April 20, 2022
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Holds a COVID-19 Briefing

Video, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Holds a COVID-19 Briefing

Governor Hochul: "This was not a decision by the federal government that masks were no longer needed in very congested settings like public transit, our buses, in New York City the subway. But it was overturned by the court for procedural reasons You watch the variants, they come, and we're starting to see cases and hospitalizations go up. So we're going to continue, in the short term, again, for public transit, our correctional facilities, our nursing homes, health care settings, domestic violence centers, buses and train stations, let's just be smart about it. And again, we're going to be letting people know places that, as they start coming off. We're going to get there. We will get there, but also just let's keep pushing the vaccinations."

Hochul: "Suit up with the armor. That means not one, but two boosters. So we know what to do. We keep getting vaccinated, we get boosted. Second booster. If you feel sick, take care of yourself, get tested."

Earlier today, Governor Hochul held a COVID-19 Briefing at the Central New York Biotech Accelerator at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

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 will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.

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

Good morning, everyone. I want to thank Dr. Dewan for his incredible leadership and that's an overused word sometimes, but it was his vision that allowed this amazing facility to really rise up and achieve its full potential. It needed someone who could unlock all the possibilities and allow SUNY Upstate to imagine itself as part of an innovation culture and an innovation future where none in the past had seen the same.

So, I was so proud to hear of every one of the accomplishments you enumerated. And yes, I do brag about what you do all over the state. And thank you, thank you for leading this organization. But also to all the researchers and the individuals involved in this whole ecosystem that doesn't just solve health problems for people, as you're doing on the front lines of COVID and so many diseases, but the inspiration for so many businesses that are being created right here in Central New York. And that is really important for our overall economy. So, thank you. Let's give Dr. Mantosh Dewan, another round of applause for what he has done here.

Whenever I come close to Syracuse University this time of year, I kind of get this lump in my throat thinking I'm pulling another all-nighter for my finals. It's been a long time since I had to do that but spring or late April, heading into may, I’m usually pretty tired thinking about how many nights I had to stay up all night to be successful in my exams. But it is great to be back here and have a chance to see this transformation of the campus and the integration with SUNY Upstate and great things are going to continue to be coming.

And we're focused on COVID and some other issues today, but we're going to be returning very shortly to talk about all the big wins for this region in our budget recently passed. And speaking of our recently passed budget, I do want to acknowledge my partners in state government. John Mannion is here. I see that he has joined us. Thank you Senator, for being here. Rachel May, our Senator, we've been through a lot together during some interesting budget negotiations. But I also do want to make sure that we acknowledge - I know Al Stirpe is here, as the state assigned member. Any other elected officials that I missed?

I also know that we have our Mayor here. I want to thank him as well for his incredible work through some challenging times. I mean, being a mayor of any size city in this post pandemic, almost post pandemic time when we also have spikes in crime and other issues that, you know, some of the root causes of crime and poverty are all intertwined. And I know that it's hard to be a mayor and I want to thank you for your leadership, but also getting us through the pandemic the way you have as you continue to lead.

Also, Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson is here. I want to thank her for her leadership as well. Thank you, Helen, for all the work that you do. We have Ken Greenleaf, the Executive Director and Vice-president of Central New York Area Labor Federation, thank you. And Gina Corona, our region four coordinator.

So, you're also going to be hearing from someone, Despina Garcia. And we wanted to not just hear me talk about numbers and trends and what's going on but also someone who's been on the ground from the very beginning. And I had a chance to talk to Despina who's the nurse manager at SUNY upstate and what she saw as the COVID units were just being built and people were wondering even what COVID was. And people like you, who were there at the beginning, saw it go from bad to worse and finally turn the corner. I want to thank you on behalf of all of us throughout the State of New York, representing the nurses everywhere who've been through so much more than we could have imagined. More than your training and your preparation for this, you probably ever dreamed you'd be dealing with. But you did it beautifully and we thank you. Let's give a round of applause for Despina Garcia.

It's great to be back in Syracuse, I was here so many times out at the testing sites, various testing sites. Being up at SUNY Upstate, as we talked about ways that we could do testing, not just for Syracuse students, but across the whole SUNY system, which was innovated here. And also the work we did at the state fair to open up testing sites and make sure that we had vaccinations and test sites available. We've been here a lot. And I was out here just a few months ago, thanking these workers we brought in from other parts of the country, literally to help us when our numbers of people in the health care ranks were diminished, and we needed help from elsewhere. So I had a chance to come out here and thank them but I do want to get to that in a couple of minutes.

I also want to acknowledge the fact that I'm here on a day when this community is really hurting. There's a lot of pain out there and we've all seen the video of an eight year old being detained by the police. I spoke with Mayor Walsh about this. And let me just say as a mother, that was a heart-wrenching video to witness. A child weeping, being pulled by the police officers, putting them back of a police car, over a bag of potato chips. At least that's what the evidence says right now. That hits you right here. I mean, we're all parents, many of us are parents and you can't help but imagine the fear in that child as he had to endure that experience.

