Jan 29, 2021
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript January 29
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on January 29 to provide updates on COVID-19. He announced that indoor dining can resume at 25% capacity on February 14. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus updates for New York here.
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Governor Cuomo: (00:01)
There really aren’t any more weekends, weekdays, one day just blends right into the next. Good news, the post holiday surge reduction continues. Surge reduction, confusing language. Post holiday surge reduction continues. The reduction continues. Numbers are down. Positivity, 4.65 lowest since December 11th.
Governor Cuomo: (00:29)
December 11th is where you started to see the holiday surge go up after post Thanksgiving hangover surge. 151 people passed away. They are in our thoughts and prayers hospitalizations down 163. That’s good news. That’s a big number. ICU is down 41, intubations down 12. Percent of people hospitalized by regions down all across the state. Finger Lakes, Long Island, still the highest hospitalization rate. Finger Lakes has been a problem for weeks. Long Island for a shorter period, but we’ve been seeing Long Island problematic relative to the rest of the state. Now you can say, “Well, Finger Lakes are down, Long Island is down from where it was.” True, but from our point of view, it’s relative across the state and who’s highest across the state and that’s Finger Lakes and Long Island. Positivity, highest rate Long Island, mid Hudson. In New York City, the Bronx, and that has been a continuing trajectory.
Governor Cuomo: (01:49)
Staten Island has made good progress. Manhattan has always been low. Again, it’s fascinating when we have the time and go back to look at the behavior of people in communities during COVID, because that’s what is determining these numbers. If you look at the positivity decline, we were 7.9 January four. That was the high point. That’s the collective Thanksgiving, Christmas parties, Hanukkah parties, Kwanzaa parties, gatherings, celebrations, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Buffalo Bills game excitement.
Governor Cuomo: (02:40)
One four is the high point. 7.9, we’re down to 5.3. So we had discussed this. We were expecting this surge and we handled it and we’re on the other side of it, you also see it in the number of hospitalizations that are dropping. “The experts,” in quotes. Those air quotes, because I don’t believe anyone really knows what’s coming with COVID and that’s been true since day one. They give us their best medical advice, but nobody knows. But the experts say the trend for New York should continue to drop. That’s what the expert models are showing. Vaccinations, we’ve done over 1.7 million vaccinations. It is going very, very well. Total 1.789 first doses and some people starting to get their second doses. We have used all of the allocation that we have received for weeks one to six.
Governor Cuomo: (03:41)
The way this works is we get a weekly allocation. We have used all of the allocation. That means ran out. No, calm down. I didn’t say we ran out. We’ve used use the allocation we’ve received. We then start to receive the next week’s allocation, which comes in during the week. And that’s where we are now. We get another 250,000 doses, that’s starting to be delivered. So we’re going to be using that new vaccination allocation. Again, local governments don’t schedule any appointments until you know you have an allocation from the state. Which means we get the allocation from the federal government. We then tell the local governments what the vaccination is. Vaccination usage rate, needles in arms, is much higher than it was. Again, we’re at a 100%, but you still see a differential across the state.
Governor Cuomo: (04:48)
And places that are lower than 100%, I’d like to see every region at 100%. We are going to get 16% more doses from the federal government. That is good news. That will come next week and for the following two weeks, we did this on a call with the White House. The governors have been pushing the federal government for months to give us an allocation of what we’re going to get in the next few weeks so we can plan. This is incredibly difficult, if not impossible only to tell me what I’m going to get next week. And then I have to scramble to get the distribution for next week. We now have a three week allocation thanks to the Biden administration, which is much, much better than where we were. So I can then say to local governments, “You’re going to get 16% more next week and the week after, and the week after.” Plan on that. Hospital workers, 1A priority. They are still the priority, even though we have a lot of other categories eligible, because vaccinating hospital workers protects hospital capacity. If hospitals get overwhelmed, I am telling you what they’re going to say. They’re going to say we have a staff shortage. Not that nurses and doctors disappeared, but that they got sick. If they vaccinated, they won’t get sick. Vaccinate the healthcare workers. We’re up to 73%, and that is great news. January 18th, we are at 63%. We then did a full court press. I used my most persuasive charm offensive to convey to hospitals that they had to get this vaccination done, conveyed to local governments they had to get the vaccinations done. And we went from 63 to 70% in 10 days. That’s a point a day. So, that’s phenomenal progress. And I thank them all very much for doing a good job. Yes, it was urgent.
