Rush Transcript: Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Outlines Phased Plan to Re-open New York Starting With Construction and Manufacturing
April 26, 2020
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Good afternoon. Happy Sunday. Today's day 57. Feels like many more but it is only day 57, I can assure you. Just feels like 57 years. News today on the numbers is relatively good. The decent continues and that's a very good starting place. We are now back to where we were on March 31st, before we started this, dramatic increase in the number of cases. We're still watching big question is how fast does that number continue to come down, first, does that number continue to come down, because that would be a nightmare if it ticks up, and how fast does it come down and how low does it go, right. Before we started this, you only had a couple of hundred cases. When do we get back to a couple of hundred new COVID cases going in?
The overall hospitalization rate is down. The number of intubations is down. Even the number of new COVID cases is down. Still not good, still 1,000 new COVID cases, yesterday, to put it in focus. That would normally be terrible news. It's only not terrible news compared to where we were. This is just terrible news, 367 deaths, which is horrific and there is no relative context to death. Death is death, 367 people passed, 367 families. What I've been working from day one is to make sure that people understand the facts of what we're dealing with, because this is a unique situation.
Government really can't act unless the people fully support the action. What we have done here government couldn't do. It was a pure function of what people did. So my plan all along has been give people the facts, and if they have the facts, they will act responsibly. But, they have to have the facts. They have to buy into the plan. And it really is an individual decision, right? Who's taking care of your health? You are. We're mutually dependent in that what I do can affect your health, but it really comes down to giving everybody the information so people can make their own decision, and the great achievement in this period has been that when people get the facts, and they trust the facts, and they understand the facts, they do the right thing. And that is a lesson that I hope people remember after this is all over. But, we still have to remember the facts. And we talk about reopening, we talk about re-imagining. Let's start to put some meat on the bones of what we're talking about so people understand.
The federal guidance from the CDC is that before you start reopening the state and the regional hospitalization must be in decline for 14 days, okay. That's the CDC's guidance. The federal government leaves it up to the states, it's up to the governors, up to the governors, but they also give guidance, and in this case, I think the CDC guidance is right. So we're monitoring the hospitalization rate. We're monitoring the regional hospitalization rates. We said in this state, it's a very diverse state. Upstate regions are like states in the Midwest, even out west. And we have different hospitalization rates. We look at the rates across the state as well as across the regions. We're going to reopen in phases, a regional analysis on what we call our economic regions that we've been working with the state on, and those regions have been working together on economic policy, et cetera. So to analyze the regions which are existing coalitions, actually works. But look at a regional analysis. Make a determination and then monitor whatever you do. Phase one of reopening will involve construction and manufacturing activities. And within construction and manufacturing, those businesses that have a low risk, right. There's a range of construction activities. There's a range of manufacturing activities. But those businesses that pose a low risk within them.
Phase two would then be more a business by business analysis using the matrix that we've discussed. How essential a service does that business provide and how risky is that business? If you open that business, how much risk are you possibly incurring and how important is it that that business reopen? That matrix will be guiding us through phase two.
In phase two, when we get there, we need businesses to do that analysis. They have to think about how they're going to reopen with this quote, unquote new normal. What precautions are they going to take in the workplace? What safeguards are they going to put in place? It's very much going to be up to businesses. Then we're going to leave two weeks between phases so we can monitor the effect of what we just did. Take an action, monitor. Two weeks that's, according to the experts, the incubation period of the virus so you can actually see if you had an effect where you increased the rate of infection which you would then see in hospitalizations, testing, et cetera. Everyone understands the overall risk that you start to increase activity, the infection rate goes up, two weeks to actually do that monitoring.
That's the broad outlines of the reopening plan. Then you get into caveats. One caveat is you can't do anything in any region that would increase the number of visitors to that region. You have a whole multi-state region in lockdown here. It's possible that you open something in Syracuse or you open something in the North Country where you now see license plates coming in from Connecticut, New Jersey, people from downstate all coming to that area because they've been locked down and they're looking for an activity. So that's something that we have to pay attention to.
All of this is done in a multi-state context with our neighboring states, most relevant, especially downstate. Downstate is obviously the most complicated situation. That's New York City, that's Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, the surrounding suburbs. Multi-state coordination is vital there because the New Jersey, Connecticut, New York City area is basically very intermixed. People are coming and going, they live in one place, they work in the other place. That coordination is important. You get upstate, coordination with Massachusetts is more important in some areas. Some parts of the state, Pennsylvania coordination is more important. Coordinating with those states that are neighbors to that region.
