Dec 21, 2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 21

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 21
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsNew York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript December 21

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on December 21 to provide updates on COVID-19. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus updates for New York here.

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Andrew Cuomo: (00:01)
Good morning. Happy Monday. From my far right, Gareth Rhodes, Chancellor Malatras, Director of Operations Kelly Cummings, Health Commissioner Dr. Zucker, to my left Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, to her left budget director Robert Mujica. Today is Day 296 but who is counting? I am.

Andrew Cuomo: (00:27)
Here are the numbers for today. Statewide positivity without micro-clusters, 5.28. Statewide positivity with micro-clusters, 5.75. Micro-clusters, 7.1, 156,000 tests, 109 deaths. I can’t tell you the pain it causes to read that number every day for 296 days. Statewide hospitalizations are up 146. There’s a but. I say often these are weekend numbers, be careful about weekend numbers. Within statewide hospitalizations there are always two numbers, there’s the number of people who get discharged and there’s the number of people who get admitted. The admissions were actually down, 700 admissions compared to 822 the day before, but the discharges are down, only 472 discharges as opposed to 728. That’s because hospitals have reduced staff on the weekend, they tend not to discharge as many people.

Andrew Cuomo: (01:38)
So again, these weekend numbers I take with a grain of salt. I take the weekend numbers with two days of salt. I take all these numbers with one grain of salt. It’s more the direction than anything else. The ICUs are up 50, the intubations up 13.

Andrew Cuomo: (01:55)
Across the state, percentage of that population hospitalized, Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes, .06. They have done a reversal with Western New York. Western New York was a real problem and now Finger Lakes are a worse problem and Western New York [inaudible 00:02:17] has flattened for the time being and that’s good news.

Andrew Cuomo: (02:23)
Finger Lakes is a problem because they are part of Western New York. There’s a lot of travel between Western New York, between Buffalo, Erie County, Monroe County, et cetera, and you can’t have two contiguous areas where one has a low infection rate and one has a high infection rate because the high infection rate winds up infecting the lower infection rate. So the Finger Lakes are a problem in and of themselves, they’re also a problem for Western New York. Central New York, .05, Southern Tier .03, Mid Hudson .03, Mohawk Valley is also a problem, . 04, North Country is good, Capital Region .03, Long Island .04, New York City .03.

Andrew Cuomo: (03:09)
When you look at the positivity it’s Finger Lakes and it’s Mohawk Valley and those are the problem areas that we’re focusing on now. This is the ongoing COVID whack-a-mole, you bring it down in one region, it pops up in another and that’s what we’ve been dealing with. When you look at New York City, Staten Island, and there is no reason for Staten Island. If you said to me Manhattan, I would say, “Well, that’s more dense, more people taking public transportation, more people on the sidewalks.” If you said Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, for those of you not familiar with New York City, Staten Island is more of a residential community, more single-family homes than many of the other boroughs, et cetera.

Andrew Cuomo: (03:58)
So this is just pure people’s behavior and people’s attitude and the community’s attitude. A lot of political statements are made in Staten Island. Fine, now reconcile that with the infection rate and the number of deaths. COVID does not respond to political rhetoric, Democratic rhetoric, Republican rhetoric. You can’t defy death on political terms. Statewide, compared to the rest of the nation, New York is doing very well. This is a little bit of a mixed message, I run into this all the time. Well New York State is doing so well compared to the nation, what are we worried about? Yeah, I understand that we are doing much better than the rest of the nation, but it’s not really about the rest of the nation. If a person dies in the state of New York, a person dies in the state of New York. If a higher percentage of people die somewhere else, that hurts our soul as Americans but all we can do is protect the people in the state of New York. The only states lower than us Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont which are obviously great states but they are different demographics, different geography.

Andrew Cuomo: (05:22)
This is very concerning. This new strain that they have found in the U.K. The strain according to Boris Johnson is 70% more transmittable than the old strain. They don’t know if there’s any higher rate of death. They don’t know if the vaccine is as effective with the new strain. The quote from the U.K. medical officer was “our working assumption” is that the vaccine works.