Governor Cuomo: (07:07)
Yes. I said it was urgent, but they responded. And I thank them very much. Again, you see a variation across the state. Some places are higher. Some places are lower. 73 is the average, but places that are below, we’d like to see everybody rise up. And there’s a variation by hospitals across the state. These are the top 25% of performing hospitals and the bottom 25% of performing hospitals. We have about 200 hospitals give or take in the state.
Governor Cuomo: (07:45)
This is the highest vaccinating 25% and the lowest vaccinating 25%. I can’t read this chart so you can read it at your leisure. These are the top 25 hospitals, not percent, top 25 hospitals, and the bottom 25 hospitals. And this I can almost read. Syosset Hospital, 100%, great job. Cayuga Medical Center, 100%, great job. Staten Island University Hospital, 100%, great job. New York City Health and Hospitals Woodhull, 100% great job. Northern Westchester, 97. Very good, not great because you’re not 100. If you were 100, you’d be great. But 97 is very good. University Hospital, Stony Brook, 96. Good, not great. 37% New York City Harlem Hospital Center. New York City H&H North Central Bronx Hospital, 38%. 40% Montefiore Mount Vernon Health. How do you have some hospitals that are 100 and some hospitals at 37%? Please, local departments of health, look into this. I will wager you this, if we get into trouble with hospital capacity, the hospitals that are on the bottom of this list will be the first hospitals to have a problem with hospital capacity and getting overwhelmed. That is my wager. I just hope it never happens. Bronx positivity is still high. And we’ve been talking about this for weeks, it’s at 7.06%. We’re going to open a mass vaccinations site at Yankee Stadium. You can not play baseball when you come, but you can come to Yankee Stadium. It is a joint effort. I want to thank the city Mayor DeBlasio. I want to thank the Yankees, Randy Lavigne. I told him that we would not disturb the grass. Please honor that commitment. Somos Community Care is actually going to operate it. Henry Munoz, who’s done a fantastic job for this state.
Governor Cuomo: (10:12)
I want to thank them very much. And the National Guard will be constructing and administering the site. And I want to thank all the National Guard people who I’ve been out with there with them many, many times through COVID and many other emergencies. They do a great job. And when I ask them to come out, I go out and I joined them and I’m going to join them at Yankee Stadium. I’m going to be more of a construction supervisor manager role. Not that I want to do the heavy lifting. Dr. Zucker is going to do a lot of the heavy lifting, poles, tents, but I will do the supervising of the operation. Any local government that needs help in providing social equity efforts, let us know. There’s two issues on social equity. People have to have access, poor communities, black community, Latino community, and they have to accept it and get past the vaccine hesitancy, which we are seeing.
Governor Cuomo: (11:20)
And it is a very real issue and we’ve been talking about it for weeks and we expected it, but it is a very real issue. But any local government that wants specialized effort, we will work with them to do it. Overall, we’re reopening the economy and we’re protecting public health. We said it was never one or the other, it was always both. So it’s smart and safe. It’s following science and following data, you watch those numbers and you react to the numbers. What is happening with the positivity, what’s happening with the new cases per capita, what’s happening with the hospitalization rate, and adjust the economic valve as follows. New York City, we went from 7.1 in January, that was our high point in New York City. It was the high point across the state. That was the post-holiday surge high. We’re down to 4.9%. And again, all the models, project that number to continue to drop. New York City restaurants on our current trajectory, we can reopen indoor dining at 25% on Valentine’s Day.
Governor Cuomo: (12:33)
The restaurants want a period of time so they can notify workers. They can get up to speed for indoor dining, order supplies, et cetera. So we’re saying, indoor dining, 25% on Valentine’s Day. Going forward, we are very excited about the possibility of reopening venues with testing. We demonstrated it in Buffalo with the Buffalo Bills playoff game. 7,000 people tested before they went into the stadium. We’ve had virtually no cases of spread from that game, 7,000 people. We’re not going to have the full vaccine for many, many months. In New York, we want to use testing as the key to reopening of events and we tested it in Buffalo, and we want to start to extend it. We’re going to extend it in the New York state safe marriage receptions. Promise of marital bliss is returning. All patrons who attend the event will be tested. You can have 50% capacity of the venue up to 150 people.
Governor Cuomo: (13:52)
It has to be approved by the local health department. And this will go into effect March 15th. We are developing more rapid testing capacity all across the state. We’re also developing an app, which a person once they receive the test can have on the app. So we’re excited about this. We’re also developing guidance, much like marriage receptions, for events, where you can do testing and you can do monitoring and the local health department can regulate it. So New York says, “I do.” I don’t want to create any pressure for anyone, especially undue pressure. I don’t want to create any personal pressure. I don’t believe that’s the government’s role to create personal pressure. But here’s an idea that you may want to consider. Restaurants are opened on Valentine’s Day, you could make a reservation now or plan dinner on Valentine’s Day. You propose on Valentine’s Day, and then you can have the wedding ceremony, March 15th, up to 150 people.
