Feb 1, 2021
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 1
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on February 1 to provide updates on COVID-19. He also addressed the snow storm, encouraging people to stay off the roads. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus updates for New York here.
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Governor Cuomo: (00:00)
I’m joined today by, to my immediate right, we have Sarah Feinberg, who’s the President of the New York City Transit Authority. To her right, we have Pat Foye, who’s the President and CEO of the MTA. To my far left, Mike Kopy, who’s the Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Management. To my left is Rick Cotton, who’s the Executive Director of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. We will talk about the weather today, not because we don’t have anything better to talk about, but because the weather is the topic to talk about. It is very dangerous out there. I just drove down from Albany. I can tell you firsthand, it is seriously dangerous, and there is no reason to be out on the roads. And it’s only going to get worse. The roads are dangerous all across the metropolitan area. The roads even in Manhattan are dangerous and impassable at points. And a lot of people are getting stuck already.
Governor Cuomo: (01:12)
What you see is a lot of purple. It’s going to be a statewide storm. It’s a nor’easter that’s been coming up the shores. I’m sure everybody has been watching. It makes it more difficult for us with it statewide because normally we deploy assets around the state. We’ll bring assets from upstate to help downstate, downstate to help upstate. When it’s statewide, obviously we have to protect across the entire state. But you’re seeing in the New York City metropolitan area, 18 to 24 inches. You’re seeing some pockets in the state upwards of 36 inches. So this is going to be a significant issue for us on a number of levels.
Governor Cuomo: (01:59)
When it’s a snow storm, you want to look at the rate that the snow was falling. This snow storm is predicted to do over two inches per hour. Why is that relevant? Snowplows cannot keep up with two inches per hour, which means even if you deploy all the plows in frequency, you can’t keep the roads clear at two inches per hour. So it’s the rate of snow fall. It’s the total accumulation, which is problematic in this case. 12 to 18 inches is a lot of snow. And the duration of the storm is a problem because this is not a band that’s going to last a few hours. This is a band that could affect the state through tomorrow night. So we’re looking at a long two days here.
Governor Cuomo: (02:57)
I have declared a state of emergency for 44 counties in New York state. Basically all the counties outside of Western New York. A state of emergency has a number of consequences, but from a citizen point of view, if you are not an essential worker, you should not be on the roads when there’s a state of emergency. And again, just from a safety practicality point of view, you should not be on the roads period. There are going to be a number of suspensions and a number of closings. We want people to be aware of that. We said this morning, stay home. And there may be rail and road closings. So if you leave the house, you may not be able to get back. But let me give you an update on that at this point. And first, let me go to Sarah Feinberg to talk about the New York City Transit Authority. Sarah.
Sarah Feinberg: (03:57)
Thanks, governor. So we continue to operate both underground and above ground service for now, but conditions continue to deteriorate. So therefore we will suspend outdoor subway service starting at 2:00 PM. But to be clear, people should start planning that now. So if you are not home and you need to get home, you need to start making your way there now. We want to get to 2:00 PM, but don’t wait for that last train that’s going to service the outdoor portions. And on outdoor service, we will obviously reopen as soon as it’s safe to do so, but it’s a little unclear on when that will be. So we’ll play that by ear and obviously keep letting people know through our app and through our other service announcements when we think we might be able to reopen, but plan for a 2:00 PM closure of outdoor above ground service. Underground service will continue to operate if we have to. Obviously we can stop that as well. And we have every contingency plan in place, but for now we are not planning for that. On buses, we continue to operate because the roads are both passable and visibility is okay for now, but also conditions are deteriorating there as well. So please plan for us to have to suspend some bus routes at some point in the coming hours. We will, again, message to our customers as we have to suspend service, and we will be focused on restarting service as soon as we possibly can. But as the governor said, if you don’t have to be out for essential work, please don’t be. Governor.
