Rush Transcript: Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Accepts Recommendation of Army Corps of Engineers for Four Temporary Hospital Sites in New York
March 22, 2020
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Good morning, happy Sunday. Thank you for being here. We want to give you an update on where we are and some suggest actions going forward. The numbers are still going up, as we've discussed. If you watch the other countries you will see that trajectory and trying to turn that trajectory, but as of now the numbers are continuing to increase. What we're working very hard to do is keep the rate of increase of the spread of the disease to a level that we can manage it in our hospital system. We have 53,000 hospital beds available. Right now, the curve suggests we could need 110,000 hospital beds and that is an obvious problem and that's what we're dealing with.
You have the nation's role in this situation, you also have the state's role. This is what they call an emergency management situation and there are rules for emergency management - who does what. Basically, the state governments, local governments manage an emergency unless the emergency overwhelms the capacity of the local government. Then, the higher level of government takes over. That happens even on the state level. A city will be in charge, a county will be in charge unless it overwhelms their capacity and then the state comes in and takes over. The federal government has made a decision to leave the states in charge of deciding quarantine procedures, whether to open, whether to close. That's why you see New York taking certain actions, Illinois taking certain actions, different states taking certain actions. Because the federal government, this far, has said different situations in different states, let the states decide dependent upon the number of cases they have. I think that has been right, to date. That could change, but it's been right to date. However, the federal government should nationalize medical supply acquisition. The states simply cannot manage it. This state cannot manage it, states all across the country can't manage it. Certainly the states who are dealing with the highest case load can't handle it. But you're hearing it all across the country from states - they just can't deal with finding the medical supplies that they need. That's why I believe the federal government should take over that function of contracting and acquiring all the medical supplies that we need.
Currently, when states are doing it, we are competing against other states. In some ways, we're salvaging other states. I'm trying to buy masks - I'm competing with California and Illinois and Florida and that's not the way it should be, frankly. Price gouging is a tremendous problem and it's only getting worse. There were masks we were paying 85 cents for, we're not paying 7 dollars. Why? Because I'm competing against every other state and, in some cases, other countries around the world. Ventilators, which are the most precious piece of equipment for the situation, they range in price from 16,000 dollars to 40,000 dollars each. And New York State needs 30,000 ventilators. This is just an impossible situation to manage. If we don't get the equipment, we can lose lives that we could have otherwise saved if we had the right equipment.
The federal government has two options to handle this. Voluntary partnership with companies, where the federal government says to companies I would appreciate if you would work with us and do this. And the President has done that and he seems to have gotten a good response on a voluntary basis. The other way is what is called the Defense Production Act where the federal government has the legal authority to say to companies you must produce this now. It is invoking a federal law. It is mandating that that private companies do something. But I think it is appropriate. If I had the power, I would do it in New York State because the situation is that critical. I think the federal government should order factories to manufacture masks, gowns, ventilators, the essential medical equipment that is going to make a difference between life and death.
It is not hard to make a mask or PPE equipment or a gown, but you need companies to do it. We have apparel companies that can make clothing, well then you can make a surgical gown and you can make a mask. But they have to be ordered to do it. If the federal government does it, then they can do it in a very orderly way. They can decide how many they need. They can designate how many each factory should produce, and then they could distribute those goods by need rather than having the states all compete against each other.
It would also be less expensive because it would avoid the price gouging that is now happening in this marketplace. I can tell what is happening. I will contract with a company for 1,000 masks. They will call back 20 minutes later and say the price just went up because they had a better offer and I understand that. Other states who are desperate for these good literally offer more money than we were paying. And it is just a race that is raising prices higher and higher. We even have hospitals competing against other hospitals. If the federal government came in, used the Defense Production Act, you could resolve all of that immediately.
Also, we need the product now. We have cries from hospitals around the state. I have spoken to other governors across the country. They have the same situation. They need these materials now and only the federal government can make that happen. So I believe the federal government should immediately utilize the Defense Production Act. Implement it immediately, let's get those medical supplies running and let's get that moving as quickly as possible.