Andrew Cuomo: (06:01)
This strain is so serious that the U.K. has closed down again. If the U.K. believes the strain is so serious that Boris Johnson who said the week before we’re not going to cancel Christmas, we’re not going to close did a 180 degree turn and then closed parts of the U.K., it’s serious my friends, and we are on notice about it. Why don’t we act intelligently for a change? Why don’t we mandate testing before people get on the flight or halt the flights from the U.K. now? Many other countries have done this. This is not a case of first impression. You have many countries that have just restricted flights from the U.K. Many European countries have done it. Why are we doing nothing? 120 countries require the U.K. travelers to receive a negative test before they get on the plane in the U.K., 120 countries, and the United States has done nothing.

Andrew Cuomo: (07:24)
People in government often believe doing nothing is safe. Well if I do nothing, I won’t be criticized. I don’t believe that. I believe that’s exactly wrong. There are situations where doing nothing is actually doing something. Where doing nothing is actually an affirmative action. When you do not require the U.K. flights to be tested, you are allowing thousands of U.K. passengers to arrive here every day. The authorities say they haven’t found the strain here yet. They are science-based. Until they find the strain, they will say there is no strain. I believe intuitively it’s already here. I believe that. Because if it’s been flying around the world, it will be here and I say that intuitively because I have an educated intuition because I lived this and you lived this. This was the spring. This is how we had that New York ambush in the first place. This was, “Don’t worry, the coronavirus is in China.” No it wasn’t, the coronavirus got on a plane in China and went to Europe and came here from Europe and nobody said anything for two months in the federal government and it had been coming for so long that it was then too late. If this is more transmittable than COVID, 70 times more says Boris Johnson, this is a major problem and for us to once again be incompetent as a federal government and take no action is not a viable option for us in New York. We learned this lesson the hard way and we’re not going to go through it again. We have been victimized by federal incompetence and federal negligence, that is a fact and we’re not going to be victimized again. There are three airlines that come from the U.K. and fly into our airports. Our airports are run by the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey. The three airlines are British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. They daily are bringing several thousand passengers per day. I am asking those airlines to add New York State to the list of the 120 countries that require tests before the flights leave the U.K. for New York. 120 countries do it. My request is simple, please add New York to the list of 120 countries. Well you’re not a country. I know that, but as governor of New York State, I have asked them to do that. We do have a public health emergency in existence in New York State. The British Airways I have spoken to myself and they have voluntarily agreed to add New York to the 120 countries that will do pre-boarding testing and they will start that tomorrow. That’s the same type of testing that many of the countries on the 120 list have agreed to.

Andrew Cuomo: (11:17)
I want to thank British Airways. This was a very rapid decision by them. They were considerate and I truly appreciate it. Obviously British Airways could have taken a different path but they agreed to be cooperative and they said they will not send flights to JFK unless those people have been tested pre-boarding, so thank you very much.

Andrew Cuomo: (11:45)
There are two other airlines, Delta and Virgin, and I have requested for them to voluntarily agree. If they do not agree voluntarily, then New York State will pursue other options but I would not be doing my job as Governor of New York if I sat here and let the federal incompetence create another emergency and disaster that costs the lives of New Yorkers. I am only a governor, but I will do anything I can and whatever I can to protect the people of the State of New York. That is my job, and I know and I believe my intuition is correct that this is another disaster waiting to happen. If the U.K. closed down, if 120 countries require testing, if Canada left a plane on the tarmac because they wouldn’t allow it to de-board, if the other European countries have said that they’re banning travel, why are we doing nothing? Why are we doing nothing? Why did we do nothing in the spring? I’m not going to allow it to happen or I will try my best to do everything within my power.