And the Mayor and I talked about this, building the trust back between the community and the police is so important. It has to start. It is starting. And the realization that black and brown communities all over our state and all of our country, they're not as shocked as others are to see this because they've been conditioned to different kinds of treatment from policing agencies and others throughout their lives. And so that's a statement that we need to do more. We have more work to do. And I know that the mayor is working closely with the police department to get to the bottom of everything, but also make sure that we do protect our children, that they're handled in a different way when it comes to encounters with law enforcement. I think that's what all of our expectations will continue to be.

So I know we can do better. We will do better, but also this community is also hurting from the spectrum of gun violence. Armory square, I've gone so many times just this weekend. You know, one individual killed a young person, four injured. It's not just happening here, we know that, it is a national phenomenon. But we're confronting it head on right here in our state. We can't just say, well it's happening everywhere. People don't want excuses, they want to feel safe. The store owners, the restaurants, people went through so much. I walked through those neighborhoods during COVID and so many were shut down. They're just trying to come back and they just feel like they can't get a break.

And the introduction of violence which was not there before, it's hard. And you know, we can't turn our eyes away from this. We have to confront it head on and that's what we're going to do. And, you know, coincidentally, we had already planned a gun violence round table right here in Syracuse with leaders of my administration, our DCJS, Division of Criminal Justice Services, Rossana Rosado. Our former Secretary of State who, when I took office, I said, tell me an area where you want to invest your talents because you have so much to offer. And she asked if she could be the head of DCJS. She will be here on the ground tomorrow. As well as our newly selected Office of Gun Violence Prevention, we've not had someone in that position before, Calliana Thomas.

We’re joining Mayor Walsh. We joining Council President Helen Hudson, as well as violence interrupters, our community leaders, our clergy, our elected officials, all talking about the root causes of gun violence and how we're going to save lives. So, I do appreciate the willingness to have this partnership between the local government and the state government, as we just get through this and try to protect people's lives and their livelihoods. And so I thank you for being great partners in that as well.

And we're going to take this throughout the state. We have already had these gun violence forums. I did so many last summer, but we're continuing. We have been to Brooklyn, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Newburgh is today, and we have Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Long Island coming, but we have Syracuse tomorrow. So I just wanted to let people know that there's nothing more important in my opinion, than making sure that New Yorkers not just feel safe, but are safe.

And so let's say the larger mission also is the safety and security of their wellbeing and their health, which is why we're back on the topic of COVID despite many of us having the desire to just turn the page and talk about it very much in the past tense. And we will get to that point, but then we've had a rising tide of cases.

My Health Department has been embedded and in constant communication with our local health departments here. Again, I thank the county, I thank the city for what they're doing and we're taking this seriously. You know, you don't know every single variant that comes. Is it going to be worse than the last one?

Is it going to be a more transmissible? Is it going to be more lethal? You don't know these answers when you just hear about new variants. It's a frightening phenomenon for many people. So I want to make sure that individuals know that their state government has been and will continue to monitor it all the numbers.

We're continuing to provide more, and have been providing more tests kits. Everyone knows that people don't have to go to get in lines to be tested at a large facility where the test kits are available. We ordered back in November before anybody, any other state realized the significance of home testing.

We amassed 92 million test kits over 72 million are already out there in our communities. So I know a lot of people are doing home testing, which does, in one sense, gives them the early warning. You know, a lot of people, you have a sniffy nose, and you do the test right away, you're staying home that day. That is how the spread is being contained by people using that common sense approach.

And that's what our expectation is, but we also don't have the same numbers then. We don't have, they've been conducted a testing conducted at a facility like the state fair, where the numbers are automatically tracked by the local and state health departments. So there's a gap in information. So we're going to continue providing the test kits, which is good, but we also know that we don't have a clear picture of exactly what's going on.

You know, other ways you're trying to be creative. We also partnered with the Food Bank of Central New York and made thousands of families have test kits available when food is delivered to their homes. We just common sense approaches, especially for our seniors, seniors being most vulnerable. So we have been working with our local health departments to understand the spread as it started. We did identify two sub variants of omicron, which is driving the current spike in cases.

But we have no evidence that this variant, these variants are more likely to have severe impacts than other sub variants. So we're not panicking about this. We're not changing, but we also want to make sure that we're smart about this. So let's just talk about some of the numbers. I've been showing this a little while because we lived through that peak.

Back in November, November 26, I think it was when omicron was first named as a variant after we went through. Yeah, we just come through. Delta was going now we're going to be fine for the holiday season, but we ended up having 90,000 cases at the top of that peak there on January 7th. And at the time, it was extraordinary to know the number of cases that just kept skyrocketing.