In terms of federal government funding, they should prioritize the funding. Individuals need money. You are laid off. You are going paycheck to paycheck. We took care of the rent issue here in New York, the mortgage payment, but you have to buy food. You have to buy essentials and if you have not worked and you're laid off, you're in trouble. So I think the federal government is exactly right, the president has talked about this, get funding into the pockets of families that need it to live. Second, money to governments - I'm spending money right now that we don't have. I'm not going to deprive people of medical services, but the economy is stopped, people are not paying their taxes, if you're not paying your taxes, that's a state source of revenue, so funding from the federal government is essential for me. And third, the corporate subsidies that the president is talking about I think is also right, but the corporate funding should not be a gift to corporations at the taxpayers' expense. Let's learn from what happened in 2008 - I was Attorney General at the time in the State of New York - where we bailed out corporations, they bought back stock, they paid their corporate executives handsomely. They benefited from taxpayer money, and the taxpayers wound up getting none of the profits. The citizens should benefit from the corporate success. If the government takes equity, if the government charges an interest rate, but this time, if the taxpayers are going to bail out these big corporations, make sure the taxpayers share in the success of these corporations. Let's do it right this time.
Also the federal funding, they're working on another coronavirus bill - I was in Washington for eight years. This should not be the usual sausage making of pork barrel. When you do a piece of legislation in Washington, most legislators, it becomes the expression, "sausage making," it becomes "pork barrel." It goes through the political process, and the political process says everybody should get some money. Which dilutes the funding, gives it to communities and governments that don't really need the funding and doesn't even address the need, it's one of the reasons people are suspect of government spending, right, because it winds up pork barrel. Every Senator is going to say, "I want money for my state." Every congressperson says, "I want money for my local district. I want to be able to go home with a little package that I can hand to my local government." That's not what this is about in this case. This is about addressing a need and getting funding, precious funding, to people and places that need it. And the rule here should be, money follows the need. It's that simple. What places need it? Self-serving, but New York State has 15 times more cases than any other state right now. Fund the states, fund the places that need it. Follow the number of cases, and use need as the basis for funding. It's common sense. It would be respected by the people of this nation, and the alternative to politicize this funding process is intolerable.
To my congressional delegation, I say, "Look, New York received no funding from the first coronavirus bill, even though New York has the greatest need," and that was a technical mistake in how they wrote the bill. Political custom is one politician or elected official should not pressure people of their own party - my congressional delegation is largely Democrat - so political custom would be well don't pressure another Democratic elected official. I say that is baloney. I represent all the citizens of the State of New York. It's a very simple job I have. I fight for New Yorkers, period. Democrats, Republicans, period, and this is no time to play politics and we need our congressional delegation to stand up and fight for New York.
Also on the federal role, I'm requesting today from the federal government that the Army Corps immediately proceed to erect temporary hospitals. I went out yesterday - I surveyed the sites. There are several good options that give us regional coverage. An Army Corps temporary hospital at Stony Brook, which is on Long Island, Westbury, which is on Long Island, Westchester, where we have that terrible cluster, which is thank goodness reducing, and the Javits Center which is a very large convention center in New York, and New York City, which is where we have the highest number of cases. I met with the Army Corps. They've reviewed these sites. I approve it. I approve it on behalf of the State of New York, and now we just have to get it done and get it done quickly.
