February 1, 2022
Albany, NY

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

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

Governor Hochul: “We look forward to finding the day we get through this, get to the other side of this. And just as it feels like spring is around the corner, it feels like the COVID winter is starting to melt away, as well. So, we're going to continue leading the fight. We have the tools, we're going to keep things open, as we always have. The whole objective to everything we put in place, vaccination requirements, masking, et cetera, It was all for the dual purpose of keeping people health, but also keeping our schools open, keeping our businesses open, keeping our lives once again, being as normal as possible. And that's what we've been able to achieve through this.”

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the State's progress combating COVID-19.

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. It is a beautiful sunny day in New York. We've blasted that blizzard out of existence. We're ready to handle whatever comes our way now, and I also feel a lot better because ladies and gentlemen, the calvary have arrived. These are the people that are lifting our spirits, and I'm going to talk to them in a couple of minutes about what we have gone through at this hospital, as we have in so many other hospitals.

I want to thank our CEO of North Central Hospital, Chris Mastromano for being here as well. We also anticipate that we'll be seeing Dr. Mitchell Katz, but I noticed a little bit of a traffic issue outside, so I didn't cause it, it was not anything that was me, but we have some delays in traffic. So he'll be joining us as well as Congressman Espaillat will be joining us as well. So I'm looking forward to hearing from them as they speak.

We also are very fortunate to have our borough president Vanessa Gibson is with us here. Let's give her a round of applause. Our council member, Eric Dinowitz is here. Let's give him a round of applause and also two individuals, who when there is a war you want to be in the foxhole with, and those are the leaders, the courageous leaders who represented their members with such heart, compassion, and conviction. Qualities that I so admire and that are the leaders of two of our healthcare organizations represented here. And that would be George Gresham, the president of 1199 SEIU. Thank you, George and your members. And as well as Pat Kane, I want to thank her for all the work she does. She's [Executive Director] of the New York State Nurses Association. They represent, as well as Henry Garrido who's not able to join us here, DC 37, all those angels from heaven who helped us get through this pandemic and yes, two years later, they are still out there every single day, putting themselves out there, risking their own health, their family's health, but they're out there every day. And I want to, let's give them a double round of applause.

But I mentioned we have some fascinating individuals behind me and I had a chance to speak to people who've traveled here. I want to thank them for coming as far and wide as Texas and North Carolina and Virginia and Walter Reed in Maryland. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these are the military. These are the DOD teams that I asked for help from, from President Biden. I was with him yesterday. I've talked to him many times, my weekly conversations with the White House on dealing with COVID and I wanted to thank him, but also thank him for sending the help from Walter Reed, Fort Belvoir, as well as the first medical brigade out of Fort Hood in Texas. And they are here because we needed them.

We needed them to help us get the relief that our overstressed, overworked healthcare personnel have been enduring for such a long time. So we're so happy they've joined us. Captain Elizabeth --

Captain Huizenga: Huizenga ma’am.

Governor Hochul: Say it again.

Captain Huizenga: Huizenga.

Governor Hochul: Okay. Everybody mangles my name so I'm going to get yours right. Huizenga. Okay. And you'll be hearing from her on what her responsibility is and how welcome, how happy we are. But right now we have 20 personnel physicians, nurses, respiratory technicians, who are all here right now. And I'm so thankful for them. As we talked to President Biden many times and he said, Kathy, what do you need?

I said I need bodies. I need people to supplement the people who are in there right now. And so he is sent over 71 total personnel between three military teams. They are as far and wide as ECMC in Buffalo, New York to Coney Island, to right here in the North Central Bronx. And we have more teams approved, four more teams approved for upstate, Strong Memorial in Rochester, as well as Syracuse areas that are still being hit so hard by this pandemic. So in all, I mean think about the scale of this. They could have gone anywhere in the country.

Welcome Congressman. All set with the traffic out there? Got it under control? All right, we’re glad to see you, the Cross Bronx is a little tricky. Let's talk about that next.