So we are watching the numbers. We look where we are on April 19th. So you hear about the trends going up. Now, I'm watching that because I'm looking at November 26. It was a little bit gradual, then all of a sudden around, you know, 26, you know, right around Christmas, it just went up like this.

We're not expecting that to happen here. But on the other hand, we don't know. We don't know right now what that little bumps going to look like because we're starting to see more cases per hundred thousand. We're at about 40 statewide, but at our peak now we're measuring. It is better to be measuring cases per a hundred thousand than the infection rate now.

So we will mention the infection rate, but the true number of the spread and a community is cases. Cases are per a hundred thousand statewide about 40 now. And we work quite a bit lower except at our peak, we were at 461 per a hundred. So just to give you the context of where we were in January.

So we're a long way from the peak, but I don't even want to get close to that peak. And that's what we're focused on right now. Central New York, we have new cases in central New York. We had a peak of 2,800 on January 7th. We have 481, so a disparity, but the numbers have been going up. Central New York has 62 cases per hundred thousand, just so you know that compared to the rest of the state, which is averaging about 40.

But again, Central New York, 62 now, 361 at the worst time. So we're watching this very intensely and let's just look at the regions. You know, you can see that little orange because orange is kind of a favorite color around here. You look at the orange number line there, statewide is the larger red one, you can see that we've been trending a little higher in Central New York here as well.

We're watching those numbers very closely, but it is flattening a little bit. Well, you know, we were watching after Easter and we're still in Passover, Ramadan. I mean, gathering times for people. So we were watching, but the other good news is the weather's changing. So you look at that peak, that was when everybody's indoors, holidays, gathering, traveling, and then you came down dramatically.

So there's less likelihood of spread when you're not in confined spaces with people. The more we spend time outdoors, the CPR, when the variants around us, but also, you know, since we don't have a good exact number on cases anymore because of the home tests, hospitalizations have always put up the red flags for us. You know, we're always watching hospitalizations, hospital capacity.

You know, statewide we have about 1400 people in hospitals. We had 12,000 people hospitalized on January 12th and you know, you're probably still going through PTSD of what that was like in a COVID unit at a time when, you know, we had a lot, we had a shortage of healthcare workers. We had to bring in literally a national guard into our healthcare settings.

We brought them into our nursing home. We had to do a lot to bring people in. And so we're still in a far better place. Central New York hospitalizations are about 123 at the peak was three times at 354. And the number of deaths continue to be sad and tragic for any family, but 14 is what we're looking at right now.

So hospitalizations are continuing to be down. And also this has been interesting phenomena we picked up on, really. I was always asking when we see the hospitalizations going up, are they all hospitalized because they have COVID? I mean, is COVID the driver? They were so sick from COVID that they had to go in the hospital. And as we started breaking out the numbers, we realized about half the cases are people who are just tested when they arrive. They have had a, you know, a car accident, a heart attack, a basketball injury, like my son just had, you get tested for COVID when you arrive, but you're not so sick from it that you had to go be hospitalized.

So we always want to break that out and report that about half the cases statewide are asymptomatic COVID, there just happened to be COVID. So that gives you a better understanding of what we're looking at here.

Statewide we look at the average of hospitalizations and they're trending up. They're trending up, but you see how crazy the trends were just a short time ago, Central New York we’re at 13 per 100,000 hospitalized statewide it’s six. So here in Central New York, it is double the statewide average. I want to put that out there and we're really hoping that that starts trending in a different direction.

You know, hospitalizations are lagging indicators, people get the sniffles and they get the sore throat and then they test positive and if they can manage it at home, they do, they self-resolve over time. But also then we see people that need hospitalization. It tends out to be a couple of weeks later. So that's what we're concerned about.

Okay. Testing. I mentioned all the tests we have out there, nursing homes, adult care facilities, food banks, giving them to elected officials. So those are areas we're continuing to fight that that is the number one way to stop the spread, getting more tests out there.

So we want to remind people treatments are important too, and we've been talking to our doctor because there are now treatments available, but there's a lot of constraints because if you have a lot of underlying medications you're taking or an underlying condition you're taking other medications for a lot of the treatments can't be used.

And that's a problem for us, we're saying, well, we have plenty of supply of medical treatments for this, but ask your doctors immediately if you can get medicine at the first sign of it, because we have over 80,000 treatments, oral antivirals and monoclonal. We have no shortage, they're here. They need to be administered.

Let's talk about masks. Monday there was a legal ruling at the federal level. This was not a decision by the federal government that masks were no longer needed in very congested settings like public transit, our buses, in New York City, the subway. But it was overturned court for procedural reasons.

