020, and we were first told that the way out of this pandemic, which is all new to everyone, was to have vaccinations, but they normally would take two to four years to develop even on a rapid pace.

The ingenuity and the brilliance of our medical teams and our doctors and people who work for the pharmaceutical companies, they got it done with support from the federal government. So we've had available since this time last year, literally remember a year ago, we are vaccinating people in nursing homes and in congregate settings, the most vulnerable people among us. We want to make sure they're vaccinated first and then our essential workers, and then getting down to people by age.

So we have a very, very high number of individuals who got the first dose, one of the highest in the country. So we have 95% of adults over 18 have had a first dose. I don't want that to plateau that still has more room to grow, but what are people waiting for with that second dose? You are not protected with one dose. This variant breaks through a first dose and even a second dose. And that's why we're going to continue focusing on boosters. So also with a booster. People say, well, “How long is it going to take? And is it worth getting a booster right now?” Yes, you can be protected within two to three days of receiving that booster shot. That's incredible. You don't have to wait. As long as we had to wait in the past for the vaccines to really be fully effective, two to three days, that's all it takes. And our challenge will continue to be, when you look at the numbers here, there is no reason that that is at 28% of five to 11 year olds getting their post first dose. Parents I've asked you to, during this break, you're possibly home with the kids. Someone's watching the kids, get them out to the many sites. There is no reason why anybody in the State of New York cannot get their hands, get their arms jabbed with a vaccine it's been available, easy.

The information's out there. We'll continue to provide on our websites, continue to work with our local partners, but those numbers should be jumping much higher than they are, especially in the context of what Dr. Bassett, will talk about, the number of children being affected by this virus. So the answer lies right before us. It is so clear. It is right there. Get every age eligible, which particularly your children, because your children, your five and seven year olds, who are eligible to be vaccinated, might actually be the ones who transmitted to your two-year-old or your three-year-old or your four-year-old. This is going on in your own home if we don't take the steps necessary to protect every child that is eligible for a vaccination. And that is, five-year-olds on up.

As I said, we were expecting a surge after the holidays, it's here. We had the sit downs at Thanksgiving. The numbers went up high after that. People got together for Christmas, went up for that. And tonight, a New Year's Eve where everyone is saying, “I cannot wait to say goodbye to 2021.” They will be gathering. We know this. And we have been asking people to do it smartly, that they know everything, all the precautions they need to take, but we want to make sure that we focus on what lies before us. We've been anticipating this. This is not a surprise to us. So what are we going to do? And why are we even doing a 2.0? Because the virus is changing so quickly.

One month ago, the numbers did not show the scenario that we're dealing with now. We have to adapt. We have to be very smart. We have to use what we've learned over the last two years of dealing with this pandemic. We need to be focused, specific, and targeted. We've been doing the right things, but 2.0 is simply improvements upon what we've been doing. And again, to sound the alarm, that the numbers are continuing to increase, they don't have to, we can control this. It's within our reach, and here's what I want to talk about. Keeping our kids in school.

Number one, we'll talk about our detailed plan for doing what I've been saying from the beginning. But now we are literally days away from the big return from the winter break. Kids need to go back. We've said this for so many reasons why it's just not an option to keep our children home after what they had to go through last time. Our teachers, our parents, and everybody, it was too much stress. And we believe that in a school setting that is safe for kids, who are wearing the mask. Remember our mask mandate that went into effect when my very first days on the job, I announced it in this room, that also keeps our children safer than they might be when they're outside playing with friends or elsewhere, staying at home.

So number two, keep wearing masks and testing. We'll talk more about that. Three. We're going to prevent focus on preventing severe illness and deaths. Number Four, keep increasing vaccines and boosters for adults and kids, and then continue working with our elected leaders as we've been doing since day one. So we'll, we'll give you some of the enhancements within those plans.

