Announces Plan to Send Tests Home with Every K-12 Student Ahead of Midwinter Break
Over 14 Million Tests Will Have Been Sent to Schools by End of This Week
Nursing Home Cases Have Declined 30% Since Peak
2.2 Million Tests Already Sent to Nursing Homes and Congregate Settings, 200,000 More Coming This Week
"We saw what happened a year ago, but it doesn't have to be our destiny. Now there's no reason not to be vaccinated. No reason not to be boosted. No reason not to understand that the masks are making a difference. And that's why we're focused on all these tools. So the winter surge is not over, but we are in a far better position to deal with it. This rollercoaster is not over."
Earlier today at the State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the State's progress combatting COVID-19.
AUDIO of the event is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Thank you. First of all, when you think about extraordinary leaders during the pandemic, you have to think about what the leader of SUNY upstate has accomplished. Dr. Dewan, I want to thank you for first of all, early in the pandemic, I came to visit the incredible research that was being done right at your campus, it was extraordinary, but also the way that you innovated ways that we could test so many more students and that's why we were able to keep our colleges functioning during this time. And even, most recently, to be able to open up our college campuses when they were closed to students, but use them as testing sites and vaccination sites. So, thank you, you are a gem. We are so grateful that you are here right in the heart of New York State and we will continue to rely on you for innovating solutions and treatments, but also being there as you have been now with the resources. So thank you so much.
I also want to acknowledge some of our elected leaders who are here today, and you know, when you're in the trenches during a pandemic, you really get to know the character of people and their willingness to just do whatever it takes to protect citizens. And I want to start with someone I worked with a long time, Mayor Walsh. I want to thank you for what you've done. Ben Walsh and I, even during the pandemic, we walked around the city of Syracuse to let people know that there are still businesses and restaurants and small little mom and pop shops that needed attention. So even when things were still tough and the numbers were still high, we were out there working closely together. And I want to thank you for your leadership as well.
And our County Executive. I want to thank him for being a partner to the state, making sure that we do what's right to keep people safe, making sure that the resources were here, you made sure that you had that close connection with us so that you could ask for what you need right here on the ground. And I want to thank you so much, County Executive Ryan McMahon, for all he does. He's a great friend and an ally as well. So thank you, County Executive McMahon.
You also have the CEO of SUNY Upstate, Dr. Robert Corona, here as well. I want to thank him for all his great work as well as we have Council President Helen Hudson, hello, Helen, how are you? As well as legislator Peggy Chase, Minority Leader Chris Ryan, Onondaga County, Councilor Jen Schultz from Syracuse Common Council, and all of their elected leaders here because you have been incredible during this pandemic and I want to thank all of you for helping be at our side as we try to give hope to people and let them know that there's programs and ways to help people, whether it's with getting assistance for childcare centers, healthcare or hospitals, people in need of eviction assistance. So I want to thank all of you for being such incredible supporters.
And all the first responders we have here, let's just turn around and look at the individuals who are still all these months later, all these months and years later, are still putting on a uniform, heading out there, suited up for battle. Ladies and gentlemen, these are our incredible first responders and I want to thank them for all they do. And we have called upon them to do so much. I guarantee one year ago, last week when I opened this facility to be a mass vax site, there's no way any of us dreamed that we'd be gathering here and still having to provide vaccinations one year later, but we have done an amazing job.
This site has stepped up, we've done nearly 500,000 vaccines right here in this very site. And I want to thank everyone involved, who've been showing up and showing up and showing up, thank you for what you do for us.
I have been here many times. It's kind of more fun to come in the summertime when I have to go get my sausage and go see what the butter sculpture is this year. And, you know, the 25 cents for the chocolate milk yet. That's always a personal favorite. I've always been here. And even last summer, when I was a brand new Governor, I still came because I wanted to show how important this was to me. It's an important asset. It's says a statewide treasure.
So I want to thank everyone here at the fairgrounds. And like I said, we've done 465,000 doses already here, and we're continuing to keep up that effort. So I wanted to thank everyone involved in this effort.
But also just want to take a moment, literally one week ago, I offered the the state budget address, and it is a very good budget for this region.