Andrew Cuomo: (13:16)
I asked the other two airlines to follow the lead of British Airways. I asked them not to disrespect the people of New York State who are very gracious and are good neighbors with the U.K., but please don’t abuse or disrespect the people of New York and please don’t underestimate the people of New York. We protect one another. I promise you that. So please consider joining voluntarily and we await your answer. On vaccinations –

Andrew Cuomo: (14:00)
… that needle goes in, not a muscle on her face moves. That is a pro. When my time comes, I hope I’m as good as nurse Sandra Lindsay. I’ve had a lot of questions. I want to make something clear. Politicians are now talking about who’s getting a vaccination. There is no politics in the vaccination process. There is no politician in the State of New York who is in control of the vaccination process. We went through this in COVID testing, big shots get to the front of the line, celebrities get to the front of the line, affluent people get to the front of the line. There’s preferential treatment in COVID testing. It undermines the entire sense of democracy and equality and a government that works for all people. And in this time of COVID where we’ve seen gross injustices, politics has nothing to do with it.

Andrew Cuomo: (15:06)
There is no governor, there’s only one governor in this state, but there’s no governor, no county executive or no mayor who controls the process. Anyone who says differently is either not telling the truth or violating the law. So let me know if either of those two happen. This is entirely done by medical professionals. We get the vaccine, we distribute the vaccine to a regional hub hospital. That hospital does the vaccinations for that region. We define the categories of people who are eligible. Phase 1A, Phase 1B, et cetera. And basically we follow federal advice on that. But we tell the hospital, this is the eligible category, you administer the vaccine. It has nothing to do with politics, and it has nothing to do with government. Only the state government is involved and our only job is to distribute the vaccine to the regional hub, get it there, and to make sure they have the guidelines and they’re following the guidelines.

Andrew Cuomo: (16:28)
We have already distributed more vaccine and our hospitals have vaccinated more people than any state in the nation. We did this despite the snowstorm that we had over the past few days, which made it actually a little more interesting and a little more difficult. But welcome to 2020. 38,000 New Yorkers have already received the vaccine dose. This where the vaccines went. There was no politics in this allocation. This is all proportionate to the number of people eligible in that class. So if we’re talking about essential healthcare workers, this is where they are by percentage. New York City hospitals get more. Yes, because New York City has a larger population. Long Island hospital got more. Yes, because they’re a larger percentage of the population and so forth and so on. But that’s the only differential in the allocations. New York State so far is the number one state.

Andrew Cuomo: (17:43)
And I want to thank our hospitals who are doing a great job. And I want to thank our state department of health and OGS who’s actually distributing it to the hospitals. More vaccines are coming every day. 346,000 Moderna coming this week, 120,000 more Pfizer doses coming this week. We expect to have a total of 630,000 doses by this week. This week, we increase the priority populations that the hospitals will be allowed to administer. Federally qualified health center workers, EMTS, coroners, medical examiners, funeral home workers, other congregate care workers and residents. This week we also start the federal program to vaccinate nursing homes’ residents and staff. Residents and staff in nursing homes. It is estimated that it will take six weeks, three days at each facility. Day one, everybody receives one shot. That should take two weeks. Day two, second shot. Day three, the remaining staff.

Andrew Cuomo: (18:53)
So three days they basically break up the residents and staff in three groups and they do it over three days. Total program is supposed to be six weeks. We have worked with the pharmacies and the federal government. CVS is going to do 271, Walgreens 253, other pharmacies, 94. These are the 618 nursing homes that are enrolled in the program. Again, it is basically proportionate to where the nursing homes are. This morning, we started in the nursing homes and these are pictures from this morning. There we are in the Bronx, in Rochester, in Queens. Everyone receiving the vaccine. PPE on the nurses and doctors. Key for me in this vaccination program is to make sure the vulnerable communities and underserved communities are not left behind. They were left behind during COVID, highest death rate, highest infection rate, lowest testing rate, black communities, Latino communities, poor communities.

Andrew Cuomo: (20:14)
Left to the markets’ forces, you will see once again, black, Latino, and poor communities left behind. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen. And I want this state to be a model for the nation of equitable outreach when it comes to a vaccine. We have a task force that we’re putting together. The co-chairs of the task force are Rossana Rosado, our great secretary of state. Letitia James, our attorney general. Not pointing a finger at anyone in particular there, this happens to be the picture. Mark Morial, former mayor who I worked with for many years. He’s a great fellow. Pat Wang, president, CEO of Healthfirst. So I want to thank them for their service. This is the full task force and their job is to come up with an operational logistical plan. How do we get it into black churches? How do we get it into public housing authorities?