Keeping kids in school. Okay. How are we doing that? This is not new, but its now actually happening. You see the airplanes there. Oh, these are the planes that we've been waiting for. We look above and we say, are the planes coming? Are the planes coming? And yes, they are. They're bringing our testing kits so we can get them out to the schools. We talked to the school superintendents last week, we've been talking to the local public health departments, talking to the county executives. I talked to 500 of them, just a couple of days ago. And all the guidance for our tests. The state plan is found at Let me repeat that. for anyone who wants to know that's available for parents, but this information was given out with plenty of advanced notice to the school districts themselves.

So, parents. What you can do: Get your tests now. You can, depending on your school districts, some are available in advance. Some will be available the day of, the day they return, your children return to school. And what's really important is that we want to make sure we have enough supply. So in the case where one of the classmates tests positive, everybody can take a test kit home in their backpack, come back the next day if they have a negative test, and get tested again in a couple of days. This is how we believe listening to the experts that this is the safest way to keep children in school. So, I want to have our State Operations Director Kathryn Garcia give more details. And Kathryn, is that a picture of you unloading that plane? No, maybe not. Okay. Kathryn Garcia.

Kathryn Garcia: Thank you, governor. So as the governor said, we have over 37 million tests that we have ordered. 5.28 million have arrived this week. You can see the county breakdowns on the slide. We are pushing those out, literally the planes land and we have people there from agencies across the state to take them to the large districts and to the BOCES.

We will have an additional 6 million tests arriving through Monday so that we can continue to get tests out across the state on a regular basis.

And we intend to do that over the next few weeks, anticipating that January and February are going to be challenging.

In addition to what we are doing for schools, we will also on the back of that being supplying counties with tests, and we have ongoing calls with counties and with the local school boards, the superintendents and the principals, to make sure that they have what they need to keep kids in school because we, as the governor said, know that it's so critical for all of our young people. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Hochul: Thank you, Kathryn. Please extend our gratitude to the individuals from many agencies across the state government who are stepping up and helping assist in this effort. So it's, you don't see what's going on behind the scenes but it's an incredible military style operation to get these ordered, get them secured, get them delivered, get them in the hands of people who need to have them. So thank you to you and your team.

Also, we talked a lot about keeping children in school, K through 12. Let's talk about kids on campus, and we know what happened last time when so many of the universities, the SUNY schools and the privates had to close during the pandemic and this is a place where it's different than a situation where there's one teacher in class that actually the students are listening to - a college campus is a little bit different.

Students congregate, they live on campus, and so it's a very different experience. We saw some outbreaks before the break started just a few weeks ago. So we're very conscious of the fact that we do want to make sure that students return to school when they're scheduled to or within a week or so, depending on what the schools are doing. But we're focusing on that first day, and we're issuing new guidance for SUNY and CUNY schools for the spring semester.

We are asking all schools to ensure that students before they return are boosted. They're required to be vaccinated. Now we're putting on an additional requirement: in order to return to your college campus you have to be boosted, and this will be part of the reopening.

They have to be boosted when they're eligible. Again, we understand that students who were just vaccinated within the last six months are not eligible for the booster, but we know the date they received their first vaccination, so we know the date that they're eligible for a booster. So this takes effect on January 15.

We're also asking and ensuring that all students are vaccinated. It's a continuation of a policy we had for that but also now we're adding faculty, adding faculty to the list of individuals who will need to be vaccinated. So this is how we're going to ensure that these campuses stay open.

As I've said all along, we're going to protect the health of New Yorkers, but also health of the economy. When you think about what happens to many of the smaller communities, particularly upstate, Long Island - when a community college shuts down or a SUNY school or a private school is shut down, that is devastating to the local economy. We can avoid this because last time we didn't have vaccinations, we didn't have boosters, we didn't have the rapid testing available.