And you know, this is home to me. I spent many years here as a student. I come here often. I was very privileged to speak at the Syracuse University commencement back in September, again on the job, just a couple of weeks, but I wanted to show how much I value this region [as an] important part of our state.
So, what we want to talk about is how we're going to focus on money for this area. And we've talked about I-81 for a long time. As a Syracuse University student, I used to walk under there and say it's kind of scary sometimes not sure I should be walking here. And I know that we could do so much better with the neighborhoods around there, but also to really right the wrongs of the past.
And I've spoken about a similar situation in Buffalo, just Saturday. To talk about how a beautiful Frederick Law Olmsted parkway, a humble parkway was just eviscerated when a giant highway came through known as a 33 known as the Kensington as well.
We have the same situation here in Syracuse. And you just have to step back sometimes and say, what were they thinking? They had no regard for urban communities, communities of color. And I do believe that they thought that they didn't have the political clout to stop something. So there was very little resistance because they weren't well-represented, these communities did not have a voice to represent them.
So back in the fifties and sixties, decisions were made that we now have to take the time to correct the wrongs of the past. And that's why we have $1.1 billion in our budget to go forth with the community grid project in Syracuse. And we're going to remove the existing structure, a new community grid, new green space, safe pedestrian and bicycle access.
Also, very exciting for our friends in labor, 25,000 good paying jobs right here, as we build this back over the next few years. And just to give you a timetable, our draft environmental impact study will be done very shortly, this spring. And I'm always pushing things to be done, but we're going to do it the right way.
And so we anticipate that the DOT will have a groundbreaking this fall, this fall. So get ready for that.
I'm also very interested in proposals like Blueprint 15, because there is a community that is crying out for help. And this is a once in a generational opportunity for us to respond to those needs with a thoughtful plan devised by the community. And I know the Mayor has taken many steps toward this. There's a lot of ideas.
Also, take a look at what was done in Rochester when they corrected the wrongs of having the Inner Loop out there and they were able to rebuild on the land there, and now there's beautiful neighborhoods, affordable housing, small shops and restaurants.
So that's what the opportunity lies before us, as we reimagine this neighborhood and make it just incredible. So, people will look back someday and say yes that was the right way to do this. And the community will be so important as we develop the East Adams neighborhood.
Also I want to make sure we have continued funding for mass transit, Centro, $42.4 million. And that is a whopping 13% increase, as opposed to a decrease. So that'll be there to make sure that we have easy, accessible ways for people to get to their jobs and continue to invest in public transit, our bus lines, et cetera, to make sure that we're also protecting the environment. These are environmentally smart ways to approach the future.
Also something that I'm very intrigued with is the Syracuse Developmental Center. This is an opportunity for us to seize on this property. It's a 620,000 square foot building, long abandoned, it's vandalized, broken windows, it is a disgrace. And I'm again with our local leader here, in terms of identifying that this should be a multi-use facility.
Let's not be limited by anything. Our, let our imaginations run wild with what we can do. I'm very focused on two things, affordable housing, but also workforce development. And there are great opportunities and we may be successful, we don't know yet, but with opportunities for new industries that are not even here yet, and I'm going to be excited as we move down the path to ensuring that we have the workforce, the workforce that future employers are looking for, because I can deliver that. We can deliver the businesses and the jobs, and there's just no stopping us. So I believe that this redevelopment needs to get jump-started and I want to focus on that with our local leaders as well. So I'm very excited about this
And that's estimated to raise as many as 400 jobs as well. So everybody, plenty of jobs out there as well. Another thing that we heard from our residents of our state, they need some relief. People who finally saw their income start to go up just a little bit, all of a sudden at the same time, inflation goes up. The price of gas, the price of milk.
If you waited to get a new car, it's so much more expensive now, rental units, housing. So we want to provide property tax relief. So we have a $2.2 billion rebate going to about two and a half million middle-class homeowners statewide. The benefit here will be about $839. This is the largest rebate ever given by the State of New York to the residents of this state.
And we're excited about also a middle-class tax cut that we're going to accelerate. It was supposed to rollout over the next two years, up to 2025. People need the money now, let's acknowledge that. So we looked at our budget and said, how can we give tax relief immediately? That means about 6 million taxpayers will get relief as well.
