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Homeland Security

New York State

Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces New Cluster Action Initiative

October 6, 2020

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

Good afternoon. To my right, we have the esteemed secretary to the governor Melissa DeRosa. To her left, the esteemed budget director Robert Mujica. Thank you all for being here. Appropriately social distanced.

Today is day 220, believe it or not. The fall is here. What happens in the fall? Leaves come down, Jimmy Vielkind spends a lot of time with the foliage up north. What else happens in the fall? The virus goes up. The leaves come down, the virus goes up. They've been talking about this for a long time. They predicted this and on this prediction they happen to be right. You see the virus increasing across the country, you see it increasing across the globe, you see countries that had it under control are now struggling again.

In New York, statewide, we are doing very well on the numbers. We have what I call a COVID cluster problem. But a cluster problem is serious because a cluster problem can grow. The virus spreads in mass gatherings. We know this from our own experience, from what we've seen, and from what every expert tells us, right. The outbreaks, which is when the virus is spreading out of control, it starts with a mass gathering and then it expands from there, especially indoors. We've seen it in colleges, state colleges, private colleges, you have that congregate mass gathering indoors or frequenting a bar in the case of colleges, and it take off. We've seen it in factory settings around the country, we've seen it in produce plants, apple plants, in New York. We've seen it in a single restaurant, can be a mass gathering. We've seen it at July 4th parties, we've seen it at Labor Day parties. We've seen it in the Rose Garden. That was a mass gathering, outdoor, by the way, and we've seen it. You see that growing list of all the people who were infected from that mass gathering.

We see it in places of worship. We've seen one church infect people, we've seen synagogues infect people, we've seen mosques infect people. We had the first hot spot cluster in the United States of America. New Rochelle, a super spreader who attended a temple service and then attended a wedding, and that was it. We were off to the races. So, it's to be taken very seriously. A mass gathering causes infections. Infections cause a cluster. A cluster causes community spread. That is the natural evolution of things unless we intervene and we stop the cycle. If you just let the cycle run, that is what's going to happen.

We see clusters now across the state, colleges upstate. We have a cluster in Binghamton, Orange Rockland, Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau. The cluster is just that, it's a cluster of cases, a high density of cases. And it seeps, it grows from that cluster almost in concentric circles. Drop a pebble into the pond, pebble goes in, then there's one ring, two rings, three rings, and the rings continue across the pond. That's how the virus spreads. When you see the cluster, you have to stop it at that point. What's our strategy? Crush the cluster and stop the spread. And we're announcing a special initiative to do just that, the Cluster Action Initiative. Catchy name.

Step one, you take the most dramatic action within the cluster itself, where you have the highest density of cases. Understanding that the people in that cluster interface with the surrounding communities, take additional action in the communities surrounding the cluster, and then on a precautionary measure, take action in the communities that are out line that area, so three steps.

First, identify the cluster. You can identify the cluster because we do so much testing and we have so much data. We can tell you where there is a cluster by the actual number of cases. We have the addresses of people who are COVID-positive. So we have mapping software where you can see exactly where the cluster is. That's the highest density of cases. That's where you have to take the most dramatic action. The surrounding area is where that cluster is going to seep. Why? Because that's where people interact in the grocery store. That's where they interact at the bus stop. That's where they interact in the local recreational areas. So cluster, the area around the cluster, and then as a precautionary measure, the area around that's. That's how you attack a cluster. Most intense action on the cluster itself and then precautionary action as you pull back.

Clusters, all of these areas, you can look at them exactly by the cases. It's not by zip code, it's not by census tract, it's not by any political metric, it's only by the number of cases. So for example, Brooklyn New York - we have one area. This is an actual map of Brooklyn. The cluster is the red area. That is the area in, this is basically south Brooklyn, that has the highest number of cases by actual data. The surrounding area, orange, that is the second ring. That's the warning area because the people who are in that cluster, they're going to the same store, they're going to the same church, they're going to the same bus stop as people in that surrounding area. These are there are no walls here. The third area is the yellowish area around the perimeter from that line straight line down. That we call a precautionary area because they may very well also be coming in contact with the people in the cluster. Or, the people in the middle of that cluster may have infected somebody in the orange zone who may be in contact with someone in the yellow zone. It goes red is the cluster, orange is surrounding the cluster, yellow is the periphery. So that's the actual south Brooklyn map.

Queens, there are two areas that will be mapped just the way Brooklyn is mapped but same concept. There's a central cluster, there's a surrounding area and there's a precautionary area surrounding that. Two smaller areas in Queens. The Brooklyn area is larger than either of the two Queens areas. Binghamton we have a cluster.

Binghamton we're declaring a yellow zone which is the precautionary zone which is a less intense action plan than in a red zone. Why? Because there's just fewer number of cases in Binghamton. The density is less, the cluster is less, but it still requires precaution.

Orange County, we have an intense cluster and then what we call a precautionary zone around that cluster.

Rockland County, same thing. We have an intense cluster and then we're establishing a precautionary zone around that cluster.