Governor Cuomo: (05:45)
Okay. Expect possible road closures. The Long Island Expressway could close, the Northern State Parkway could close, I84 could close, Sprain Parkway to Connick Parkway, they all could close. Saw Mill River Parkway could close. So, plan that. We’re not closing them at this point, but again, if the storm comes as projected, the plows will not be able to keep up and we could very well close those roads. So keep that in mind. We’ll make an announcement, but again, plan on road closures. So if you’re planning on getting home via one of those roadways, I would leave as soon as possible because it could very well close in the next few hours as the snow continues. Let me go to now, Patrick Foye, who’s the Chairman and the CEO of the MTA. The MTA, besides the Transit Authority, runs the bridges, the crossings, the commuter rail, Metro North, Long Island railroad, et cetera. Patrick Foye.
Patrick Foye: (06:57)
Thank you, governor. I’ll start with the observation that ridership is light across the system. On Metro North, the last Metro North trains to and from Grand Central will leave around 3:00 PM. Last Long Island railroad trains to and from Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal will leave between 2:30 and 3:30 PM. Customers are urged to check mta.info, which will have adjusted schedule information for both the Long Island Railroad and Metro North. These trains are expected in most cases to reach their final destination by 5:00 PM, with the exception of the Metro North train to Wassaic, which will arrive around 6:00 PM. Governor, with respect to bridges and tunnels, we have banned empty and tandem tractor trailers. That’s been in effect all morning. I’ll also note that the upper level of the Verrazano Bridge is closed at this time. We expect it to open later. Again, governor, customers should check Long Island Railroad, Metro North, bridges and tunnels, New York City Transit, mta.info. Thanks, governor.
Governor Cuomo: (08:02)
Great. Thank you very much, Pat. And now let’s turn to Mr. Rick Cotton, the Executive Director of the Port Authority, which runs the airports and terminals. Rick.
Rick Cotton: (08:15)
Thank you, governor. As one might expect, the snow and the very high wind gusts have severely affected flights at the airports. Upwards of 90% of flights have been canceled already, and we expect a good percentage of the few remaining flights are likely to be canceled as well. At this point, LaGuardia has suspended operations. All flights there have been canceled. At JFK, operations are similarly fully suspended due to an electrical issue that has arisen due to the weather conditions. Newark is operating, but has only four flights scheduled to depart, but we expect that those may be canceled as well. With respect to our PATH commuter railroad, that has been operating on a reduced schedule, but-
Rick Cotton: (09:03)
… commuter railroad that has been operating on a reduced schedule, but it will suspend all operations as of 3:00 PM this afternoon, due to the predicted weather. We would ask anyone who is planning to use PATH, they should anticipate that it will no longer be operating trains as of 3:00 PM. Thank you, governor.
Governor Cuomo: (09:22)
Great. I want to thank Pat and Sarah and Rick and Micopi for their great work. Bottom line is this is a serious situation. It’s nothing to be trifled with. Yes, we’ve had snow storms before. Yes, we’ve been through it before, but this is a dangerous, life-threatening situation. And again, expect major closures so you’re not surprised and we don’t want anyone to be stranded in a location where they can’t get home again. And that’s what you’re looking at this afternoon, because it’s going to get very bad very quickly. Let me give you a brief update on COVID. Yesterday, the positivity statewide was 4.8. That is actually very good news. That is 24 straight days of decline in what they call the seven day average. So if you’re thinking in terms of the trajectory, the curve, which is what we watch. We had that holiday surge where the numbers went up. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, all that socialization. Numbers went up. Numbers have been coming down since. New Yorkers did a good job of keeping that number down low. Many other states, the infection rate went higher and they’re in serious trouble. I think it’s evidence of the fact that New Yorkers get it and New Yorkers care about each other, and they’ve been smart, but that number continues to drop. We had 141 people pass away yesterday and they are in our thoughts and prayers. And these are numbers, but remember they’re not just numbers. It’s 141 deaths. That’s 140 families. That’s hundreds of people who are grieving today because they lost a loved one. That’s hundreds of nurses and doctors who are again, working in hospitals after a horrific year and still rise to the challenge every day. Among the statewide numbers, highest positivity is Long Island, 6.1.