Downstate, we've said we have to coordinate the main activities. There are gears that intermesh. You can't turn one gear without turning the other gears. That's how you strip gears. Keep trying to explain to my daughters. Transportation, parks, schools, beaches - these are all coordinated activities. You turn one, they all have to turn. That's true for New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, they all have to be coordinated. We're working with local businesses and leaders to do that.
Again, on the phased reopening, does my business reopen? Well, what is your business and how would you do your business in this new normal? You normally have people in a conference room, are you going to do that? You normally have people in work stations that are right next to each other, do you plan on reopening that way? This is not a one-sided equation here. Businesses, you develop plan on how you would reopen given everything we now know. If you have a plan, I'll show you in a moment, that actually takes into consideration these new circumstances, more essential, lower risk. The way a business opens will determine the risk. They can't really determine how essential their service is, but they can determine how risky opening their business would be.
We need them to be creative and think outside of the box. We've been speaking with business leaders across the state, but some people even need a new economic model. We want to bring sports back so there's an activity that people can watch on TV. What sports can you do without an audience? What sports can you make work economically where you don't have to sell a seat in the stadium or in the arena? How do you do drive-ins? How do you do different types businesses that could actually work in this environment? Again, they have to be creative and they have to think about it.
Downstate, which does have particular needs, we need summer activities in downstate New York. You can't tell people in a dense urban environment all through the summer months, we don't have anything for you to do, stay in your apartment with the three kids. You know, that doesn't work. There's a sanity equation here also that we have to take into consideration. Special attention for public housing residents. Special attention for low-income communities. That number one paid a higher price for this disease than anyone else. We talk about the racial disparity, African-Americans and Latinos. We're the increasing testing. We're going to have more to say on that this week, but lower-income communities need more assistance through this. I also need to focus -- we need to focus on the basics. We need more food banks, more food assistance. There are people who literally are struggling for food and for childcare. We have to make that more available. I want to bring in, in a coordinated way the philanthropies, there's a lot of good will, a lot of people want to help. Philanthropies represent a positive force in our society. I want to make them part of this in a partnership and we're doing that. So, working through all of this with partners in the business community and the health care community. Right, because we have an economic strategy and we have a public health strategy. It has to work with businesses, who are creative and more thoughtful. And health care professionals who just learned a very important lesson with what we went through and I don't want to lose that lesson.
In terms of businesses thinking about the new normal, think about it in terms of people. How are you going to protect your people? What are you going to be doing differently with your employees? Your actual physical space, what does the physical space look like when you reopen in this new normal? What are you doing about PPE equipment? How are you cleaning? What's the hygiene? What's the access? What's the screening? How do you move people? What's the travel and transportation? Then what processes can you put in place to make your business less risky, right? How can you train people? How you can communicate about this disease? Can you do testing in your workplace? These are all factors for businesses to consider that want to reopen quickly. Again, it's between the two -- it's governmental decisions in partnership with business decisions. Because I think every business leader gets, you can't go back to where you were. We have to go back in light of the circumstances that have developed.
In the midst of all this, monitor the public health impact. All that progress we made by flattening that curve, we could lose that in a matter of days if we're not careful. It's important that people understand what that actually means. This gets technical, but it's worth understanding. If I can understand it, anybody can understand it. They talk about the rate of increase of the spread of the infection, right? The R-naught factor. But it's basically straightforward. If one person infects less than one person, that's the first category of R-naught. One person infects less than one person. The next step up is one person infects one person who then infects another person, one to one to one to one to one. The worst situation is one person infects two people and then those two people go out and infect two people. That's fire through dry grass, right? Now you're in bad shape. That's where we were when this started. We were actually there before we even knew we were there. This is now the insight that the disease came from Europe to New York because it was already out of China by the time we realized it. It went to Europe, went to Italy, went to the Lombardi district, got on a plane, came to New York and it was here much earlier than we knew and it was spreading much earlier than we knew at a much higher rate.
We have to be down to the one person infects one other person. You can't really go beyond that margin. Right now, we're at .8. One person infects .8 percent of a person so one person is infecting less than one person. That is good news.
At that rate you see the virus declining. Upstate, interestingly, it's .9. Again, statistically very close but upstate the infection rate is one person infects .9 percent. Downstate, one person is infecting .75. Okay?
So that's where we are across the state. If we keep the infection rate below one person infecting one person, that is where the infection rate continues to drop. That's where you will see the curve dropping. So we have to stay there.
How do you monitor it? You have three basic dials. Number of hospitalizations, which you see every day which I show you every day, the number of hospitalizations, and you can see that by region.