Andrew Cuomo: (21:21)
How do we get it into community centers? How do we run a public education campaign to the black community and the Latino community and the poor community saying this is safe? There are a very real resistance to taking this vaccine, especially in the black community. And there’s a history that would give one a right to be skeptical. We need a public education to combat that. We’re also putting together vaccination kits that can be sent throughout the state that are fully contained to do vaccinations for a community. We call them community vaccination kits. But in one shipping container, it can be everything that, that community needs. You can send this shipping container right to… Put on the back of a truck, bring it to a public housing authority, to a church, to a community center, anywhere in the state, everything you need; computers, IT, medicine, wall dividers, tables, chairs, schematic for how you set up the space.

Andrew Cuomo: (22:35)
Space could be about 10,000 square feet. Because people have to come in, they have to be greeted, they have to be registered. The vaccination here in itself takes about 15 minutes. The medical personnel then like the person to remain in that area, in that space for about an additional 20 minutes, half an hour, just to make sure there’s no response. But in this one community kit, all that will be present. We’ll have these ready to then work with community groups, churches, housing authorities so we can just send it to those places. Again, my goal is this state should do a better job than any other state. Rural communities, poor communities, black and Latino communities, public housing, other healthcare deserts. In general what we’re doing is what most states are doing, we’re just a little bit ahead of it. It’s a foot race between increasing vaccines and slowing the spread. That’s all this is. And we’re coming… Well, we’re in the midst of the holiday season.

Andrew Cuomo: (23:57)
And the number one spread overwhelmingly is small gatherings, living room spread. 75% of the spread is coming from that area. Everything else is relatively de minimis. And we’re in the heat of the holiday season, right? I said before Thanksgiving, you think about it as Thanksgiving. I don’t think about it as Thanksgiving. I think about it as day one of 37 days of holidays, which is a totally different socialization pattern from any other time of the year. And the socialization pattern is what determines the spread of the virus. Thanksgiving was our first test. And what you’re seeing from the data is we did not have the spike that other places had. And interesting, it looks like there were more gatherings, more air travel in other parts of the country. And where there was more air travel and more gatherings, there was more of a spike in terms of Thanksgiving cases. Which suggests all the admonitions about celebrate, but celebrate safely, if you don’t have to travel, don’t travel, actually had an effect here in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut.

Andrew Cuomo: (25:37)
So that’s good news. And the question is then what happens as you get close to Christmas? Christmas is a longer holiday season, right? Thanksgiving, a day, two days. Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah season, New Year’s eve season, this is a long stretch. But if we stay smart, a spike is not inevitable. We get through the holiday season, then it’s just a sprint, us versus the vaccine. We just have to make sure we don’t have a spike coming out of the holiday season which could be a problem especially for our hospital management. But if we stay under control in the holiday season and we don’t have a big spike, then mid January, it’s just a foot race, us versus the vaccine. And we’re going to get that vaccine out. We’re already leading the nation in getting the vaccine out. We’re going to get that vaccine out if I have to drive it all across the state and come up with a temporary license from the department of health to administer the vaccination myself, which I’m sure I could probably get.

Andrew Cuomo: (26:56)
But we have to get through the holiday season. I also want to say again to people, where everything is so political in this state, everything is so political in this country, everything is so polarized, Biden and Trump agree. They agree. How are you playing politics with COVID when even Biden and Trump aren’t playing politics with COVID. And by the way, Biden and Trump haven’t agreed on anything. This is the one thing they agree on. So stop the politics and actually save lives. Save lives. You see those high infection rates, high positivity rates, high hospitalization rates, you know what they translate into? High death rates. And that is going to be inarguable. There’s going to be a time when people turn around and say, why did 57 people die? And why did we have more people die than anywhere else?