Governor Cuomo: (11:43)
Mid Hudson is next at 6.03. New York City is 5.1. It’s not in the top third. It’s about in the middle of the 10 regions, New York City, but it’s 5.1. In New York City, the Bronx is still the highest, 6.6. Next is Queens at 5.4. So, the Bronx is significantly higher than any other borough in New York City and that is problematic, obviously. Vaccinations, we’ve done about 1.96 million, so coming up to the 2 million mark. On the vaccinations. Those that were scheduled for today or tomorrow in state run facilities, they’re going to be postponed. I know how hard it is to get an appointment. I know people will say, “I had an appointment finally. Is it really going to get rescheduled?” It’s really going to get rescheduled in any state run facility. So if you had an appointment, it will be rescheduled at a state run facility.
Governor Cuomo: (12:50)
Overall with COVID vaccinations, it’s just a question of supply and it’s of course, of international supply and national supply. It’s not really a supply issue, it’s really a production issue. How many drugs can Pfizer, Moderna, or any other manufacturers that they approve? How many can they provide? How many can they produce? How many can they make? Then, how many does the United States purchase? And they’ve been distributed to states by population. We are basically exhausting our week to week allocation, waiting for more supply from the federal government. And we have much more distribution in place than we have supply. There are 7 million people who are eligible for the vaccine, 7 million. When you add up the hospital workers, the healthcare workers, 65 plus population, that’s 7 million people in New York state. It’s about half of the entire eligible population in the state is now eligible, but we only get 300,000 doses per week.
Governor Cuomo: (14:11)
That’s the disconnect and the confusion and the tension. 7 million people looking for a vaccine, you only get 300,000 per week. So we’re very careful about how we give out the doses. We give them out proportionately by population of an area. We then give them out proportionately among hospital workers, essential workers, and 65 plus, by their percentage of the population. And the providers have select groups they’re giving. But I understand the frustration. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people who said, “I’m eligible, but I can’t get it. I sit at a computer and just keep hitting the refresh button, looking for vaccination.” I get it. That is a situation created by the federal government initially. And it is a national problem and an international problem. That there’s just not enough vaccine. And I know the Biden administration is working very hard on that. They have made progress.
Governor Cuomo: (15:18)
I believe they’re going to make more progress as we go forward here. But whatever we get, we will distribute and we’ll distribute it as soon as we get it. We just have to get it. Overall on COVID, the numbers are coming down. New Yorkers are careful. Even places that will highly problematic in the state are now coming down. The only question mark, what is a potential problem? If one of these strains, these variants and new term, variants of interest. One of these strains, these new variants hits and is problematic you could see that curve change. And that’s just a question mark. Nobody can answer that question. I speak regularly with the best health experts globally, because this is not a state problem, it’s not a city problem, it’s not even a national problem. It’s a global problem. And nobody knows. Nobody can tell you definitively what the mutation of this virus will be.
Governor Cuomo: (16:35)
UK strain, Brazilian strain, South Africa strain. No one can tell you how fast it will take off. The UK strain is problematic. The CDC has said would be a predominant strain and it is more transmittable, but we’ll know when we encounter it and whatever we encounter, we will be ready to manage. But right now, that number is headed in the right direction. So congratulations to New Yorkers because you make it happen, one way or the other. It’s what New Yorkers do. How we act, determines how that virus spreads. And bringing down that line, bringing down that surge, that’s all due to the good work of New Yorkers. And I thank you. And I’m proud to be a New Yorker. Let’s take some questions on this. Operator?
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 brief moment to compile the Q&A roster. Governor, your first question comes from Gwen Hogan of WNYC. Gwen, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Gwen Hogan: (18:00)
Hi there. Can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (18:02)
Yes, we can-
Speaker 1: (18:02)
Hi there, [inaudible 00:18:01], can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (18:02)
Yes, we can.
