Feb 10, 2021
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript February 10
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on February 10, 2021 to provide updates on COVID-19. He announced that large stadiums and arenas can open on February 23 with testing protocols. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus updates for New York here.
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Andrew Cuomo: (00:03)
Good morning. Busy day, a to do, so let’s get at it. From my left. Robert Mujica, director of the budget. To my immediate left, Melissa DeRosa, secretary of the governor. To my right commissioner Howard Zucker, Dr. Zucker. To his right, Mr. Gareth Rhodes. To his right, Mr. Chatodd Floyd, who is in charge of legislative affairs and policy and has been handling our special outreach efforts.
Andrew Cuomo: (00:32)
We’re going to talk about COVID for a change, not really for a change, it has been the ever-present topic. COVID has done tremendous damage in the state of New York and the nation. It’s continuing to do damage, continuing to lose lives every day, but it’s also been a moment of reflection. A time should reflect, a time we should take stock. COVID taught us many lessons. COVID exposed injustices, fundamental injustices that exist at all across the country. They’re not new. They were there. It’s what we call created low tide in America, low tide in America. When the tide is high, the tide covers all sorts of problems that lurk underneath. When the tide goes out, at low tide, then you see issues that were always there, but which were not apparent.
Andrew Cuomo: (01:39)
COVID created low tide. It exposed fundamental issues that were lurking beneath the surface. Ugliness that was beneath the surface. It exposed the failures in the public health system that we were not prepared for COVID, despite SARS, despite MERS, despite Ebola, we were just not ready for it. It exposed incompetency in government because government had to actually perform and you saw that when the federal government, for example, fails to perform. People literally die. It showed failed leadership in government and it showed structural racism and discrimination that existed in America, but was not readily apparent unless you wanted to see it and there were many who did see it and we talked about two Americas and talked about the structural injustice and structural racism in our society, but at low tide there was no denying the existence of it.
Andrew Cuomo: (02:50)
COVID killed black people at twice the rate of white people. That is a fact. It is a fact should make us uncomfortable. It is painful to say COVID killed Hispanic people at one and a half times the rate of white people. COVID infection was three times higher in the black and Hispanic communities. Despite that, nationwide black, Hispanic and poor communities had less access to testing for the virus, even though they had a higher infection rate. Majority black zip code, 67% more likely to face a shortage of primary care doctors. That’s why there were underlying health conditions at a higher percentage in black, Hispanic and poor communities.
Andrew Cuomo: (03:44)
Any American rescue plan must rescue all Americans and must start with an awareness of the low tide reality and must correct the structural racism and discrimination that we have all now seen. There’s two obstacles. One is what we call here, vaccine acceptance. Some people call it vaccine hesitancy, but actually it’s worse than that. We believe you’ll never solve a problem you’re unwilling to admit and the language we use is important. It’s more than acceptance. It’s more than hesitancy. It is a lack of trust of the system and I understand it and we should all understand it. It is a lack of trust of the system and of the government. Will the federal government approved the vaccine to be safe? Yeah, the federal government also conducted the Tuskegee experiment. It is real and it’s deeply rooted, with the valid cause.
Andrew Cuomo: (04:51)
The second obstacle is the access to the vaccine. Now we’ve talked about access and fairness in the vaccine from day one and we were very outspoken in New York in saying that if you use the traditional health system to distribute the vaccine you will recreate the same problem that we’ve seen for the past year and decades before that. If you just go to the existing public health system, it doesn’t exist in healthcare deserts, that’s why they’re healthcare deserts. If you go to the traditional doctor network, you won’t reach these communities. That’s why they had already underlying conditions at a higher percentage. Any distribution of the vaccine has to take that into consideration at inception.
Andrew Cuomo: (05:44)
Now we were also fortunate to have great voices and great leaders step up and lead the way with us. Reverend Al Sharpton, the National Action Network. Mayor Marc Morial, once a mayor always a mayor. It was my good fortune to work with the mayor when he was mayor of New Orleans. Now as the president and CEO of the National Urban League. Mr. Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. We pointed out this issue early on, and we said that it had to be addressed and we’re going to continue to say it and that this nation has to learn the deeper lesson of the structural healthcare disparities that were revealed at low tide.
Andrew Cuomo: (06:33)
Today we’re announcing a federal state partnership to open mass vaccination sites where they are most needed, what’s called socially vulnerable communities. We’re pleased and happy to announce to mass vaccination sites in socially vulnerable communities, one in Queens and one in Brooklyn. We’re working on several sites in upstate New York. In Queens it’s going to be in Jamaica, Queens, my old stomping grounds. This is a Queens accent, by the way, not just a New York accent. A mass vaccination site that will do approximately 3000 vaccinations per day. That will be the largest vaccination site that the state has opened to date, the largest mass vaccination site in existence in the state of New York. Second one will be in Brooklyn, again, 3000 vaccinations per day at Medgar Evers College. Again, at 3000 vaccinations, is the largest in the state of New York. They’ll open the week of February 24th. We’re going to do additional sites in upstate New York in socially vulnerable communities in partnership with the federal government and these sites are different than anything we’ve done before.