Andrew Cuomo: (28:03)
And why did we have more people die than anywhere else? You don’t want to have to answer that question, and the answer can’t be because we played politics. So healthy holiday, and I’m going to have a great one. Santa is going to be very good to me, I can tell. I worked hard this year. Social distance, wear a mask, be smart, be smart. Washington made a deal on the financial package. It provides some emergency relief. I spoke to Leader Pelosi about it a number of times. I spoke to Senator Schumer about a number of times. I know they were working very hard on it. I know Senator Schumer was working very hard to get the best he could for New York. They were in an impossible situation, because you have Senator McConnell, who still takes the position that we should bankrupt the states, and wouldn’t do state and local assistance. This is not partisan. Senator McConnell happens to be a Republican.

Andrew Cuomo: (29:07)
I’m chairman of the National Governors Association. More Republican governors than Democratic governors in this country. The National Governors Association sent a letter to Congress asking for $500 billion in state and local assistance. Do you know what we got in this bill? Zero, nada, niente, zero. More Republican governors than Democratic governors asked for 500 billion, got zero. Bankrupt the states. The states are the country. If you bankrupt the states, you bankrupt the country. It makes absolutely no sense, and what they did provided no funding for New York state, New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, the counties. We have a $15 billion deficit caused by COVID, caused by the federal government, caused by their incompetence, caused by their negligence, caused by the COVID spring ambush.

Andrew Cuomo: (30:16)
I can’t make up a $15 billion deficit. That means we will lay off people, and that means we will lay off people who we need to do the vaccines. Lay off National Guard expenses, lay off police, lay off fire people, lay off hospital people in the middle of a pandemic? That’s what you want me to do? Dramatic tax increases. When an economy is faltering, when the New York economy is faltering, it makes no sense. What they did to the Democrats is they gave them a Sophie’s choice. Which life do you want to save? We don’t choose in this country between who lives and who dies. Everybody should live. We should be fair to everyone. When you don’t fund states and cities, that means cities lay off police officers, and they lay off fireman, firefighters, and they lay off teachers. That’s what happens. You hurt people when you don’t fund the state, means I can’t help people with rent relief and mortgage relief. I can’t fund schools. You hurt people.

Andrew Cuomo: (31:45)
This emergency short-term, whatever you want to call it, it was a Sophie’s choice. Well, do you want to help some people while other people struggle and are in pain, or help no one? It was a impossible, unfair, un-American choice. I just hope Joe Biden gets in quickly, and sanity restores to the nation. Another point, a little different, but this was a personal effort for me for many, many years. Starting back when I was attorney general, I worked on this issue, and my DEC and Basil Seggos, and the whole team here.

Andrew Cuomo: (32:39)
There was a plume, a pollution plume left by Grumman of toxic chemicals that was in the aquifer on Long Island. And this plume of toxins chemicals was in the aquifer, and that’s the aquifer where people get their drinking water. And it was left from the manufacturing era by Grumman, and the plume was just continuing to grow with the aquifer and move through more and more communities. This was the plume in 1997. This was the plume in 2017. You can see it just growing, and it was heading south towards the ocean. And the question of what do you do and how do you do it… First of all, from an engineering point, that was a truly challenging situation, because how do you get the toxic chemicals out of this underground aquifer? But on the other hand, if you do nothing, people’s wells and drinking water are going to be poisoned.

Andrew Cuomo: (33:47)
We fought it for 10 years. Northrop Grumman will pay $100 million to do an aquifer-protection clean-up project, which is a very elaborate engineering device, but it’s highly effective. It’s the largest NRD settlement in the state history. It was a long fight, but it will protect the drinking water for the people on Long Island, and it was a really good thing and a big win. Last point, we had a request for a waiver of quarantine. We normally do not do waivers of quarantine. It’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but people from other states that have a higher infection rate, what we’re dealing with with the UK now… As I said, no state is an island, so you have to protect yourself, and that’s what the quarantine rules did. But we have an unusual request, but DOH has been considering it for the past few days, and they’ve actually granted the request.

