January 3, 2022
Albany, NY

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

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Video, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Updates New Yorkers on State's Progress Combating COVID-19
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Announces New Testing Sites to Open at SUNY Campuses and Syracuse University

Governor Hochul: "The battle plan is clear, it lies before us. And all of us have a part, we all have a role to play and that's really important. And I look forward to next New Year's Eve, and we talk about how we at least won this phase of the war with this pandemic."

Governor Kathy Hochul today updated New Yorkers on the state's progress combatting COVID-19 at the New York State-run vaccination site at Rochester Educational Opportunity Center in Rochester.

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:

Well, thank you County Executive. It's great to be back in Bills country. How about that game yesterday? Heading off to the playoffs, which is absolutely delightful after a 17 year drought, but who was counting? 

County Executive Bello. I want to thank you. You and I were just in the trenches together last year, as we managed through the early months of the pandemic, through what we thought was a decline, and now this rise, but one thing that has been steady is your leadership and your willingness to make the tough decisions, but also to leverage the relationships that you have developed over many years of working closely with myself when I was in Congress and then as Lieutenant Governor, and now as your Governor. So thank you for what you've done. I know that you were very thoughtful in your approach as well yourselves, in terms of getting test kits out to students before the break, I thought that was really smart. And how you had the foresight to purchase thousands and thousands of test kits before everybody else was. So you got probably a better price on them too I'm going to guess. And that was brilliant. I mean, at a time when we're all trying to manage this, there are people who stand out and you were certainly one of them. So let's give a round of applause to our County Executive Bello.

I'm rather fond of new leadership myself, so it's great to welcome our new Mayor here. We've had many conversations about how he's hit the ground running. And we had a relationship during his time as a Councilmember, understanding the deep needs of the city on so many fronts, accessibility to healthcare, good education, jobs, but great to be able to partner with you on this as well. Our new Mayor, Malik Evans.

And so also I want to recognize, Thank you SUNY Brockport, Madam President Macpherson. I usually see you out in Brockport, but this is one of your facilities. We thank you for making this, not just a place for our event today, this is a vaccination site. And I was able to go back there and thank the workers and Department of Health and our National Guard and everyone who's involved, but also the individuals who stepped forward to get their children tested. And I was very happy to see the number of children in the waiting room in the line. Yes, this is a very good sign because we need to do better in terms of getting our children vaccinated. So to SUNY Brockport, thank you for making this available as well.

And I love our legislatures. I spent a long New Year's Eve, sometimes thinking about all of you, going through over nearly 500 bills that had to be dealt with before the end of session. I'm not a procrastinator by nature, so we'll be doing this a lot earlier in the year, but they were dropped on my desk in the waning hours of the year. And so I thought of you often, but I thank all of you for your willingness to first put forth, very sharp ideas that need attention. And that's based on your experience in your communities and what great advocates you are, but also your willingness to work with us to come up with the best solution.

So I do want to recognize our Senator Brouk. I want to thank her for all the work she has done. Samra has been an incredible leader, hit the ground running early on and has really distinguished herself, and I want to thank her for partnership.

Are you the Dean of the delegation now, Harry? It's certainly not age, it must be seniority, but our Assemblymember, Harry Bronson, who I've worked with since my days in Congress, as well. As well as Sarah Clark, who I worked with her time when she was a staffer, but has evolved into a tremendous leader in her own right. And I want to thank her for all she does. And [Assemblymember] Jen Lunsford, for all she's done as well. We've worked closely on many issues as well as our Assemblymember Meeks I want to thank you for what you do. I mean, it's tough to step up and run, especially at a time like this. When you know, the people that you represent and care about so deeply are hurting. Our communities are hurting right now, and you are great advocates and champions to make sure we bring the resources to the people you represent. So thank you.

Also want to give a shout out to Dr. Young from the Department of Health and the incredible department of health team here. They are the ones who are making magic happen behind the scenes. They're the ones who are on the calls with the elected officials, not just now, but since March of 2020, deepening relationships, giving everyone the resources they need. So, thank you for all you've done on front Doctor, please give our thanks to your entire team.

