Rush Transcript: Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo Outlines Additional Guidelines for Phased Plan to Re-Open New York
April 28, 2020
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:
Good afternoon to everyone. I want to introduce, for those of you that don't know, my colleagues who are with me. To my left, Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor. To my right, Dr. James Malatras, he is not a real doctor like the doctors here, but he is still technically a doctor. He runs Empire State College. He has done all great policy work in the State for many years. To his right, Gareth Rhodes, he is not a doctor either. Well, technically he is a doctor too, an attorney is a doctor. He is Department of Financial Services but has worked with me in the State for many years and he has been a great talent here.
It is a pleasure to be here today. We are in Syracuse, the State University of New York Upstate Medical School and Hospital. We had chance to say hello to the nurses and doctors who work here. Got to wave from a social distance. But I wanted to say thank you for all they've done here. We also sent a team down to New York City. So, it has just been an extraordinary experience. But we have seen the good, the bad, the ugly in all of this, and the good is beautiful.
Let me talk to you about some of the facts that we are dealing with today. Facts are our friend. People want to make decisions, they want to know the facts without spin, without opinion, and that is what we have been giving them. Total hospitalization rate is down a tick, which is good news. The change in hospitalization on the rolling total you see is down. Number of intubations is also down. The number of COVID hospitalizations per day, these are new people who are newly diagnosed with COVID, it is under one thousand which is good news. It is still a significant number of people, 900 people. After all of this, we still have 900 new infections yesterday on a three day rolling average. But overall number is going down. So, that's good news. This is the worst news every day. I think maybe today is the day the nightmare will be over - but it is not. 335 people passed away yesterday from this virus in this state. That's 335 families. You see this number is basically reducing but not at a tremendous rate. And the only thing tremendous is number of New Yorkers who still pass away.
Everybody is talking about reopening. I get it. You can't sustain being closed. The economy can't sustain it. Individual families can't sustain it. We can't sustain it on a personal level. Our children can't sustain it. But, we have to. When we talk about reopening, this should not be a political discussion, it shouldn't be a philosophical discussion, shouldn't be because people are protesting or, some people want it, some people don't want it. It is a factual discussion on reopening, right? So, let's demystify it a little bit because in this environment, it is becoming rhetorical rather than factual.
We want to reopen, but we want to do it without infecting more people or overwhelming the hospital system. We're at upstate medical today. Our great fear was the number of people infected would overwhelm the hospital capacity. So, that is the balance. Reopen but don't increase the number of infected people and don't overwhelm the hospital system. Well, then design that system in reopening, right? You can factually with data design a system that does just that. And that's what government is supposed to do. Government is not about spouting political or philosophical opinions. Government is about running services, designing programs that actually work for the people to address the problem. And in this situation, we can actually measure. We have data. We have facts. So, measure what is happening in society and calibrate your reopening to those measurements, right?
So, we're adopting a set of rules, a set of guidelines. We have studied reopening plans, all around the country. We have spoken to every expert on the globe who has been through this before, and we have come up with factual data points to guide us on reopening. First point, don't overwhelm the hospital system. If the hospital system in an area exceeds 70% capacity, which means you only have 30% left, or if the transmission rate hits 1.1, those are danger signs. We know that. Remember, hospital capacity. If you're at 70% on your hospitals, there is a two week lag on this virus, so if you ever hit 70% you can expect the number to go up for the next two weeks as people who just got infected actually get ill and some of them come into the hospitals. So, 70% is a safe metric to use for your hospital capacity. If your transmission rate hits 1.1, that's what they call outbreak. That means it is going to spread much, much faster. You wouldn't start reopening unless you had a transmission rate below 1.1, really below 1. But if it hits 1.1, that means that you're in trouble.
So, those are two main data points. If you look at the state, and this state is different than most states, this state has New York City, one of the most dense urban areas on the globe, and then we have Upstate New York. And if you look at our infection rate Upstate New York, it is very different than the downstate New York. And if you look at the rate Upstate New York, it is comparable to many states in the Midwest and the West. We hear the discussion every day, "Well, some states are reopening because that's don't have that bad of a problem." Some of the places in Upstate have a problem that is comparable to states in the Midwest or the West. Much, much different than New York City.
Okay, then let's come up with data points, factual points of what we have to do to reopen. So, everyone has the same opening template that we're dealing with. And we have to be smart about this. Again, I know it is emotion, and I know that people are feeling emotional. But emotions can't drive a reopening process. We're talking about infection rate and hospital capacity. Separate the emotion from the logic. And we have to act as our logical selves here. And that's what smart means. Be smart about it - don't be emotional and don't be political. Don't get pushed politically into a situation. "Protesters are in front of the capitol, we better reopen." No. I'm not going do that. That's not how we make decisions.