These are relatively small areas geographically. Maybe a cluster is one mile in diameter. Maybe with the orange warning area it's a mile and a half. Maybe with the precaution area it's about 2 miles. These are geographically circumscribed, relatively small but that's why they're clusters. The trick is to keep it small. Keep the infection from spreading. Small, but intense targeted efforts in that area. We have new rules for red, orange or yellow communities.

The red, which is the most impacted area, houses of worship will be 25 percent capacity up to 10 people maximum. If it's a church or a mosque or a temple, there will be a maximum of 25 percent capacity or 10 people. No mass gatherings, only essential businesses open, only take out dining and schools are closed.

In the orange areas - that's the second ring - houses of worship 33 percent capacity, 25 people maximum. Mass gatherings, ten people maximum, indoor or outdoor. Businesses, we closed high-risk, non-essential businesses. High risk are defined businesses like gyms, personal care, et cetera. Dining, no indoor dining, outdoor dining only. Four people to a table.

Yellow, which is the precautionary zone, 50 percent capacity in a house of worship. Mass gatherings, 25 people. Businesses are open; dining indoor and outdoor, but 4 people maximum per table. Also, the schools in yellow areas, public or private, must do mandatory weekly testing.

The students are people who are very likely to interact with people within that community. We saw this in New Rochelle. All the kids go to different schools, I know, but they meet at the playground or they're on the little league team or they're on the hockey team or they went to somebody's birthday party and they interacted. The schools are important because you will very often see the schools be a place of transmission. If two students interact at a birthday party on a Friday night and then go to school, they then bring it home to their parents and now we're off to the races again.

We're increasing the fines for sponsors of mass gatherings to $15,000. We are going to be providing the local governments with the maps that we did in their areas. We'll be consulting with them. These were done specifically from the actual case numbers themselves. If there's some peculiarity, local governments have a comment, we'll do that today. The rules can go into effect as soon as tomorrow, that's up to the local government, but no later than Friday. If local government says we want time to get adjusted, fine. Today is Tuesday, get adjusted no later than Friday.

Testing for schools in the yellow zones starts next week. I am more and more concerned about schools with the more experience we have. The more we get into this the more important I think it is that schools do random testing. Well, students are young and they're resilient. First of all, we don't really know that. What do we know about this virus? And not only do you have young people in schools, you have teachers. We all think we're young, I think I'm young, you have teachers and I want to make sure we're protecting all lives. So the schools in those yellow zones must do weekly testing. The Department of Health will set a sample number. We want to make sure it's statistically representative and they'll set that sample by Friday. If a school needs additional testing equipment, they should contact us - we can to help them. If they want to do pool testing, they should contact us, we can help them. These rules will be in effect for 14 days, and then we'll see where we are and we'll see the numbers and we'll adjust from there.

We've gone through this evolving situation with some of the best people on the globe who have been advising us and I want to thank them very much for their help. Local governments most enforce the law. I know I've said this several times. But we can sit here all day long and come up with laws and rules - they are only as good as their enforcement. And a lack of enforcement has contributed to this problem. There is no one who say they didn't see this coming. We've had concerts in the Hamptons that should have never happened. We've had bars that have attracted crowds over and over again that should have never happened. We've had college parties that have happened offsite that should have never happened. We have had religious gatherings that have been circulated on social media for weeks and action was not taken. There can be no surprise - the rules are only as good as their enforcement. "Well we have COVID fatigue. We're tired of wearing masks." COVID isn't tired. The virus isn't tired. The virus - still energetic to strong enough to kill you. It's no time to be fatigued. We don't have the luxury of fatigue.

And I understand it's a politically difficult situations - I've tried everything with local governments. I said that I would fine local governments if failed to enforce the law because these are laws that they're enforcing. A law doesn't work if you're too incompetent or too politically frightened to enforce it, period, said A.J. Parkinson. I also said to local governments, "Blame me." I understand these are difficult acts to enforce. These are state laws. Blame me. I have no problem with that.

Moving forward, I'm not going to pass more laws that are not enforced. This is a government that is competent, this is a government that is capable, this is a government that has helped the people of the state through this horrendous situation. We'll continue to do it - we do it because we're effective, that's why. Local governments need to assign people to a State Enforcement Task Force, because I want to make sure that that is happening. New York City must provide 400 personnel to the New York State Task Force. I want to thank our government partners in this Cluster Initiative. I've spoken to many of them myself today. But we have in Binghamton, Broome, Jason Garner has been very helpful, Steven Neuhaus in Orange, Ed Day in Rockland County, we spoke through some issues today - I want to thank him very much for his cooperation. New York City we've been working with, Laura Curran in Nassau we've been working with. Together we're going to get this done - it's not easy. But we know where the cases and we know what we have to do.