Andrew Cuomo: (07:47)
The federal government is going to provide a special dosage allocation for these sites and they will be staffed jointly by the federal government, federal army personnel among others and state personnel, national guard among others. These are going to be very large sites, complicated operations, but they’re going to address a dramatic need in bringing the vaccine to the people who need the vaccine most. It’s the first step, but only the first step. We need more to do. New York, we pride ourselves on being the progressive capital of the nation, not just in talking to talk, but in walking the walk. Not just in rhetoric, but in reality. We’re not a government that just postures and pontificates. Get it done, get it done.
Andrew Cuomo: (08:38)
It’s about results. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives. That’s how you judge a government. Let’s say you judge an individual at the end of the day. I want to thank Reverend Sharpton who has been a great advocate on this issue, bringing attention to it early on. Same with Marc Morial and Mr. Derrick Johnson. Thank you for making the case and making it over and over and over again and bringing this nation’s attention to this issue. We’re pleased and proud to do with you and partnership in New York state and I think the combination of talents and the approach has worked before. We’ve made great progress that no other state has made in many social equity issues and we’re going to do the same thing here.
Andrew Cuomo: (09:27)
I want to thank President Biden who understands this issue and has addressed it. Jeff Zients, who is the coordinator of the administration’s COVID effort. I’ve been working with him very closely and he’s been working with the governors very closely. I want to thank him and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith. Again, we’ve had this conversation ongoing from when Mr. Zients first stepped in to the office, maybe even before he stepped into the office and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, our neighbor from Connecticut, has been heading the equity task force and that’s a very important position. Again, life is in the doing and today we are doing.
Andrew Cuomo: (10:12)
Let me announce and introduce and invite Mr. Jeff Zients and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, to say a few words.
Jeff Zients: (10:23)
Good afternoon, governor and thank you for letting us join. I want to thank you for having us here today. I’m glad to have the governor as a partner in this work and thank him for his… since really the beginning of the pandemic. The people of New York state are fortunate to have him fighting for them each day. I also appreciate Majority Leader Schumer and the entire New York delegation for their help in this effort. Leader Schumer’s work to pass the American Rescue Plan was critical to giving us the funding to do more of the important work we’re discussing here today, including building more sites, just like the ones governor Cuomo had just announced. We’re grateful for the efforts of so many New Yorkers on the ground, the doctors and nurses, the teachers, the teams across our hospitals and schools and grocery stores and public transit. We know that new Yorkers have been fighting this fight for many months. Thank you. We also know that there’s still much work… pleased to be here, to share an update with you on our progress and highlight how we’re making this work happen on the ground. Soon after taking office, the president announced a comprehensive national strategy to fight the pandemic. This did not exist before. As part of the strategy, the president directed us to activate the full resources of the federal government to get more shots in arms. We immediately got to work. First we’re taking steps to increase the vaccine supply and get it out the door as fast as the manufacturers can make it. Yesterday we announced another increase in the weekly allocations of vaccine doses to states, tribes and territories. We’ve achieved a 28% increase in the first three weeks of the administration. We are helping states administer the supply more efficiently and equitably by providing them with visibility into the supply they will receive across the next three weeks. That allows the doing that the governor just mentioned.
Jeff Zients: (12:40)
Second we’re mobilizing teams to get shots in arms. At the president’s direction we are moving quickly to get more vaccinators on the ground, including retired doctors and nurses. We’ve deployed hundreds of personnel across the federal government, from FEMA to the department of agriculture, to HHS and other federal agencies, to support vaccination operations nationwide and we have plans to deploy thousands more.
Jeff Zients: (13:10)
Third, we’re creating more places where Americans can get vaccinated. To do so we’ve expedited financial support to bolster community vaccination centers nationwide, with over $3 billion in federal funding, across 35 States, tribes and territories. We’ve launched effort to get more vaccines to pharmacies and community health centers and we’re building new community vaccination centers from the ground up in stadiums, community centers, school gyms and parking lots, all across the country.
Jeff Zients: (13:49)
We’re putting equity front and center in this effort, partnering with states to increase vaccinations in the hardest hit and hardest to reach communities. This announcement today is a demonstration of what that work looks like on the ground. As you’ve heard from governor Cuomo, we’re pleased to announce a partnership with the state to build two new community vaccination centers in Queens and central Brooklyn. These new centers will focus on serving the hardest hit, hardest to reach populations and at the governor’s request, we’re working with the state to identify additional locations throughout the state, to get more shots in arms. We’re meeting communities where they are, in places they know and trust. This is a central part of our strategy and we look forward to continuing to build on these partnerships with states and localities to scale innovative models that meet the needs of the communities we serve.