So right now we have over 110 federally provided ambulance units. These ambulance units are incredible, particularly areas where there are not a lot of hospitals congregated together, areas of upstate New York. When someone needs to be transported because they have lack of capacity, lack of personnel. It is hard to get someone to another hospital, whether they are in Watertown, they need to go to Syracuse or anywhere. This has been a real challenge. So we have been so reliant on them to give us the extra support we need. So we have a 110 federally provided ambulance units as well as 225. And I'm so proud of them, National Guard members who've been deployed. As I mentioned, we are also making sure that they have some medical training, so they can be even more helpful when they show up. So thank you, President Biden for all you've done.

As we talk about what we just came through, literally approaching the two year mark. We already had an overburdened healthcare system. We truly already had this. This was not a new phenomenon. And if you look at the numbers, the studies that were done in the past, they already showed back in 2018, that on the path we were on that we'd be short about 32 percent of the healthcare needs that would go unmet because we'd have a staffing crisis.

So take that dynamic, that trajectory we're already on, layer a pandemic on top of it and an overburden situation has now spiraled out of control. So this is an area that needs major investment. We have to rebuild our healthcare, supporting our workers and anticipating the future. And that is what you see in my budget. That is what we've talked about. That is where a lot of our conversations have been with the health care representatives here. And again, two factors here, the exhaustion, the fatigue. What they've seen these workers who've been here, loss of colleagues and those, despite their training, the almost insurmountable number of people came in and lost their lives. That touches you. That has an effect on you. And yes, they're strong. They're incredible individuals, but they're also human beings. And this has been really tough on them. And we need to acknowledge that, we need to continue to acknowledge that. And we already had, as I said, pre-existing staffing shortages.

So I want to know, I want people to know that we are taking this very seriously and we have to make sure that we understand that everyone deserves access to quality healthcare. That is a basic human right that we are putting an exclamation point on. We must prepare for what the future throws at us.

So how do we do that? I laid this out in my budget just a couple of weeks. We are making the largest investment in healthcare, the healthcare industry in our State's history, $10 billion, $10 billion to help support and sustain this industry, support the people, the places the industries on the frontline hit the hardest.

And we also have a plan, a very ambitious plan, but we've talked about this for a long time. We need to grow, literally grow the healthcare workforce over 20 percent in the next five years. So that's our goal. And again, we're going to achieve that with working with our great partners.

How do we do that? First of all, we have to stop the hemorrhaging of current healthcare workers. They're still leaving. And how we do that? We say, we're not just going to say we owe you a debt of gratitude, as nice as that sounds. We also have to pay the debt we owe, and we are investing over $4 billion in bonuses and wages for healthcare workers, as well as retention bonuses of up to $3,000 for our direct care workers and healthcare workers as well. That means right here in North Central Bronx, we'll be able to have a payment of $3,000 to qualify frontline individuals making less than $100,000.

Also, we need to bring more people into our ecosystem and there are doctors and nurses in other states who could come here, but there's many bureaucratic barriers to that. So we're going to make it easier for them to come here, make their homes here and use their existing license.

Expanding capacity in our medical institutions, where the training occurs, we have to bring more students in, help support their education financially, free tuition stipends, and get them to remain here after they graduate. As well as rebuilding our healthcare institutions, the hospitals, the nursing homes, the medical facilities that were just crushed by this pandemic.

So we announced another $1.6 billion for the actual facilities that need the money and they need it now to start rebuilding back. So that's what this is all about is to show, yes, we need your help today. We hope to be more independent next time, because we're going to rebuild this workforce, make it stronger, make it more resilient to any other healthcare crises that come our way. We need to have more people in the system as well as supporting our existing institutions.

So it's still winter outside. Those of you from down south are talking about their first experience with the snow and they're doing just fine. I offered to teach him how to make some snowballs. I'm pretty good at that. So we'll have some fun, it's actually fun to be in the snow. We'll try to convince you of that.

What have we done? We've talked about the winter surge. This was not a surprise. We saw the global trends. We saw what was happening as far away as South Africa, that spike that went up so quickly. And so back in early October, we started preparing for the winter surge.

And what do we do? We talked about making vaccines more available, getting the boosters out to people supporting our healthcare systems and the efforts are paying off because we made sure that institutions like nursing homes and schools and other places have testing kits and masks, you've heard me talk about this for months, and now it is paying off.