Small businesses slammed by this pandemic. And a lot of them had to spend extra money to expand their space, to have that room for social distancing or restaurants that even in a place like Syracuse, they want to have outdoor dining which I think is incredible. And you have to pay for those expensive heaters and more expansion, maybe it's in a parking lot or on the sidewalk out front. This all costs money, no fault of their own. Let's make it easier. Let's let them have a tax credit for any COVID related expenses. As long as we're at the fair. Let's talk about the fair. It's hard to believe there's more projects we could possibly do at the fairgrounds, but there are, and I see this as I come every year and we're going to invest another $33 million with fair-goer and pedestrian safety upgrades.
Also to work to, as we say, 'green' the fair. What does that mean? Rain gardens, rain water reduction systems, composting facility, and finalizing, yes, a greenhouse right here. So, so that's why I'm very excited to be announcing some of these projects right here, but we'll be back for many more. So get ready, get shovel your shovels ready, get your scissors ready, because we're going to be doing a lot in this area, which is so important to me as well. But as I mentioned, the fairgrounds have been such a vital, vital partner of ours in fighting this pandemic, and that is why we partnered as we're anticipating a very difficult winter surge and we weren't disappointed.
It was a very challenging surge. We started talking about this in October. And we partnered with our local and our federal leaders to help fight this. And I want to thank President Biden for helping us deliver this as a staging ground for 23 ambulance units. Every week, I'm on a call with either the president or the governors, and we're always putting in our requests to the White House. 14 of the 23 ambulance units came from President Biden, seven units from the state. And what they're doing, why do we need ambulance units?
We often have to transfer patients from hospitals because hospitals have reached capacity in many parts of our state. They need to be able to transfer someone somewhere else, but if they don't have the resources or the personnel, and we're dealing with a healthcare crisis of staffing, which is why I put $10 billion in my budget to address this, we can be smarter about how we handle patients and these individuals, and some of these vehicles represent that effort.
In fact, I was just in the North Country a couple weeks ago, December 29th. And I was up in Watertown and at Samaritan Medical Center, they said we want to be able to transfer patients to hospitals in the Syracuse area, but we all we have are volunteer firefighters and EMTs to do this. So we really need professionals who can help with this effort.
So that's why part of my winter surge plan was to really address the needs, the very specific needs, of the hospitals in our area. So before I go into today's data, I just want to hit some of the milestones. I mentioned winter surge. We forecasted this exactly. We saw what happened a year ago. This is a clear roadmap of what would happen as more people gathered over the holidays.
So look at our numbers. The blue is 2020. That was last year, kind of nice and flat there. And all of a sudden you saw the peak look at this year as the gold color. We saw an uptick Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and now we know there's one more vulnerability, which is a little hard to talk about, which is the Super bowl, that somebody else's team will be playing. I know I had to say that. Had hoped to be there, but not this time, there's always next year.
But we're heading for that, but it doesn't have to be our destiny. We don't have to follow that model, because this time last year we were literally opening sites like this for vaccinations. Now there's no reason not to be vaccinated. No reason not to be boosted. No reason not to understand that the masks are making a difference. And that's why we're focused on all these tools. So the winter surge is not over, but we are in a far better position to deal with it. And what I see is I study the trends statewide is that upstate is lagging behind.
We had a longer period before Omicron hit upstate, which was a nice longer period. We were watching what was happening in New York City as hospitals are filling up again and the testing rates were very high - positive rates were high. And now it's this area, Central New York, Mohawk valley, Western New York, they are catching up. They caught up. So the surge peak is a little bit more behind here, but we're starting to see some good numbers that I want to share with you. But as we talk about being at the fairgrounds, I'm saying, I don't want to be on a roller coaster anymore. I want to go straight down and let's hope that's what's in store for us.
So, we are going down. Look at these cases. Our seven day average. It's always better to look at the seven day average and I'll tell you why. We are all focused on our daily infection rates, but it's definitely a product of how much testing you do. At one point, we were doing 450,000 cases. A lot of people want to get tested before the holidays. They're going to see older parents, grandparents before they travel. And now we've seen people want to get tested. So it does skew the numbers a little bit. So it looks a little higher, than the fewer people getting tested might be getting tested because they're actually feeling symptoms.