Governor Cuomo: (15:16)
People will actually come to your wedding, because you can tell them with the testing, it will be safe. Everybody there will have been tested and everybody will be safe. Because for a lot of these venues, I don’t believe it’s about the government restrictions. I believe if I said today, “Movie theaters can open to 100%. I don’t believe people go.” I believe people have to be confident that it’s safe. And if you can say everyone in this reception is going to be tested.
Governor Cuomo: (15:53)
So I’d again, no pressure, but it’s just an idea. Get engaged on Valentine’s Day on the restaurant’s reopening and March 15th, you can have the wedding, 150 people. New York State is exploring a low cost New York State engagement ring that we would actually make available. Has a little heart on it. Little, I love New York. Little COVID remembrance. That’s not true. General caution on all of this. We make decisions based on facts, based on the numbers. New York City numbers down. These numbers are now down, but facts change. It sounds inconsistent. We’d like to think a fact is always a fact. No facts change. COVID facts change dramatically, and they change often. There’s now another new term in the COVID lexicon, variants of interest, variants of interest. That’s a new one.
Governor Cuomo: (17:09)
Variants of interest refers to these new strains that are popping up, that we are just learning about. The UK strain, the Brazil strain, the South Africa strain and medical experts are saying these strains could take over. They could be dominant. They could increase the infection rate. Six weeks, you could have a dominant UK strain that could increase the infection rate. South Africa strain may be more resistant to a vaccine. I understand all the possibilities. And if there are facts, and if the facts change, then we will have a different situation. One state response that is a given, basically our precaution, if any area’s hospital capacity hits 85%, then we go back to restrictions. Because hospital capacity is the red line. That’s when you’re in the danger zone. Hospital capacity, that’s why I’m so persistent on the vaccination of healthcare workers. But we are subject to the facts, if the facts change.
Governor Cuomo: (18:41)
I mentioned this the other day. I had a conversation with one of my daughters who has all sorts of what if scenarios? What if it’s true about the UK variant becomes dominant? What if the South Africa strain is vaccine resistant? What if the Brazil strain connects with the UK strain, connects with another strain? What if this? What if this? What if this? Yeah, there are possible scenarios that could develop that are problematic. That is true. This is the same daughter who said, “Don’t tell me to relax. Tell me why I should relax.” I understand the anxiety. I feel the anxiety. I don’t like knowing what is going to happen in three weeks or four weeks or five weeks or six weeks. I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. I don’t like the feeling that you can wake up any morning and there’s going to be a headline that says, “There’s a new variant that is vaccine resistant. There’s a new variant …” Because this virus is mutating all the time. If there are not five-
Governor Cuomo: (20:03)
… all the time. If they are not five or six mutations of this virus, there are hundreds and hundreds of mutations of this virus. And remember, the flu virus every year, you get a new vaccine because it changes a little bit. So yes, I feel the anxiety and I feel that we’re not in control and yes, I like to be in control. Control freaks. Yeah, I like to be in control. I like to know what’s coming down the road so I can prepare. This is a situation where nobody knows what’s coming down the road, nobody knows. I talk to the best experts, they’ll have a theory. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe this, but nobody knows. So what do you do? You deal with the facts when you know them, if the numbers change, we change. If the enemy changes, we change. If the infection rate changes, we change. If a variant comes, we change.
Governor Cuomo: (21:08)
Well, why should I feel calm about that? Because we have proven multiple times that we can manage changes that develop. We managed the greatest change in this country. This state had more infections at one time than any country on the globe, this state. And we were alone when we got ambushed and COVID came and nobody knew. It was here for months, nobody knew, we dealt with it. The infection rate went crazy, we dealt with it. Hospitals were overwhelmed. We were right on the brink of hospital capacity collapse like California, like Italy, but it didn’t happen because we handled it. We handled the fall surge, we handled the holiday surge. If facts change, we will handle it.
Governor Cuomo: (22:25)
Should it relax us? No, it doesn’t relax me, but I believe whatever happens, we can manage it because we have already managed the worst that has happened in this country. So I’m confident that if the facts change, the circumstances change, we will manage it. I can’t predict what it will be, but I am confident that whatever it is, we can handle it. The reality on the vaccines, all of this is subject now to the production capacity of private drug companies and the United States’ ability to procure. It’s not about distribution. We have far more distribution capacity than we have supply. We have thousands of distributors and more distributors that can be brought online. The question is not really supply, the most accurate way to say supply is, it’s a question of production.