Andrew Cuomo: (34:52)
Santa Claus asked for an exception for the 14-day quarantine requirement, because it would be impracticable for him to be in this state and then quarantine, and still get all his gifts delivered on time. DOH was flexible. They have granted the quarantine waiver, but Santa is required to wear a mask this year. I think you will still be able to recognize him, even though he’ll be wearing a mask, because he does have a fairly distinct outfit that he wears, plus his body style is fairly distinct. So I don’t think there’ll be any issue in identifying Santa this year. He’ll be able to do his job, but do it safely, because he’ll be wearing a mask. So thank you, Dr. Zucker, for… I think that was a creative outcome to that waiver request. Questions?

Operator: (35:53)
Thank you, Governor. If you’d like to ask a question, please use the raise hand function at the bottom of your window. We’ll take a moment to compile the Q&A roster. Governor, your first question comes from Bob Hennelly from The Chief-Leader. Bob, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.

Bob Hennelly: (36:14)
Yes, thank you very much. Thank you very much, Governor, for these calls. And I just wanted to ask you, could you explain why New York state continues to rebate back to Wall Street the proceeds of the stock transfer tax first enacted in 1905 until 1981, but the state decided to rebate it back for decades? Since, according to sources in the assembly, it’s generated in the last 10 years $138 billion, even as the state closed hospitals to communities of color. How can New York ask sister states to bail us out that may be poorer? If we take the money from the federal government in the front door, we’re shoveling out this hidden subsidy to Wall Street out the back.

Andrew Cuomo: (36:54)
Yeah. I don’t know the specific sound that tax, maybe Rob does. Do you know?

Robert Mujica: (37:02)
Yeah. So the stock transfer tax is a misnomer. It’s not really a tax. It was eliminated decades ago, and all it is is a paper transaction where no one actually ever actually pays the tax, shows up as a negative on people’s filings. Moreover, there’s been discussions in New Jersey regarding a stock transfer tax, and I think they’ve moved off of any of those discussions as the Stock Exchange talked about moving into other states where you can have these transactions without being taxed. But there is no tax in New York on stock transfer tax, hasn’t been around in decades, and there’s nothing on the books, and there is zero tax that has been collected for decades.

Andrew Cuomo: (37:50)
Next question, operator. By the way, New York state-

Operator: (37:56)
Governor, your next question comes from Peter Haskell, WCBS radio. Peter, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.

Peter Haskel: (38:05)
Hey, Governor. You’ve talked about the flights from Great Britain. In the past, you’ve mentioned the fact that the test is just a snapshot. Is a negative test good enough, or should we just shut it down completely?

Andrew Cuomo: (38:23)
Well, good question. Peter, I think the United States should do what other countries have done, which is halt the travel. Other countries have halted travel, because Peter, they don’t know what they are talking about. Well, that’s an offensive statement. No, it’s not an offensive statement. They will say they don’t know. They will say they don’t know. I was on the phone with top experts all weekend. We don’t know if it’s more deadly. We don’t know how much more easily it’s transmitted. We don’t know if the vaccine is effective. Our working assumption is that the vaccine is effective. This is back in the spring. Remember in the spring, Peter, they all changed their tune 10 different times. The only way it’s spread is if a person sneezes or coughs. Oh no, that’s not right. There’s also asymptomatic spread. You don’t have to have any symptoms and you can spread it.

Andrew Cuomo: (39:35)
You have to be very careful about surfaces. Don’t touch surfaces, because it can be spread from surfaces. We disinfect all the trains and subways. Not so much on surfaces. In the beginning, you don’t have to wear a mask. Oh, now everybody has to wear a mask. We saw this movie. UK closes down, other countries ban. Yes, I think the US should hold travel until they know what they’re talking about, period. And the way they should have halted travel from Europe, in the spring before they allowed the virus to come the first time. This is take two. They talk about a second wave, there has been no second wave. This would be the second wave. This would be a mutated virus coming back, which is what phase second wave was. Second wave, 1918 flu pandemic, first wave, virus mutates, and then you have a second wave. This is a mutated virus that they think, according to the UK, transmits much, much faster. Why are you doing nothing?

