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Homeland Security

New York State

Rush Transcript: After Weeks of Demanding Approval, Governor Cuomo Announces FDA Gives New York State Authority to Conduct All COVID-19 Testing at Public and Private Labs

March 13, 2020

A rush transcript is available below:

Good afternoon. Everybody know our good Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, Budget Director Robert Mujica.

Let's give you an update on today. I was in New Rochelle this morning where we opened our drive through testing facility, which is a great piece of work and it is smart and it is innovative. I want to thank all of the people that made it happen and made it happen very quickly. I especially want to than the healthcare workers who were there. These healthcare workers, the nurses, the doctors, they are really just remarkable people. Just think about it. They are anxious and they put themselves in that situation because they are there to help other people. So, God bless them.

The focus for New York and about every state in the country is reducing the spread of the virus. We have said the way to reduce the spread, the rate of the spread, is a two pronged approach. Reduce the density, yesterday we announced measures to reduce the density, gathering of 500 over, etc. The second way is to increase the testing capacity. The more you test. The more positives you find. The more you can isolate. The more you can reduce the spread. You learn from the countries that have come before: China, South Korea, Italy. The better you are at testing, the more you test, the more you can reduce the spread.

I have told you that we are talking to the federal government about the federal government authorizing states to do testing. States, state health departments regulate labs in their states. If you go for a test now at a lab that is regulated by the state, we need obviously more testing capacity and we need it quickly. So I said I spoke to the Vice President about this. Vice President Mike Pence is a former governor so he understood the state's roles, the departments of health and regulating laboratories. He said he would look at it. I said I thought it could make a tremendous difference.

I spoke with the Vice President today and I spoke with the President. They are authorizing New York State to do the testing and allowing our labs to do the test, and allowing the State Health Department to set up the protocol. That will increase dramatically our testing capacity. I want to thank the President and the Vice President for their receptivity to the idea. And I want to thank them for their quick turnaround.

We have the authorization as of today. So today the State Health Department will be going out to the 28 laboratories that the Department of Health works with on complex testing matters. And those 28 labs will be authorized to do testing. So, we are down in the boiler room now turning all the valves. The labs will be coming on. We think next week we will be going up to a capacity of about 6,000 tests per day which would be a dramatic increase for us. To date we've done about 3,000 tests so that is a very, very big difference. Testing is probably the single most important thing that we can be doing now and as I said it will, that will double. We'll be able to do about in one day all the tests that we have done to date, believe it or not. So again, I want to thank the Vice President and especially the President who facilitated this and moved quickly.

A couple of quick items on the Executive Order - I'm going to do another Executive Order. There are issues that come up that need to be addressed. Unemployment insurance - we're going to waive the seven-day waiting period for anyone who was unemployed as a result of quarantine or laid off because of the virus. Local schools are making a decision whether to stay open or close. That's a local decision. The State rule is if a child in that school tests positive the school must close for 24 hours so we clean the school, assess the situation and then make a decision. Some of the schools want to know if they close do they get penalized by the State for not following the 180-day rule which is 180 days of class to qualify for State funding. We're going to waive the 180-day requirement.

Some utility companies are in a position where people may not be able to pay their utility bill because they got laid off or they're working less. The PSC, Public Service Commission, is going to put out an order that says no utility can turn off a utility to a person who hasn't paid their bill as a result of responding to this virus situation.

We also need to come up with an answer to political petitions that are now being circulated to put people, qualified people, to run for election. Normally you go door to door with a petition and you speak to the person who opens the door and you ask them to sign a petition. This is not the best time to be sending people door to door. It's the exact opposite of what we're trying to do. I don't know the specific solution but I know it's something that we have to address.

I'll give you the numbers for today. That's the total number of people tested - about 3,200. The number of cases, current total 421. We've gone up 96. New York City you can see went up 59 cases to a total of 154. Westchester went up 10 to 158. These are the counties that have cases. Schenectady is actually a new county for a case. New York now has the highest number of cases in the country. New York and Washington go back and forth. Washington had more deaths, obviously, because it was in the vulnerable situation. Senior citizens, senior care facilities, nursing home facilities, those are the number one situation that we're through this.