So now if we make sure that everyone's safe when they return, continue following the practices we've outlined, the guideline is out there, we're making sure that students can return to college campuses in a couple of weeks. This takes effect on January 15 and let's keep them on campus. They’ll be required to wear masks in public spaces indoors. They'll have to quarantine and follow the New York State and CDC quarantine isolation guidelines if anyone does test positive. And again, we're working closely with our college partners, not just SUNY and CUNY, but also our privates to make sure that we're coordinating with them, offering them support as well as all different sizes, different capabilities of different campuses.

And again, they'll have to show a negative test when they return to campus. Some campuses can provide this. Some will be asking students to show proof of a negative test when they return, and also surveillance testing for them when they return when they're physically present on campus.

And also continue random sampling all through the year. We have to focus on this population because when it spreads, it spreads quickly throughout college campuses and we want to keep them safe as well as the people who work on the campuses, the faculty and everyone else.

Also, it's so simple but keep wearing the mask and keep getting tested. And here's what we're going to be talking about. We now know that the masks are important. They're an important line of defense. We have had a requirement that businesses throughout the state have to have a mask requirement or a vaccine requirement and the reason we left it to the choosing of the businesses is to give them the flexibility they may want.

And I thank all the counties and also the businesses themselves who've been following. I have seen compliances. I traveled from diners and traveled upstate and travel around the city of New York. The compliance is very good for me. Visually I see it and I hear about this and I'm going to continue to extend that a short period of time. I said I would reevaluate this before we got to January 15 and in the interest of giving people notice, we are going to extend that because we have seen the landscape change so dramatically.

When we first instituted this the trajectory of the pandemic was not what we see we're seeing now. So we know that we have built-in flexibility. If we saw trends that were not promising or disturbing, which is what we're experiencing now, that we'd have the ability to activate at least on another two- week period. So it was going to expire on January 15. I want to give everybody the heads up that this will continue just two more weeks beyond what we had originally planned.

Again, being very willing to reassess, hoping that the picture is much more positive in February, but again, we just don't have that information right now but this is another part of our 2.0 plan.

And we want to talk about why that was so important. That's because this is all geared toward keeping the economy open. The other alternative is to say, shut it all down. You can shut it all down. Everybody stay home, lock down, shut down, businesses, shut down all the little shops and plays and all these other experiences. The reason we don't have to do this is because we now have the defenses in place, the testing, the vaccines, the booster shots, the masks. So we're in a different dynamic now, but I'm very conscious while this continues to spread that we can take steps to make sure that they are protected.

So we've already gotten 5 million KN95 masks out to counties and I'm going to show you a little demonstration here. What we're asking people to do here, we believe that you should be wearing the K95 or KN95, okay, have this, now this looks really nice and then you're going to say, well, I had a really nice cloth one that was given to me by someone I care about or some message I want to display.

Well, this is what I'm going to recommend – wear your K95 but then find your favorite mask and double mask. You’re even safer. Look how great this looks. So you can continue to be double masked, extra protected, and know that this is the way you can help get through the pandemic. So we are getting these out to everybody, making sure they're available, 5 million already sent to the counties.

We're even giving them to our state legislators. They are our partners. I've visited many of our Assembly members and Senators throughout this process. They're always asking what they can do. They've been great on the frontline, hearing the needs of their constituents. So we also are distributing them directly to the legislators for them to give out to their community centers and senior centers and places of worship, as well as hundreds of thousands of more of these better masks, these more effective masks being distributed to nursing homes. So that's what's going on right now as part of our additional effort to get more masks, the right kind of masks. So keep your fun mask but make sure you wear it over the one that gives you more protection.

We’re continuing to launch more testing sites. We already have 1,800 test sites operational in the state of New York.

We're also adding new state-run test sites and we launched this week all these counties, Steuben, Oswego, Cayuga, Lewis, Orleans, Long Island, Schuyler County, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens, and next week even more coming, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Mount Vernon, Stony Point and Buffalo. So six more, 13 on Wednesday, six more across the state, and again, this is in addition to the pharmacies, the local sites that we already have, the ones that have been put up by local governments, the ones that are available at urgent cares. So we want to thank our partnership with WellHealth for helping us launch these as well.