Governor Cuomo: (23:32)
The United States government right now is a pass through. You have private drug companies producing, Pfizer Johnson & Johnson hopefully, Moderna, Novavax, they’re producing. The US procures it and then the US sends it to us. But the faucet is the private production. We’ll distribute all that we receive. But even with President Biden’s new announcement of increase, which is very welcome. It’s six to nine months to get enough vaccine to vaccinate people in this country. I think President Biden, the federal government should now consider the Defense Production Act.
Governor Cuomo: (24:26)
We went through this in the spring and we paid a very high price for it, when we ran out of PPE, we ran out of reagents for testing and we ran out of Q-tips. They call them nasal swabs. I call them big Q-tips and we ran out of ventilators and the manufacturers could not produce any more ventilators. What the Defense Production Act says is, the federal government can say to private companies, “You must produce this product.” The problem on the drug production, the vaccine production is the manufacturing capacity of the drug. These are very specialized machines, specialized equipment. This is not going to go away anytime soon. There probably will be a new virus that requires a new vaccine and a new booster shot, if you will. This is going to be multiple years. Use the Defense Production Act. Let’s increase our manufacturing capacity of the drug.
Governor Cuomo: (25:45)
This is a war. The Defense Production Act was used in war time. That’s what the previous administration said to me, “Well, that’s for war time.” This is war time. COVID is a war. More Americans died from COVID than World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam combined. So yes, we are at war, use the Defense Production Act because this is not about the next six to nine months. This is about the next two to three years.
Governor Cuomo: (26:17)
New York state needs federal fairness and they’re discussing the COVID relief package now. We need $15 billion in federal relief, and we need SALT repealed. On the COVID relief, finally, President Biden, thank you. Put in state and local financing, $350 million. The governors, Democrat and Republican have been calling for that for over a year. We need 15 of the 350. We need 15 of however, they make the sausage between the Senate and the House. We need $15 billion in federal relief. And this is a fair request. New York state was ground zero, New York state had a different problem with COVID than any other state. That is a fact. Yes, I am the New York governor. And yes, I fight for the people of New York. That is my job. I represent the people of the state of New York, and I will fight for them and advocate for them. But I have no problem saying to any governor in this state, which I have. New York had a different problem than you had. New York was ambushed. New York got hit harder. New York was hurt by the federal negligence for letting the damn virus come here without telling us.
Governor Cuomo: (27:42)
New York loft lost more people. New York was the laboratory for all the other states to watch, so they had notice. New York was ground zero. We expect fairness from the federal government, but we also demand fairness from the federal government and to my federal colleagues, congress people, senators. There are no excuses now. You are in charge. You are in many ways executives, the buck stops with you. Democrats control the Senate, Democrats control the House. We have a democratic president. This is a different time in history. There is no one to point the finger to, we need you to deliver for New York.
Governor Cuomo: (28:38)
And when it comes SALT, SALT was just a political theft. What they did in the federal government was they increased our taxes and they gave it to Republican states because they had Republican control. And their theory was, if you can do it, do it. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t just, it was pure politics. They took from the blue states and they gave to the red and the state that they took from most was New York state and New Jersey and Massachusetts and California and Connecticut. They took the most from those states and those are all Northeastern States and it hurt the Northeastern economy. And they gave it to the Republican states. Every Democrat, every democratic congress person, every democratic senator said it was an outrage and we’ll fix it. We’ll you know what? Fix it, because now you’re in charge. I’m going to organize a national SALT repeal effort because this is not just about New York. This is about all the states that were hurt.
Governor Cuomo: (29:53)
Public safety is a top priority. We want to talk about the economy coming back. The economy does not come back unless people know it’s safe. Cities don’t come back, unless people know cities are safe. That is a blunt truth. We all understand the tension between police and certain members of the community. Loss of trust, loss of respect. That’s been true for over a year. I’ve said numerous times, problems don’t go away. If you deny them, they only mount, they get worse. It’s true in life, it’s true in society, it’s true in government. Government leaders, put people at the table, work it out, make it a cathartic collaborative process. Police have to police. They have to be able to do their job safely. The community has to believe they’re treated fairly and they’re not discriminated against and they’re not abused. Come up with a new plan, a new understanding, but do it by April 1, April 1 is only 62 days away. Many localities are doing a great job. We have other localities that are trying to ignore the problem. The problem won’t go away, ignoring it will not address it. It’s a failure of leadership. And the problem will only compound because then April 1, that locality will not be eligible for state funding, so 62 days.