So yesterday our statewide positive cases are definitely falling down. We had about 12,484, which sounded high at one time, but now it's compared to our peak of 90,000, January seventh. We had 90,000 positive cases, January 7th. We're still in the month of January. What an extraordinary drop that has been. An 86% drop in two and a half weeks. All the regions are declining, including upstate and yesterday, our central New York. Cases were 958. And that's down from 2,800, just January 4th. So again, heading in the right direction. 66% drop in just a couple of weeks.
So, Central New York, you're doing the right thing. We're heading in the right direction. So the trends' heading down, we're looking at even our percentage of positivity. Yesterday, Central New York was 17%. 17 sounds high except it's down from 26% just a couple weeks ago. And statewide we're still a little less than 10%, 9.6. And we were at 23 just on January 2nd. So as I mentioned our testing has dropped a lot.
We tested 129,000 in the last two days. Get more people in to be tested. You know, some are required to be tested for their jobs. We want people tested. That's another reason we keep schools open, making sure kids have test kits so they can stay in schools, but we have the capacity. We've built the infrastructure. We have the ability to have more people tested. So it's just another way to keep people safe. If they test positive they really need to isolate. This is how we can stop the continuation of the spread, which again has been working very far.
But also we monitor hospitalizations. This is a huge barometer of how we're doing and we're still dropping, thank God from the peak we were at two weeks ago. Two weeks ago we had over 12,000, almost 13,000 people hospitalized. Now we're down to 9,800, so it's still high. And we're also still losing our friends and family and our loved ones, 158 people we lost yesterday. And I saw that there was a milestone of a thousand deaths in Central New York here. And that just hits you. A thousand people who thought they were going to be with us, otherwise, perhaps healthy, and we lost them because of this pandemic.
So, never forget those individuals who lost their lives to this pandemic. So, statewide hospitalizations are down quite a bit from the week before. Regional hospitalizations I mentioned we're doing well, down about 20% here and we're doing much better overall. This is what kept me up at night. Not so much now, we're doing better, but for a long time, my concern was what do we deal with this winter surge? The numbers go up, the lagging indicator or hospitalizations a couple of days up to a week or two later. And we saw a huge spike in hospitalizations, but because we were ready, we prepared for it. We worked very hard to have surge flex capacity. We had a limit the ability for some hospitals to do elective surgeries, to give them more capacity, but all of that played into a better situation.
So hospitalizations are down. You can see the drop, those are significant drops. That is very good news. A 25% drop statewide over the previous week. Look what that does. Finally, finally, our healthcare workers in some parts of the State can take a breath, look at downstate in particular. So that's coming here. Just, everybody to hang on. Other than the Southern Tier, there's still a little spike there, but, and also I've mentioned this early on, almost half of our COVID cases in a hospital are not there because they're sick from COVID. You need to know this. So again, compared to the severity, now they're still taking up a bed. They're still requiring healthcare workers. They still may have, you know, need to be treated for a heart attack or another illness. So they still need attention, and it diverts. The more people we have in the hospital because of COVID, it's still putting tremendous stress on the healthcare system. I'm not saying that's not the case, but it is reassuring to know that this variant has not resulted in so many people having to be hospitalized because of their illness.
They just happened to be positive when they're admitted. So again, our statewide hospitalizations are continuing to trend downward. We're watching that closely. We're making progress. I just wanted to report that we are making progress. I want to give you hope, because I know you look at the numbers, you're always feeling like it felt like New York was getting called out. And I just want to let you know that we've taken important steps. We've, issued an executive order the very first day that anyone named Omicron, just think about this. How, in just a couple of months, Omicron has become a part of almost every conversation.
We never even heard of it. It wasn't named by the World Health Organization until November 26th, right before Thanksgiving. But we jumped right on it, because we saw the global. And that's what we started amassing supplies of testing kits and PPE and the masks. And we realized we need a strategy to pause elective surgeries. And at one time, we had 47 hospitals that had to stop elective surgeries to give them more capacity. And today we're down to 32. So working with our hospitals, our hospitals are our partners. They're our allies in this, helping them have the flexibility they need was important as well, as well as my strong desire to keep kids in school.