So doing the right thing, that's what we're talking about here today. And I want to thank all of you for again, offering this site, but we have over 15,000 vaccines administered right here. That's quite an accomplishment as well as the dome arena, which I launched just about a year ago, just about a year ago I was out at the arena, and since then we did over 262,000 vaccines at that site. So a little did we know we'd be needing to up the effort a year later, we'd sort of thought, as we said goodbye to 2020, 2021 would be the end of all this. Clearly it's not clear, it's not, but we never gave up. You know, we stayed in the trenches. We stayed there on the front lines fighting the best way we can. So I want to thank everyone.

And tomorrow we're going to continue ramping up our statewide efforts for testing and vaccinations. There'll be a new state run testing site tomorrow, just a few blocks away at the YMCA Carlson Metro center.

And those would be from [12:00 PM] to 6:00 PM. So people who work until five or so, make sure you get there by six. And that'd be one of our 19 test run sites as well as 1800 locations across the sites across the state. So we're, we're looking forward to that.

We're not in a good place. I'm going to be really honest with you. This is the winter surge we predicted. We know that particularly after families gathered December 25th, over that weekend, another weekend holiday, we just completed with New Year's. There's a lot of human interaction. And what happens when humans gather, they spread the virus and we fully anticipate on top of the surge, that's already been ongoing that there's going to be another wave that's occurring as a result of these holidays.

But if history is any example, last year we saw this, I started predicting this back in October. We did see a dramatic decline actually after Super Bowl weekend, probably the last big time people got together indoors for a while. So when we see the Bills in the super bowl, make sure you're all vaxxed, make sure you're boosted and you make sure you're wearing your mask.

So I hope I didn't jinx anything, but they're going to be there. So we know what to do, but also you know, it's about getting vaccinated, boosted, wearing our mask. And again, people who are sick, please stay home. So we did talk about our plan, it's all about keeping kids in school. And one of the things I'm excited about is making sure that we have other ways to enhance our opportunities to keep kids in schools. A lot of it has to do with keeping them wearing masks. We had a statewide mask mandate, as well as making sure that they're vaccinated and that we have test kits that can go home with the kids. If anyone else in the class tests positive.

You already had masks and test kits, but we distributed almost a half a million masks to the Finger Lakes area and to Monroe County. We have many facilities here, so we're going to keep those going as well. Our goal is keep the masks, testing, prevent serious illness, keep increasing vaccines and working in collaboration with our local leaders.

So our numbers are misleading today, having 51,000 cases of positive today, and about 1,100 in the Finger Lakes, unfortunately I'm going to say is a result of the holiday weekend. Those numbers are probably going to be much higher tomorrow. They didn't go from nearly 90,000 to 51,000. That is simply a function of people not getting tested over the weekend. So, my concern is that trend that you see there is going to continue going up.

It's the cases per a hundred thousand we look at. These numbers are rather shocking when you think about where we are, but as we have to remind everyone, this is not the first strain of COVID-19. It is not the Delta variant. People are testing positive at a much higher rate, but the severity of the illness is far less than we've seen before. So, shocking in the scale and the numbers, the number of people are testing positive, but also so grateful that we're not seeing - it's been with us for a solid month now. I remember it was December 2nd when I had a press conference in the City of New York with the mayor saying we have our first cases in New York City. So, literally a month later we have enough data to say, right now we can say with certainty that the cases are not presenting themselves as severely as they could have, or we had feared. So, that is the silver lining, if you will and what we're looking at.

Hospitalizations continue to rise. That is a trend that is, again, troubling. We are looking at the percentages of each region. How many cases, as well as how many hospitalizations, we're not where we were, but we're not looking to break that record from April 12th. That is not what we're striving for. We're hoping that similar to what we saw in South Africa, that it goes up quickly. And this is not that wave we saw last year. It kind of kept going up and up. This is straight up and I'd love to see it come straight down. We just don't have a time on that, but we're doing all we can.

And again, we have many more defenses this time. One year ago, vaccinations were scarce. They were going to people in nursing homes and essential workers. Everybody was saying, when can I get that vaccine just one year ago. The vaccines are so plentiful. They're out there. There's no person who cannot get a vaccine in the State of New York. We're at a far better place, just to put this in perspective.

