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New York State

Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Announces Expanded Deployment of Community Vaccination Kits to Strengthen Fairness and Equity in Vaccine Distribution Process

January 23, 2021

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

It's my pleasure to be back in Brooklyn. I love that mask, love. Want to get one just like that. Let me introduce some guests who are here today, great friends to New York. First, we have Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who is no stranger to this district and is no stranger all across America. He is a superstar, he's a leader in the house, and he is so important to us now because what happens in Washington is really going to make a major effect on what happens in New York State. So we're so glad to have Hakeem Jeffries with us today. Let's give him a round of applause, Hakeem Jeffries, you'll hear from him in a moment. We're waiting on Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who had a previously scheduled event, but we think she's going to be here shortly. And we have Henry Munoz, who's head of SOMOS. Henry is a unique blend. You know, you have people in life who are nice and sweet, and you have people in life who are highly effective at getting things done. It's rare to find someone who is both. That's Henry Munoz. Beautiful heart, beautiful soul, does the right thing, but gets things done. SOMOS, we've called on SOMOS for almost every hard task that we've been dealing with during COVID. In New York and around the nation, by the way, and SOMOS is always there. So let's give a big round of applause to SOMOS.

Guess what I'm here to talk to you about today? COVID. Good guess. First, let me give you some ideas on where we are with COVID today. Today is day 329. The positivity rate is 5.26. New York City, it's 5.71. 144 New Yorkers passed away, and they're in our thoughts and prayers. Hospitalization is 8,802 people. That's actually down 44 from yesterday. And we have 1,500 people who are in ICU and we have 1,023 people who are intubated. That's where we are today.

Let me say this about COVID. I was talking to a group last night. COVID fatigue, "well, we're tired of COVID. We're tired of COVID. 329 days." Yeah, I'm tired of COVID. You see these bags? These are not for carrying groceries, these bags. It's been a long 329 days. But this is a war. Think of it like a war. And we've had generations who went to war, and 329 days is not long when you are at war, right? We had generations that spent years at war. Concept of fatigue, "well, I'm tired." This is a fight. And when you tire before the enemy tires, you know what happens? The enemy wins. We don't have the luxury of fatigue. We let our guard down, that beast will rise up and will defeat us. There's also a notion that, "well, you know, people get sick with COVID, but people survive, so I'm not that afraid of COVID." Don't get cocky with COVID. Don't get cocky with COVID. 144 people died yesterday. Don't get cocky with COVID.

The other point about COVID is it created a different dynamic in this country. I call it low tide in America. Last year was low tide in America. Low tide, you go to Shirley Chisholm Park, which is beautiful, which you should go to, and you look at the bay, and you look at the bay at low tide. And at low tide, you see all the ugliness that was on the bottom, right. When the water's up, high tide, it covers everything. Looks beautiful. Low tide, you see all the ugly and it's on the bottom. We've seen low tide in America and all the ugliness on the bottom. And you know what's on the bottom? Racism, discrimination, inequality. That's what we've seen on the bottom. And it is undeniable. Blacks died at twice the rate of whites from COVID. Blacks died at twice the rate of whites. You can't just go past that fact. How did you have one population die at twice the rate of the white population? Latino population died one and a half times the rate of whites.

Why? Because low tide, you saw all the racism and discrimination in the system. You saw all the health care disparities, more comorbidities in the Black and Latino community and that's why they died. It's a fact and it's death. It's not the differential in income. It's not the differential in promotion rate. It's death. It's who lived or who died.

We now have a vaccine. The vaccine will save lives. Two issues with the vaccine. Can you get it, and will you take it? Can you get it? That is access and what happened in COVID testing was while the Black community and Latino community had a higher rate of death, they had a lower rate of COVID testing. Wealthier, whiter communities had more COVID testing. Black communities, poor communities, Latino communities that had a higher death rate had less access to COVID testing.

