December 22, 2021
Albany, NY

Video, B-Roll, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Thanks Healthcare Workers and Holds a COVID-19 Briefing

Video, B-Roll, Audio, Photos, & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Thanks Healthcare Workers and Holds a COVID-19 Briefing

Announces 26 Million More Take-Home Tests Ordered, 37 Million Secured So Far

12 New York State Testing Sites to Launch Next Week

Walk-In Testing Will be Available at MTA Pop-Up Vaccine Sites

Governor Hochul: "That's my last message: we're going to spread holiday cheer, we're not spreading COVID. So let's keep things open. Let's do all the right things. We will not get complacent. We're almost through this battle my friends. We're not shutting down businesses. We're not shutting down schools. We want to keep everything open because there's no reason we can't if people do what we've simply asked them to do.”

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul thanked healthcare workers and held a COVID-19 briefing at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo.

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

B-ROLL 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, good afternoon. It is absolutely fabulous to be back here again with my friends, and Tom mentioned we've known each other for decades. Some of you may have heard the story. They say, what got you to run for office? And I had been 35 years old, then an attorney, helped start some businesses, worked on Capitol Hill, always involved in local politics, but never thought I had what it took to run for office until this 21 year old man, out of college, with no real experience in life decides he's going to run for local office. And I always said his faith in himself was not misplaced. He knew he could do so much for the community. And so when Tom ran for office as a 21 year old, I decided to run. We both served together for 14 incredible years.

And so, what you've done – it's been a pleasure to see you emerge as such a strong leader and at a time when leaders were so necessary. You could not have foreseen the challenges that this healthcare institution and countless others across the state would go through, the crushing pressure of dealing with a pandemic and worry about your nurses and your doctors and your care providers and the staff, as well as the patients that came through your doors. And you've just risen to the occasion and I've been in awe of what you’ve done, and we've been close allies through this, and I want to thank you and give you a special round of applause as leader of ECMC and everyone who is part of this incredible institution.

We've also had amazing partners here in local government as well, and I want to recognize – I’ll talk about Mark Poloncarz when I get to all the accomplishments of what Erie County has done – but to have leaders like Brian Higgins, who always said, what can we do to help? What resources can I bring from Washington? What do you need in terms of testing kits and vaccinations? All the resources, he was always our conduit to Washington for this area. And I want to thank Congressman Brian Higgins for decades of leadership, but particularly now more than ever, when your community needs you most, Congressman Brian Higgins.

We also have the Majority Leader of the New York State Assembly. That is a big title. For those of you think this is just our local Crystal Peoples-Stokes here in Western New York, she is a lioness when she is in Albany. People say whatever Crystal wants, Crystal gets, because she is a true, true champion for her community, but also statewide. Crystal has been a powerful leader, a strong woman inspiration to me as well. And also it happens to be her birthday. So let's acknowledge Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Majority Leader on her birthday.

Senator Tim Kennedy, another person we all know as Western New Yorkers, but also as a statewide leader. I also know that his name is known throughout the state as the leader of the Committee on Transportation at a time when billions of dollars are coming out of Washington for infrastructure. He's become the most popular person in the state, and I look forward to working with him to deliver on many of your visions, as well as the visions of Congressman Higgins – focus on our waterfront, focus on our projects that make a difference as well as working with Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

And also the priorities of our mayor, again, another incredible leader through this process, we've had many conversations about how we can work to keep our schools open and make sure our businesses stay open. And you have been an amazing champion, I want to thank Mayor Byron Brown for all you've done for this community for many years, and we are grateful for your service as well, let's give him a round of applause.

I am going to run through a story here that you're going to hear more about because I think it's quite an incredible. Erie County’s progress, and Mark Poloncarz and I had countless daily calls. We were on what we called the control room way back, and we would literally for probably six, seven months straight daily calls managing the pandemic for upstate New York. And just recently Western New York was the highest, had the highest rate of infection in the entire state of New York.