Jeff Zients: (14:53)
With that, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Nunez-Smith, who leads our health equity task force, who will speak about how today’s announcement is bringing our equity work to life. Dr. Nunez-Smith.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (15:05)
Thank you so much, Jeff and thank you, Governor Cuomo for having us here today.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (15:11)
As you mentioned, I’m charged with leading the Biden-Harris administration’s COVID-19 health equity task force and our work is to ensure that we don’t leave anyone behind in our response to this pandemic. Both the president and the vice president have made it clear since the beginning that they are committed to centering their administration’s COVID-19 response on equity. We’re grateful that Vice President Harris set a blueprint for how to advise this commitment during her time in the senate and now we’re announcing the creation of our health equity task force. President Biden agreed with the necessity for the task force and he signed, on his first full day in office, an executive order to bring this into being. Today we’re so excited that vision for the federal version of a COVID 19 health equity taskforce is becoming reality.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (16:02)
And Health Equity Task Force is becoming reality.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (16:03)
And so before joining you for this event, I announced the 12 Americans that the President has selected to serve as the non-federal members on this task force. Their backgrounds are noteworthy, as is their expertise, and they represent really a diverse range of racial ethnic groups and also represent many other key constituencies. And they will help guide our administration’s response to ensure equity remains at the core.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (16:33)
Which brings us to the announcement that we’re making here today with the state of New York. I mean, this is a perfect example of our equity work coming to life and this is a model for the potential we have to do this well across the country. We’re keeping equity front and center at these sites, partnering with community-based organizations to build trust, importantly, in these communities, focusing on local community residents, making it easier for them to get appointments, and ultimately, get vaccinated.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (17:05)
The sites are offering extended hours to make vaccinations accessible and convenient for those who work late nights and early mornings. And so importantly, making it clear that free, safe vaccines are available regardless of an individual’s ability to pay or their immigration status.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (17:24)
Through the new vaccination sites being announced today, we are taking the response directly to the communities that need it most.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (17:32)
So, thank you, Governor Cuomo, for your partnership, and thank you to all of the frontline workers, the federal personnel, everyone who’s going to vaccinate thousands of people at these sites. It’s fantastic news.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (17:47)
Back to you, Governor.
Andrew Cuomo: (17:48)
Well, thank you very much, Doctor. And thank you, Mr. Zients. I can’t tell you how welcome news it is. Someone in my position who has been making this case and fighting this case for over the past year, making the point that we need a special effort to reach left behind communities, and frankly, I made the case for a year and there was very little response. What you have done and in such a short period of time, with not only the commitment that we knew President Biden had made during the campaign and that this is an issue he fully understood, but now the actions you’re taking, these mass vaccination sites are going to be great. The large number, the extended hours, these are no doubt the most effective way to get the vaccine out quickly and in the places and in the community that needs them.
Andrew Cuomo: (18:41)
So congratulations to you for moving this quickly. I was in the federal government at one time. I know sometimes it’s not that easy to get the bureaucracy moving as quickly as you would like it to move. I have a doctrine here we call the doctrine of constructive impatience. Constructive impatience, I’m impatient with the bureaucracy, but in a constructive way.
Andrew Cuomo: (19:06)
And Mr. Zients, who has stepped into a really difficult position and has all the governors who have been dealing with this for a long time and have a whole list of needs that he could never possibly meet, he’s been a great partner to all the governors. He’s been a special friend to the state of New York. And in an amazingly short period of time, he has come up to speed, and he’s working seven days a week. And again, the proof is in the pudding. You’re delivering. You’re delivering. And that’s what we respect here in the state of New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (19:40)
We appreciate the efforts and the good wishes, but we truly respect the product, and you are making a difference in people’s lives. So thank you. It’s my pleasure to partner with you and we’ll do a lot more good things. So welcome, even in a virtual way, to the state of New York. When you’re here and we can do it safely, we’ll give you the full tour and we’ll show you the community and the faces and the people that you truly helped. So thank you very much. Thank you, Doctor. Thank you, Mr. Zients. It’s my pleasure.
Jeff Zients: (20:16)
Thank you. Thank you.
Andrew Cuomo: (20:17)
Andrew Cuomo: (20:19)
Okay. We now turn to three good friends of mine personally, and of the state of New York, three champions for social justice who have made the case strongly and passionately. And the case is right and the case was heard. And you put the state of New York together with the intelligence and power and advocacy of these three individuals, and we’re going to do great things. And today is evidence of the great things that we have done. So I truly appreciate everything they have done, not just for New York, but for this nation. Let’s start with Reverend Al Sharpton. Reverend, are you with us today?
Jeff Zients: (21:05)
Yes. Thank you, Governor. First of all, it’s a pleasure to be here with you and with my good friends and partners in civil rights, Marc Morial and Derrick Johnson. I have to say this, Governor, you’ve done a tremendous [inaudible 00:21:21] COVID-19. The Vaccine Equity Task Force is really a model for the nation. And I hope those in Washington see this. In fact, I’m very proud of my own daughter, Dominique Sharpton, who’s serving on the task force. So I know it’s not a showpiece. It’s for real.
Jeff Zients: (21:41)
Now, you and I have known each other a long time and I’ve always told you when I agree and disagree, but I’ve been impressed with your determination to make things happen, not just talk about things, but get things done. And the partnership with the Biden administration is good news for the neglected communities, the Black and Latino X and poor community. And finally having someone in the White House that knows which end is up and [inaudible 00:22:12] in New York and fighting for vaccine equity is the recipe for success. It makes all the difference in the world. It’s really a matter of life and death.
Jeff Zients: (22:22)
So I want to thank both Dr. Nunez-Smith and Dr. Zients for their leadership, but these mass vaccination sites in Queens and in Brooklyn will have a huge impact. So I think the other additional sites, the four additional sites in underserved communities that the state and FEMA and I believe CDC and the White House Task Force is working to identify throughout the state of New York will have major impact. Because I’m hearing every day, “As people, we want to move forward.” They didn’t feel they had access for months now.