We saw the numbers go up rapidly. You all know that before we even had our first case here, November 26, I declared a State of Emergency to give me the flexibility I needed to be to be able the surge and flex decisions with hospitals, make sure they could manage their workflow and the patient care as well as making sure we had all the legal rights to take steps we needed to keep New Yorkers safe, which has been my number one priority since day one, keeping New Yorkers safe.

So we supported everybody. And let's talk about where we actually are. We anticipated the surge, the surge came and now it's starting to go away. Just like the snow is melting. We hope that this winter surge is also melting away as well.

So look at those numbers, that is a beautiful sight my friends. We have been waiting for this. It is hard to believe that on January 7th, we had 90,000 positive cases in our State. Today the 1st of February, 7,119, 7,119. That's an extraordinary drop. That's a 92 percent drop from our peak of three weeks ago And yesterday in New York City and New York City, hardest hit, first wave, second wave, Omicron wave, and look where they are today. We had a 2,639 cases in New York City yesterday and in the Bronx, 303. That's 303 too many. We're going to get to a point where we don't have to talk about even that many cases, but look at the progress we're making statewide, and again, that is just extraordinary.

Positivity is going down. Seven-day average of 5.9 percent, almost 6, but that's a 17.25 drop, 17 point drop, not a percent, 17 point drop, from our peak of 23 percent just on January 2nd. So our infection rate in New York City, about 4 percent, the Bronx, yay Bronx 3.7, let's give the Bronx cheer for that one. I like the sound of that. Seven day infection rate continues to drop as well. So there we go.

Hospitalizations, we’re in a hospital, my greatest stressor has been - infections, yes. Getting people vaccinated, yes, yes - what is going on in the hospitals? And so our hospitals have been watching very closely, the good news is the hospitalizations continue to drop. Yesterday we had, as I mentioned, hospitalizations, 7,100, that's a 43 percent drop in hospitalizations. So hospitalizations are a lagging indicator. We've talked about this from the beginning. First you get the infections, then people get sick. If they're really sick, they're going into a hospital and look at this, the numbers are starting to trend downward. Even the North Country, it looks like a little spike, that is literally the difference between 25 people and 21 people. So these are minor numbers. We'll be able to handle that as well. So our hospitalizations about 3,000 here in New York City, the Bronx 477 people are in the hospital and we did lose. We're still losing News Yorkers. So infection, illness, hospitalization, and sadly, in far too many cases, people are still succumbing to this. 122 deaths yesterday. We wanted to make sure we keep those individuals and their families who are suffering in our hearts and prayers.

So the numbers are trending down. We're still going to take this seriously though. This is not saying it's over. You still compare where we were December 1st. Look at December 1st, have a little ways to go before we had our first case. But again, the hospital admissions, those are beautiful sights to me as well. Look at how we've declined so rapidly in our hospital admissions. Fewer people in hospitals, people getting on with their lives, self-resolving at home. A lot of people are experiencing symptoms, but they're back home. They’re back to work back to school in a short time.

I still want more New Yorkers to get that second dose. 95 percent plus, and then that's as high as the CDC keeps track of. So, I'm going to guess for a little higher than that even. But let's finish the series, just get it done. But look at the numbers for children. As we talk about what the future's going to bring for the school year, et cetera, we're focused on the fact that those numbers, as much as they're going upwards, are not where they should be. They're nowhere close to what they should be. And the good news is Pfizer is making great progress on getting a vaccine to the FDA for approval, possibly by the end of this month, for children under the age of 5. Well, why don't we just take care of the five to 11 year olds first? Their older siblings are getting vaccinated. We know it's safe. Tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of parents have agreed that this is a good thing for their children.

So, we're going to continue our promotions, make sure that there's whatever incentives kids need to have - ski packages, family, and set of pop-up vaccination sites. We'll keep it all going. But right now we're taking two actions to remove barriers for parents to get support. One of them - in early December, President Biden required Medicaid to cover COVID vaccine counseling visits. What's that all about? Well, in order for there to be reimbursement for a doctor to talk to someone, they have to have a box you can check and say that as a covered activity. And so they required Medicaid to cover the counseling visits, regardless of whether it ends up in the outcome of a child getting a vaccine. I believe, we believe, that this should be extended to all insurers, not just for people who are covered by Medicaid, but for all families. We're calling on the federal government to issue guidance so all insurers can cover COVID vaccination consultations for families and children.