This Thanksgiving surge, we saw it coming. But before others really saw how bad this could be, we had a leader who took strong action, and I want to thank County Executive Mark Poloncarz for putting in place a mask requirement just to keep people safe and what a difference that has made as well as other policies working in collaboration with us. And we've had a dramatic decline in cases here in Western New York. The highest was 72.2 cases per hundred thousand, which is a more accurate way of gauging this than just saying the percentages. That's a very high percentage. Yesterday was 55.3 per hundred thousand at a time when they're going up around the state. So I want to give you a round of applause, County Executive Poloncarz for what you've done.

And also we have partners in Washington. Thank God we have Joe Biden. He's been so responsive. He literally called me within minutes of his press conference, he said I've got to hang up, my press conferences started. I said thank you, Mr. President. I know your heart is with us here in the state of New York, because he's been concerned, but he also wanted to offer all the resources of the federal government to help us here in the state of New York.

And he offered immediately to send up teams of individuals, send up ambulances, more new testing sites, including sites in New York City, where you see the images of long lines and rapid tests will be sent to people in their own homes and made available.

So, I want to thank him for all he has done. We are going to have 12 new mobile testing sites. He also has our outstanding requests for disaster medical assistance teams. We have them here at Erie County Medical Center, as well as 200 more mobile testing sites. And helping our veterans’ administration with long-term space for our non-veterans as well. It is a multifaceted, all of the above approach. I want to thank President Biden for literally calling and offering his support as we've had many conversations with the White House as well.

Let's talk about this winter surge, we've been predicting it. Back on November 26, literally just under a month ago I signed an emergency order because we saw what was coming. Literally when this variant, Omicron, which was literally named that day by the World Health Organization as being a challenging variant and we saw the cases starting to spike in places like South Africa. I knew at that moment, we needed to take immediate action to make sure that if we had the surge and the spread that was predicted, that we would have sufficient bed capacity. I've said countless times, it's not the number of people infected that keep me up at night, it's the number who ended up at a hospital. And that's what I was trying to prevent is any challenging situations with respect to hospital capacity.

So, we paused non-essential elective procedures temporarily. We also required all the nursing homes in the State of New York to have boosters available. As you know, many, many of the residents of our nursing homes got the first vaccinations last December, January, February, and that was important. But we also have learned with these new variants, particularly Omicron, that the vaccine wears off after a period of time. Yes, you needed it at the time, but it fought against Delta, but this new variant, it's not being as strong against this, as well. So boosters are so critically important for us to get them literally into nursing homes. November 26, we made sure that that was a requirement. December 1st, we deployed National Guard into the nursing homes to help them with staffing issues. On the 10th of December, we implemented our option for businesses and indoor facilities to have a vaccine mandate or a mask mandate. And we've been now monitoring that very closely. We also continued to launch new vaccination sites on the 17th of December, adding 40 on top of the 15 we already had, which are existing day to day ones. And on Monday I announced an enhanced testing strategy, which I'll give a summary of.

So, we've been on top of this from the beginning. We are now a month into it and different parts of the state are being hit hard at different times. In Erie County we're not sure if that was residue of Delta or Omicron is still coming, that's why hospital capacity everywhere continues to be an important priority of ours.

But everyone is focused on testing kits. Well, we're ahead of this as well. We made sure we got those orders in when we could. We have 5 million take-home tests that will be available in the state by the 31st. On New Year's Eve you can get tested. Two million of those are going to our school districts. And I'll explain in a few minutes why that's so important. A million going to our county emergency managers. I traveled the state on Monday, as I was literally there people were receiving them and that was great news. 1.6 million going to New York City and 400,000 going to our testing kits. So, literally our next allotment is going to be 10 million tests to be available no later than New Year's Eve.