I just visited one in Plattsburgh a couple of days ago and the lines were not long. Everybody's happy. There were plenty of available spaces. They were capable of handling 1,000 not just tests but also vaccinations that day. We're continuing to focus on both testing sites and vaccination sites as well.

So also, those of you in New York City - get back on the subway, take the subway. We're making sure that this is a place you can easily get tested. So we've added more - seven sites that we've had already. We're launching two more and we're working on the details with upper Manhattan and the Bronx, and that's coming out shortly. You can see all the sites that we have available at the MTA stations. This is how we've been planning to scale up. We are scaling up. These sites are now available.

Part of our winter surge plan is also preventing severe illness and deaths and this means supporting our hospitals where the people who are the most severely ill end up, being transported to or arriving on their own.

We are working very close with the federal government on this. I called Jeff Zients who is joined at the hip with President Biden in terms of managing his COVID response. I thank them for their partnership and the delivery of so many resources already but of course I asked for more and we asked for more resources and we asked for more medicine, we also asked for the right to be able to protect our nursing home occupants.

And here's the problem - we don't have the ability to require visitors to nursing homes to be vaccinated. We've always known this is a vulnerable population. We know that many people are vaccinated in nursing homes, and we've made sure that the booster shots were available to nursing homes way back in November, before this even got bad, preparing for possibly this day.

So we wanted to make sure that we had those available but there's still a gap. And I've talked about this before. If you have a loved one in a nursing home you need to sign a permission slip if they're not able to agree themselves that they can be vaccinated. If you do not do that they are highly vulnerable right now because it is starting to spread through nursing homes. This is not unanticipated. We made the vaccines available. Then we made the boosters available. And now we want to make sure that we can, we've asked the federal government to revise their regulations that don't allow us to have any restrictions on visitors.

I understand that this was a reaction to the painful experience that so many families had to experience when they couldn't visit a loved one. Visit your loved one, but also don't be the reason that loved one does not survive because you brought the virus into the nursing home for them and their neighbors.

Please be smart about this. So while we can't require it at this time, we've asked the federal government to give us the authority to. In the meantime, do it because it's the right thing to do.

So we're going to continue pushing the federal government on that. Also asking them to make the antiviral treatment more widely available as possible. We don't want these allocation decisions based on population only when you have areas of high transmission, high need, high infection in places like New York and so they're looking at their policies in response to our conversation.

So I'm going to let Dr. Bassett talk a little bit about what's going on with the antiviral treatment and how we're trying to make more progress on that. So, Dr. Bassett?

Dr. Bassett: Thank you very much, Governor. So as you all know, we've had very limited ability to treat people who are infected. That's why we keep focusing on the importance of getting vaccinated, being vaccinated and boosted are the best ways to protect yourself from severe illness. But happily last week, we had the FDA give an emergency approval to oral antiviral drugs.

Before that, monoclonal antibodies are drugs that have to be administered in hospitals, either by intravenous means or subcutaneously. These two new drugs, one's made by Pfizer, the other by Merck, the Pfizer drug is called Paxlovid, the other one I have to confess I have trouble pronouncing, but it's Molnupiravir, are drugs that you take orally twice a day for five days.

So this is a huge advance and will give us a way of keeping people out of hospitals who are at risk for hospitalization and are infected. But we need much larger amounts than we have received. The supply is dispensed by the federal government, and we've gotten our allocation of Paxlovid, we got 3,180 doses, which are being distributed around the state.

We are distributing it according to disease burden, not only the numbers of people in each county, and the drug is being held in pharmacies in New York City, they decided to use a single pharmacy. Most counties are using between one and four pharmacies. And we also don't know the numbers, but federally qualified health centers in the state separately received an allocation of Paxlovid.

