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Homeland Security

New York State

Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces New Record High Number of COVID-19 Test Results Reported

January 15, 2021

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


Good morning, happy Friday. Long week, busy week, good week. From my far right, Gareth Rhodes; Chancellor James Malatras; Director of State Operations, Kelly Cummings; Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. To my left, Secretary Melissa DeRosa. To her left, Robert Mujica Budget Director. Today is day 321.

We did the State of the State this week, 4 presentations which was unusual, but this is an unusual year. You look at the plans that we've laid out, it was two-fold. Number one, New York is going to win this war against COVID, the vaccine is the weapon that will win the war and we feel good about that. The question is when, how much longer does it go on. Then, let's look ahead and let's be ready for the post-war reconstruction.

War in of itself doesn't make progress. You can stop evil, you can stop bad things from happening, but progress comes in the reconstruction, in the post-war period. That's true throughout history, it's going to be true here again. All governments, all regions are going to look to be competitive in the new economy, the new Zoom economy, the new work-from-home economy. The question is what region adapts best and we want to be in the best position to do that. We have to get from here to there, we have to get through the vaccination period to critical mass of the vaccine. That's 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, depending on who you talk to. Basically, it depends on the federal supply because that's what's driving the timeline right now.

We want to start to reopen prior to hitting critical mass in the vaccination process. That's what we're going to do using testing. Do it smartly, do it safely. The for New York's bright future and New York's relaunch is Washington has to finally be fair to New York State. We've been abused by Washington for 4 years. We've been abused by Washington for decades. Great, late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan always complained that New York gave more money to the federal government than any other state compared to what it got back.

There's always been a mismatch. New York was always what they called the number one donor state. We gave a dollar, we got less back on the dollar than any other state. They just actually exploded that when they passed the SALT tax increase to New York. That was 3 years ago. It added $30 billion to the inequity, $2,600 for the average New York taxpayer. Then, on top of that, the federal government just hurt us every way they could.

We were a political target for Washington. We couldn't get any federal infrastructure projects approved. We have the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rate in the United States of America. They illegally interfered with our global travel. We were a political target. We were politically extorted by Washington and now you have new leadership. We expect the new leadership to right the wrongs.

There's a reason why people seek to be in control of government. Once you're in control of government, you are responsible for the actions and consequences. The new majority in the House and the President, we expect them to right the wrongs that were done to the State of New York. We want fairness, but we also demand fairness. We need $15 billion from the rescues plan as outlined by President-elect Joe Biden and we're going to look for the Senate and the House members to actually deliver that.

The $15 billion in the scope of things is a modest amount. New York paid a higher price for COVID than any other state. We paid a price because of the federal incompetence. The federal government never told us COVID was coming here from Europe. Came for months, federal government told us it was still in China. Either they lied to us or they were incompetent. $15 billion is half of the money they took over the past 3 years from SALT. I consider it theft of SALT money and I consider this theft recovery from Washington.

The numbers today, 6 percent statewide infection rate. We did 300,000 tests, 183 New Yorkers passed away. They're in our thoughts and prayers. Hospitalizations are net down 15; ICU is up 34 and intubations are up 6. When you look across the State percent hospitalized, Finger Lakes is still number one, down from where they were but they're still number one in the State. It will change when that community decides it will change. That's when it will change.

There's still personal responsibility and it's still purely a function of how a community acts. Positivity, Mohawk Valley is the highest at 8.6; New York City, the Bronx is the highest positivity now. Staten Island is relatively down and that's good news. Staten Island was very high for a long time and I think that's good news and I think the community is understanding that their actions have consequences. It's good to see that reduction.

The post-holiday effect. We talked about what was going to happen and when it was going to happen through the holiday season. Much of the diagnosis came true. We said we were going to go into the holiday season starting with Thanksgiving and you were going to see the holiday season increase social activity, social activity increases hospitalizations increase, infection rate increases. Celebrate smart, celebrate smart, celebrate smart. I reminded New Yorkers every day. People let me know that it was the holiday season and they wanted to celebrate, but I kept saying anyway. I know but celebrate smart because we'll see an increase in the COVID transmission rate and we saw an increase in the COVID transmission rate.