Governor Cuomo: (31:29)
Bottom line, the vaccine is scarce. Everybody wants more. And I said, when this started, everybody’s going to say the same thing, including me. Everybody wants more. When I get on the phone with the White House, I say, “I want more.” Every county executive says it, every group says it. The vaccine is scarce, we are rationing the vaccine. That is what we are doing. And we’re rationing it fairly. There are 1.3 million health care workers, they get 21%. There are 1.7 million essential workers, they get 27%. There’s 65 plus, 3.2 million, they get 52%. That’s the percent of the population they are. I’m not picking a health care worker over an essential worker, over a 65 plus person.
Governor Cuomo: (32:32)
We’re doing it fairly by population because every life is as valuable as every other life. And these were the national priorities that were set and we’re doing it fairly and I feel good about that. I’m saying to my local colleagues, “Don’t play politics with vaccines. Don’t play politics in this moment.” You have health care workers, you have long-term care facility residents, long-term care facility staff, developmentally disabled staff, college professors, police officers, fire professionals, mass transit professionals, grocery store workers, childcare. And then you have people who are 65 plus. It is divisive for a politician to say, “Well, I think police should get more. I think grocery store workers should get more. I think nurses should get more.” It’s divisive and it’s cheap. Yes, you want to be a hero to the police, you say, “I think the police should get more.” It’s cheap because if you want to be honest, you think the police should get more? Who on the list would you take it from? Would you take it from the nurses? Would you take it from the doctors? Would you take it from 65 plus? It’s a zero sum game.
Governor Cuomo: (34:18)
You can’t stand up and play hero to any one group on that list. If you have any sense of honor or integrity, where would you take it from? I believe health care workers should get more. I believe developmentally disabled workers should get more. I believe school teachers should get more. I believe first responders should get more. I believe the subway and bus drivers should get more. I believe grocery store workers should get more. Yes, I believe daycare workers should get more. Yes. But if you want to say, “Well, they’re not getting their fair share.” Then say at the same time who you would take it from on that list. Otherwise, you’re playing politics, you’re dividing people. You’re scaring people. You’re upsetting people at a very delicate time. We get 300,000 vaccines per week to do seven million people, you can’t do every one group, at least do it fairly.
Governor Cuomo: (35:33)
Political extremism is a problem in this country. We’ve seen it in Washington, DC. They’re now doing investigations. Government can not tolerate criminal insurrection and New Yorkers will not tolerate it. There are levels of extremism. What happened in Washington did not just happen overnight. It developed, and you could see it increasing over time. It was a building storm and it starts with ugliness and threats on the internet, anonymous threats. We should confront them. We should get them. We should attack them. The internet, social media can really be a breeding ground for a lot of positive, but also for a lot of hate and it builds. I see it here in New York on the internet, this building ugliness.
Governor Cuomo: (36:47)
Once you start to light fires, don’t be surprised when the fire is out of control. That was the lesson of what happened in Washington. And that was the lesson that I hope many of the extremists learned in Washington. Unfortunately, I don’t think they did because we see it here in New York. First of all, the law is the law. And in New York, I will never allow the insurrection that happened in Washington, DC. That made a mockery of law and order. And that was a disgrace to democracy and to every citizen of this nation. Second, when you see the ugliness being fomented for selfish, political reasons often, everybody should condemn it. Everybody should condemn it.
Governor Cuomo: (37:57)
There are no secrets in life, we know who spreads the ugliness on the internet. You can think, “Oh anonymous, Capitol watch.” You’re not anonymous. People know who you are and who you work for. And any decent elected official, I don’t care, if you’re a Democrat or Republican. You want to have differences, have differences. I represent Democrats and Republicans, but don’t get ugly and don’t get ugly now, when society is so fragile and personalities are under such stress.
Governor Cuomo: (38:39)
Times of extreme pressure, show us who we are. Times of pressure reveal the true character in people, I believe that. Over this past year with COVID, I’ve learned so much about individuals, about myself and about society and about New Yorkers. You put pressure on people and any little personality crack or flaw, when you put the pressure on, it explodes. And little insecurities explode, and little neuroses explode. People who I thought were strong and capable crumbled. I saw them crumble during COVID. At the same time, you put the pressure on, you put the stress on, it solidifies the stone. It makes some people stronger and I’ve seen people rise up and really respond to their better angels. New Yorkers by and large did that.