So what we have is 1 million take home plus the 10 million we just ordered plus the 26 that we just ordered and all will be available. We’ll have 37 million additional take-home tests for New Yorkers. And that is critically important. We think another 500,000 will be out this week as well.

We are also working on a portal so people can order these for themselves. President Biden mentioned similarly he wants to have a plan to do that so it makes it easier on people. We don't want people having to stand in long lines and we know there's a crush right now for people particularly who want to travel and see their family over the holidays. So we're upping our capacity as we speak.

New testing sites, just added 12 new testing sites on top of what we already had. And we are now going to have 12 on top of the seven we announced last week. So, every couple of days we are going to be able to bring on online news facilities.

Now, this may not be as relevant to people here in Western New York, where I am today, but if you are someone who takes the subway trains, very good news. We're announcing today that starting on the 27th of December, there'll be testing sites at MTA stations, Times Square, 42nd Street, Grand Central, as well as additional locations being rolled out throughout the next couple of weeks. So we're offering certain hours that's available. For Times Square it's 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM, 3:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Grand Central, as well as new sites. And so we have a lot of facilities coming online. As you mentioned, many places are having long lines. We're trying to eradicate that by making available right where people are, right where they commute and go into their offices in New York City.

Also, I mentioned that I wanted to put money on the line for the businesses, for the counties that are doing the right thing and making sure that we do have the enforcement of the vaccine or the testing sites, which we announced a couple of weeks ago. And so we're going to allow up to a million dollars for smaller counties and 2 million for larger counties. And we're engaging all the counties right now as we speak. So they have information how to apply for that. Schools, I've been saying this from the beginning, we have to keep schools open. This is a challenge, and this is a variant that we didn't first see, but we're watching very closely the effect on schools and even in New York City, which has a high infection rate now. The number of children affected is minuscule. Very few schools have had to close. We want to make sure after this holiday break that on this 3rd of January or shortly thereafter, that kids can safely come back to school. As we call it, we saw how devastating this experiment was in having children work remotely and the stress was on the teachers and the parents. We just can't set these kids back again.

And the wonderful difference from last time and now is that we now have vaccinations available for everybody from five years old on up. So there's no excuses, if the children are vaccinated and the teachers are vaccinated and the support staff are vaccinated, this can be as safe a place as anywhere. And allowing them to continue that essential learning that they missed out on for far too long.

One way we can help out with this is to, in fact, talk about our back to learning program, where if a child tests positive a child is exposed in a classroom to someone who tested positive, obviously the child testing positive is going to go home, but the entire class can go home with state provided testing kits that the parents will be able to use on their children with directions. Test the child, and if they are negative, the first day, send them back to school. A few days later, test again. If they continue to be negative, there's no reason why we have to have such a disruption. We saw this work in Grand Island and we were watching what happened on Grand Island for the rest of the state. And it was a great a pilot for us to know that this is important. So we can do this over seven days. We continue to do this as long as there's no symptoms, the children can and should be back at school so there's no disruptions to their education. So this is what we're focusing on.

Just to give you a last snapshot on our case numbers. Statewide, we're at 115 per a hundred thousand, which is, as you can see from that chart, this virus is going vertical. It’s going straight up. We have 28,924 cases yesterday, positive. Again, another day we're breaking records, not records were happy about. But they're continuing, and our hospitalizations, you can see where we were last January, and, previous, April, we hit that high. It's creeping up. It's heading upwards, but we still are at two thirds of the hospitalizations we were at this time last year. And to the families of the 57 lives who are lost, the individuals who will not be there for the holidays. This is a very, very hard time for them. And our thoughts and prayers go out and focus on their families and their recovery as well.

Again, I'll say this every day of the week in terms of whether we should be panicking, we're not panicking. We have the resources we need. We have vaccines, we have boosters. We have masks. We have people who are being smart with their social distancing and making sure that, if they have any symptoms whatsoever, that they stay home away from work and from church and from school and from their loved ones. So it's not March of 2020. It's not even December of 2020. We have to keep this in context. And so I want to congratulate all the New Yorkers and the leaders of various counties and local governments who've done the right thing. You are part of the success. Can you imagine the State of New York, if people had not gotten vaccinated and boosted, we would be overwhelmed with this variant, absolutely overwhelmed.