This is the positivity. December 25 is Christmas, so Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, we shot up like a rocket. Up until New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and then it started to flatten. Why? Because the increase in the social activity started to flatten. Now, we're starting to see a drop post-New Year's Eve, New Year's Day. That is good news. We'd rather not have seen the increase, but I believe the increase would have been worse if we weren't smart and disciplined during the holidays. Now we're starting to see a decrease and that's good news. That's what we talked about. We talked about the actual transmission of the virus increasing through the period of social activity, which was really through New Year's Day.

After New Year's Day, people start to go back to work or whatever is in the new normal. You then start to see the positivity transference rate decreasing and that's what we're seeing. What would have happened if we were more reckless during the holiday season, that number would have gone up even more. What would have happened if we were more careful, more cautious, more conservative during the holiday season, the spread would have been less but we are where we are and we deal with it.

Vaccinations. The federal government start with priorities for vaccinations and we adopted those priorities as most states. First priority was what they call 1a. 1a was basically healthcare workers. 1b was essential workers and 75-years-old plus. That was the original federal guidance. We accepted it, other states accepted it, and it was almost universally accepted to make sense. You do the hospital workers first, then the essential workers, and then 75-plus. 75-plus, obviously the older you are, the more you're at risk.

The federal government then went from 75 down to 65, we followed that guidance. That added an additional 1.8 million people. So, you're at a point now where we have a total population of 7 million New Yorkers who are eligible. There are only 15 million New Yorkers eligible to begin with, because the vaccine is 16-plus, right? So, roughly half the population is now eligible. When you went from 1a to 1b to 75-plus to 65-plus, you opened it up to 7 million people. 7 million people, we're receiving 300,000 vaccinations per week. It takes you about six months to do 7 million people at 300,000 per week.

Our constraint is the federal supply and that is creating a scheduling backlog, and it's creating pressure on what was supposed to be the prioritization process. We are now scheduling appointments through the distribution mechanism, which you'll see in a moment, 14 weeks in advance. And most of the distributors are already fully booked, because people want the vaccine, which is a good thing.

The premise was, by the federal government, when they opened it up to 75-plus and 65-plus, that they would increase the allocation. And the theory was we'll increase the eligibility, but we'll increase the allocation. That hasn't happened. They increased the eligibility; they did not increase the supply. The trump administration said they were going to expedite the second dosage, if you will remember, and rather than holding back the second dose supply, they would send the second dose, and that would increase a state's supply. It turns out that that was not true. They had already sent out everything they had. So, there was no increase in supply and in the meantime, there was a dramatic increase in the eligibility. So, now you increase the eligibility, you don't increase the supply, and now you have a very complicated situation. Not only did we not get more supply, we actually got less this week, we went from 300,000 dosages down to 250,000 dosages. So, the eligibility opens up, and the supply actually comes down.

What they did was like opening the floodgates of eligibility and you have a rush of 7 million people, "I want a vaccine. I want it now. I was told I'm eligible," and that entire flood has to go through a syringe. All this volume and it has to go through the point of a needle literally and figuratively, that's the situation that the federal government created.

Now, we have our distribution network up and expanding rapidly. We have about 5,000 pharmacies, about 194 hospitals, you have about 2,500 private doctor networks, city departments of health, county departments of health: 58, and then we have state mass vaccination sites, which were just very high-volume vaccination sites. To give you an idea again, 1a, 1b, 75-plus, and 65-plus that's 7.1 million. We have established prioritizations by those distribution networks to make sure everyone gets covered. Hospitals have to prioritize doctors and nurses. City/county health departments, they are in charge of 1b essential workers; they're supposed to be doing the police, the fire public safety, teachers, et cetera. Pharmacies, doctors' networks, they are prioritizing 65-plus. It is very important that these prioritizations are met.

We also are asking the public employees, or private employees, who are police, fire, teachers, public safety workers, transit workers, if you can self-administer, or if you can just take an allocation and bring it to your provider, or if your EMS workers can do your fire department; your EMS workers can do your police department, please do that because that relieves stress on the distribution system. And many unions have been very helpful with this. Many police departments have medical professionals, and they are administering to their police. Fire departments, the same thing. Teachers unions in some places have done the same thing, where the teachers union will take the allocation, go to a select provider, and that's a big benefit to all of us because it removes pressure on the distribution network.