When it comes to this vaccine, access has to be fair all across the board. We're working with 300 churches to distribute the vaccine. We're working with public housing authorities all across the state. We're going to do every NYCHA senior development in the City of New York. All 33 will have access. So we will break our hiney - hiney is a technical governmental term, H-I-N-E-Y, it's an acronym, someday I'll explain it to you what it means - we will get the access.

Our big problem is the acceptance, especially among the Black and Latino community. Why? Because they're skeptical. They're skeptical of vaccine approved by the Trump administration, a Trump administration that seemed highly political, that politicized health care, that made political decisions rather than scientific decisions, and then the Trump administration says, this is a safe vaccine - and people say I don't believe you. By the way, I don't trust the Trump administration. I'm cynical about the Trump administration. I wouldn't just believe the Trump administration and I know the Trump administration. That's why we had a second panel of New York doctors review the vaccine.

I'm not taking the trump Administration's word for it. We set up our own panel - best doctors not only in this state, in this country. They reviewed the vaccine. They said it's safe. I believe in the vaccine. My mother is going to take the vaccine. My mother is 65-plus. She doesn't like when I say she is 65-plus. I said, mom, I'm 63. How can you not be 65-plus? What am I giving away? Mathematically people can figure that out. My mother is 65-plus. She's going to take a vaccine. My daughters who I love more than life itself, they're going to take the vaccine. I'm going to take the vaccine. There's no politics here. My mother and my daughters, I would not let take the vaccine unless I believed it was safe. It is safe. Yes, the Black community in particular has reasons to be skeptical. Yes, there is racism, yes, there is discrimination, yes, there was the Tuskegee experiment. You can't explain that away. There are no apologies. But that's not the case with this vaccine.

Take the vaccine. It will save lives and it can save your life. We know Blacks have a higher infection rate. We know they're more essential workers. They're more exposed to it. Please take the vaccine. We'll make it accessible, but we need you to accept it, and that's what we're here to do today. SOMOS is going to run a vaccination site here. We're going to be doing in public housing all across the city, all across the state. But we need people to accept the vaccine.

With that, let me turn it over to the General of SOMOS. I can't thank him enough. He's gone all over the country with us, Georgia, other states. He's been working in Black and Latino communities all across this State. Talk about saving lives. Henry Muñoz has saved lives. Henry Muñoz, thank you.

Henry Muñoz: I think that you're understanding of what we're going through and who we are is why in our clinics across the city, we hear your name but when they call your name they call you Governor Andresco because you've earned their respect.

You're one of the few elected officials in this country that people still trust and they believe in you because of what you've done. I want you to know how appreciative we are for being one of us. That's what SOMOS means, it means we are, it means we're together.

First of all, I want to thank the people who live here at William Reid for welcoming us into their home this morning and for allowing us to be here and come back when we're needed to vaccinate the people who need this vaccination the most. This isn't unusual for my colleagues and the people of SOMOS. This is who we are. We live here. These are the places we've returned to after we got tested. Our families live here, our grandparents, our abuelos and our abeulas. We come to visit them here. I'm reminded of my own grandmother this morning, Donia Julia Molina, who - I must have been doing something wrong - she sent me down on a Saturday morning just like this and she said [Remarks in Spanish], which means tell me who you walk with and I'll tell you who you are.

From March the 5th when Governor Cuomo spoke to hundreds of doctors in the SOMOS network and asked us to join the army to fight this virus, we have gone wherever we've been asked to go. We have set up testing sites in parking lots and churches and schools and colleges and universities and places just like this to get the testing to people so that we could understand the impact of this virus on our communities. We have, hard to believe, but we have sent millions of people over the course of this pandemic and we've opened up our clinics at dangerous moments to our own staff without vaccinations and lost over a dozen of our own people to this virus.