The first point is - CDC set guidelines as to reopening for states. We think those CDC guidelines make sense. You have to have a 14-day decline in the number of hospitalizations before you go forward. Second, identify industries that you can start reopening that will bring people back to work, get the economy going, but, you know that you can do the appropriate precautions and social distancing. So, in phase one, we're talking about the construction and manufacturing industry. Those are two industries that employ a lot of people, but we believe you can put the right precautions in place and learn the lesson from where we have been. And, say to those businesses, this is not just about government, but say to the business, "Tell us how you are going to incorporate the lessons that we just learned. How do you incorporate social distancing? How do you incorporate fewer people in this space you so reduce density? How do you have the right PPE? How are you going to monitor? Are you going to take temperatures of everyone who walks in?" That's for businesses to decide also.
Separate point: make sure that you don't have what we call, "attractive nuisances," not really the right use of the term. Attractive nuisance is a legal term. But, an attractive nuisance in this context - you open up a facility, or an attraction that could bring people from outside the region to you. You have all of this pent-up demand in the whole tri-state region. Make sure that don't open up something that's going to bring hundreds of people from the outside in. What business precautions will those individual businesses take? Watch the healthcare capacity. Your healthcare system cannot go over 70 percent capacity. Again, there is a two-week lag. If you're at 70 percent, bells should go off. Don't go over 70 percent in your ICU beds. Many of the people who come in with COVID, need an ICU bed because it is respiratory illness. As a matter of fact, almost at the heat of this, almost every bed in a hospital turned into an ICU bed. That's why we needed the ventilators. Because, these people who get seriously ill with COVID need that level of care.
Remember, you have a flu season coming up in the fall. And the number of hospitalizations normally goes up in the flu season. So, anticipate that. Stockpile the equipment. We learned a lot of painful lessons here. One is, you have to have the PPE, you have to have the masks and you have to have the gown. There is an international demand on it. So, make sure we have a stockpile of reserve of the PPE. We have to have testing. How many tests? Dr. Birks recommends 30 per 1,000 people. Different people have different numerical personals. But, I think that we start with that. Do we have enough testing sites? How long does it take to turn around a test? And then are we advertising to people, this is where you go in and this is what you do to get a test, if you think you may be infected. The whole thing with keeping that infection rate down, is find a person early who is infected, let them know it, and then, trace and then isolate. Do we have a tracing system in place? Mayor Bloomberg is helping us to organize this. It has never been done before. Nobody ever heard of tracing to this extent. But, tracing is once a person says that they are positive, you trace their contacts back, you notify people, you test people. That is a whole different operation. The current recommendation is you need at least 30 tracers per 100,000 people. So, we have to have that in place. You have to have isolation facilities in place. Isolation facilities are when someone gets sick, you know that they are positive, and they don't want to go home to quarantine, because, if they go home, they could infect their family, which is what is happening now, a lot of these new cases. So, we have to have a facility where somebody who is positive, could quarantine for the two weeks, without going home. And we have to identify them now.
We have to coordinate regionally, schools, tracing this all has to be coordinated on a multi-county effort. We have to reimagine tele-medicine. Reimagine tele-education. We have to have a regional control room that is monitoring all of these indicators and gives us the danger sign if we get over 70 percent capacity, if the infection rate pops up. We have to have one central source that is monitoring all these dials, that hits the danger button so you could actually slow down the reopening.
And then we have to protect the respect the essential workers which is I'll talk about in a moment. On businesses, they have to have social distancing, continued testing, ongoing monitoring protocols. That's all part of the new normal and businesses are going to have to do that if they want to reopen. They are going to have to adopt the federal and the state guidelines on this issue.
Today we're announcing an advisory board that is made up of statewide business leaders, academic leaders, civic leaders who are advising us on just this and they have been for weeks and I want to thank them very much.
Manufacturing, construction, as the first phase, businesses, that's 46,000 jobs in a place like central New York so its major employer, and these are businesses that can adopt to the new normal in terms of their employees and in terms of the places of business and in terms of the processes that they put in place.
On the healthcare capacity, again, we just lived this. We cannot be in a situation where 70% capacity is exceeded. You need at least that 30% buffer on hospital beds and you need 30% of your ICU beds available if that number starts to tick up.
In terms of testing, we have to have the testing regimen in place and we have to prioritize the people who get tested. Symptomatic people, individuals who came in contact with a symptomatic person, and front line and essential workers. They do have a higher right infection because they are putting themselves in harm's way and we want to make sure that they have the testing so we have an early alert system.