Governor Cuomo: (40:03)
… better angels. New Yorkers by and large did that. That’s how we beat COVID. You see the beauty in people and you see the ugliness in people. It is disturbingly exposing. Find your best self in this moment and let’s all of us applaud each other when we find our best selves, and let’s strive for that. That’s what we mean when we say, New York Tough. Not tough the way they always think. Yeah, we’re that. Yes, we are tough, but we’re more than just tough. We’re smart, we are united, we’re disciplined and we’re strong enough to love. That’s what we have to find in this moment and that’s what we have found. And when you don’t see that, speak up, speak up. This is our ethos and this is our morality, and this is what we expect from each other, to be New York Tough. And if you’re not, speak up. Questions?
Speaker 1: (41:33)
Thank you, governor. If you would 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 Chris Horvatits from WIVB. Chris, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Chris Horvatits: (41:56)
Good afternoon, governor. Why should it take a report from the attorney general for the state to release the number of nursing home residents who died in a hospital, which is a number that we’ve been looking for for quite a while?
Governor Cuomo: (42:11)
Let me ask Dr. Zucker first to respond to that.
Dr. Howard Z.: (42:15)
Sure. Thank you, governor. There are a few key points here that I’d like to make, which is that, we’ve always have been transparent on the number of nursing home deaths that were reported in a facility. We’ve always said those are the in-facility deaths. And we’ve also said that there have been hospital deaths. Back in August, we said that we would get the legislature the number and we were working on that, particularly in anticipation of my budget hearing, which is coming up next month. But when I saw the attorney general report, I decided that we need to finish that up quickly and get these numbers out in real time. The other key point, and this is a very important point to emphasize, is that the total number deaths does not change. That number has not changed, and we put that out. And to misrepresent that number actually is factually inaccurate.
Dr. Howard Z.: (43:07)
And so in the report, when they said there was under counting, that’s just factually inaccurate and we wanted to get that out. And governor, as you have said on all of these presentations, reporting the number of deaths is always the hardest number to report out there and we wanted to be sure that those numbers were accurate. Thank you.
Governor Cuomo: (43:34)
Also, remember the context here. The report affirmed everything the commissioner said. Where this starts is frankly, a political attack from prior federal administration, HHS, their great spokesperson, Michael Caputo, who’s Roger Stone protege who said we had more nursing home deaths in New York because of something that the state health department did. This report affirms everything the commissioner said for the past year. The state Department of Health followed federal guidance by CMS and CDC. Commissioner said, no, not for profit. Nursing home was forced to take anyone, report confirms that. If they took a person who they could not care for, a COVID positive person, they violated the law, the report says that. And the Department of Health only counted the number of deaths in hospitals and the number of deaths in nursing homes, released that number.
Governor Cuomo: (44:57)
That number stays the same. Well, how about people who were transferred from a hospital back to a nursing home, that number, the department was correlating, because you have to get that from the nursing homes, and the report also says the information from nursing homes is often incorrect. And that’s the number to date, but it’s an ongoing process. Next question?
Speaker 1: (45:34)
Governor, your next question comes from Jennifer Lukey from WHEC. Jennifer, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Jennifer Lukey: (45:44)
Good afternoon, governor. Your staff is often unapologetically aggressive when it comes to defending your policies, particularly on social media. But in this case, many of the people who disagree with how this whole situation was handled with nursing homes have a very personal connection to it. They’ve lost someone in the pandemic tied to a nursing home. So the policy aside, who was right, who was wrong, just as a father, as a son, what would your message be to those families today?
Governor Cuomo: (46:14)
What I would say is everyone did the best they could. When I say the state Department of Health, as the report said, the state Department of Health followed federal guidance. So if you think there was a mistake, then go talk to the federal government. It’s not about pointing fingers or blame, it’s that this became a political football, right? Look, whether a person died in a hospital or died in a nursing home, people died, people died. I was in a hospital, I got transferred to a nursing home and my father died. My father was in a nursing home, got transferred to a hospital and my father died. People died. By the way, the same people are dying today. 96% of the people who die are older people with co-morbidities, which happens to be the population that lives in nursing homes. It’s continuing today, even with all the testing that we’re doing.
Governor Cuomo: (47:45)
If you look at New York State, we have a lower percentage of deaths in nursing homes than other states. A third of all deaths in this nation are from nursing homes. New York State, we’re only about 28%, only, but we’re below the national average in number of deaths in nursing homes, but who cares? 33, 28 died in a hospital, died in a nursing home, they died. And I dealt with the loss of my father. The pain is so incredible and inexplicable and why and why and why? It’s a tragedy, it’s a tragedy. And I understand maybe the instinct to blame or to find some relief for the pain that you’re feeling, but it is a tragedy and it’s a tragedy that continues today. I believe everybody did the best they could. I believe the federal government, CDC, I believe they gave the best guidance they could. I believe they give the best guidance they can today. I believe the state Department of Health, they gave their best guidance and made the best decisions on the facts they had.
