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Homeland Security

New York State

Rush Transcript: Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of First 1,000-Bed Temporary Hospital at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

March 27, 2020

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

Good morning, everyone. Let me introduce who we have with us today. From my far right we have Jim Malatras who is President of Empire College who I worked with for many years and has been very helpful here on this mission; our Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker; to my left is General Patrick Murphy who I have more to say about in a moment; and to his left is General Raymond Shields.

Thank you for being here today. This is an amazing accomplishment. It's transformative in just one week. The Javits Center looks entirely different and this is a place that's literally going to save lives. Let me go through some facts if I can on a daily update of where we are and then I want to make some comments to all the women and men who are assembled and did such a great job on this facility.

The increase in the number of cases continues. We still see that trajectory going up. Those are the dates from March 3 to March 25. Strategy, plan of action, all along - step one, flatten the curve, step two, increase hospital capacity. Flatten the curve, meaning if you do it as well as you can do it hopefully there is no high point of the curve. There is no apex. It's a flatter, lower curve. Why? So the hospital capacity can keep up with it. That's what this is all about - not overwhelming hospital capacity and at the same time increasing the hospital capacity that we have so if it does exceed those numbers, which it will in most probability, that we have the additional capacity to deal with it.

Flattening the curve - these are all measures that we put in place, barring non-essential workers, social distancing, closing bars, closing restaurants, all the things I did that made people very happy with me. But the way you make a decision is the

benefit and the burden. Right? The risk and the reward. We are battling a deadly virus. Is there an intrusion on daily life? Yes. Is there an intrusion on movement? Yes. Is there an intrusion on the economy? Yes. But what's on the other side of the scale is literally saving lives and that's not rhetorical. That's not drama. That's fact.

Public education is very important. It's important to all of us on the other side of the balance beam is public health. I decided to close the public schools because I believed it was safer to close the schools and reduce the spread. We did that on March 18. Ee said we would do it for two weeks and then we would reassess the situation at the end of two weeks. Two weeks ends on April 1.

We also said that we would waive what's called the 180-day requirement. That every school has to teach for 180 days. We would waive that but that we would close the schools until April 1 and then we would reassess.

Also we said that every school district before it closes had to come up with plans to continue functions that they were doing, because school districts do more than just educate. They provide child care for essential workers. They provide meals in the schools so everything that they were doing they had to come up with a plan to mitigate the consequence of their closing including distance learning for their students. 

I have to reassess because April 1 is just in a couple of days and I believe the schools should remain closed. I don't do this joyfully but I think when you look at where we are and you look at the number of cases still increasing it only makes sense to keep the schools closed. They have to continue the programs they're doing. They have to continue the childcare, continue the meals, continue the distance learning programs. I'll continue the waiver on what's called 180-day mandate that they have to be in operation, but we're going to close the schools for another two weeks and then will reassess at that point and that is statewide.

At the same time we're working to increase hospital capacity. What is a possible apex of the curve? It changes a little bit depending on the data day to day but now we're looking at about 21 days for a possible apex. So we want to do everything we can to be ready for that increased capacity that could hit us in 21 days and ramp up the hospital capacity. We are doing everything we can. We're doing things that have never been done before. We're doing things that when we put them on the table people thought they were impossible, but we are now doing the impossible, as you know well here with what you did over the past week.

All hospitals have to increase their capacity by 50 percent. We're asking hospitals to try to increase their capacity 100 percent because we need that many beds. We're also looking at converting dorms, we're looking at converting hotels. We've been gathering equipment from everywhere we can: PPE equipment. The most important piece of equipment for us are ventilators and we're shopping literally around the globe to put it all in place. We're creating a stockpile of this equipment so that when and if the apex hits we can deploy equipment from the stockpile to whatever region of the State or whatever hospital needs it. So, we collect it, we hold it as a hospital needs it, a region needs it, then we deploy it; the N95 masks, surgical masks, examination gloves, protective gowns, coveralls, and most importantly the ventilators.

Why ventilators? Because this is a respiratory illness. People need ventilators who come in for acute care, and the people are on ventilators much longer than most patients are on ventilators. Most people are on a ventilator for two, three, four days. These COVID patients can come in and need a ventilator for up to 20 days. So, you see why that need for ventilators is so important. And again, all of this is to make sure we're ready for that apex when the entire system is stressed and under pressure, and that's what we're working on. For the hospital capacity at the "apex," we need 140,000 beds. We have 53,000 beds, that's why we're scrambling and that's why we're asking you to do as much work as you're doing. We need 40,000 ICU beds; the ICU bed are the Intensive Care Unit beds. They have ventilators. We have, when we started, 3,000 ICU beds with 3,000 ventilators. So you see how monumental the task, how monumental the mountain that we have to climb. 