You have to have the right number of sites. Testing won't work if it is impossible to get. Testing won't work if it is too hard to get. So you have to have the right number of sites for the area that you're dealing with. The advertising is very important. It has to be available but people have to know it is available and they have to know what the symptoms are that would have them go get tested because, again, this is about people understanding it and people buying into it. This is not government orders. This is people get it. They know the facts, they know what they are supposed to do and these do it because they have been, we've communicated successfully the circumstances and the facts. But you need that testing and you need it to trace the contacts. Otherwise, you see that infection rate increase.
On the tracing, the estimate is 30 tracers for every 100,000 people. So that's a data point. That's what it means to have tracing in place. And then isolation facilities is a proportionate number of people who test positive, who say, I can't go home or I don't want to go home. I don't want to infect my family. I don't want to infect my significant other. I have enough issues without having to explain how I infected my significant other with COVID, which is a valid point. So, isolation facilities are available for those people.
And then the regional control room, where you're monitoring all of those metrics, you're monitoring hospital capacity, the rate of infection, the PPE burn rate, how businesses are complying, and it has an emergency switch that we can throw if any one of those indicators are problematic because remember we have gone through hell and back over the past 60 or so days.
What we have done has been tremendous, really tremendous. What people have done, what the American people have done, what New Yorkers have done, has been to save lives, literally. But we have to remain vigilant. This is not over. I know as much as we want it to be over, it is not over and we have to respect what we accomplished here.
When they started this the projections for this state were 120,000 New Yorkers would be infected and hospitalized. Only 20,000 were infected and hospitalized. How could they be so wrong? They were not wrong. We changed reality. The differential, the variance, is what we did. It is close down. It is wearing masks. It is all of that. We reduced the rate. We so-called flattened the curve. That meant 100,000 fewer New Yorkers didn't get seriously ill, didn't go into a hospital, didn't overwhelm the hospital system. And a percentage of those people who got seriously ill would have passed away. So we literally saved lives.
We can't now negate everything that we accomplished. We have to do the opposite. We have to take this experience and we have to learn and grow from the experience. And we have to build back better than before. As a society and as a community we need better systems. This exposed a lot of issues, fundamental issues. We have to do a better job on tele-education. Remote learning, sounds great but you have to have all of the equipment, people have to be trained and teachers have to be trained. We jumped into it. We have to do a better job. We have to do a better job on telemedicine. Not everybody has to show up at the doctor's office. You can do a better job. We have to do a better job on our basic public health system. I mean when you look back the virus was in China last November and December. Last November and December. Why didn't someone suspect, well maybe the virus gets on plane last November, December and lands in the United States the next day, right. Everybody talks about global interconnection and how fast. Everybody knows, there is a virus in China. Last November, December, China says don't worry we're taking care of it. Yeah, but all you need is one person to get on a plane. As it happened, one person got on plane and went from China to Europe and then it went from Europe to New York. The flights from China basically go to the West Coast. The flights from Europe basically go to the East Coast. We got it through Europe.
But, where was the whole international health community? Where was the whole national host of experts, the WHO, the NIH, the CDC? That whole alphabet soup of agencies. Where was everyone? Where was the intelligence community with the briefings? Saying this is in China and they have something called an airplane and you can get on an airplane and you can come to the United States. Governors don't do global pandemics, right. But, there is a whole international, national health community that would do that. Where are all of the experts? Where was the New York Times? Where was the Wall Street Journal? Where was all of the bugle blowers who should say, be careful, there is a virus in China that may be in the United States. That was November and December. We're sitting here, January, February, still debating how serious this is.
And again, it's not a state responsibility. But, in this system, who was supposed to blow the bugle and didn't? Because, I would bank that this happens again, and is the same thing going to happen again? I hope not. So, we have to figure these things out.
We also have to remember that as a society and as a community, we're about government and we're about systems. But even more, we're about values. What makes us who we are, are our values. And that's my last point which is, point number 12, protect and respect the essential workers. I had two nightmares when this started. One, that I would put out directives on what we need to do and 19 million New Yorkers would say, "I haven't been convinced, I'm not going to do this." Because look at what the directives were. We're going to close down every business. You have to stay in your home. I mean, the most disruptive government policies put in place. I can't even remember the last time, I can't even see in the in the history books the last time that government was more disruptive to individual life. No businesses, everybody stays home. No schools. What happens if New Yorkers said, "We're not doing that? We're not doing that. It's too much. It is an overreaction, it's political." Everything is political nowadays, right? So easy to say, well, that's just political. That was a fear, because if New Yorkers did that, governmentally had no ability to enforce 19 million people staying in their homes. That's why the communication was so important. Give them the facts, give them the facts, give them the facts so they understand why. That worked.