These temporary hospitals are helpful but they don't bring supplies and they don't bring staff. And that compounds our problem of having enough medical supplies and frankly compounds our problem of not having enough medical staff because we are trying to increase the capacity in our existing hospitals. The sites that we picked allow for indoor assembly of these facilities, so they won't be out of doors, they'll be indoors, some places we may need to do them outdoors, but these campuses also have dormitories where the healthcare staff can stay. They're very large - there's space and again I have made all necessary approvals so from my point of view construction can start tomorrow. These are pictures of the places where we would assemble them. In Stony Brook, Westbury, Westchester County Center in Westchester, all indoor locations, all open, all ready, accessible. Jacob Javits Center, just expanded it, one of the largest convention centers in the country. It is open, it is ready to go. There is no red tape on the side of New York. We are also asking FEMA to come in, Federal Emergency Management Agency, to come in and erect four federal hospitals at the Javits Center. The federal hospital by FEMA is different than the Army Corps of Engineers temporary facility. The FEMA hospitals come with staff and with supplies. They're in 250-bed configurations, we're asking for 4 of those 250-bed configurations to be assembled in Javits Center. The Javits Center can easily manage them. It's in the heart of Manhattan. They're fully equipped, they're fully staffed. Again, we are ready to go as soon as the federal government is ready to go.
That will then give us regional coverage in downstate New York which is our most heavily impacted area. The President signed the FEMA Emergency Declaration which allows FEMA to go to work. By that emergency declaration, funding for these services is split: 75 percent by the federal government, 25 percent by the state government. The federal government can waive the state's share as they call it, waive the 25 percent from the state. I'm also requesting that the President waive the 25 percent. I just cannot pay the 25 percent. We literally don't have the funding to do it. And by the way, I don't believe any state will be in the position to w the 25 percent. So I don't just say that on my behalf, I say that on behalf of all the governors.
I'm the Vice Chairman of the National Governor's Association. I've been speaking with governors all across the nation. No state has the financial capacity to participate in my opinion. But I know, for sure, New York doesn't because we are the heaviest hit state right now. I'm asking the President to do what I did here in the State of New York, cut the red tape, cut the bureaucracy, just cut to the chase. Get the Army Corps of Engineers moving, get FEMA moving, let's get those buildings up. Let's have them in place before that trajectory hits it's apex. Time matters, minutes count and this is literally a matter of life and death.
We get these facilities, we get the supplies, we will save lives. If we don't, we will lose lives. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I want to be honest and that is the simple fact of this matter. We're also implementing the trial drug. We have secured 70,000 hydrocloroquin; 10,000 zithromax from the federal government. I want to thank the FDA for moving very expeditiously to get us this supply. The President ordered the FDA to move and the FDA moved. We're going to get the supply and the trial will start this Tuesday. The President is optimistic about these drugs and we are all optimistic that it could work. I've spoken with a number of health officials and there is a good basis to believe that they could work. Some health officials point to Africa, which has a very low infection rate and there's a theory that because they're taking these anti-malaria drugs in Africa, it may actually be one of the reasons why the infection rate is low in Africa. We don't know, but let's find out and let's find out quickly. And I agree with the President on that and we're going to start and we're going to start Tuesday.
I also think the FDA should start approving serial-logical testing for coronavirus antibodies and they should do it as soon as possible. What this does is it tests the blood to see if you have antibodies that were created to fight the coronavirus. Remember, all the health officials say the coronavirus was here before we started to test. Many more people have had the coronavirus than we think, most people have resolved the coronavirus who have had it. How do you know that? You can test and find the antibodies that the body created to fight the virus. If you have that antibody it means you had the virus and you resolved it. Why do you want to know that? Because I want to know who had it, who has the antibody which means they most probably will not get it again and that can help us get our medical staff back to work faster. So it's a different level of testing, but I think the FDA should move as expeditiously as they have before on this type of testing. Find out who had it, who has the antibodies and that will help us, especially on medical staff shortages.
Also on the state role, what am I supposed to do, I'm not just looking to the federal government. I understand that we are responsible here in the State of New York and we're doing everything we can on hyper speed. We have to expand the existing hospital capacity. This gets back to the 53,000 current beds when we may need 110,000 beds. We have said to the hospital administrators, we have a goal of you increasing the capacity in each hospital by 100 percent. Yes, an ambitious goal. Yes, very difficult. Yes, it may be impossible in some places. But remember, a hospital is highly regulated, space is regulated, the number of beds in a room is highly regulated. We're waiving all those regulations and saying just from a physical capacity point of view, see if you can increase your capacity 100 percent. Where did we get 100 percent? We have 53,000 beds, we have to get to 110,000 beds, everyone increases by 100 percent, we meet the goal. Simple, a little too simple, but we understand many hospitals won't be able to do it.