Of the 140,000, how do we get to the 140,000? As I said, all hospitals increase by 50 percent. Some hospitals will increase 100 percent -- they're going to get the gold star hospital award. I don't know exactly what that means, but we'll figure it out later.

FEMA and the Army Corps, and the National Guard have been working to put up these emergency hospitals. So far we have planned for four: the one we're in today at the Javits Center, one in Westchester County Center, one at Stony Brook, and one at Old Westbury. That would be 4,000 additional units. They are all underway as we speak, not as far along as your good work at Javits, but they are on their way. Again, with all of these beds we still have a shortfall, so we're going to go to Plan B. What's Plan B? We're going to seek to build another four temporary emergency hospitals, which would get us another 4,000 beds and we just have been scouting sites for a few days. We have settled on a few sites working with the Army Corps of Engineers, and I'm going to ask the President today if he will authorize another four temporary hospitals for us.

I want to have one in every borough. I want to have one for the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn. One for Nassau, one for Suffolk, one for Westchester, so everybody knows downstate, which is where the essence of the density is right now, that everyone equally is being helped and is being protected. We looked at a site in the Bronx at the New York Expo Center - it's a 90,000 square foot site. Seeing what we did here we think it would work very well, and again the Army Corps of Engineers has worked with us and looked at all these sites, and thinks that these sites work. One in Queens at the Aqueduct Racetrack site - 100,000 square feet there. One in Brooklyn in what's called the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal; it's owned by the Port Authority, but it's a wide open space. We can convert it very easily - 182,000 square feet. And in Staten Island, the College of Staten Island, which is a CUNY facility - 77,000 square feet. Again, inside can be converted; it has power, it has climate control, et cetera.

We would do the same thing that we've done here successfully, so we know it works. We know it's feasible building the interior pace. We have exterior space that we could put up a temporary tent for supplies, equipment, et cetera. That would give us coverage all across the downstate area with proximate facilities to every location downstate, and frankly is the best plan. that we can put together and execute in this timeline. We also have, beyond, the next phase of temporary hospitals. If the White House grants that request.

We have the navy ship Comfort coming up. That is going to be on its way soon. It's going to be right here in New York harbor. It is a massive facility in and of itself. 1,000 beds, 12,00 medical personnel, 12 operating rooms, it has a pharmacy, it has a laboratory. And it should be here on Monday. So that will also help us in this quest.

And then we're looking at dormitories and converting dormitories downstate. We're looking at City College dormitories, Queens College. We have the dormitories because the colleges are closed and the students have left so we actually have dormitories that we can convert. We're also looking at hotels and nursing homes. We're looking at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge Hotel and a nursing home called Brooklyn Center. So as you can see, we're looking far and wide, very creative, aggressive, and finding all the space that we can possibly find, and converting it to be ready in case we have that overflow capacity.

We also have it planned out so that this will be coming online before we think the apex hits, and at the same time we're trying to flatten the curve to delay and soften that apex, right? Those are the two strategies. Slow the spread, flatten the curve. In the meantime increase the hospital capacity so whatever that surge is that you have you actually have the capacity to deal with it. And right now we have a plan where over the next three or four weeks, which is the same timeline as the apex possibly coming, we're going to have the capacity as high as we can possibly get that, get the capacity. In terms of where we are today, because we're tracking the numbers, we want to see what's happening. And are we getting closer to the apex? Are we succeeding in flattening the curve?

We've been testing. We test more in this state than any state in the United States. We test more per capita than China or South Korea. So we ramped up very quickly on the testing. New tests, 16,000, total tested, 138,000. Number of positive cases, total cases 44,000, new cases 7,377. It continues to spread all across the state as it continues to spread all across the country.