So, government has to do its job, but individuals have to do their job also. And organizations have to do their job also. We're all citizens, and it's not government's job to catch you. It's citizen's obligation to do the right thing, right? You don't speed on the road, not just because you're afraid to get a ticket, because you don't want to kill anyone. Right? You act responsibly with COVID because you want to protect yourself, you want to protect your family, you want to protect other people. And organizations have to do the same thing. I am informing all houses of worship today. Obviously these new rules are most impactful on houses of worship because this virus is not coming from nonessential businesses. That's not what this is about. It may be spread by nonessential business. It's not starting in schools; it may be spread by schools. This is about mass gatherings. And one of the prime places of mass gatherings are houses of worship. I understand it's a sensitive topic but that is the truth. You want to solve the problem? Acknowledged the problem. Deny the problem, look at a red herring, and then the problem gets worse. The problem is mass gatherings and houses of worship, colleges and some miscellaneous foolish behavior in bars, outdoor venues, etc.

I spoke to members of the Orthodox Jewish community today. I spoke to the leaders myself this morning. We had a very good conversation. These rules will apply to all houses of worship. Many of these communities have a large Orthodox population. I have been very close to the Orthodox community for many years. I understand the imposition this is going to place on them, and I said to them I need their cooperation. I need their partnership. They're very cohesive communities. And I asked for them to work with me to follow these guidelines and that was positively received. I said to them that I'm doing this for a very simple reason because I have such respect and love for the Orthodox community. I have been friends with them all my life and my father before me by the way. We go way back and it's out of respect and it's out of love and it's because I want to protect them. In Jewish teaching, one of the most precious principles is saving a life. To save a life. The Torah speaks about how certain religious obligations can be excused, if you are going to save a life. This is about saving a life. That's what this is. No large gatherings in synagogues to save a life. You look at where the infection rate is, you look at those clusters, people will die in those clusters and this is about protecting people and saving lives. And I felt very good about my conversation with the Orthodox community and I thank them for their help in their cooperation. Seasons change, circumstances change, and we change with it. That's what we do. This is not a New York State phenomenon. If you look at what's happening in our region of the country, New York is about 1.2 percent; Pennsylvania's up at about 8 percent; New Jersey is about 2.4 percent; Connecticut - which God bless Governor Ned Lamont has always had a lower incident rate than we have, but there are still facts in life: one plus one equals two; night follows day, the world is round. These are facts, OK? There's another fact: if the rules are not complied with, and enforcement is not done, then the infection rate will increase. If the infection rate increases, we will be forced to close down. We know that. We've been here. This is déjà vu. So, let's do what we have to do in these clusters, let's save lives, and let's continue the economic advancement that we're making.

Today's specific numbers — top 20 zip codes — we're doing two types of testing now. We're testing in the hotspots and then we're doing the normal testing statewide. In the testing just in the hotspots, the infection rate is about 5.5. Statewide the testing is about 1.2. If you roll the hotspots into the state numbers, which now oversamples the hotspots, you're at 1.4 percent. Nine New Yorkers passed away. They're in our thoughts and prayers. 705 hospitalized, ICU 158, intubation 72.

We're going to do this the way we've done it all along because we are New York tough, smart united, disciplined, loving.

Last point is I'd like to make a comment about the President, what he's been saying. We wished him well when we heard about his diagnosis with COVID and we wished the First Lady well. We sent them a great New York special care package, and I hope he's back to 100 percent as quickly as possible. I think the President has an opportunity that he is missing and I think he has an opportunity to do a public service and I think he's right now doing the public a disservice. To say to the people of this country, "Look at me! Don't worry about COVID. Look how well I'm doing!" First of all, this is a funny disease. We hope you're doing well, but the disease still has not run its course and it's a little premature to say "I'm doing great," right? You're not really doing great until you test negative and then, by the way — there are people who test negative and have consequences that continue for weeks and months and months. This is a frightening virus. But the President is not analogous to the average person in this country, right? The average person gets COVID, they don't get flown by helicopter to Walter Reed Hospital, and have a team of 20 doctors, millions of dollars of medical talent attend to their needs, receive experimental drugs that haven't been available to the public and are administered just to the President under Compassionate Care, right? So, there's no analogy there. From the public service point of view, 210,000 people died. More people die in this country than countries around the world that were doing much worse than we were. From a public service point of view, "Don't be afraid of COVID?" No. Be afraid of COVID. It can kill you. Don't be cavalier. You This is just more denial. This is where it started and you know, the President — God bless him — he tells you where he's going. We know that when COVID started, he knew how bad it was going to be and he just lied about it. We know that he had the White House memo done by Peter Navarro that said millions of people could get infected and he just lied about it. Woodward's book, he actually has him on tape saying, "I know how bad it's going to be, but I don't want to tell the American people." Yeah, that cost this nation, and that confusion cost this nation, many unnecessary lives and expense and pain and hardship. I was saying at that time, "Take it seriously." The President was saying when it started, "It's a hoax. It will be gone by Easter. It's going to disappear like a miracle." Yeah, none of that was true. None of it was true. He knew it wasn't true and it's not true now to say, "Don't be afraid of COVID."

Denial doesn't works. It never does in life. It never does. "I don't have a drinking problem. I don't have a substance abuse problem. I don't have a gambling problem." Denial never works. Acknowledge the problem: it's a frightening virus. Be smart, be careful. Don't hide under your bed. We're reopening, go about your business, but do it smartly and that's what the President should be saying.

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