Overall 74 percent of vaccine first doses are in arms, that's over the first four weeks of delivery, 74 percent, which when you look at comparable states, that's a very good number. Obviously, our way in New York is we always want to do better. 827,000 total doses; 731,000 first dose; 96,000 second doses - second doses because this is two dosages, you get the first dose, about three weeks later you get the second dose.

Vaccination performance is uneven by region, and we study these numbers to see what we can learn, but you see quite a variance. Some of it is explainable, some of it isn't. North Country, all time high, 90 percent; Capital Region 87 percent. North Country where you have a smaller population and more of a distribution network, obviously you can get more done quickly, but it doesn't explain in and of itself the variance. You look at Capital Region has 87, Finger Lakes is only 73. Finger Lakes has the highest positivity rate in the state, you would think the people in the Finger Lakes would be the population that most wants the vaccine, knowing that they have such a high rate of infection.

You then go down to 76 in Mid Hudson; 78 Long Island; 60 percent in New York City. Not only is an uneven by region, it's uneven by provider, so Capital Region week 1 to 3: you have some facilities that are 100 percent; in the Capital Region 86 percent is considered a lower performing facility. Now 86 percent is a lot higher than many facilities, but in the Capital Region, that's one of the lower percentages. Central New York, you have some at 100 percent and then you have some at 23 percent. So, how do you explain that? It's the same period of time. It is the degree of performance of the individual facilities, and that's what we want to point out. Finger Lakes you have some at 100 percent, Rochester General 85 percent, Strong is 100 percent. That's why they call it Strong, and then you have on, the lower performing, again 62 percent, but that's the range in that region, and you see the differential among facilities in the region.

Long Island many are at 100 percent. Charles Evans Center, Beth Page, Marcy Medical Center, Saint Catherine's, they're at the lower end within that area. Mid-Hudson, many at a hundred percent, Kingston Family Health Center, and this is all going to be on the web afterwards. New York City, you go from a hundred percent to 44 percent, 42 percent, 35, 33, 32, 29, 25, 19, 19, 18. That's obviously a major variance. North Country, so high, a hundred percent, 96 percent is a low performer in North Country. Southern Tier, also you see a variation, but this is important to understand for all the individual facilities, so they can do better.

These are state numbers. There are no such thing as state numbers in this regard, these numbers come to us from the facilities themselves, and these are numbers that are submitted under penalty of perjury, so there's no discrepancy about the numbers. You know, if I were to say you reported your gross income to the tax department at $70,000, and I said, "You said your gross income was $70,000 under penalty of perjury, also known as tax fraud." And you said, "I don't make $70,000, I told people I made $100,000." Yeah, but under penalty of perjury you said $70,000, and that's all I'm saying. These numbers were submitted by those facilities, and the point is we have a lot of facilities, were have a lot of distributors, we want to get needles in arms, and those are for weeks one to three.

Get needles in the arms. That's what we want people to understand. 74 percent, we have a good percentage, we want to do better. We want to do better. The faster you get people the vaccine, the faster, the better for them and the better for the entire state. Our motto here in New York is "Life is in the doing." We understand the concept, now we have to get the needle in the arm.

We also need the prioritization followed, otherwise you won't have fairness among the groups. And this has to be fair. It has to be fair by design and by effect. City/County Health Departments: you are supposed to be prioritizing by law police, fire fighters, public safety. Hospitals: you're supposed to be prioritizing nurses and doctors. Pharmacies: you're supposed to be prioritizing sixty-five plus, and the private doctor networks. If you don't follow the priorities, eligible groups will be disadvantaged, because the allocation is based on the groups. So, for example, if a City or a County Health Department is vaccinating people sixty-five plus, then the police, the fire, the teachers wind up short changed.

Likewise, if a hospital is vaccinating police, public employees, then the doctors and nurses are short changed. Likewise, if the pharmacies and doctors offices are doing police and fire, then the sixty-five year old is short changed. That's the point of the prioritization in the law: focus on your group, and if everyone focuses on their group there will be fairness. If everyone tries to do everybody, somebody will be left out. A.J. Parkinson, truer words were never spoken.

Facilities doing the first dose must record and schedule the second dose. If John Smith goes to your facility for the first dose, you are responsible for calling John Smith three weeks from now and giving John the second dose. That's very important. And that is an administrative procedure which is tedious, but which is also a priority.