The number of deaths, we're up to 519 in New York. That's up from 385. That is going to continue to go up, and that is the worst news that I could possibly tell the people of the State of New York. The reason why the number is going up is because some people came into the hospital 20 days, 25 days ago, and have been on a ventilator for that long a period of time. The longer you are on a ventilator, the less likely you're going to your going to come off that ventilator. And that's not just true with this virus. That's true with every illness. When somebody's on that ventilator for a prolonged period of time the outcome is usually not good. So we're seeing a significant increase in deaths because the length of time people are on the ventilator is increasing and the more it increases the higher the level of deaths will increase. And again we expect that to continue to increase. It's bad news. It's tragic news. It's the worst news. But it is not unexpected news, either. You could talk to any health care professional, they'll tell you about if you're talking about a loved one if they're not off that ventilator in a relatively short period of time, it's not a good sign.

Overall 44,000 people have tested positive, 6,000 currently hospitalized, 1,500 in intensive care units. That's up 290. Those are the people who need the ventilators. 2,000 patients have been discharged. That's up 528. So, you have people coming into the hospital, getting treatment, and leaving the hospital. Most people who get the virus will never even go into the hospital in the first place, right, so we have to keep this in focus. 80 percent of the people who get the virus will what they call self-resolve. You feel ill, maybe you won't feel that ill. You think you have the flu and you self-resolve. 80 percent of the people. 20 percent will go to a hospital. Some of them will get short term treatment, and then they go home. A very small percent and they tend to be older people more vulnerable people, people with an underlying illness, this respiratory illness compounds the problem they have. They had a compromised immune system. They were fighting emphysema. They were battling cancer and on top of that, they now get pneumonia which is what this corona virus is. That's the population that is most vulnerable. They then go on to a ventilator. Some percentage get off quickly. Some percentage don't get off. The longer they're on, the higher the mortality rate. New York is still by far the most affected state, both in terms of number of cases, and in terms of number of deaths. Why? Because we welcome people here from all over the globe. So travelers came here, people from China came here, people from Korea came here, people who are traveling around the country and stop in China and stopped in South Korea and stop in Italy, came here. And because we are a very dense environment. You know social distancing, stay 6 feet away, that's hard in New York City, right? Walk down on a sidewalk and tell me that you can stay 6 feet away from someone. We're so dense, we're so together, which is what makes us special gives us that New York energy gives us that New York mojo. It also - that density becomes the enemy in a situation like this.

This is the total number of people who have been hospitalized. And we've been watching these numbers every day. We are now compiling the numbers. I think in what's a smarter way before we were getting individual patient data. Every hospital had to tell us about each individual patient, what they're address was, where they came from what the underlying illness was and then put all that information together, which was very labor intensive. So it was erratic, the way the information would come in. Sometimes the hospital was just too busy to put all that information together, so they didn't send it in until the next day or the day after. This is a more uniform set of data. This is all the number of people in that hospital who have the coved virus without getting into all the specifics of individual names and individual circumstances so it's easier for them to get us this data. And you see again the steady incline in the number. But, and this is good news, early on you see that the number was doubling every two-and-a-half days. Then it was doubling every three days. Now it's doubling about every four days. It's still doubling and that's still bad news because it still means you're moving up towards an apex right that number still goes up but there is good news in that. The rate of the increase is slowing. So they're two separate facts: the rate of the increase is slowing, but the number of cases are still going up, all right? And those two points are consistent and that's what we're seeing. We want to see the rate slowing. And then we want to see the number of actual cases coming down or flattening. That's the flattening of the curve. But this is where we are today.

Again to keep it all in perspective people don't know what to make of the coronavirus. "What's going to happen? What's going to happen?" Johns Hopkins is studied every coronavirus since China. 542,000 cases they've studied. Of all those cases there have been 24,000 deaths. That's a lot of deaths, yes. But compared to 542,000 cases, it gives you a sense of the lethality of this disease. And if you look at the 24,000 they're going to be overwhelmingly older people, vulnerable people, people with underlying illnesses et cetera.

The amount of support that we have gotten from New Yorkers in the midst of this crisis is just extraordinary. I am a born and bred New Yorker, if you can't tell my queens accent. I can tell you a Bronx accent, your Brooklyn accent, your Manhattan accent and your Staten Island accent. But New Yorkers never cease to amaze me how big their heart is. You know they talk about how New Yorkers are tough. Yeah you know it's tough to live in a place like this. You have to be tough. But as tough as we are is as loving as we and is as big as our heart is. And when someone needs something there's no place, I'd rather be than New York and the number of people who are volunteering who are coming forward. We put out a call for additional medical personnel because we have to staff all these additional beds. We put out a call, 62,000 volunteers. The number went up 10,000 in one day. How beautiful is that? These are people who are retired. Who did their duty, who could just sit at, home but they are coming forward.