And because the vast majority have done the right thing, we have 94.6% of people over 18 who have had at least one dose. If you've had one dose and you're eligible for that second dose, what are you waiting for? Because that will not protect you against the variant, and people who are not vaccinated, are 20 times more likely to die from the new variant than someone who is vaccinated. And the booster is so essential, it's so critically important as well. So we are very much focused on the booster shots and are asking everyone to get that booster as well.

Vaccinations, I mentioned, the 94.6% of people, one dose. I want to see a higher number of children. Parents grandparents, aunts and uncles. Let's get this done. There's time now while the kids are on school break, it's the best Christmas gift you can give them is to give them the gift of health, and know when they come back to school that they'll be safer. We've had over 3 million doses done since December 1st, which is extraordinary. We've had over 3 million doses done since December 1st, which is extraordinary. We have enough, we have plenty of supply, unlike a year ago. And there's no reason not to. Let's get all the children safe and vaccinated. Boosters as I mentioned, we've gone up quite a bit on the boosters. We've had state-wise, 4.1 million people getting boosters. Also, people are going to want to see individuals that they care about in nursing homes. As I mentioned on November 26, we asked that every single nursing home in the state of New York made boosters available to the residents and we hope they took advantage of that as well as the staff.

So, people want to visit their loved ones. If they're not restricting visitors as some have done, but many have not. Please get the vaccine and get the booster before you visit your loved ones. Hospital capacity as I’ve mentioned early on, we talked about how we’re going to be keeping an eye on hospitals and working closely with them to send them the resources so they can free up the beds. And it's actually not the beds that are the problem. It's the staffing of the beds. So, we've gone from 32 that were in the area where they weren't able to do elective surgeries down to 22 and then a few more came on.

We’re watching this very closely, but we're thankful to President Biden for offering to fill our requests for more ambulance and EMS teams that we can help backfill here as well. If you are traveling, we're not saying don't travel. Last year’s isolation was painful. I remember zooming in with my family. I had to tell them I'm zooming in again this year, but I'm in an exceptional position. So, I have to stay in Albany and focus over Christmas on this pandemic. And I'm honored to do that on behalf of the state of New York, but other people who were not connected with their families a year ago. It was hard. And to all the families who want to be reunited, there is no reason not to. Just be smart, vaccines, boosters, mask. And when you're thinking about who's at your dinner table, think of the most vulnerable person. And can you live with the guilt? If something you did made them sick. So let's be smart about it. Get a test before you go.

There are literally 1800 testing sites in the state of New York. We're adding more by the minute. So we feel good about this. That's my last message. We're going to spread holiday cheer. We're not spreading COVID so let's keep things open. Let's do all the right things. We will not get complacent. We're almost through this battle my friends. We're not shutting down business. We're not shutting down schools. We want to keep everything open because there's no reason we can't if people do what we've simply asked them to do. Wear a mask. I can even order you one of these very fancy “We Are New York” Masks. These are great.

If you want one of these, I tend to stick with the other ones as well. I get them dirty with makeup all the time, that's a female problem. So thank you everyone. I want to thank all the members of the press for being here to cover this. Thank you. Thank you for caring enough to spread the message out and it's a simple message. It's a profound message. It's a message that will save people's lives during this holiday season, because we love everyone in this state. We want them to be there for the next holiday season as well. So let's not let those numbers of hospitalizations and deaths continue to escalate.

We have the power to stop it. And that's what I'm asking New Yorkers to do. Thank you.

Contact the Governor’s Press Office

Contact us by phone:

Albany: (518) 474-8418
New York City: (212) 681-4640