However, at a minimum, hospitals must give us a plan to increase capacity by at least 50 percent. So we would be at about 75,000 minimum against the 110 need. We would still have to find additional beds. I understand that and you see what we're doing with the federal government. There's an opportunity there but every hospital, goal of 100 percent increase in capacity, mandate of 50 percent increase in capacity. We also have an intensive care unit bed issue where we have to increase the number of intensive care units. That is limited by the number of ventilators. What makes an ICU bed and ICU bed in this case? It's that the ICU bed has a ventilator and that's when we get back to needing the ventilators desperately so we have those ICU beds.
We're putting out a Department of Health emergency order to hospitals that says we're not just asking you to do this. It wouldn't just be a nice thing. I'm not just asking you as Governor as a civic obligation. This is a law that the hospitals must come up with a plan to increase capacity a minimum of 50, goal of 100 percent.
We're also canceling all elective, non-critical surgery for hospitals as of Wednesday. Elective, non-critical - the critical surgery, fine. If it's not critical then postpone it. That alone should get us 25 to 35 percent more beds and again that is a mandate that is going into effect for the hospitals.
I understand the hospitals are not happy about it. I heard that the elective surgery is a big source of revenue for the hospitals. I understand that but this is not about money. This is about public health and we're putting that mandate in place starting today.
We're also creating additional bed in places where we can. We're taking over existing residential facilities, hotels, nursing homes and repurposing existing facilities. For example this is the Brooklyn Health Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare, 600 beds that we're going to take over and it will serve as a temporary hospital and we're doing this in facilities all across the state.
Two different facts I want to make sure were clear just so there's no confusion. Fact one, young people can get the coronavirus. They're wrong when they say they can't get it. They can get it. Eighteen to 49-year-olds represent 53 percent of the total cases in New York. This is not China, this is not South Korea, on the theory that I'm an American youth and therefore I have a superior immune system than China or South Korea. No. That theory is not correct. In New York, 53 percent of the cases, 18 to 49 years old.
Second fact, older people and those with compromised immune system, underlying illnesses, can die from the coronavirus. You're right the 18- to 49-year-old is probably not lethal but you can get it and you can get sick and it's a nasty illness and then you can transfer it to someone else. That's the case for young people. Older people, obviously if you're a vulnerable person it can be lethal.
Both facts are true and both facts have to be understood. Young people can get it, you will get sick, you probably won't die, but you can transfer it to someone who many very well die and you can transfer it even inadvertently without knowing you're doing it. You can touch a surface, walk away, a day later someone could sit at this table and put their hand in the same place and contract the virus.
I was in NYC yesterday. It was a pretty day. There is a density level in New York City that is wholly inappropriate. You would think there was nothing going on in parts of New York City. You would think it was just a bright, sunny Saturday. I don't know what I'm saying that people don't get. I'm normally accused of being overly blunt and direct and I take that. It's true. I don't know what they're not understanding. This is not life as usual. None of this is life as usual. This kind of density, we talk about social distancing, I was in these parks - you would not know that anything was going on. This is just a mistake. It's a mistake. It's insensitive, it's arrogant, it's self-destructive, it's disrespectful to other people and it has to stop and it has to stop now. This is not a joke and I am not kidding. We spoke with the Mayor of the City of New York and the Speaker of the City Council Corey Johnson. I told both of them that this is a problem in New York City. It's especially a problem in New York City parks.
New York City must develop an immediate plan to correct this situation. I want a plan that we can review in 24 hours so that we can approve it. There are many options. You have much less traffic in New York City because non-essential workers aren't going to work. Get creative. Open streets to reduce the density. You want to go for a walk? God bless you. You want to go for a run? God bless you. But let's open streets, let's open space - that's where people should be, in open spaces areas, not in dense locations. There is no group activity in parks. That is not the point. We spoke about it the other day. Also I saw kids playing basketball yesterday. I play basketball. There is no concept of social distancing while playing basketball. It doesn't exist. You can't stay six feet away from a person playing basketball. You can, but then you're a lousy basketball player and you're going to lose. You just cannot do that.