So we expect the supply to go up. The reason that the numbers have been so low is principally a production challenge. There just isn't that much in the national supply. We also have been focused on monoclonal antibodies. There's one type that seems to be the most protective for people who have Omicron infection, it's called Sotrovimab, and I'm happy to say that the federal government has increased our allocation. We initially got 4,242 doses. We received an additional 5,580, so that the federal government is now acknowledging that New York State has to receive not just proportional to our population but proportional to our disease burden.

So this is good news. We have effective drugs, particularly the Paxlovid formulation which proves 90% effective against hospitalization, that people can take at home when they're diagnosed. But the supply is fairly small, minuscule actually, compared to the number of infections that we're seeing. Thank you, Governor.

Governor Hochul: Thank you, Dr. Bassett, and we are in constant communication with the White House, and Pfizer, reminding them that as a homegrown New York State company we're delighted to know that they're so close to us. I'm ready to be the person who drives over and picks up, soon as they’re commercially available and all the allocations are not going to the federal government.

So I talked to the CEO, we've talked to their team yesterday, so as soon as the okay is given we want New York State to be the first to receive sufficient doses to take care of our population. And it was a good dynamic where they, in some cases, depending on which drug it is, they're not just basing it on population, but basing it on the needs, so thank you for your advocacy on that, Dr. Bassett.

And also, I want to thank our federal government partners for assisting us on staffing. We've had shortages in nursing homes, as well as in hospitals, as you know, we've deployed National Guard. We've brought other resources to bear, but they've helped us with transportation, ambulance, and others. So I want to give Commissioner Jackie Bray the opportunity to give us an update on that front as well. Commissioner Bray?

Commissioner Bray: Thank you, Governor. Just reiterating our thanks to FEMA and our federal partners. These are new deployments into the state. FEMA will be deploying a 35-member Disaster Medical Assistance Team to SUNY upstate in Syracuse.

That team should be on the ground next week. They’ll be deploying a 20 plus member Department of Defense Medical Response team to Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo shortly. In addition, they're adding to the, we've had 30 federal ambulance teams in state working largely upstate and in central New York. We're going to add to that.

FEMA will be sending 50 additional ambulance teams to New York City. That deployment will start in early January and that will allow us to send the original teams further into the state and into the North Country, which was a challenge previously. In addition to the federal resources, we are opening our stockpiles and sending durable medical equipment to hospitals across the state.

That includes oxygen, concentrators, oxygen tanks, and BiPAP machines, and we'll continue to push out any supplies that are needed as we hear of emerging needs. Thank you.

Governor Hochul: Thank you, Commissioner. And again, I, as I was visiting leaders of hospitals and speaking to healthcare workers in the North Country, they reminded us, and I'm very conscious of this having traveled all 62 counties once again this year, that when I go up there, there is a certain remoteness. I mean, these people are far from other hospitals in an area where there's other mutual aid. There's other hospitals. If one hospital is full, you can have people go to another hospital.

That's not the case in the North Country. So, we heard their requests for help with transport. They’ve been relying on volunteer EMTs, so we said that's not sustainable, we're going to help you out. So we wanted to deploy people to an area that we consider high need as well. So that's happening as we speak.

I mentioned the National Guard. They are there when we need them to help us clean up after hurricanes, to sandbag against rising floodwaters on Lake Ontario, where I've helped them fill the bags, as well as so many other functions. So once again, New Yorkers have called upon the men and women who have always answered that call to serve.

And so we've deployed them already, but here's what we're going to do. We are deploying 50 additional National Guard to New York City, 50 are already there, and they can support with critical, non-clinical functions. But also I say non-clinical because that's all many of them are trained for. We already took the ones who had medical backgrounds and embedded them in healthcare institutions already, but a large number of them don't have any background in medical training.

So I announced that I wanted to make sure that we have EMT training classes for our National Guard. We have 80 service members, two classes of 40, and it starts literally January 5th. So I'm very excited about this. This has not been done before and the graduates will now be able to assist anywhere we need them in a medical capacity, will be available starting in early February. So that's a very short timeframe for us to be able to add more people to our army of support for all the healthcare institutions and nursing homes that need extra help. So that's what we've been focused on as well.