Second nightmare was, what if essential workers don't show up? You have to have food. You have to have transportation. The lights have to be on. Someone has to pick up the garbage. The hospitals have to run. What if the essential workers said, "I'm not showing up." You communicated so effectively, the fear of the virus, that the essential workers say, "If everybody is staying home, I'm staying home too." It could've happened. I went through the HIV virus when HIV started. People we petrified. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew how it lived. How it was transferred. How long it lived. People were petrified. Nobody wanted to go near it. What happens if the essential workers here said, "I'm not going to show up to run the bus. You don't pay me enough to put my life in danger. I'm not doing it." They showed up. They showed up. I just finished communicating how dangerous this was to convince 19 million people stay home and close schools and close businesses. And the essential workers still showed up. That is a value. They did not show up for a paycheck. They didn't show up because government asked them to show up. They didn't show up because their employer said, "I need you to show up." They showed up, out of their values and out of their honor and out of their dignity. That's why they showed up.
My grandfather, people know my father in this state, my grandfather little Italian immigrant, Andrea Cuomo, named for him. No education, ditch digger, came here the classic immigrant story. Winds up having a little grocery store in South Jamaica, Queens, poor community. And during the depression he almost lost the store and he loved to tell this story. Why did he almost lose the store? Well, it was the depression, and the finances. No. Because, he gave away food during the depression. Because, he wouldn't let anyone be hungry. So, a family would come in, nobody had money it was the depression and he would give them food. He was giving away so much food that he had problems paying his bills. Gave him a lot of stress, wound up having a heart attack as a young person. But, no one told him to do that. That was just his values. And I would ask him about it afterward. I said, Grandpa, why would you do? He said, what am I going to do, do let them go hungry? I'm going to let somebody go hungry? That was unimaginable to him. He was an essential worker. Nobody calmed him an essential worker but he was an essential worker.
And, that's what people are doing day in and day out here. The person who delivers the groceries, the person who's driving the bus, the person who's driving the subway, the nurses, the doctors, the orderlies. All of these people who are showing up every day. Not because of the check, they could stay home too and file for unemployment. No, they're doing it out of their sense of honor and their sense of dignity and their sense of pride, this is their mission, this is their role, they're New Yorkers, they're Americans, and they're going to show up.
The police officers, the firefighters. I mean, everyone's petrified. You're going to be a police officer, you're going to pull people over in a car? You're going to go into a house for a domestic disturbance, wrestle with somebody in the house, you don't know who it is? That's what they do. That's their job. That's why I wanted to thank the healthcare workers and everybody thanks the healthcare workers, but it's not just the healthcare workers. It's all the people who've been out there all this time making sure that everyone else could stay home. They have higher infection rates. They're getting paid a minimal amount of money. They have families at home too that are suffering, but they're getting up every day and they're doing their job. So as we talk about reopening, protect and respect the essential workers. They need testing. They need equipment. They're putting their lives on the line. Protect and respect the essential workers.
Public transportation we've kept running because they need it to get to work. That's why public transportation continued. We talked early on about closing public transportation. They said forget it. That's how the nurses are getting to work, that's how the orderlies are getting to work. Nobody will be in a hospital, nobody will be there to deliver the food, nobody will be in the power plant to keep the lights on, nobody will be at the telecommunications department. Public transportation is vital for them. Well, then make sure public transportation is safe, and disinfected. The New York Daily News ran a story today on the public transportation in New York City. And the front page is a picture of a subway car filled with homeless people and their belongings. Respect the essential workers. That is disgusting what is happening on those subway cars. It's disrespectful to the essential workers who need to ride the subway system. Upstate New York, need to ride the buses to get to work. They deserve better and they will have better. We have to have a public transportation system that is clean, where the trains are disinfected. You have homeless people on trains, it's not even safe for the homeless people to be on trains. No face masks, you have this whole outbreak, we're concerned about homeless people, so we let them stay on the trains without protection in this epidemic of the COVID virus? No. We have to do better than that, and we will.
And we will learn from this and we'll be better from this because, we are New York tough. And tough means not just tough, because tough is easy. It's smart, and it's disciplined, and it's unified, and it's loving. And that's who we are, and that's what we are, and that's why we got through this as well as we have thus far together. Because of our values, because of our respect, our dignity, our mutuality, our love for one another, our willingness to sacrifice, and because, we're fortunate where we have many, many heroes in our midst, not because they have medals on their uniforms, but because they have honor in their souls and they have strength in their character, and they have dignity and pride in themselves, and because they show up every day, every day, to make sure that everyone is protected. And, they have to be at the top of the list. They're going to be at the top of the list in the next iteration of whatever this is. They're going be at the top of the list at the golden gate. But, they deserve our respect and protection here, and they're going to get it.
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