This is great news. Ninety-six percent of nursing home residents have gotten the vaccine, and it's going to be complete by Sunday. This is not great news: we have fewer dosages, going from 300,000 to 250,000 as an allocation by the federal government. When we do our distribution, our distribution is always proportionate, regionally, to the share of the population. So if Western New York is X percent of the population, Western New York region gets X percent of the dosages. We now have 1,200 sites who are getting allocations. Of the new allocation, the faster sites will get more of the new allocation. Why? Because they get it out the door faster, and this is about getting needles in arms.

No one gets all they need. When the federal government creates a situation where you have the floodgates open, and a syringe at the bottom, seven million people for 250,000 doses per week, every distributor, everyone, is going to say, "I need more." New York state doesn't get what it needs. You know who says, "I need more?" I say "I need more." I say it to the federal government every day. I must have said it seventeen times yesterday to federal officials I was talking to. I need more. You know what every distributor is going to say after they get their allocation this week, which by the way is going to be less than their allocation last week because we're going from 300 to 250,000? "I need more." You know what every citizen says? "I want it faster." Every person I speak to, every family member I speak to? "I want it faster."

Good. I get it. But we have to understand the situation we're dealing with the supply versus the need, right? The math just doesn't work, and the physics don't work.

People with pre-existing conditions. The current CDC, and the current federal government, which is going to be current for a couple of days, right? They recommend adding, now, people with pre-existing conditions. We have seven million currently eligible. That would add about 5 million people. You would then be at 12 million people, we only have 15 million people statewide. It would be easier to do the list of who's not eligible then who is eligible, because it would only be about three million people not eligible. You would then go from seven to twelve, and still only be receiving 250,000 allocation per week. It would take this confusion and compound it.

I'm also very empathetic and understanding of people who have the pre-existing conditions. There's been a discussion of how you define pre-existing conditions. Pre-existing conditions can go from heart disease, to diabetes, to obesity, to smoking, to COPD. So, we're talking to the federal officials, we're talking to the incoming federal administration, and we want to get more guidance, and we're looking at numbers on how we could define that category, and we're hoping that we get more federal allocation so we can make any of this possible.

One major point. Hospital capacity is still the red line, danger zone, shut-down mechanism in this entire situation. California is what we're afraid of. Italy is what we're afraid of. UK is what we're afraid of. You overwhelm the hospital system and you have to close down. That's, that's the ultimate success or failure of the entire effort. It's binary. If the hospitals are overwhelmed, you close down. Period. End of story. You close down, everyone closes down. Every restaurant. Every office. We go right back to full shutdown. That is the worst case scenario.

What is hospital capacity? Hospital capacity is two factors. Number of beds, and number of staff. We increased the number of beds by 50 percent in this state. We're the only state to have done it. That's why we're still operating and we're not overcapacity. The second component is staff. When you increase the beds in a hospital by 50 percent, you stretch the staffing ratio by necessity. You had a hospital that had 100 beds and they were staffed to 100 beds. You then go to 150 beds and you stretch the staffing capacity. The staff shortage is the issue that is going to overwhelm the hospitals. The hospitals are not saying, we're running out of beds. The hospitals are saying, we're running out of staff because the staff is getting sick. That's why healthcare workers were the priority. Because if you vaccinate the healthcare workers, the healthcare workers don't get sick, the hospitals stay open, it's helps everyone. If the hospitals close, it hurts everyone. So it's not just help the healthcare workers for the sake of the healthcare workers, which I believe in, by the way. We celebrate our nurses and doctors. They're on the frontline. They're in emergency rooms today taking care of COVID people. I'm not. Even the 65 year-old is not. They're in the emergency room. Plus, selfishly, if they get sick and the hospital closes, then no one has a hospital to go to, which hurts everyone.

But on top of that, this UK variant, which is frightening—one of the things that keeps me up at night. The other thing is a possible new mutation that is immune from the vaccine. One of the other things that also keeps me up, some issues with some of my children, but that's different. We also have a new UK case is Nassau today, so we're up to 16 cases statewide, and this is all over the country, it just hasn't been diagnosed yet. A higher infection rate with that UK variant puts more people in the hospital, stresses staff more, UK variant can make more nurses and doctors sick, reducing the staffing. It's a dangerous situation that we're in.