So we're looking at a critical moment, but we're going to start asking some questions. We talked about the hospitalizations. I have always wondered, we're looking at the hospitalizations of people testing positive in a hospital. Is that person in the hospital because of COVID or did they show up there and are routinely tested and showing positive and they may have been asymptomatic or even just had the sniffles. Someone is in a car accident, they go to the emergency room, they test positive for COVID while they're there. They're not there being treated for COVID. Now, someone's conditions can worsen while they're in the hospital, I'm not saying that won't happen, but I've just been doing a random call around to some of the hospital leaders that I touched base with them. I'm seeing numbers from 20, sometimes 50 percent, but we don't have clear data right now. Now, that's anecdotal. Beginning tomorrow, we're going to be asking all hospitals to break out for us. How many people are being hospitalized because of COVID symptoms? How many people are happened to be testing positive just while they're in there for other treatments.

I think that's important. I just want to always be honest with New Yorkers about how bad this is. Yes, the sheer numbers of people infected are high, but I want to see whether or not the hospitalizations correlate with that. And I'm anticipating to see that at least a certain percentage overall are not related to being treated for COVID. But we're still going to watch hospital capacity. Hospital capacity is still hospital capacity. You either have beds for sick people or you don't. And if you have a heart condition, you don't want to be turned away because the beds were filled with either other people with conditions like that or with COVID. So, we're watching that very closely.

Right now, Finger Lakes capacity overall is about 14 percent of acute beds. If any institution has 10 percent or below, it's an automatic cessation of elective surgeries. Last year it was statewide, regardless of your circumstances, you could have had almost no infections in your area and elective surgeries were shut down. It does not have to be that way. That was an approach based on not having the resources we have now, like vaccinations and boosters and widely available test kits. So we're watching that number. ICU beds. That's a low number. That is a low number. So we're working closely in partnership with our hospitals to get those numbers much higher.

What else can we do? We have about 21 hospitals affected by having to not be offering elective procedures right now. We'll see whether that trend holds, whether that gets better. That had started at 32. So, we've actually taken hospitals off the list. Some have come off, some have gone on, but at about 21. 21 hospitals statewide is not that bad, but based on what we've seen over this weekend and the numbers that we're starting to creep up, this could change very quickly. We could see a drop soon in our hospital capacity. And at that point we'll be deciding whether we need to take wider steps and we're ready to do it. We have the plans in place, we're just watching this for a couple more days to see what those steps might.

We also have to continue supporting our health systems and that means deploying more National Guard. As I mentioned on Friday, when I announced my larger 2.0 plan, for the first time we are now requiring the National Guard members be trained as EMTs because I kept saying, send in the National Guard, send in the National Guard. They're amazing. They do everything for us. But if they don't have any medical training, there's limitations on what they can do. So the ones who had medical training immediately went into our nursing homes, into our hospitals to relieve the pressure off our incredibly overworked and exhausted healthcare workforce. But in order to be able to deploy them more fully, I want them all trained as EMTs. We have our first classes starting now with about 80 individuals. A smaller class, we'll get that ramped up, but then have them available literally in one month, one month from now I'll have 80 more people I can deploy.

We're sending medics to Monroe Community Hospital, medics at Wayne County Nursing Home, as well as ambulance units. When I was on the phone with President Biden and also with his team a couple of days later, I asked for more but more ambulance teams. We have about 11 ambulance teams stationed around the Batavia area positioned to assist both that area, but the Finger Lakes and Western New York. So these ambulance teams are really important for transport as well. And we also have an ambulance system in Syracuse available to help.

So unfortunately, this is the sad part of what we say, is that 103 people are no longer with us. People that started out the holiday weekend with their families that passed over the weekend. And it's just so sad to think about the pain and anguish that they're going through because of this. And I know Derek Watson was one of our young students here, and I can't imagine what his family is going through right now. You think your 17-year-old is going to live forever and certainly outlive the parents. And I'm just so sad for this community and having to deal with that passing. And our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

Vaccinations - Okay, we have this 95%, at first, over 18 window. That's a great number. That's one of the highest in the nation, but I'm always saying, why aren't they getting that second dose? So, I was on a call this morning with my team and saying, okay, now we're sending not just robocalls and text messages saying, why aren't you getting your second dose, let's start personally calling these people. What's the problem? Get that second dose. That's what's going to make the difference. One dose will not protect you against this virus. It just won't. It's always been planned to get the second. And so, we want to make sure you do that, then be in line to get your booster because there's time - there's a certain time length. 

But the good news is we're now going to have FDA approval for 12 to 15 year-olds to get the booster. Now, the first children able to be boosted were last summer. So, it's a six months late time for Pfizer. So, they should be eligible right now. And I was in the room talking to a couple of children who were getting their booster shots. I thought that was great. So, these parents are really on the ball. They knew the first date that their children were eligible. And now very soon they'll be able to get the booster. So that's very good. We'll see what the CDC says - if they have any different changes. 