Also the insurance companies should be covering the incentives. I mean, help the doctors, help the medical professionals, offer incentives to families and for children to do this. The Department of Financial Services will offer guidance. They offer all kinds of wellness incentives. You get incentives to go join a gym, for example, or eat healthy or go to certain restaurants. Let's get them being creative to help create incentives for this so we can get over that hump, get those last group of kids vaccinated so we can make sure that they're safe in schools and wherever they go. We're targeting - we're going to be talking to our primary care doctors about this as well.

All right, boosters. This is good news as well. Look how high they are. We have almost 6 million people boosted already. People who are eligible, what are you waiting for? This is the extra security blanket you can wrap yourself in and say, no matter what happens, I'm protected, and if I do get it, the symptoms are so much more minor than they would've been had you not been boosted. So that's great news.

Also, we hear a lot about this phrase long COVID now. This is an institution that is studying it. We're proud of the work that's being done here, as well as by Dr. Katz in New York City Health + Hospitals. They are creating COVID centers of excellence. They're the first public facility in the nation to be addressing long COVID needs. But I've been asking my health team for a couple of weeks now, a couple of months, actually, to get us real data on this. What does long COVID mean? Is there a difference in individuals who were actually very sick with COVID and they're more likely to have long-term symptoms? Or can someone who just tested positive, didn’t experience real symptoms, but may have some lingering health effects? We have to make sure insurance companies are going to cover this into the future, as well.

We know that there's very strong, physical, mental, emotional, and actually psychological symptoms associated with this. And we want people to take this seriously. Therefore, I've asked my Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mary Bassett, to convene a panel with experts from all around to assess this, spend the day, Thursday, the third, from 8:45 to 2:30, and examine this. It’ll be open to the public. It's a free virtual event will be on DOH’s website, but doctors, people who are experiencing long COVID, let's talk to them about what's going on. Our goal is to gather information, analyze it, find out treatments and give people hope, because there's nothing more disturbing to someone than to have gone through COVID and feel that you're through the whole worst experience of it, you recovered, but the symptoms are lingering. Whether it's cardiovascular, whether you're exhausted, difficulty concentrating, and we need medical professionals that treat this seriously and understand ways that we can start giving us ideas on how we can treat this. So, let's address that as well.

We believe we're finally turning the corner on the winter wave. Just like the snow is melting, hopefully these numbers will continue to melt away and we're going to continue preparing, though, for whatever the future brings. That is our responsibility. Always prepare for the worst and be happy when it's not that bad. Just like you prepare for a big snow storm. It's all about what you do to prepare. Again, building back the ranks of our workforce, critically important, strengthening the entirety of our healthcare systems so we are never, again, as vulnerable as we are right now. And as much as we love having our visitors from the department of defense and all over, bringing their talents and their passion to give us a little bit of relief to our hardworking medical professionals. Be nice if we didn’t have to do that, and we look forward to finding the day we get through this, get to the other side of this. And just as it feels like spring is around the corner, it feels like the COVID winter is starting to melt away, as well.

So, we're going to continue leading the fight. We have the tools, we're going to keep things open, as we always have. The whole objective to everything we put in place, vaccination requirements, masking, et cetera, It was all for the dual purpose of keeping people health, but also keeping our schools open, keeping our businesses open, keeping our lives once again, being as normal as possible. And that's what we've been able to achieve through this.

So, thank you everybody. And with that, I'll bring back our doctor. Say it again. Captain Elizabeth Huizenga who hails from Fort Hood. Okay. Let's find out from someone who actually does this is using her medical talents to lead an incredible team who are here. Again, as I said, the calvary has arrived.

This is a gift to all of us. And I had a chance to speak to all of them. I just wanted to thank them personally, on behalf of all New Yorkers who are benefiting from their experience and their desire to serve. These are true public servants. Captain.

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