Jeff Zients: (22:59)
I’ll give you credit for saying that this healthcare system is biased, and you had that right. In fact, you called me one morning and went on my TV show and broke it national that we are not doing the right thing. You started that as a governor and I give you credit for that. Many Black Americans live in healthcare deserts where there are no hospitals or healthcare centers, and you stood up and brought that out and I’ll give you credit for that.
Jeff Zients: (23:26)
You know, when I don’t agree with you, I’ll let you know that too, but this one, I have to say you laid the national impact and you just didn’t talk about it. You’ve been setting up these pop-up vaccine sites around the state for communities of color with higher infection rates. And access is one thing, but as you know, we also have a big challenge with skepticism in our communities about the vaccine. Many in the African-American community don’t trust vaccines because the past abuses like the Tuskegee experiment, let’s put it out front, like the disgraceful treatment of Henrietta Lacks, like the forced sterilization of women in Puerto Rico and the South.
Jeff Zients: (24:06)
But this vaccine is different, and we’ve had to get out there and say that. We are working around the clock to make people sure in our community that the vaccine is safe and effective and everyone should take it when it’s their turn because that’s how we get everyone back to work and see our families and friends safe and together.
Jeff Zients: (24:26)
But just last week, Black churches around the country launched a national education program to provide awareness. We worked with the Conference of Denominations. There be Franklin Richardson, a friend of yours. And now we have an awareness group, Choose Healthy Life, to combat the pandemic’s impact in the Black community. And I’m honored to serve as co-chair with Choose Healthy Life with Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts. As Martin Luther King Jr once said, quote, “Religious leaders should serve as a thermostat that transforms society, not the thermometer that takes the temperature and allows social pressure to influence it.”
Jeff Zients: (25:06)
So we plan to make this a national model. We know that it kicked off with you, Governor, and we want to identify with specificity the [inaudible 00:25:17] community rooms, the churches, the mosques, the synagogues, and other places our people go so we don’t have to get in a car or find a Walgreen’s that’s not in our community.
Jeff Zients: (25:26)
We’re in the fight and we’re fighting for our lives and we’re fighting with our lives. In fact, Governor, I’ve said, and I’ve got a group of ministers that I and they are going to go to one of these facilities to take the vaccine ourselves or I’m not taking one. So I’m one of those that want to be a symbol to those that are skeptical that this is safe and that we need to do this because it’s made available to us. Thank you, Governor.
Andrew Cuomo: (25:55)
Well, Reverend, let me thank you. Let me thank you. Thank you for the kind words, but thank you for what you did here. Because you really stepped up, and you stepped up at a time when it wasn’t easy. And people hear your voice. And I thank you for that.
Andrew Cuomo: (26:12)
Thank you for all the help you’ve been because we have been doing public housing authorities and churches all across the state, working together. This is going to make a dramatic impact though because the numbers are so big. These mass vaccination sites, 3000 per day, right? So you’re talking about 15,000 per week. That dwarfs everything. You take a place like the Javits Center, which is now our big mass vaccination site, Yankee Stadium we have in the Bronx, but they’re like a 1000 a day. 3000 a day is just tremendous numbers. And the federal government is providing a special allocation for these places. And that’s how we get it done.
Andrew Cuomo: (26:49)
But also, Reverend, your point about speaking the truth so we can address it. I don’t like the term vaccine hesitancy, people are hesitant about the vaccine. They’re not hesitant. They don’t trust the vaccine. I’d say it’s a trust issue. And you’re right. You call it what it is, put it up front, otherwise you’re never going to get past it. And I understand why they don’t trust the government, trust the system. The government, the system has never been fair with them. Now all of a sudden they should trust?
Andrew Cuomo: (27:25)
So your voice, the ministers’ voices I think are very, very important here. Because you’re right, there are a lot of reasons for distrust, but not on this one. And let’s tell it the way it is, and that’s the case we have to make.
Andrew Cuomo: (27:40)
But this is a good start. And you’re right about the President Biden administration. We were banging our head against the wall for four long years here in New York and making the case with very little results. So fighting the good fight is one thing, actually winning a few is something different. And President Biden does get it. And this was a very dramatic and quick response. So we thank him very much for it.
Andrew Cuomo: (28:05)
But thank you. Thank you for everything you do.
Andrew Cuomo: (28:09)
Let’s go to Mr. Johnson and the NAACP. Hazel Dukes we have here. She’s been a great champion. She calls herself my second mother because she gives me a tough time, but second only to my mother, I’ll tell you the truth. But she has been fantastic on this. And she’s done ads for us and she’s appearing everywhere to try to get people to take the vaccine. And the NAACP has been such a great and formidable partner. So thank you, Mr. Johnson. Thank you for being here. Sir?
Derrick Johnson: (28:46)
And thank you, Governor, for your leadership. And you’re in good company with Hazel giving you a hard time. She give both me and Al a hard time, just her nature.
Derrick Johnson: (28:57)
Your leadership is something to be modeled by many States across the country. As we begin to educate our members and work with communities, it is not lost on us that you jumped out early. First, let’s call racism what it is. It is structural in nature, and the barriers presented to African-Americans have created a pandemic on top of the pandemic.
Derrick Johnson: (29:23)
Secondly, you recognized stating a problem is not enough, you’re moving towards a solution. When we convened on a press call in November, it was rolling out the plan, which I thought was also critical, to try to do all you could as a governor, as a leader, to get the vaccine closer to people, whether it’s in public housing, whether it’s in the Javits Center, whatever the case may be.