And that's why we were so aggressive in getting more testing kits. We ordered up to 85 million, we're 85 million, that's any more than any state in the nation. But I said, I want to make sure there's never going to be a reason why we can't keep our kids in school. No more of this, "Someone tests positive, and everybody goes home for 10 days." They go back for three days, someone else test positive they're home. That was almost as disruptive as the entire year and a half or a year of remote learning. So, keeping kids in school is best for their health. We keep them safe by making sure that they have test kits that go home with them if necessary. And I want to announce that as we're approaching the winter break, schools have different times, but between February and March, I want to make sure that we have enough kits to have every child be able to have a test kit sent home with them before the break. They're exposed during the break, they don't go back to school if they test positive. Or if they come back to school and other classmates are positive, that they can adjust. So I never want there to be a shortage of tests just so you know this. So we're going to make sure that we are ready for the winter break and we'll have enough for everybody. And we're starting again.
It's all about keeping kids in school and stopping the spread. And getting more kids vaccinated. We can do better on this. I'm still surprised, disappointed, that we don't have more children vaccinated above the age of five, it's available so we're popping up some more sites in all of our regions, seven right here in Central New York, and we're doing those next Tuesday to Thursday. So we'll be announcing our specific locations by the end of the day, but anybody please, and all the people who hesitated because they said, you know, "I'm not quite sure if they're tested, you know, I'm not sure if it's okay. I want, I don't want to be the first." Hundreds of thousands of kids have been now vaccinated. It is safe to do that. And this is what gives us the confidence to know when they're in school, if they're exposed, they're going to be okay. And that's so reassuring for all the parents who stepped up and made sure their kids are vaccinated. Want to thank all of them for doing that.
We also talked a lot about nursing homes. We have already deployed 2.2 million test kits to nursing homes and other congregate settings. These people are vulnerable. They have individuals coming from the outside, whether they work there or whether or not they are individuals just visiting them. You want to go see a loved one, and it was, it was painful, all that time when you couldn't visit family and loved ones in a nursing home. We understand that.
But finally, because of our testing and focusing on controlling the spread, our cases are down 30% in nursing homes. That's really important. And making sure we protect the staff, the residents as well. So we're seeing that great decline that's down from, 30% higher, just as of January 22nd. So vaccinations, I mentioned this, see the number they're not happy about at the bottom there? 26% completed series for five-to- 11 year olds. This has been out for a while. There's plenty of places. There's no excuses. Let's ramp up the outreach to people we know. Our elected officials, the media, parents, community leaders. Please help us again. We're going to make sure that we can do everything we can and create accessibility. It's free. Doctors endorse it, it keeps families healthy.
So again, boosters. Get your booster because everybody who is vaccinated and boosted, not everybody, almost everybody had a much better experience if they did come down and test positive for Omicron, the effects were minimal compared to what they could have been. The number of people in hospitals who are unvaccinated is off the charts, that sign is right there, but those who are boosted and vaccinated, very few are ending up in the hospitals because of this. So that's really important. So these are the numbers we have on people getting boosted.
So just to wrap it up, and I thank everyone for listening. This rollercoaster is not over. I look forward to coming back next summer and having some fun on the rides and having a great time, we'll get there. But if we continue to do what we've been doing all along, as much as it sounds like we keep saying it over and over, we still have more people that should be vaccinated and boosted. Children in particular and wear the masks. The ones that we know are, are more protective. If you're not feeling great, just take a day off, go home and watch some good Netflix. I've got a lot of recommendations for you. Just know you're doing the right thing, you know, take care of it. My sister just came out and she sent me her negative test today. She'd been home for five days here. She asked "What did you think, I'm binging on Netflix, what else did you do?" So that's the right answer.
But all of you who stepped up and showed up, again, I want to thank all of our first responders, our elected leaders. And our allies in healthcare, and at SUNY upstate, extraordinary. So thank you very much. And I will see you all again with more announcements and more great news for Central New York.
Thank you very much for coming.