Speaker 1: (18:04)
Thanks very much for taking my question. Two things, can you clarify how the closure of above-ground service for work? Does that mean that all lines that have above ground are just completely shut down or just the parts that are underground? And then I just wanted to see if you could comment, preliminary data that was released this weekend about disparities in health or disparities in racial demographic of who is getting the vaccine. I’m curious if, governor, you’ve reflected at all about how your administration handled the first two months of this. If there are things that you think you did that exacerbated these racial disparities that we’re now seeing and what you could do differently to improve that in the coming weeks.
Governor Cuomo: (18:41)
On the disparity in the vaccine, I think we anticipated it. I think New York was the first state to predict this was going to happen. If you remember, or if you knew, I had been raising this issue since the Trump administration first announced the vaccine rollout. I said, you can’t just rely on traditional healthcare means because you’re dealing with healthcare deserts. And when you just use the private healthcare system, you’re not going to bring vaccine to the desert. That’s why they’re healthcare deserts. I said that this virus affected the black community disproportionately. Death rate in the black community was twice what it was in the white community. It’s one and a half times what it is in the white community, in the Latino community. And there was less testing in the black and the poor and the Latino community. We set up a task force to work on just this.
Governor Cuomo: (19:48)
I work with black churches. We’re doing vaccines in public housing projects, in community centers, in churches exactly for this matter. So we have greatly increased access. You have two issues. You have the access to the vaccine, which is problematic all across the state, obviously, but we have significant special efforts in poor, black and brown communities. I said that I’m not going to receive the vaccine until it’s available in poor, black and Latino communities for my age group. So I said, I’m going to put myself in that category. And we’ve been working on access. Of course, you can always do more, but we need more supply to do more. The second issue which is also very real is distrust of the vaccine. They call it hesitancy. Hesitancy is too benign a term for me. It’s not hesitancy, it’s distrust. Call it what it is. You have distrust primarily in the black community about the fact that the government says the vaccine is safe.
Governor Cuomo: (21:10)
And we talked about this last year when the Trump administration said, “Well, we’ll tell you that the vaccine is safe.” But then you have the distrust of the Trump administration and the cynicism of the Trump administration and the cynicism of government in general. When you’re talking about the black population, you’re talking about a population that went through the Tuskegee experiment, right? So you understand why there’s cynicism and why there’s distrust. I said, “We’ll have a New York state panel. I’m not asking you to trust the Trump administration.” I said, “I wouldn’t trust the Trump administration.” We had a New York panel with New York doctors and New York doctors will also check the vaccine to say it’s safe. That was to build confidence in the vaccine. And we did that. But there is still distrust and cynicism. We took… If you want to talk about one control group, if you will, hospital workers have been offered the vaccine numerous times because we have a priority in vaccinating hospital workers. Why? Because if hospital workers get sick then the hospital capacity goes down, then the hospitals get overwhelmed, then the state closes down and people die unnecessarily. So hospital workers are in a different category. They didn’t have to make an appointment. They didn’t have to take a day off work. They haven’t been sitting at their computer trying to schedule a vaccination. They’re in a hospital where the staff has come to them and said, “Please take the vaccine. We have it for you.” The declination rate among blacks in hospital settings where there are hospital workers is much, much higher than it is among whites or Latinos or Asians. So we know there’s a real distrust issue.
Governor Cuomo: (23:20)
And I announced yesterday, the state is going to start an advertising campaign to address just that. But it is a very real issue. We have to improve the access, yes. We need more supply, yes. But we also have to address this distrust issue head on because it’s real. And I understand it and I get it and I understand why there’s cynicism about the system in general. But, and I would agree a lot of times with the cynicism about the system, but not with this vaccine. I believe in this vaccine. And I’ve said, my mother who is 65 plus, she doesn’t like any reference to her age, but she does qualify 65 plus. I’m 63. I don’t think I’m giving away my mother’s age. My mother should take it. My kids should take it. I believe in it. And we’re going to have a full-throated effort and work with a lot of partners to try to communicate that to anyone who is distrustful of the vaccine, but especially in the black community. Let me ask Sarah Feinberg to give you more information on the subway service.