So we believe that in certain settings, for now. Again, I want to, and we if hadn't seen these two variants, I suspect we would have been able to say goodbye to masks in all settings – but, you know, you watch the variants, they come, and we're starting to see cases and hospitalizations go up.

So we're going to continue, in the short term, again, for public transit, our correctional facilities, our nursing homes, health care settings, domestic violence centers, buses and train stations, let's just be smart about it. You know, I think people do feel better when they're in public transit, sitting really close to somebody, to know that people are protected themselves. And again this is very much in the short term.

And again, we're going to be letting people know places that, as they start coming off. We're going to get there. We will get there, but also just let's keep pushing the vaccinations.

We know how many doses we have. We have 39 million administered across the state. 95 percent, it’s actually higher than that. 95 percent of New Yorkers over 18 have had at least one dose. I've always said, why not get the second dose? If you're willing to get the one and get the second one, then get your booster. We do need more people to do this, but we're still number one along among large states for people over 18 being vaccinated, which is good. That's a great accomplishment. And children we’re focused on as well.

Boosters, we can do better on boosters. And now they're saying, get a second booster. I've had two boosters, still standing. It wasn't bad. Didn't even hurt that much. I'm going to use to it. So encourage everybody to get that second booster as well.

We've had an increase in people getting boosters here. We have 339,000 people in Central New York who've had boosters, over almost 10,000 in the last couple of days. So people are getting the message, get that booster shot, but please reinforce that wherever you go, especially as we see the sub-variants, and we're not saying this is the end of the sub-variants.

These are the sub-variants that we have in April of 2022. I don't know if there won't be more coming, so suit up with the armor. That means not one, but two boosters. So we know what to do. We keep getting vaccinated, we get boosted. Second booster. If you feel sick, take care of yourself, get tested. And so this is how we're going deal with it as well.

So we feel very comfortable that nothing has changed on how we handle it, but we're not losing sight of it. But what this pandemic did, it really brought to mind the realization that our healthcare industry was under siege already.

You know, there are too many communities of color that were underserved throughout our state and healthcare organizations were already experiencing a shortage of workers before the pandemic. And then the pandemic comes and people who are on the cusp of retiring, said, I've got to go it’s been a lot, women who couldn't leave their children had to walk away many times because there was no one who would take care of them at home.

Lots of reasons why we still have a phenomenal shortage of healthcare [workers]. So we said, we are in our budget, going to make the largest investment in healthcare in the state’s history. $20 billion to hit it from many facets, to build back our workforce and to make sure that we ensure that our healthcare workers have what they need and support them and not just talk about good game value, you know, you're our heroes, we owe you a debt of gratitude. We also owe you some money too.

I mean, you've been doing extraordinary work. And so we're not just calling people heroes, but also recognizing that people are exhausted. They've been through so much and that's why we're providing $1.2 billion for frontline healthcare worker bonuses.

We thought that was important way that we could use one time only pandemic relief money that had to be spent, not recurring long-term cost, but right now we can put this in the pockets of our healthcare workers and just say, thank you. So that's exactly what we're doing.

Home healthcare workers. My gosh, this is some of the most difficult work known to man or woman, I have individuals helping take care of my father, who has various health conditions. So we are investing $7.7 billion with a wage increase for them as well as a $2 billion cost of living adjustment, which is long overdue over four years, that's $500 million a year.

So lifting up the wages of our healthcare workers, our home healthcare aides and our human services workers was really important because you know, a lot of people could have other options. This is not a time of high unemployment. There's no jobs. You know, there's a lot of jobs out there. There's a lot of options for people. And as we're trying to attract more people to go into these professions, we have to let them know that they have opportunity for growth, as well as a security in their income as well.

So we plan to grow our healthcare workforce by over 20 percent in the next five years. That's bold, it's ambitious, but we have no options. So we're going to continue to work with all of our partners to find ways, to make sure that we get those numbers higher. We will pay the debt. We owe them. We'll rebuild our healthcare workforce .We'll create a better, stronger, more equitable healthcare system, which we do not have right now. And as a result, our state will come back stronger and more fortified, able to withstand the winds as they come with any future variants or crises that come our way. So that is my promise to the heroes of this pandemic. We're going to continue building back even stronger.

So at this point, and we will be back again to talk about all the other good things happening in Syracuse. The list was so long I just couldn't get it all in one PowerPoint today. So I'll be back again to share that with our elected leaders. But again, I want to thank our elected officials again for being true partners with me through the budget process, making sure the needs of your constituents were always heard. We listened to them loud and clear, you’re great champions and I thank all of you for you for your service.

And so with that, I want you to hear from one of these heroes we referenced and let her give you some of her insights on what it was like to be a the nurse manager, nurse manager, you can tell us what that's all about at SUNY Upstate, Despina Garcia. Welcome to the podium. Thank you.

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