The number of positive antibody tests - this is why testing is so important. We're doing antibody testing around the state in regions. Antibody testing tells you how many people have been infected - a little bit of a lag because you only have the antibodies after you have had the virus. But it tells you on a lag basis how many people have been infected.
The third dial is the diagnostic tests, which are just positive or negative. They tell you on an absolute basis what your infection rate is. Those are the three dials that you are watching. Take these activities, watch those three dials.
You have your hand on the valve, the activity valve. So you open the valve a little bit, phase one, watch those dials like a hawk, and then you adjust. That's called the RT factor, rate of transmission factor. What is the rate of transmission of the virus? We're now at about .8. You cannot go above 1.2. 1.2, you see that number go right back up again.
We will be sitting here talking about showing you a chart that showed up, down, and then up again. That's what happens if the rate of transmission gets to 1.2. So this is the balance that we collectively need to strike.
I want to get back to work, my kids want out of the house, I need to do something - I understand. We have to do it intelligently and this is the definition of intelligence in this context.
Also, I don't want to just reopen. We learned a lot of lessons here painfully. But we learned a lot of lessons and that's what reimagine means to me. How do we take the lessons we learned, take this pause in life and say, when we reopen we're going to be better for it and we're going to reimagine what our life is and we're going to improve for this pause?
Look, even on an individual level, you had time to decompress a little bit or compress for a different set of factors but I think everybody went through a period where they analyzed their life and what they were doing and when somebody all of a sudden pulls the rug out from under you and you wind up in a different place, you know, you just see life differently and I think that's true for most people. Okay. After that reflection, what have we learned? How do we improve? How do we build back better? Because it's not about return to yesterday. There's no return to yesterday in life. It's about moving forward. It's about taking your experience and what you learned and bringing it to a positive effect.
With that, I want to end on just sharing a story that me a lot. There's a tunnel in New York called the L-train tunnel. People in New York City know it very well. It's a tunnel that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn, and 400,000 people use this train and this tunnel. 400,000 people is a larger group than many cities in this country have, okay. So they had to close down the tunnel because the tunnel was old and the tunnel had problems and everybody looked at it and they said, we have to close down the tunnel. 400,000 people couldn't get to work without that train, and they had all these complicated plans on how they were going to mitigate the transportation problem and different buses and different cars and different bikes and different horses, the whole alternative transportation. And this went on for years.
Everyone said, you had to close the tunnel and it was going to be closed for 15 to 18 months. Now when government says it's going to be closed for 15 to 18 months, I hear 24 months to the rest of your life. That's my governmental cynicism. But that was the plan. We're going to close it down, rebuild the tunnel, 15 months to 18 months, the MTA. This was going to be a massive disruption. I heard a lot of complaints. I get a few smart people, Cornell engineers, Columbia engineers, we go down into the tunnel. And we look at it. And the engineers say, you know what? There's a different way to do this. And they talk about techniques that they use in Europe. And they say not only could we bring these techniques here, and we wouldn't have to shut down the tunnel at all. Period. We could just stop usage at nights and on weekends and we can make all of the repairs. And we can do it with a partial closure for 15 months.
The opposition to this new idea was an explosion. I was a meddler, I didn't have an engineering degree, they were outside experts, how dare you question the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy knows better. It was a thunderstorm of opposition. but we did it anyway, and we went ahead with it. And we rebuilt the tunnel, and the tunnel is now done better than before, with all these new techniques. It opens today. It opens today. And the proof is in the pudding, right? We went through this period of, I don't believe it, this is interference.
It opened today. And it opens today not in 15 months, but actually in only 12 months of a partial shutdown. So it's ahead of schedule, it's under budget, and it was never shut down. I relay this story because you can question and you should question why we do what we do. Why do we do it that way? I know that's how we've always done it, but why do we do it that way? And why can't we do it a different way? Why not try this? Why not try that? People don't like change, you know. We think we like change but we don't really like change. We like control more than anything, right?
So it's hard, it's hard to make change. It's hard to make change in your own life, let alone on a societal collective level. But if you don't change, you don't grow. And if you don't run the risk of change, you don't have the benefit of advancement. Not everything out there has to be the way it is. So we just went through this wild period where people are walking around with masks. Not because I said to, but because they understand they need to. How do we make it better? How do we make it better? And let's use this period to do just that. And we will. And we'll reimagine and we'll make it a reality because we are New York tough and smart and disciplined and unified and loving and because we know that we can. We know that we can. We showed that we can.
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