Andrew Cuomo: (40:57)
Now, I have no legal authority on international travel. When a plane lands at an airport, only customs and border patrol has that jurisdiction. That’s my issue here. I can’t halt flights. I call on the US government to do it. However, you’re landing on New York soil, and you are landing within the state of New York, and therefore I do have a legal jurisdiction that I can assert. But my preference would be what the other countries did. US should halt travel until we know what we’re talking about and we know the facts. Don’t make the same mistake you made in the spring. If you can’t do that, then negative test required before they get on the flight. Best would be halt, you’re right there, Peter. Operator-

Andrew Cuomo: (42:03)
Operator, next question.

Operator: (42:07)
Governor, you now have Jennifer Lukey from WHEC TV. Jennifer, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.

Jennifer Lukey: (42:14)
Good afternoon, Governor. You have over the course of the last few days, specifically called out the Finger Lakes region. What do you attribute to the increase we’re seeing here? And do you have any further plans to increase restrictions or enforcement?

Andrew Cuomo: (42:32)
In this phase we’re in, in this set of circumstances we’re in with the virus, the overwhelming spread is small gatherings, living room spread, holiday spread, call it what you will. In many ways, it is an adaptation. You know how they talk about mutations of the virus? There are also mutations of people’s behavior patterns. When you close bars, close theaters, close restaurants, or limit them significantly, where do people socialize? Where do I go? We are social beings. I’m not going to sit at home alone. Where do I go? I go to a friend’s house. I go to my family’s house. We have small gatherings. We watch the Buffalo Bills. We hang out on the weekends. And 75% of the spread is coming from that.

Andrew Cuomo: (43:39)
How do you get at that spread as a government? Very, very hard. CDC says you shouldn’t have gatherings of more than your immediate household. That’s Donald Trump. States like New York say no more than 10. But you’re talking about what people do in their home and what they do in their home is their own business, right? So it’s very hard. What we try to do is say to people over and over and over and over again, be smart. Remember that this is not a purposeful malevolent act. Your girlfriend is not going to infect you purposely. Your husband’s not going to infect you purposely. 50% of the spread, asymptomatic, people don’t even know they have it.

Andrew Cuomo: (44:33)
And then we’re watching very closely the hospital capacity because the final line is you overwhelm the hospital. And if you get anywhere near overwhelming the hospital, then we have to come up with the most strict shutdown restrictions ever. And I spent several hours speaking with the hospitals in the Finger Lakes, Monroe County, et cetera, about hospitals. We have the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul is doing follow up with Dr. Zucker. But that’s where the spread is coming from and that’s why we’re worried about the holiday season. Next question, operator.

Operator: (45:27)
Governor, you now have Cameron Hurst from the Post Journal. Cameron, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.

Cameron Hurst: (45:36)
Governor, thank you so much for the opportunity to ask a question. Pharmacy workers here in Southwestern New York had expressed concern that they would be sent into nursing homes this week to vaccinate those in cautery care facilities, but that they themselves would not be vaccinated. Are they included in the population expansion you announced today?

Andrew Cuomo: (45:55)
Question is, what category are pharmacy workers in? Who knows?

Robert Mujica: (46:05)
The pharmacy workers are included in the first group of healthcare workers. So they are in the 1a category, so pharmacy workers will be getting vaccinated as well. So the vaccinators will be getting vaccinated along with the residents of the nursing homes, as well as the nursing home staff.

Andrew Cuomo: (46:27)
1a, as you know is the highest category so they’re in the top category. By the way, we are still making New York State Clean and it is still available. Kelly Cummings, mastermind when we had the shortage of hand sanitizer. It’s highly effective. If you inhale it, it also clears your sinuses, wakes you up. Next question, operator.

Operator: (46:57)
Governor, your next question comes from Sidney Pereira from the Gothamist. Sidney, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.

Sydney Pereira: (47:05)
Hi Governor, thanks for taking my question. The first question I wanted to ask about is for people that are in the upcoming phases, how can they get online for the vaccine, especially if they’re older people or people with other health conditions, what should they be doing proactively to make sure that they are included when their time comes? And a little bit unrelated, the deadline to sign the Automatic Voter Registration is tomorrow. Do you have any updates and do you plan to sign it?