Okay, managing hospital capacity. As you recall, I signed an executive order to pause nonessential elective procedures at hospitals that were under 10%. We have now gone, and I'm very pleased to see this trend line here, we're down from 35 hospitals that had to cease their elective surgery because they were below 10% capacity. That has now been reduced to 21. So very positive news there. I thank them for the way they've managed the situation. We know how important elective surgeries are not just to patients, but to the wellbeing of hospitals. So we want to continue having those numbers decline.

We are in constant communication and every week we assess who's on or off this list, but letting them know all the different ways they can continue a surge in flex strategies so no individual who needs life-saving medical care is denied. So that's part of our overall strategy.

Everyone's asking about the breakdown of vaccinated versus unvaccinated cases in hospitals. I think it's pretty obvious, here's the breakdown, the latest data we have is 30 per 100,000 cases are unvaxxed, compared with 2.1 who are vaccinated. Again, these are more precise numbers than using the percent infection or percent vaccination. But look at that chart. Look at that chart. If you are vaccinated you have a very low chance of being hospitalized. If you are un-vaccinated you do not want to be that blue line. That is exactly what's happening here. And that is why this situation is 100% preventable. 100% preventable.

The lesson is so simple. If you get vaccinated, even now, start the process now. If you're one of the 95% who've had that first dose, that's great. If you're among those certain percentage who have not had the second dose, this is your opportunity to look at those numbers. Look at those numbers. Look what this would do to your family and loved ones if you end up in a hospital because you refuse to do something that is so simple, so widely available and is something we're calling on everyone to do.

So it keeps coming back to this, but that's because the answer is right before our eyes, look at those numbers and see what percentage of people are in hospitals who are unvaccinated versus vaccinated, it's an extraordinary difference. So we have to continue boosters. I've mentioned nursing homes before. I want to see more people boosted in nursing homes. We announced before this even became the first case of omicron in New York State, we required nursing homes to make boosters available on November 26.

We have 606 nursing homes in the state. We are in constant communication with them. And on December 7th, we sent a survey out a week later, where are the gaps, what's happening? Why aren't you getting this done? And they do tell us that there are areas where they just don't have permission slips to be able to do this. So we're creating a lot of progress, when we first started we had 50% on November 26, people who are boosted of those who've already been vaccinated.

Today almost 90% are vaccinated and of those 73% are boosted. So those numbers are really trending in the right direction. Very pleased to see that this constant communication, offering them help they need, has resulted in nearly 90% vaccinated. And again, if they were just vaccinated just this fall, they're not eligible for a booster yet, but of those who are vaccinated 73% are already boosted. I want to get that higher. This is a very, very, very vulnerable population.

So we're going to continue making the nursing homes make boosters available, we found the gaps, collecting data and making sure that all that data is shared. So, we're trying to overcome all the barriers. Again, a lot of it is just permission and it's easy to do. So second last part of our plan, making sure we increase vaccines and boosters for kids. We are micro-targeting vaccines and boosters.

Adults, again, as I mentioned, you need to get that second dose, but kids you are the ones. We need to talk to your parents and talk to you to make sure that you are getting vaccinated, because look at these numbers, yes they're trending upwards, but that top number is 35%. It is not 100%. So we need to focus on vaccinations for 5 to 11 year olds. And we're not there yet. We've made some progress. These have been available since November 14th.

So, I know a lot of people didn't want to be first. Didn’t want to be second. Hundreds of thousands of children have been vaccinated and vaccinated safely. So, we're going to continue -one of our top priorities will continue to be, but we are not going to leave any stone unturned in terms of finding out how we can get parents to do the right thing for their children. So talk about this. Two studies just came out that underscore the importance of vaccinating kids.