Derrick Johnson: (29:48)
When I leave from this press conference, I’m going to take my mother to get her vaccine at one of the federally qualified health clinics that NAACP helped create in the mid ’60s, clinics that are trusted medical providers in our communities, particularly in rural America and especially in the South.
Derrick Johnson: (30:06)
At the end of the day, we must overcome the hesitancy because of the lack of trust. This government has not always provided a trust that African-Americans could run towards, but the reality is the reality right now. We are facing that global health crisis. And because of the neglect, that myopic approach of the previous administration, we lacked a federal response. Now that we have a new administration, we have the ability to develop a federal response, but that only can happen through local and state leadership like the leadership that you have provided.
Derrick Johnson: (30:41)
For the NAACP, we’re not telling people to take the vaccine, not take the vaccine. We are telling people the here are your options and here are the opportunities, and you need exercise your options based on the information that’s being brought forward.
Derrick Johnson: (30:56)
This virus isn’t race specific, but because there are so many underlying health conditions, because there are so many environmental concerns that are married to African-American communities because of bad public policy of the past, we must recognize that this should be a zip code focused approach. Where we have high incidents of deaths and contracting the virus, we need to have high incidents of deploying the vaccine so those who are most vulnerable are provided the necessary support so we can curb the spread of the virus.
Derrick Johnson: (31:35)
What’s logical to us oftentimes is political to others. What we see as solutions for us, other see as problems. But in this moment, we all must see the same solutions to the problems that’s confronting us. We cannot open our economy. We cannot go to any place of normalcy until we address and attack this virus as aggressive as possible. But because of your leadership-
Derrick Johnson: (32:03)
… as aggressive as possible. But because of your leadership, Governor, we are postured to do so because of the Biden administration’s willingness to do what’s necessary. We’re going to be able to get past this, but that only can happen if we continue these types of relationships through these types of partnerships. So thank you for your leadership. And I want to thank my counterparts, Al and Marc, because they always tell me what to do. So I hope I read their script appropriately out of the mark.
Andrew Cuomo: (32:28)
Well, Mr. Johnson, they always tell me-
Derrick Johnson: (32:30)
I like to say I’m the youngest of the group. So, you know, here we are.
Andrew Cuomo: (32:33)
They always tell me what to do, also. I consider them my older brothers, Al and Marc. Since they went down the path before me, they know what to expect. So that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
Andrew Cuomo: (32:51)
Mr. Johnson, thank you. You’re so right. It’s a pandemic on top of a pandemic. It’s the COVID virus on top of the racism virus. But there is a poetic justice here. I saw behind you on your shelf, a book that said Medgar Evers on it. This is going to take place at Medgar Evers College. So at one point, justice is done. If you keep fighting the fight long enough, you win when you’re right. And we were right and we are right. And these vaccines will be at Medgar Evers College. So we take the victories where we can get them.
Andrew Cuomo: (33:33)
Let me turn now to last but never least, former Mayor. I had the good pleasure of working with the Mayor when I was HUD secretary. And he was extraordinary then, and he’s only gotten better. He is a great asset to this nation. And again, another older brother to me, and his guidance has been helpful to me for many years. Marc Morial, thank you very much. And congratulations.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (34:01)
Governor, I checked your driver’s license. I think you got me beat.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (34:06)
First of all, let me thank you, Governor for your leadership and for assembling us today, certainly to Al and Derrick for the continued partnership and collaboration amongst this generation’s civil rights champions and leaders. And also to Jeff Zients and Marcella Nunez-Smith, who’ve been on the case since President Biden has been elected. And it goes without saying that we want to express our appreciation and continued support for the Biden administration’s effort to clean up the colossal confusion, chaos, and mess that they inherited when it comes to the COVID response.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (34:49)
But let me say this. It was in November or late October that my phone at home rang at 7:15. And it was one of those constructive impatience calls from Andrew Cuomo, at 7:15. I said, “Governor, you work at 7:15, I’m up working too.” It was a Sunday morning. And the governor shared with me that he had learned that the Trump administration’s emerging plan for the distribution of vaccines would be wholly inequitable and inadequate. And he shared with me what he learned. And we agreed at that point that there was a need to respond, there was a need to act.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (35:40)
True to Governor Cuomo’s focus on action over pontification, prevarication and rhetoric, he shared with me the thought to create a Vaccine Equity Task Force, a working group that would advise him, advise his administration, but also externally advocate on behalf of a more equitable approach to the distribution of the vaccine.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (36:06)
So Governor, I want to thank you because you saw, you recognized early that this was going to be an inadequate approach by the previous administration, and began at that point in time, laying the framework and the groundwork for a broader approach.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (36:25)
Now, today, this announcement should be understood as the start, not the sum total of the mass vaccination sites, the community-based vaccination sites, Governor, that your administration in partnership with the Biden administration, will stand up. Here in New York there are 20 million people roughly, across the nation, 300 million plus people. We need as many locations as possible to be able to vaccinate the Americans who want to be vaccinated. And I believe that that number will continue to grow as people secure information, as their friends, their neighbors, their relatives, their allies, get the vaccine. I believe that there’ll be greater trust in the process as we go on.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (37:23)
The Biden administration has put science, data and expertise first. On the trust factor, it’s been my view and it remains my view that we need a broader engagement effort, a communications effort to meet people where they are, provide them with information, and encourage them to make an intelligent choice about taking the vaccine. To consult healthcare professionals, not online conspiracy theorists, to get the best information they indeed need.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (37:58)
So it is a very, very important part of our work today at the National Urban League and within the Urban League affiliates to the state of New York, to align ourselves with this effort to expand access, community-based access to the vaccine and to expand the information that people need with respect to this vaccine.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (38:21)
But Governor, you understood this early and first, put your voice and your administration’s action behind it. And my hope is that this partnership with the federal government will be replicated across the nation as other states, governors, mayors, county executives and community leaders confront how they can create and improve access to the vaccine in communities across the land.