So, we need to get those numbers up. 29% - 5 to 11. We get that high, we get that up to 50, 60, 70, 80, you don't have to worry about when they're in school at all. I mean, it just eliminates the worry, and I don't know why any parent would allow that to continue where, you know there's something that can help them. You're not the first, you're not the second. There's been hundreds of thousands of children already vaccinated so, safely. So come on, let's protect our kids and make sure that their lives can continue on. 

And as we keep talking about working with our local officials to keep kids in schools, I again - commended Monroe County, the city of Rochester for doing the right thing, protecting our kids, but also knowing that part of their health is their emotional health. And that emotional health took a huge hit. We don't need any more studies to see that. You see it in the eyes of parents who say my child is not the same as they were before this pandemic. That year of isolation, detachment, not real learning. If you're a kindergartener or first grader, you lose a year of education, that's a quarter of your education already gone. It's gone.  

And so we are excited about having more test kits available. We've had 5.2 million test kits delivered to schools already with the express purpose of keeping kids in school or having to be able to - if someone tests positive in a classroom and they've been exposed to them, they go home, they test negative the next day, they can come back. They test again later in the week. And so the question is how do parents get these very rare test kits that you always see the lines for? We're going to put them in your hands. We're going to put them in the kids' backpacks. 

We literally had a plane flying to JFK with another 3.7 million kits. I'm always excited when I see planes going overhead, I think they're bringing my test kits, and we had over almost 200,000 provided to Rochester school districts as well, the Rochester area. So, we'll keep it going. We'll do our part. Parents have a role to play. Teachers, God bless you for showing up and making sure your vaccinated, that you're safe, that the kids are keeping their masks on. You're amazing - what you've been doing, and all of us have our role to make sure you have the resources and support you need. 

So how do we expand testing as well? I started thinking about this. Students at college campuses are not in school right now, but they were testing before they left, on campus. They had facilities; they had the infrastructure set up for testing. And this actually came to us from Syracuse university. And I want to thank Chancellor Kent Syverud for approaching us and saying, we have a plan. We tested 4,000 students a day on our campus. Those students are not here. They're not coming back for a little while. Do you want to use our facilities? And the answer was yes, heck yes, of course we do. Then I thought, okay, we've got one campus here. What about every other SUNY campus? Can we use your facility?

So, this is a brand new announcement, that beginning tomorrow we'll be at the Syracuse Carrier Dome. A place I have a little bit of my history about, I tried to get it named the Ernie Davis Dome, but that's another whole story. I'll get over it after all these years, I tried. There is the Ernie Davis field there. Tomorrow from 10 to 3, we're just getting ramped up. This idea just came together, literally 24 hours ago. So, we're getting started but that will be staffed by the National Guard. We want to thank the National Guard again for helping lead the way.

But here's what we're going to do. This week, we'll have SUNY Plattsburgh, Buff State, Purchase, Oswego, Courtland, Binghamton, Stony Brook, Syracuse, as I mentioned, Albany, and SUNY at Buffalo - all those sites will now have testing available for the public to come on to campus. You don't have to pay for parking. We'll be getting the hours out and more to come next week. So again, we're trying to be creative in our approach to make testing easier for everybody. So, I want to thank our local leaders for helping us as well. 

Also, we think about the impact that COVID had on families. We had to have rent relief and help landlords, and everybody weren't able to make those payments because they lost their jobs, no fault of their own. Today is the first day to apply for our very first in the nation. Nobody's done this before. Our $539 million homeowner assistance fund. So elected leaders, our partners in state government, please help us get the word out to your constituents, that they should apply for this - or else make a phone call here to find out how that works for them.

So that's what we're focusing on. You know, what we need to do. The battle plan is clear, it lies before us. And all of us have a part, we all have a role to play and that's really important. And I look forward to next New Year's Eve, and we talk about how we at least won this phase of the war with this pandemic. I'm not saying it's going to go away, but how we're managing it is the key thing. We're protecting the people's health. We're protecting the educational opportunities for our kids. We're protecting our businesses, and we're doing it in a smart way. So, thank you everyone for being part of this. With that, if there's any questions from the press, the tough ones go, the people in the front row here.

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