Sarah Feinberg: (24:46)
Thanks, governor. So this is how this works. We’re communicating to customers now and we’ll continue to do so about the fact that outdoor service will be suspended at 2:00 PM. So if you’re in the system, you’re going to hear announcements on the train. If you’re checking Twitter, you’re going to see it. If you’re checking MYmta, you’re going to see it. We’ll be reminding customers that they’ve got to get off in the indoor, the underground stations. At the last underground station, before the train enters the above ground tracks, we will disembark the train. Everyone has to get off. We’ll explain why. The train will then continue on with its train operator and its conductor because the train will continue to sweep the snow off the tracks, which will help us continue to clear and recover from the storm. It’ll get to the terminal. It’ll come back. It’ll start picking up customers again once it hits the underground station. So that’s how it’s going to work. And again, we’ll resume outdoor service as soon as we can, as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Governor Cuomo: (25:48)
Next question, operator.
Governor, your next question comes from Terese Loeb Kreuzer at the Downtown Post NYC. Terese, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone. Terese, please unmute your microphone.
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (26:05)
Trying to do that.
Governor Cuomo: (26:08)
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (26:08)
Hello, can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (26:09)
You did, yes.
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (26:10)
Great. Thank you. Hey governor, I’ve got two questions for you. You can take your pick.
Governor Cuomo: (26:16)
Okay. That’s new but I’m-
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (26:19)
Governor Cuomo: (26:19)
What’s option A?
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (26:21)
Alrighty. One of them has to do with the fact that I’m looking at a great quantity of snow outside my window. And I happen to live in a flood plain. And I’m thinking ahead a day or two when all this stuff starts melting and do we have any plans for dealing with coastal flooding? That’s one of my questions. Do you want the other one or just that one?
Governor Cuomo: (26:41)
Yes. I want the other one so I can make an informed choice between A and B. Thank you.
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (26:44)
You want an informed choice. The other one has to do with another instance of what I believe is social inequity. If you have a lot of 75 plus people who are eligible for the vaccine, a lot of these seniors don’t have computers, they live alone, or they’re not very computer-
Terese Loeb Kreuzer: (27:02)
… have computers. They live alone or they’re not very computer literate. They don’t know how to get themselves into the system properly and keep trying and they need some help if they’re going to be able to actually get a vaccine and get a place for one.
Governor Cuomo: (27:14)
Okay. I am going to opt for question B. I’m going to give option A ask Mike Kopy if you want to talk about question A, which is after the snowfall, what if there is flooding in low lying areas?
Mike Kopy: (27:32)
Yes. Governor, we’re preparing for that. Right now, we have the stockpiles across the state that are open and they will be ready to deploy pumps, generators, and other equipment to communities that may be affected by flooding. We also have the national guard that is on standby that is available to assist any municipality with sandbag placement and deployment, should that become necessary.
Governor Cuomo: (27:56)
On question B, it was question B. I understand totally about access to the vaccine and people who are not as fluent, if you will, in use of technology. And that’s why on the state level, we have a good old fashioned phone number that you can call and talk to a good old fashioned person who can make an appointment for a vaccine and tell you what places are available in your area. And I don’t have the phone number off the top of my head, but we have announced it and I’ll make it available to you afterwards. Next question operator.
Governor, your next question comes from Josefa Velasquez at THE CITY. Josefa, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Josefa Velasquez: (28:48)
Hi there. Can you guys hear me okay?
Governor Cuomo: (28:49)
Yes. How are you?
Josefa Velasquez: (28:51)
I’m great. How are you?
Governor Cuomo: (28:52)
Josefa Velasquez: (28:55)
So can you talk a little bit about the rationale behind opening indoor dining in New York City? The number of COVID cases here doesn’t seem to be abating and there’s concerns among restaurant workers, many of whom work on minimum wage or tipped wages who are people of color that they’re not eligible for a vaccine. So it’s a two-parter, can you explain your rationale for opening indoor dining and are there any concerted efforts to include restaurant workers in the next batch or in the current batch of people who are able to be vaccinated?