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith: (38:49)
So I want to thank you very much for your leadership, and pledge the continued work of the Vaccine Equity Task Force to both push, prod, assist, help, and advise this very important effort. We will not get past this, we will not get beyond this if we do not accelerate and effectively deploy this vaccine to every village and hamlet and neighborhood and barrio and community across the great state of New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (39:23)
Well, Mayor, thank you very much. First, just so you know, I wouldn’t have called you at 7:15 in the morning. What happened is I got Reverend Sharpton on the phone at 7:00, and it was a brief conversation. He said, “Call Marc, and then call me back.” And hung up the phone. That’s why I called you at 7:15. Poor Reverend Sharpton is muted. You have to unmute Reverend…
Derrick Johnson: (39:55)
Reverend was up preparing his sermon [crosstalk 00:39:57].
Andrew Cuomo: (39:56)
Yes, I’m sure. That’s what he was doing. He was doing the sermon-
Derrick Johnson: (39:59)
You were interrupting his thought process.
Andrew Cuomo: (40:02)
But poor Reverend Sharpton is muted. That’s the first time that’s…
Al Sharpton: (40:05)
Well Governor Cuomo, Marc and Derrick has been muting me for 30 years, but I still break through. Don’t worry about it. But the reason you called me at 7:00, I tell you to call Marc is because I was on the elliptical working out, trying to encourage you younger fellows to get in shape.
Andrew Cuomo: (40:23)
Yeah, I know. I’ll leave it there. I believe it. I believe it.
Andrew Cuomo: (40:27)
But the Mayor’s words are exactly right. Look, we did make this case early on and that’s why I think we are where we are today. Because this is a bold step. The federal government having a separate mass vaccination sites in socially vulnerable communities is a bold step, only the first step. We have to do more. But it’s a bold step that we should all take as a sign of hope and acknowledgement of the problem.
Andrew Cuomo: (41:02)
And you’re right, Mayor, we have to get at this trust issue and we have to do it directly and we have to do it nationally. Because it’s not going to go away on its own. I’ve had, as I’m sure you’ve all had, many individual conversations and it is a deep distrust and a deep skepticism and saying well, you should go first or you should go in the first round. People say to me all day long, “You go first and tell me how it goes, and then we’ll see.” So that’s going to be an ongoing effort. But together we can do it. And today was a great, great step.
Andrew Cuomo: (41:37)
Thank you all very much. Reverend Sharpton, thank you. Mr. Johnson, thank you. Mayor Morial, thank you very much. God bless you. Thank you.
Andrew Cuomo: (41:48)
All right. Well that is exciting and that is positive and that is real. Today is day 347. The post-holiday surge reduction continues. Awkward language, but the numbers are going down. The vaccine supply is going up, as you heard from Mr. Zients. We said yesterday, after our discussion with The White House, New York state will get 5% more. And that will be the allocation for the next three weeks. That’s all we know. The local governments, pharmacies that say, “Well, we want to know what’s going to happen beyond three weeks.” We don’t know. We suspect the supply will continue to go up, but that’s controlled by the federal government. So all we know is the next three weeks have a 5% increase.
Andrew Cuomo: (42:39)
Overall, statewide positivity is four, basically flat. Statewide deaths, 136. They are in our thoughts and prayers. State hospitalizations are down. ICU is up about 11 intubations, down 16.
Andrew Cuomo: (42:56)
Overall, the trajectory is down and that is all good news. Hospitalizations are down and that is all good news. Long Island has the highest number percentage of hospitalized in the state. That has been an ongoing challenge and problem. Positivity, highest rate is Long Island and the mid-Hudson, which has also been ongoing. And in New York City, the Bronx is the highest positivity, then Queens and Brooklyn, actually Brooklyn and Queens. And hence, the sites in Brooklyn and Queens. The Bronx, we already opened the Yankee Stadium site, which is a mass vaccination site. And now with Queens and Brooklyn, we’ll be making real, real progress. So I’m very excited about that.
Andrew Cuomo: (43:46)
Vaccines overall, 2.6 million, 1.9 first doses, 700 2nd doses. 93% of what we have received has been used. That means we’re virtually out of allocation. And then we wait for the next week’s allocation that comes in.