We've never really hesitated to be a part of the effort that you have created. We're here in this complex today, this home, to people and we are opening up other vaccination sites at NYCHA and in churches and larger scale places where we know we can bring access to the people who need it the most and who will listen to the trusted voices in their community who are the doctors and nurses that have always taken care of them and their families and their children. We know that we can play a role in this war, we are deputized as your infantry because we think that we can have a real impact on the State's effort to vaccinate New York and to being this, what we call [Spanish 14:15], vaccination of hope to people because we know it's the only way that we'll ever be able to return to work, rebuild our businesses, make sure that our children can go back to school or to college.

We're happy to be a part of this effort, we're here today, we're happy to continue to bring vaccinations to people who need it the most. We're going to continue to ask you, Congressman and Congresswoman, to bring as many vaccines as you can to the State of New York and we're going to put them in as many arms as we have in the spirit of love and in the spirit of hope because that's our role. That's the sworn duty of the physicians at SOMOS. We thank you for your work, we're happy to be part of this collaboration and we look forward to continuing to be a part of this work with you on behalf of the citizens of New York. Thank you all. Congresswoman?

Rep. Yvette Clarke: Good morning everyone. It's certainly my honor, my privilege to be here today. I want to thank, of course, Governor Cuomo for not forgetting about Central Brooklyn and the 9th Congressional District. It's wonderful to have you back here, Governor. To Mr. Henry Munoz, and of course, my chairman and my dear colleague, Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, it's good to be here with you again, and for the opportunity to partner with you to ensure that this vaccination location opens right here in the 9th District.

Throughout the crisis, Governor Cuomo has been an outstanding leader and source of comfort for so many New Yorkers, and others, quite frankly, across the country. I've been especially grateful for his focus on communities of color, which have been hit the hardest. From the very beginning, Governor Cuomo has spoken out about one of the great injustices of this pandemic, that minorities are more likely to be affected, both economically and by the virus itself.

Today's work to expand the deployment of community vaccination kits is another step to ensure all New Yorkers can gain access to the services they so deeply need. As Governor has said, kits at four NYCHA sites, like the Reed Apartments, will administer first doses to more than one thousand senior residents today. It's a model we know works, and that we're already working together to expand. As the vaccine supply increases, more kits will be deployed to other public housing complexes statewide, and more than three hundred churches through the Governor's vaccine equity task force.

Additionally, we now have a President and Vice President with the new administration who understands the dire need for a national testing strategy. Their dedication to delivering one hundred million vaccine shots in their first hundred days will cover fifty million people nationally. It is a critical step to getting us past the COVID-19 crisis.

These efforts have to be fueled by hardworking Americans like all of you, which means telling everyone you know who is high risk to come and get vaccinated. So call grandma, grandpa, auntie, uncle, and let them know: we have to get vaccinated. It will save their lives.

In 2019, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top ten threats to global health. Our district is a community. We know and love one another. And we know how to get the message out. And the message is clear: we believe in science. This vaccine will save lives. Seniors and high-risk communities must get vaccinated: full stop.

As your Representative in Brooklyn, I'm asking you to take this moment very seriously, to understand how important having a vaccination site in our community is, and get vaccinated to save your life and the lives of your loved ones.

As it stands, there have been almost 24.8 million cases of COVID-19, more than 410,000 deaths nationally. We all remember what it was like when we were the global epicenter of the pandemic, which is why we can not turn back. I personally have taken the vaccine and I'm here to tell you, as you can see, I am fine. Both of my parents are in their eighties, and I treasure every moment I have with them. They have gotten their first shot of the vaccine, and I pray that you and your loved ones will get vaccinated as well. We will, together, get through this.

I want to thank once again, Governor Cuomo, for his leadership and support of our community, and Chairman Jeffries for his leadership on the federal level. With that, I'd like to introduce my friend Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Chairman of the Democratic Conference of the United States House of Representatives.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: Good morning everyone. Thank you so much to my good friend Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, she does such a phenomenal job. On behalf of the people of the ninth congressional district, the neighboring congressional district that I'm privileged to represent and the district that we are in right now.