Current hospitalizations: 50 out of the 421 cases, that's a 12% hospitalization rate. 18 are in intensive care. We have 3,200 intensive care beds in this state. Total number of hospital beds at 53,000, but 3,200 ICU beds. When I spoke over the past few days, I've been talking about watching the hospitalization rate and in particular the rate of people needing the ICU. This is where Italy got into trouble. They didn't have enough ICU beds to handle the number of patients who needed intensive care. That is going to be a problem in this state and in this country. That's something that we have to watch very, very carefully. We've been talking to the hospitals about how you increase capacity quickly. Staffing capacity, facility capacity. Cancelling elective surgeries, which can add a significant amount of capacity. If you have an elective surgery - you want a hip replacement, some other type of elective surgery - there may come a point in time, and I'd say it's probable, where we may postpone elective surgeries because we need that hospital staff to be taking care of this issue. But that is a major problem that we're looking at down the road.

Again, perspective on all this, the Johns Hopkins numbers. Everybody's anxious, everybody's nervous. Johns Hopkins has been tracking the facts. I understand emotion. I also understand facts. You want to relax yourself, you want to understand what's going, look at the facts. They have tracked every coronavirus case, 137,000. 5,000 people have passed away. You look into that 5,000 number, you're going to see senior citizens, and you're going to see people who had underlying respiratory illnesses that were preexisting. You're going to see people with compromised immune systems. The same type of people who would be effected by the flu, but at a higher rate of infection and a higher rate of mortality. 69, almost 70,000 recoveries worldwide, 62,000 pending. We're dealing with the virus and we're dealing with people's perception.

Any emergency, any disaster. You have the issue that you're dealing with, could be a fire, could be flood, could be an impending hurricane. You have the issue and then you have the public perception of the issue. And the fear, the anxiety, the panic, can be a more difficult issue than the underlying issue you're dealing with. And you have a lot of anxiety. I think much more anxiety than the facts would justify. But there are emotions, right. Emotions don't have to be fact-based. And part of my job is to say that the people of this state, what the reality is and what they should expect. First, this is not going to be a quick situation. This is going to be weeks, months, I would calibrate ourselves. This is not going to be gone next week. It's not going to be return to normal next week. Look at China, look at South Korea, look at Italy, look at the trajectory. This is months, so prepare yourself. And this is going to be everywhere. This day-to-day count, we're up two, we're up seven. My guess is there are thousands and thousands of cases walking around the State of New York

My guess is there are thousands of cases of people who had coronavirus, didn't even know they had the coronavirus, had symptoms, resolved, moved on, and never knew they had it. 80% will self-resolve. There could be tens of thousands of people who had it. So, this fascination with how many cases today - the number of cases we're doing to try to identify positive people. It is not in any way representative of the sample of how many people have coronavirus. You have to keep that in perspective.

Also, everybody wants to protect themselves, you want to protect your family, and you want to protect your children. What do I have to do? What do I have to do? People ask me ten times a day. At one point, you can't control the situation and that is where we are. You can't protect yourself, you can't hermetically seal yourself and your family. Someone will touch your child. Someone will put their hand down and then your child will put their hand down. That is going to happen to you, it is going to happen to your children. That's why the facts are important. "Well, what happens if my loved ones, my brother, my sister, my mother" 80% are going to self-resolve. If they're in a vulnerable class, be careful, be careful today, because it can be problematic.

But thinking that you're going to escape coming into contact with this is not going to happen. One of my daughters was in precautionary quarantine, right? She came in contact with someone who was in a hot spot, who we didn't know whether or not that person was positive, so she was precautionary quarantined for 14 days. My daughter, you know. That's everything to me. That's why I get up in the morning. How could I protect my daughter? Why didn't I protect my daughter? Because it's impossible. It's impossible.

Now, my daughter is a young woman. She's not one of the vulnerable categories. So, I have to talk myself through the facts, right. You're talking about my child, right. You want to talk about emotion. Just, just goes up in you. So I had to talk myself through the reality of the situation and the facts of the situation, to calm myself. So I understand fully the anxiety that people feel. I understand the questions. But again, facts, the facts do not justify the fear. And I know more facts than anyone. I'm doing this every day. But, my daughter was possibly exposed because you can't control it. Who knows where the cab driver was? Who knows where the person who sits next to you on the bus was? Who knows where your buddy was last night who may have come into contact with a person who then finds out that they were in contact with a person. You know, you can't. You can't.

The good news is the facts. And yes, if you are in the vulnerable population, it's different. If it was my mother may have been exposed, then I would be more concerned. So what am I doing? I'm taking more precautions with my mother. And I talk to her about it every day. Because, you know, I'm just a son, and she knows better than I know, and she gave birth to me, so by definition there's nothing that I could ever tell her in my life that is valuable, because she gave birth to me, so by definition, I am just inherently inferior, which I understand and which happens to be true. But that's a different situation. So, all of this to say you can't, nobody is going to be immune from this. But, the facts say we have to do what we have to do but we're going to handle it and we're going to get past it.

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