Andrew Cuomo: (44:08)
While we’re doing vaccines and while we’re controlling the spread of COVID, we also have to, at the same time, get this economy open intelligently and in a balanced way. The Buffalo Bills demonstration program, which I’ve spoken about before, was an unparalleled success. 7,000 people in a stadium, everyone tested. Only stadium to open up for football, with testing, believe it or not, was what we did here in New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (44:40)
The testing to me is key. I can go see the President of the United States, take a test. And if I pass the test, walk into the Oval Office, why? Because if you’re negative, you are negative. So the testing is the key. We’re going to now extend the Buffalo Bills example. Any large stadium or arena, hockey, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, music shows, performances, any large arena can open on February 23rd. Their plan has to be approved by the State Department of Health. It’s 10% of capacity for arenas, 10,000 and above, which is what this is addressing, a negative PCR test with face coverings, with social distancing, and then mandatory assigned seating. It’s not what people can sit wherever they want.
Andrew Cuomo: (45:40)
But this hits the balance of safe reopening. And again, a PCR test is as safe as you can get. Barclays Center is going to open on February 23rd for Brooklyn Nets versus the Sacramento Kings, using this model. They’ve been approved to do that. Anyone else who was interested should let us know.
Andrew Cuomo: (46:08)
This is a difficult time on many, many levels. Personally, it’s very difficult. Emotionally, it’s difficult. Economically, it’s difficult. But we are finding the balance and we are going to be the better for it. I believe that. I believe we are going to be stronger individually, and stronger socially, and stronger as a community for what we went through and what we learned going through it. Because we are New York tough and smart and united and disciplined and loving. Questions, operator?
Speaker 1: (46:43)
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 a brief moment to compile the Q&A roster.
Speaker 1: (46:58)
Governor, your first question comes from Nsikan Akpan at WNYC. Nsikan, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Nsikan Akpan: (47:09)
Thank you for taking my question.
Andrew Cuomo: (47:12)
I can hear you.
Nsikan Akpan: (47:13)
You can hear me?
Andrew Cuomo: (47:15)
Nsikan Akpan: (47:15)
Great. Excellent. The Yankee Stadium vaccination site pledged to give out 15 doses this week. The Citi Field site, run by the city, can only give out about 800 doses during its first four days. You’re from Queens. What needs to happen to increase vaccine access to your home neighborhood?
Andrew Cuomo: (47:38)
What we just did, opening the largest mass vaccination site in the state of New York in Jamaica, Queens, your college. 3000 per day. It is the largest vaccination site that we have ever opened. And it’s for Queens residents, as Yankee Stadium is for Bronx residents.
Andrew Cuomo: (48:02)
… as Yankee Stadium is for Bronx residents. As the Medgar Evers College site will be for the Brooklyn residents. That county’s residents, 3000 vaccinations per day. So that’s what we’re doing.
Speaker 2: (48:22)
Andrew Cuomo: (48:23)
Okay. Next question, operator.
Governor, your next question comes from Myles Miller at WNBC. Myles, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.
Myles Miller: (48:41)
Good afternoon, governor. Can you hear me?
Andrew Cuomo: (48:44)
Myles Miller: (48:46)
I wanted to ask sort of to dive deeper into this question of equity. What we’ve seen in the past couple of weeks since the rollout of these vaccines is that the access [inaudible 00:48:59] but what is it going to take to get black and Hispanic people to take this? I mean, my mom works at a hospital. She said she was waiting for her friends to take it. They all took it. They feel fine. So now she’s going to take it. How do you get past the initial hump to get people to take the vaccine?
Andrew Cuomo: (49:20)
Myles, I don’t think… look, what I said is you have two challenges, access, which is physically making it available where they are. We’re going to public housing authorities, we’re going to churches. Now with these mass vaccination sites, we’re going to actually the communities themselves, so access. But then the second obstacle is what they call hesitancy, acceptance. It’s lack of trust. It’s a lack of trust. Well, the federal government approved the vaccine, the Trump administration approved it. I don’t trust the Trump administration. I don’t trust the federal government. Reverend Sharpton spoke to this. There are many reasons why there’s a lack of trust in the system, lack of trust in government. And that’s a national challenge. And we’re working with the ministers, we’re working with community-based organizations, we’re working with leaders in the Latino and black community to get out the message.
Andrew Cuomo: (50:23)
Reverend Sharpton said he’s taking a group of ministers. He’s going to get the vaccine himself. But it is a dialogue and a discussion because there’re real fundamental issues underlying this. And the lack of trust is well-rooted. It’s not just about this, it’s about a perception of being victimized and treated unfairly for decades with very good reason. So there’s no easy answer, but first let’s call it what it is. It’s a lack of trust for understandable reasons. And you never solve a problem if you don’t acknowledge it. So start by the acknowledgement and then get people with credibility who can speak to the issue. Melissa had a point.
No, just quickly back to the last question. As a reminder, we previously had opened a mass vaccination site in Queens at Aqueduct. So the state had, had one at Javits and then we did one at Aqueduct. And then when we opened the Bronx, we did that in partnership with the city, which is great and is working out really well directly for the Bronx residents. Each of the localities puts in requests for how much allocation they want for different locations. And the city had put in for that 800, for the Mets. So that was separate and apart that they had requested for their allocation and it came through.
But to the governor’s point, this is a brand new program that we’re doing with the federal government. It’s really exciting. They’re focusing on areas that are underserved with high minority populations, where we’re trying to confront both the hesitancy/distrust issue and the access issue together and trying to merge them as one to combat them. And so that was the issue with Queens. And so it’s very exciting that we’re opening these two again in Brooklyn and Queens in addition to the one in the Bronx, but we did already have Aqueduct and Javits.