I certainly am so thankful for Governor Andrew Cuomo and the tremendous leadership that he has provided from the very moment that this deadly, once in a century pandemic struck all the way through this time right now. He's led New York forward in such a phenomenal way and in a way that has been recognized by all of our colleagues down in Washington as setting the standard for how to exhibit robust and resilient science-based leadership for such a time as this and I'm thankful, Governor, once again for your presence back in Brooklyn. You are no stranger. You are here frequently, and we appreciate you. To Henry, thank you for your leadership. The network of clinics and sites across the city and the state has been phenomenal in communities of color. We appreciate your vision and your execution. To the NYCHA resident leadership for welcoming us into your home, thank you so much for your recognition, your hospitality, and for understanding then a community-based site is the best way to make sure that vaccines are administered to those who needed the most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of pain and suffering and death throughout the land in extraordinary ways, but most particularly to Black and brown communities that have traditionally been underserved and lacking in resources, under ordinary circumstances; these are extraordinary circumstances. As Congresswoman Clarke has indicated from the very beginning, the Governor has worked closely with those of us who represent communities of color throughout the city and the state to ensure that testing is available, tracing is available, treatment is available, and now vaccinations are available to those who need it the most. And we're so thankful for that.

The governor is also work closely with the congressional Tri Caucus, the congressional Black Caucus, the congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the congressional Asian and Pacific Islander caucus, which formed the Tri Caucus in order to deal with the equity issues, of course, here in New York State but setting a standard across the country and we appreciate that.

We are urging everyone to trust science and get vaccinated. COVID-19 will kill you and we have seen that particularly with devastating consequence in Black communities, in low-income communities, and in traditionally underserved communities. That is why the Governor and we are here at this NYCHA location to make sure that the services are being brought to the people as opposed to expecting the people to have to seek out, with desperation and futility, the services. That is a wonderful model and it's a model that worked when the Governor partnered with us to open up testing sites in churches and community-based locations during the early days of the pandemic and it will work right now to assure that all of us have the ability to be vaccinated regardless of race, regardless of income, and regardless of zip code.

So, thank you Governor Cuomo for your continued leadership. New York was hit the hardest, has battled the longest, and emerged the strongest through this pandemic. And a lot of the reason why we have done it is because of Governor Cuomo's leadership and the resilience of every single New Yorker. Keep it up. The best is yet to come.

Governor Cuomo: Thank you very much. We'll take a couple of questions one quick point, just to sum up, first, Serena Lezama, not only do you have a beautiful mask, thank you for your leadership in organization today as the tenant leader.

And just to highlight what Congressman Jeffries said and Congressperson Yvette Clarke, New York is doing more in terms of social equity and reaching out than I believe any other state in the country. And not only are we doing it here in New York, we are asking for federal support and federal awareness. This should be going on all across the country. And Congressman Jeffries has organized an entire coalition in Washington to make that point. What happened on COVID cannot happen on the COVID vaccine. We can't have fewer vaccines to Black, Latino, poor communities. We can't happen again. At least learn from what happened in the Spring. And I want to thank the Congressman for his leadership in that, and Congressman Jeffries, and Yvette Clarke, they are fighters. New York, we're fighters. And we need a fight now in Washington. We're pleased President Biden is there. We're pleased with his plan. But we have to get help for New York, because the Congressmembers are right, New York got hit hardest. Fairness dictates that this nation now responds to us with the appropriate aid. The nation in many ways learned from New York. We went first. We were ambushed by COVID. We had it for months, and the other states watched us and they had the advantage of notice. We had no notice. We went from one case to hundreds of cases. We had more pain in this state than any other state, and that federal resource allocation should reflect that. And I'm sure with Congressman Jeffries in the leadership, we have a phenomenally powerful position and a powerfully talented individual on our behalf, and Congresswoman Clarke and I have worked for many, many years together, back when I was in Washington, and nobody can make things happen like Congressmember Clarke. So they're the dynamic duo for us, and we need them.

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