We also have bigger parks in New York City. We opened Shirley Chisolm parks in Brooklyn. 400 acres. Van Cortlandt Park. There are big parks, there are big spaces. That's where you want to be. But we need a plan from New York City, I want it in 24 hours because this is a significant problem that has to be corrected.
In terms of numbers, I said yesterday, New York is testing more people any state in the country and per capita more than any country on the globe. That is a positive accomplishment, pardon the pun, because we want testing, we want more testing. We ramped up very quickly, we're doing it better than anyone else. That is a good thing because when you identify a positive, then you can isolate that person and that's exactly what we're trying to do. When you increase the number of tests, you're going to increase the number of people who test positive. The numbers show exactly that. We have now tested 61,000 people. Newly tested, 15,000 people. These numbers just are exponential to what is being done anywhere else in the country. That's why you're going to see much higher numbers than anywhere else.
Total number of new cases, 15,000. I'm sorry - total number of cases, 15,000. Total number of new cases, 4,800 new cases. You see the state - more and more counties, we're just down to a handful of counties now where we don't have existing cases. As I said, that is going to be 100% covered, it's just a matter of time.
On the hospitalization rate, which is a number that I watch very closely, it's 1,900 cases out of 15,000. 13%. 13% is actually lower than it has been. We've been running at 15%, 16%, as high as 20%. This is 13%. This is the key indicator because this is saying how many people are going to come in to your healthcare system as the number goes up. So, this is not bad news.
Across the country, you see New York now has 15,000 cases. Washington State, 1,600. California, 1,500. So we have roughly 15 times the number of cases. Now, do we really have 15 times the number of cases? You don't know. We're testing much more than anyone else. So that is a major factor in this. But I have no doubt that we have more cases. We have more density, we have more people from other countries who come to New York than any other states, so I have no reason to believe that we don't have more. I don't believe we have 15 times more - I believe that's also a factor that we test more than anyone else.
114 deaths in New York, total number of deaths 374 in the country. And that is a sobering, sad, and really distressing fact that should give everyone pause because that's what this is all about is saving lives and we've lost 114 New Yorkers. Keeping it all in perspective, Johns Hopkins has followed this from day one. 311,000 cases. 13,000 deaths. Statewide deaths, to the extent we can research the cause of death and the demographics of death, what we're seeing roughly. 70% of those who passed away were 70 years old or older. And the majority had underlying health conditions, okay? So it is what we said it was. Approximately 80% of the deaths of those under 70 years old had an underlying health condition. So, young people can get it. Young people will get sick. Young people can transfer. Mortality, lethality, older, compromised immune system, underlying illness. That's what we're seeing. But even within that population, the capacity of our healthcare system can save those lives. It doesn't mean just because you're 80 and you have a compromised immune system or you have an underlying health condition and you get coronavirus, you must pass away. That's going to depend on how good our healthcare system is. But, in terms of overall perspective, I'm afraid for myself, I'm afraid for my sister, I'm afraid for my child, older, underlying illness, be very very very careful. This gets back to Matilda's Law, this gets back to my mother. That's my fear - it gets back to nursing home, senior care facilities, et cetera.
Personal advice, this is not factual. I try to present facts. I try to present everything I know. I try to present unbiased facts. I try to present numbers because people need information. When you get anxious, when you get fearful, when you don't get the information or you doubt the information, or you think people do not know what they are talking about, or you think you are getting lied to, so I present facts. This is personal advice. This is not factual. So it is all gratuitous. You can take it and you can throw it in the pail.