Governor Cuomo: (49:34)
But it doesn’t mean people didn’t die and it doesn’t mean people won’t die today and people won’t die tomorrow, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to get up here tomorrow or Monday and read a death number on that screen, and think about the 100 people who died and then the hundreds of family members who are home crying that day, and that’s going to continue. That is the curse of COVID. Can you protect old people with comorbidities from COVID totally? No, no. If we could, it would be over. If it wasn’t over last year, it would have been over by now, right? It’s still not over. So I understand the pain. I understand the search for answers, but it was a tragedy and I feel the anguish and I feel the pain and I get the anger. My father died. I wish I had someone to blame. It would make me feel better maybe, but they’re in my thoughts and prayers. I believe, why COVID, why did God do this? I don’t know. I don’t know, but it was cruel and it was terrible and it still is. And luckily, I’m blessed with faith and that helped me at times of pain, but my heart goes out to each and every one and I feel it personally, and everybody should know, and when I do the death numbers on Monday, it’s not because everyone didn’t do everything they could to prevent it. Next question?
Speaker 1: (51:52)
Governor, next question comes from James Ford of WPIX. James, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
James Ford: (52:02)
Thank you, governor. Appreciate the time. Regarding the lifting of the indoor dining ban in New York City, some restaurateurs say that 25% capacity still isn’t enough to save their businesses. What’s your message to them? Also, your presentation said the production of vaccines needs to be increased, including the Johnson and Johnson vaccine? Its efficacy we’re now seeing is at about 70%, so lower than the others that are available. What role could it and any vaccine that might not be able to protect against new strains of the virus, what roles can they play in the state’s vaccination programs, sir?
Governor Cuomo: (52:52)
Yeah, two points. First, some restaurants say 25% isn’t enough. Look, 25% is better than zero and that’s where we are now. If the numbers continue to get better, that number will go up. If hell develops and the sky falls and a new variant explodes onto the scene, then we’ll have the opposite problem statewide. But if the numbers continue to get better, then we will continue to increase the numbers, right? It’s an economic metric, it’s a number. Well, 25% isn’t enough. You can’t find the business owner who will say they don’t want to do more. You won’t find a school that says they don’t wish they could be at 100% occupancy. You won’t find a theater that says they’d rather be at 100% occupancy. That’s true for every business in the state, that’s true for every business in the country, that’s true for every country on the globe. If you ask people, “Well, do you want to get COVID?” Every person will say, no.
Governor Cuomo: (54:18)
All right. So balance those two facts, right? Balance the fact that old people with comorbidities, COVID is almost a death sentence. Balance those facts, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So 25%, if the numbers keep coming down, then we would increase the 25%. on Johnson and Johnson, let me just make sure we’re clear, I’m not commenting on any one drug’s efficacy or effectiveness. I don’t believe Johnson and Johnson is even approved yet. It’s supposed to be in the pipeline to be approved. It has certain advantages, single dose, no cold storage, which is a big deal, but I don’t know, I don’t do, we’re not in charge of, have no knowledge about the efficacy, the efficacy against strains, how it compares to Pfizer, how it compares to Moderna. My point is what the Defense Production Act allows a president to do is increase manufacturing capacity and I think we’re going to have to increase manufacturing capacity for the best of these drugs to get to scale.
Governor Cuomo: (55:36)
Because what is controlling everything and what you’re going to hear for the next six months from every state, from me, if we had more, we could vaccinate more. If we had more, we could vaccinate more. All this pent up frustration, police want more, firefighters want more politicians say, I think the police should get more, I think the firefighters should get more. Yeah, all that tumult, that anxiety is because you have 7 million people eligible for 300,000 vaccines. That’s the situation that the federal government created. All those 65 year olds who can’t get a vaccine. That’s not going to end until the production increases. And I don’t believe we’re talking about six to nine months, I believe this virus is going to be around a long time and I believe it will mutate. And I believe it’s not inconceivable, but that you’re going to need different vaccines or booster shots in the future.