Vaccines rarely relate to result in problems with younger children who received the Pfizer vaccine. They're extremely rare, and also looked at all the hospitalizations of children over the last summer and found that nearly all children to become seriously ill, this is not a surprise, they're the ones who are not vaccinated. So we also are very happy to hear the news that very soon we'll have the FDA final approval date, Pfizer booster available for 12 to 15 year old’s. So we are ready. We're continuing to get more kids, vaccine, but also boosted. So this is going to be great. As young as 16 are already eligible, get that done, but also let's focus on the next population.

And lastly, I want to talk about what we're doing with our local leaders. I come out of local government. I was a town official. I was a county official, and I know how important it is to recognize that they are literally the boots on the ground. They're the ones that are running the local public health departments. They're the ones that are waiting for the supplies to come. As we often have to wait for supplies from Washington. They're waiting for them from us.

So we want to make sure that we have constant communication with local leaders. I've done calls with county executives, county executives are on calls with us every single week, as well as the public health departments and so many others, principals, school superintendents.

So we wanted to make sure that we show everyone that we are teamed up from our federal partners on down to our local. So, let’s see what people have to say.

*Video plays of elected officials giving messages about vaccines*

Well, that's just a small sampling of the countless elected officials that we – where was that? Where did that come from? - A small sampling of the individuals who we are partnering with, having served at every level of government from local on up to federal now statewide, I appreciate what they do. They are our partners. There's a whole new era of collaboration and cooperation, which has not always been the case. And I'm so proud to preside over an administration that understands the value of these local relationships from town boards on up to our members of Congress. And certainly our senators. So I want to thank them for all they do.

So let's recap. Remember this, we're going to keep kids in school, number one. We’re going to keep wearing masks and keep testing, number two. We're going to prevent severe illness and deaths number three. We're going to keep increasing our vaccines and boosters in adults and kids and we're going to keep working in collaboration with local leaders. And so, let's see what else is in store here.

Here in New York, we actually believe in second chances. I was told I was a question on a jeopardy question this week and not everybody got it the first time. And now I'm joined by one of those people that we're going to give another chance to Ben Walthall, a New Yorker.

Ben let's see if we can give you another shot here.

VOG: Alright Ben, the answer is, in 2021 she became the first female president of, excuse me, the first female governor of New York state.

Governor Hochul: Ben, do you know the answer?

Ben Walthall: Who is, Kathy Hochul!

Governor Hochul: There you go, Ben. All right, Ben. Well, played. Ben tell us about yourself and what are your thoughts here today?

Ben Walthall: So I filmed jeopardy a couple months ago right when you took office. So that's a part of the reason why I may have sat out on that question, but I've lived in New York for 11 years. I went to NYU. I'm actually originally from Massachusetts, but I've lived in New York while I have my - I know you're a bills fan - but I have my Patriot slippers here for Christmas.

Governor Hochul: Wait, wait. Did we screen this guy? Wait, those are fighting words, Ben. I mean, come on!

Ben Walthall: You won last week.

Governor Hochul: Yes we did!

Ben Walthall: I definitely know who you are now. And I think you've done a great job as governor. And I appreciate all you've done, in terms of COVID. My girlfriend is actually a teacher at PS 58. She's an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn. So, I definitely think it's great, what you're doing to get kids ages 5 to 11 to get vaccinated. It's really important to keep both the teachers and the kids safe. So definitely appreciate all you're doing there. Yeah, just thanks. Thanks for everything and have a happy New Year.

Governor Hochul: Thank you Ben, for joining us, we are very proud to see a fellow New Yorker up there. And don't worry about this question. I don't have a long memory, so we're good. We're good. Take care.

This is the final message. 2022 is the year we beat this pandemic. And I'm so energized. I feel that we have the energy of the team behind me. An incredible team of state public servants, local partners. We have the resources; we have medicine that's coming. As soon as that arrives in large doses, we can avoid hospitalizations. We're continuing to provide lifelines to our hospitals and to help make sure that our families can get their kids back in school. People get back to work and we get back to the new normal of 2022, which is going to be better than before. So thank you for joining us and happy New Year to all New Yorkers.

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