Same thing we ask from Mental Health professionals who could provide mental health services electronically over the telephone through skype, etcetera. Many people are dealing with mental health issues. This is a stressful taxing situation on everyone, on everyone and isolation at home. You are home, you're home alone, day after day, after day. That is a stressful situation. You don't know what's going on, you're afraid, you're afraid to go out. You're isolated with your family. That's a stressful situation. Not that we don't love to be with our family. We all do, but that can create stress. And there's no place to go. There's no one to talk to about that. So, this mental health service over the telephone is very, very important.

I want to speak to the most important people in the room for a moment. Who are the people who are responsible for this great construction behind me. First, I'd like to introduce General Patrick Murphy who's to my left. General Murphy is tested, smart, and he is tested tough. I've been with the general for nine years. I've seen him in hurricanes, and Superstorm Sandy, and floods, and everything mother nature could throw could throw at us. So, I've seen him in attempted terrorist attacks. There is no one better. He leads from the front. He knows what he's doing and you could not have a better commander at this time than General Patrick Murphy and I want you to know that. I want to congratulate the Army Corps of Engineers for what they did here. I used to be in the federal government I worked with the Army Corps of Engineers all across the country. I worked with them on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation building housing and one of the officers of the Army Corps of Engineers is still in service and reminded me of that. They are top shelf and what they did here is top shelf.

I want to thank the Javits staff which has really stepped up and I want to thank our National Guard, because you are the best of us. You are the best of us. And whenever we call on you, you are there and what you did in this facility in one week creating a hospital is just incredible. I don't know how you did it. Now, you did such a good job that I'm asking for four more from the President. That's the downside of being is as good as you are at what you did. But what you did is really incredible

I want to make two points to you and I want to make two promises to you. This is a different beast that we're dealing with. This is an invisible beast. It is an insidious beast. This is not going to be a short deployment. This is not going to be that you go out there for a few days. We work hard and we go home. This is going to be weeks and weeks and weeks. This is going to be a long day and it's going to be a hard day, and it's going to be an ugly day, and it's going to be a sad day. This is a rescue mission that you're on - the mission is to save lives. That's what you're doing. The rescue mission is to save lives and as hard as we work. We're not going to be able to save everyone. And what's even more cruel is this enemy doesn't attack the strongest of us. It attacks the weakest of us. It attacks are most vulnerable which makes it even worse in many ways. Because these are the people that every instinct tells us were supposed to protect. These are our parents and our grandparents. These are our aunts, our uncles. These are a relative who was sick and every instinct says protect them. Help them, because they need us. And those are the exact people that this enemy attacks. Every time I've called out the National Guard I have said the same thing to you. I promise you. I will not ask you to do anything that I will not do myself. And the same is true here. We're going to do this and we're going to do this together.

My second point is, you are living a moment in history. This is going to be one of those moment they're going to write and they're going to talk about for generations. This is a moment that is going to change this nation. This is a moment that forges character, forges people, changes people. Make them stronger, make them weaker, but this is a moment that will change character. Ten years from now, you'll be talking about today to your children or your grandchildren and you will shed a tear because you will remember the lives lost. You'll remember the faces and you'll remember the names and you'll remember how hard we worked and that we still lost loved ones. And you'll shed a tear and you should because it will be sad. But, you will also be proud. You'll be proud of what you did. You'll be proud that you showed up. You showed up when other people played it safe, you had the courage to show up. You had the skill and the professionalism to make a difference and save lives. That's what you will have done.

At the end of the day, nobody can ask anything more from you. That is your duty, to do what you can when you can. You will have shown skill and courage and talent. You'll be there with your mind, you'll be there with your heart and you'll serve with honor. That will give you pride and you should be proud. I know that I am proud of you. And every time the National Guard has been called out, they have made every New Yorker proud. I am proud to be with you yet again. I'm proud to fight this fight with you. And I bring you thanks from all New Yorkers who are just so appreciative of the sacrifice that you are making, the skill that you're bringing, the talent that you're bringing. You give many New Yorkers confidence.

So I say, my friends, that we go out there today and we kick coronavirus' ass, that's what I say. And we're going to save lives and New York is going to thank you. God bless each and every one of you.


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