Andrew Cuomo: (47:39)
Okay. I will ask, who knows the answer… The first question would be, how do people get ready to get the vaccine? What can they do to get on a list? Is there a list? I don’t think there is a list.

Robert Mujica: (47:54)
There’s no list right now, right? So the people you’re talking about would go into the next category. So there are approximately 2 million individuals in the first category, which is 1a, which includes the healthcare professionals, congregate care and those. We’re now getting ready to prioritize 1b, which is the next section. But remember, we have about 550,000 vaccines right now. That category, the first category is 2 million. When we get to the next category, the federal government just over the weekend yesterday gave some guidance on 75 and older and people with comorbidities. So we’re reviewing that. When we have the prioritization for the next category, then we’ll communicate that to the public and come up with a process for individuals to have access.

Andrew Cuomo: (48:44)
On the Automatic AVR bill, the deadline is tomorrow or the next day I believe, and this pen works and I’m going to use it. Next question, operator.

Operator: (49:02)
Governor, your next question comes from Josefa Velasquez from The City. Josefa, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.

Josefa Velasquez: (49:10)
Hey Governor, over a week we’ve been seeing members of Congress vetting the COVID-19 vaccine as a part of the group that keeps the function of government going, where do you fall in the line of people that are waiting to get vaccinated? And when do you expect to be part of that group?

Andrew Cuomo: (49:30)
Josefa, you broke up a little bit. I would be in the… I’m in no special group. I don’t have any underlying illnesses so I am in no special group. I would be the general population group. We were thinking about getting people to take the vaccination as a way to build confidence in the vaccination. I think that’s why Vice President took it and Joe Biden took it and the Congress took it. And New Yorkers are skeptical and we set up the New York state panel to approve it as a way to build confidence in the vaccine. And I have a lot of people who just say to me when I walk around, “Well, if it’s so safe, why didn’t you take it?”

Andrew Cuomo: (50:28)
Which is such a great New York attitude. If it’s so good, why don’t you do it? I had said I would take it as soon as the panel authorized it and I’m willing to take it. The flip side is I don’t want anyone saying, “Well, you took the vaccine and it should have gone to an essential worker.” With New Yorkers, you can’t make anybody happy. So that’s the yin and the yang. I would take it today, but I don’t want the flip side of people saying, “Well, that was a vaccine that could have gone to an essential worker.” One more question, please.

Operator: (51:11)
Governor, your last question comes from Paul Liotta from the Staten Island Advance. Paul, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.

Paul Liotta: (51:19)
Good afternoon, Mr. Governor. Thank you for taking my question. Yesterday you’d mentioned a Staten Island politician who last week, excuse me, regarding the pandemic and not taking it seriously. I just wanted to see if you could tell me who that was and what evidence there is regarding Staten Island’s attitude and is affecting its infection rate?

Andrew Cuomo: (51:42)
What evidence is there that Staten Island’s attitude is affecting the infection rate? If you listen to many of the comments of Staten Islanders and the actions of many Staten Islanders, I think they are demonstrable evidence that many Staten Islanders do not believe the COVID restrictions are necessary. And I think that’s probably one of the understatements of the year. If you do not follow safe practices for COVID, the likelihood that you will get infected is higher. If you go to mass gatherings, protests, restaurants, bars, without masks, the likelihood that you will get infected is higher. That is a fact, right? There are still facts.

Andrew Cuomo: (52:54)
It’s a virus, it spreads. If you don’t take safe precautions, you’re more likely to become infected. No mask, no social distancing, participating in large gatherings, you are more likely to get infected. That’s a fact. You then have to figure out, why is Staten Island’s rate higher, given their demographics, given their geography, why is their rate higher? That’s what you have to figure out. And if you haven’t heard evidence of a theory on Staten Island that the restrictions are not necessary, then I think you haven’t been listening to the people on Staten Island.

Andrew Cuomo: (53:40)
And as far as the politician who I spoke to, who was very interested in getting a vaccine, that was a private conversation and it’ll stay that way. But my point about the vaccine was, if COVID is a hoax and COVID isn’t a problem, and this is all blown out of proportion, then why would you be asking about a vaccine? Don’t worry about it. Have a good day.