Governor Cuomo: (29:30)
Okay. Two points. Look, if you’re waiting, you’re trying to balance two vital concerns, right? Economic concerns and public health concerns. The economic concerns are real. People need to work. People need to pay for their rent. They need to buy food. They need to buy clothes. They need income. The federal government’s talking about a sending a check, that’s nice, but it’s not going to be a substitute for a sustained income.
Governor Cuomo: (30:11)
So the economy and right to work, if you will, on one hand and then public health on the other. If you look at New York City’s numbers or any numbers in the state, they have dropped dramatically, as I said, now 24 straight days. The number is dropping. Your point: COVID isn’t solved. That’s true. More people are getting infected, that is true. But many fewer than were. If your premise is don’t open the economy until no people are infected with COVID, that may not happen for years. Literally. Yes, we’ll have a vaccine, but you’re not going to have a hundred percent of the people take a vaccine. If you ask me, my best educated guess, you’re going to see mutations of the virus. You’re going to see new strains. You will even see, if I had to wager, a strain of the virus that is resistant to this vaccine. And you’ll see a second vaccine and a booster shot for the vaccine.
Governor Cuomo: (31:35)
So I don’t think it’s realistic to say don’t open the economy until COVID is solved because that’s not going to happen. Well, make restaurant workers eligible. Look, I get the theory on restaurant workers eligible, immune compromised eligible, people with diabetes eligible, obesity, people with asthma eligible. And it’s very easy politically to say, “I think this one should be eligible. I think this one should be eligible.” I think everybody should be eligible. The realistic situation is you don’t have enough supply for any of these people. You have 7 million people eligible. Well, I think more people should be eligible. You have 7 million people, you only get 300,000 a week. What does it mean?
Governor Cuomo: (32:34)
And I get you have a lot of politicians and everybody stands up and says, “I think police should get more. I think fire should get more. I think the restaurant workers should get more. I think childcare workers should get more. I think the immunocompromised should get more.” Fine, tell me who you want to remove from eligibility? You want to add someone? We already don’t have enough. Who do you want to remove? You want to remove teachers? Police? Fire? 65+? Who do you want to remove? Oh no answer. It’s a cheap, insincere discussion. Yes, I would like to see restaurant workers eligible, makes total sense. But what does eligibility mean when you don’t have the supply necessary?
Governor Cuomo: (33:35)
Next question operator.
Governor, your next question comes from Paul Liotta at the Staten Island Advance. Paul, your line is now open and please unmute your microphone.
Paul Liotta: (33:46)
Hi, good morning everybody. I just had a quick question for President Feinberg. regarding the shutdown for the subway system, does that apply to the Staten Island Railway?
Sarah Feinberg: (33:59)
Sure, so for now the ferry continues to run regularly and the Staten Island Railroad has been able to keep up with their snow removal and so we’re going to continue service in Staten Island for now. That said, prepare for us to have to suspend service at some point. So head home and don’t be out if you don’t need to, but for now we can continue to operate service because the railroad’s been able to keep up and the ferry continues to operate.
Governor Cuomo: (34:25)
Good. Anybody want to make any last point? Pat? Rick? Mike? Sarah?
Sarah Feinberg: (34:31)
Governor Cuomo: (34:32)
Get home. Assume. Assume road closures. Assume rail closings. Assume subway reduced service, as Ms. Feinberg said. I would assume the worst with this kind of storm. And then plan accordingly and then you won’t be surprised. Any other updates as soon as they happen, we will let you know. But again, you heard the caution from the MTA, the TBTA, Port Authority and the head of Emergency Management.
Governor Cuomo: (35:07)
And again from me, I’ve been out there, it really is dangerous. I know we’re tough in New York. I get it. Even with our New York toughness and smartness and unity, it’s still dangerous out there. Stay safe. Thank you.