But we have to think this situation through. Don't be reactive at this point to this situation. Yes, you are out of control in many ways. You are out of control to this virus. You are out of work. Situations are changing. They are not in your control. You don't even know how long this is going to go on. This is a very frightening feeling, that is true.
You can also take back some control. Start to anticipate and plan for what is going to go on. Plan for the negatives and plan for the positives. There are going to be negative and there are going to be positives. There are real economic on sequences. How do you handle the economic consequences? You are not alone. It is everyone in the United States, that is why you see this federal government acting quickly to get funding into the pockets of families who need it. But think through what the economics mean.
Think through the social issues and the social impact of this. Think through the emotional issues of this. It would be unnatural if you did not have a flood or emotions going on. It would be unnatural, if you didn't have a lot of emotions going on. It would be unnatural. Either you wouldn't understand what was happening or you wouldn't appreciate it, but if you know the facts and you understand what's going on, you have to have a flood of individual emotions, positive and negative and anticipate it. You know, "Stay home, stay home, stay home," well when you stay home, remember the old expression, "Cabin fever," right? You stay home alone - you don't want to be isolated emotionally. You can be isolated physically - you don't want to be isolated emotionally. You want to keep those physical connections. You want to talk to people, you want to write letters, you want to have emotional connectivity. That is very important. If you're not alone and you're in the house with the family, and the kids and everybody's together - that's a different set of emotional complexities. Being in that enclosed environment, normally the kids are out, everybody's going to work, you're only together a short period of time of the day.
Now you're all in the same place for 24 hours. I remember when the kids were young, what it was like, it was pure joy, but I remember what it was like to be with them for multiple hours and it's complicated. I live alone - I'm even getting annoyed with the dog, being in one place. So think that through because that is real, and it's going to go on for a period of time. This is not a short-term situation. This is not a long weekend. This is not a week. The timeline, nobody can tell you, it depends on how we handle it, but 40 percent, up to 80 percent of the population will wind up getting this virus. All we're trying to do is slow the spread but it will spread. It is that contagious. Again, that's nothing to panic over. You saw the numbers. Unless you're older with an underlying illness, etcetera, it's something that you're going to resolve but it's going to work its way through society. We'll manage that capacity rate but it is going to be four months, six months, nine months.
You look at China, once they really changed the trajectory which we have not done yet, eight months, we're in that range. Nobody has a crystal ball. Nobody can tell you. Well I want to know. I want to know. I need to know. Nobody can tell you. I've spoken to more people on this issue than 99 percent of the people in this country. No one can tell you. Not from the superb Dr. Fauci to the World Health Organization to the National Institute of Health, but it is in that range so start to plan accordingly.
It's going to be hard. There is no doubt. I'm not minimizing it and I don't think you should either but at the same time it is going to be okay. We don't want to overreact either. The grocery stores are going to function, there is going to be food, the transportation systems are going to function, the pharmacies are going to be open, all essential services will be maintained. There's not going to be chaos, there's not going to be anarchy, order and function will be maintained.
Life is going to go on. Different - but life is going to go on. So there's no reason to be going to grocery stores and hoarding food. You see all this overreaction on the TV everyday which makes you think maybe I'm missing it, maybe I should run to the store and buy toilet paper. No. Life is going to go on. The toilet paper is going to be there tomorrow. So a deep breath on all of that.
But I do believe that whatever this is 4 months, 6 months, 9 months - we are going to be the better for it. They talk about the greatest generation, the generation that survived World War II. Dealing with hardship actually makes you stronger. Life on the individual level, on the collective level, on the social level. Life is not about avoiding challenges. Challenges are going to come your way. Life is going to knock you on your rear end at one point. Something will happen. And then life becomes about overcoming those challenges. That's what life is about. And that's what this country is about.
America is America because we overcome adversity and challenges. That's how we were born. That's what we've done all our life. We overcome challenges and this is a period of challenge for this generation. And that's what has always made America great and that's what going to make this generation great. I believe that to the bottom of my soul. We will overcome this and America will be the greater for it. And my hope is that New York is going to lead the way forward and together we will.
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