Andrew Cuomo: (52:21)
It gets a little confusing, just to put an exclamation point on Melissa’s comment. You have state run programs, you then have the local government gets an allocation from the state. They can set up local programs. So county government set up programs that they think address the need. We set up a state site at Aqueduct. We have a state site at Javits. The city of New York set up a site at City Field. That was their decision. The federal government today announced federal state efforts which are new and which are welcome, which are for socially vulnerable communities.
Andrew Cuomo: (53:13)
And that’s what the your college is going to be and Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. They are by far the largest production sites. So 3000 per day. That’s 15,000 per week. That is a massive impact. And the federal government provides the doses which are above our allocation, right? So we have tremendous demand on our allocation. For these sites, the federal government is providing 15 and 15, 30,000 vaccines per week, just for these two sites on top of our allocation. And then we’re going to have four smaller sites in other parts of the state.
Andrew Cuomo: (54:05)
Okay, operator, next question please.
Governor, next up we have Luis Ferré-Sadurní from the New York Times. Luis, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.
Andrew Cuomo: (54:18)
How are you, Luis?
Jeff Zients: (54:20)
Hi. Can you hear me?
Andrew Cuomo: (54:22)
Jeff Zients: (54:24)
Great. So there was a report today in the Buffalo News [inaudible 00:54:28] the House could send about $12 billion to New York. That’s very close to the 15 billion dollars that you’d been requesting. I’m wondering, are you optimistic that the state could receive that amount of money? And if it does, are tax increases off the table for you?
Andrew Cuomo: (54:48)
The state in the state budget needs $15 billion, Luis. That is the number. It’s not a political number. It’s not a fuzzy math number. It’s not a negotiating number. It’s a real number. It’s $15 billion. And of the $350 million, which is the state and local fund, there is no distribution formula for that 350 that does not get the State of New York $15 billion, which is fair in my opinion. It’s a COVID relief bill. Look at those two words, COVID relief. Then distribute the money for COVID relief. There is no state that was hit as hard as this state. This state was the experiment in the laboratory on COVID. This state was ambushed by COVID. It came here for three months and no one told us because the federal government failed. We were subjected and victimized by federal negligence. There provide the relief to the places that were damaged, provide the relief to the places that were most injured by COVID. New York State is at the top of that list.
Andrew Cuomo: (56:27)
So the 15 billion to the state, which I believe is the most effective distribution mechanism. Luis, the federal government wants to distribute to schools and local governments and hospitals and all these other entities. Just give it to the state. Who do you think we fund? I fund the schools and the hospitals and the same entities. In many ways what the federal government is doing duplicative. But the state needs $ 15 billion and that’s the actual need. And that’s what we should get. And if we don’t get $15 billion, I will be disappointed. And I don’t think it will be fair. That is the truth.
Jeff Zients: (57:18)
On arena reopenings, what will happen with vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium and the City Field, for example, once baseball season starts and presumably the teams got the green light to open the stadiums?
Andrew Cuomo: (57:33)
Between innings, people will do vaccines. So there’ll be the first inning, then we’ll do vaccinations, Then we’ll go back to the second inning. No, that’s not right. Let me ask Mr. Gareth or [inaudible 00:57:48] or Robert. What happens when baseball season opens if we’re running a vaccination site in the stadium? My guess is we move the vaccination site.
Speaker 3: (58:01)
Yes, governor. We’ll work with the teams and the facilities where these teams play and the venues to work out arrangements to ensure that the vaccination efforts are still ongoing in these neighborhoods and these communities and there’s no delay in the vaccine program.
Andrew Cuomo: (58:15)
Okay, operator, let’s take one more question, please.
Governor, your last question comes from Josefa Velasquez at THE CITY. Josefa, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.
Josefa Velasquez: (58:30)
Can you hear me okay?
Andrew Cuomo: (58:31)
Hi, Josefa. How are you? Yes.
Josefa Velasquez: (58:34)
Still hanging in there. So for the two new mass vaccination sites that are opening up, is the state going to do anything further to make sure that the black and Latino communities that have been hit hardest from COVID are getting any sort of priority aside from just being residents of that county?
Andrew Cuomo: (58:55)
Well, Josefa, look at the locations first of all. They are both located in areas where the community was hard hit and communities that we want to attract. So look at the locations. And then the geographic identification is by county. These are so large you need to do 3000 a day. Something like Javits, we’re doing about 1000 per day, and that’s one of the largest in the country right now. 3000 per day is a lot. That’s 15,000 per week. So you need a catchment area, if you will, that is large, and that’s the county. And that’s also how the federal program works. But then the site, the location is in a target community. So the access will be there, right? You live in Queens, it’s in Queens and it’s only for Queens residents. Now you have the access. We still have to address the distrust.
Andrew Cuomo: (01:00:06)
That’s going to be the obstacle. If a person in Queens doesn’t get the vaccine now, it’s going to be because of distrust, not lack of access, the access is there. I may not be here Friday, I may be in Washington. If I’m not here Friday, then I will see you next Monday, talk to you next Monday and have a very good weekend. If that changes, I will let you know. Otherwise, an exciting day today, positive announcement, positive progress on many levels. We’re moving forward, one foot in front of the other, and New York is on the way back and I feel good about it and I hope you do too. Thank you.