Long and the short of it is, we need to complete the healthcare workers who were 1a in the first place. We've only done 60 percent of the healthcare workers statewide. That is not good enough.

Remember that the basic benchmark for herd immunity was 70 to 90 percent. That was herd immunity. We're at 60 percent with healthcare workers. That is not good. This varies across the state. You have some parts of the state, high—Fingers Lakes 70 percent, Western New York 63, southern Tier 66, Capital Region 65, North Country 70, Long Island 60, New York City 59, Mid-Hudson 57. You go from 57 to 70. You know, this is troubling to say the least. We ask hospitals, and again they submit this themselves, the percent of your hospital workers who have declined the vaccine. Very smart person at the Daily News suggested this question. He was right. And this is the variance of people who decline a vaccine. Mid-Hudson, 28 percent of the people say I decline. New York City, 13 percent say I decline. Capital Region, 11 percent say I decline. Look at that variance in staff that says they decline. This is the variance by region of healthcare staff that has been vaccinated. The highest in the state—this is statewide—NYU Langone, 99 percent of the hospital staff is vaccinated. You go to Harlem Hospital, 36 percent. This is high and low in the state. New York-Presbyterian Columbia, 88 percent. Good Samaritan of Suffern, 87 percent. The other end, Brooklyn Hospital 36. St. Catherine of Siena 34. Brookdale 33, Bellevue 29, St. Joseph's 23, Kings 27. You go from 23 to 99. That is not—there is no explanation that we can find in the numbers besides the individual facility's attention to this situation. Capital Region you go from 85 to 41. Central New York 76 to 54. Finger Lakes 80 to 50. Long Island 81 to 34. Mid-Hudson 87 to 42. Mohawk Valley 67 to 37. New York City 99 to 27. If you're not vaccinating the nurses and the doctors, then they will get sick. If they have the infection they will be a super spreader. No one wants to go into a hospital and be vaccinated by a nurse who has COVID. You don't help people that way. We have to do a better job when it comes to this. North Country 78 to 50. Southern Tier86 to 23. Western New York 83 to 40.

The state is making special efforts on top of it. Social equity in vaccination and building trust in the vaccine for all racial ethnic groups. We do hear anecdotally that some members of the Black community are less accepting of the vaccine and there's a lower acceptance rate. We anticipated that. We talked about it. I think it's two things. I think its less access and I also do believe there's more skepticism, lack of trust in the vaccines. We've had numerous conversations, we've been talking about this for weeks and people say we're concerned, it was done by the federal administration, we don't have a lot of faith in the federal administration, their historic reasons for lack of trust.

If you went through the Tuskegee experiment, so to speak, from this federal government, you'd have lack of trust. I don't trust a lot of things that the previous administration did. That's the truth and I'm not going to say otherwise. But this vaccine is different. And that's why we had the New York group then affirm what the federal government did. But there's no doubt that anecdotally, we see a difference. If you look at some of those facility differences, why are some facilities 13 while other facilities are 90? I think, query, hypothesis, if you look at the makeup of the staff, you may be seeing variances. It doesn't explain the gross deviations, but it's a factor to consider.

But in terms of social equity, the traditional distribution network doesn't reach healthcare deserts. That's why they're deserts. They're deserts because there is no rain. That's why a desert is a desert. A healthcare desert is a healthcare desert because it doesn't have traditional distribution. So we're supplementing that. We said from day one that we would supplement that. That's public housing, churches and community centers. We're setting up mass vaccination sites. We have Javits up and running. These are probably the most effective sites at getting out a large number of vaccines quickly and effectively. They don't prioritize the way the county health departments have to, the city health department has to, the hospital has to, et cetera. But they are the most effective vehicle for mass vaccination and we're setting up eight more.

Rapid testing is going to be a key to reopening the economy. That's how you can measure. That's how you can use science. We're developing pop-up testing. We're talking to a number of groups, but we're looking for partners, commercial buildings that want to open up their building with a safe building protocol established by the Department of Health. Testing companies to open up pop-up testing all around the state. The more the better, and we'll work with you in contracting. Arts, theaters, et cetera. And again, the playoff demonstration project with the Buffalo Bills has worked very well. First of all, they won the game. I don't know that there's a correlation between the COVID testing and winning a game, but I'm going to say there was. But all the evidence so far says that that demonstration worked. So stay tuned because we are New York Tough and loving.



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