Governor Cuomo: (56:47)
So I don’t believe this issue of production is going to go away. I believe it’s going to get worse. What we learned with ventilators in the spring was the president should have done the Defense Production Act right away, should have had manufacturers producing those ventilators right away, should have mandated PPE manufacturing right away, and rather than wasting the months that they spent where businesses decided who wanted to get into the ventilator business, we actually ultimately produced the ventilators as a nation. Unfortunately, we produced them after we needed them. We now have an abundance ventilators. I will sell you 10,000 ventilators, but they came too late. Defense Production Act should have been done early so the production was increased. And I’m saying the same thing here. Next question, operator?
Speaker 1: (58:00)
Governor, your next question comes from Juliet Papa of 1010 WINS. Juliet, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Juliet Papa: (58:10)
Okay. Thank you. Good afternoon, governor. Actually I have two questions. Why did you count hospital deaths separately from nursing home deaths? And going forward, is there a plan to do that differently? And also given the success of the Buffalo Bills game and testing and allowing wedding receptions, what are your plans for baseball and for Broadway?
Governor Cuomo: (58:41)
Correct me if I’m wrong. We count hospital deaths, the Department of Health counts deaths in the facilities where they occurred. So if you die in a hospital, that’s the hospital death number. If you die in a nursing home, that’s the nursing home number. You add the two numbers together, that’s the total death number and that’s the way they’ve been doing record keeping. Is that right, doctor? Why don’t you because I’m [crosstalk 00:59:13].
Dr. Howard Z.: (59:13)
The governor’s correct about that. And you have to remember historically, when this began, most people were dying in the hospital, right? Initially before we had situations in the nursing homes, people were transferred to the hospital and we were tracking the hospital numbers. And then we realized that people were dying in nursing homes, we tracked those numbers. But it’s important to know where someone dies and to put that down. As the governor said, we track both of them and then we add them together.
Melissa DeRosa: (59:41)
And then one other point that I want to make, if you all recall, since the beginning of this pandemic, the federal government never gave any state clear guidelines on how they should be reporting anything, frankly. To date, 13 states report absolutely zero data on nursing home deaths and only nine states in the country, New York being one of them, gives the presumed number. So I would argue at this point, New York puts out more data on deaths-
Melissa DeRosa: (01:00:03)
… So I would argue at this point, New York puts out more data on deaths than any other state in the country. And at the beginning of this, when it was a real crush, you had nursing homes reporting deaths, you had hospital reporting deaths. And I remember DOH was trying to determine whether or not there was going to be double counting. And the cleanest way to do that was to say, “Do it where the person died and then after the fact we’ll go back and do a full audit,” which is what’s happened now.
Governor Cuomo: (01:00:26)
But you’re [inaudible 01:00:28] the bottom line number doesn’t change. You die in a hospital, you die in a facility, add that together, that’s your total number. Well, we want to look at sub numbers. How many went from a hospital to a nursing home? How many went from a nursing home to a hospital? How many were in both? They’re talking about sub numbers within the total number. Again, we started with this theory that the State Department of Health did something wrong when it came to nursing homes, but the report says as a matter of fact, they didn’t, which is what the commissioner said all along. The baseball theaters, first, we have a whole pop-up arts program which is going to operate separately, which is going to jumpstart the arts especially in New York City. And I announced that in The State of the State Address. I’m going to have more to say about that in the next couple of weeks, but that’s going to be exciting.
Governor Cuomo: (01:01:33)
That is how do you jumpstart the arts in a specific sort of one-off way, right? Just to get the energy back up and the entertainment back up, and you have actors who haven’t worked in a long time and musicians who haven’t worked. So finding venues that are safe, outdoor venues, very creative. And that’s the pop-up arts effort we’re going to have. On theaters, baseball season, first, you have to look at where we are with the overall trajectory and the numbers. But I believe this testing before has a lot of promise and it can’t be we wait for the vaccine because it’s too long. And my argument has been, and we tried it with the Buffalo Bills, if you test people before they go in and you know they’re negative, then you have a certainty about the virus, right?
Governor Cuomo: (01:02:41)
If you don’t have it, you can’t spread it. And Buffalo Bills was sort of an extreme demonstration because it was 7,000 and I was outside. But it was 7,000 people. We’re now applying that to marriage ceremonies. 150 people, 50%, but you’re tested, but the local health department approved it, monitored to make sure you were tested. Could you start to apply that to different venues? I say, yes. What do you need? More rapid testing, which we’re working on and proof that you took a test. But I think the rapid testing is going to be a key to reopening the economy. Next question, operator. Anyone have anything to add? Anything I said from the statements of facts? Too much pressure on the marriage with the Valentine’s Day. Sorry, [inaudible 01:03:47], next.
Speaker 1: (01:03:48)
Governor, your next question comes from Dave Evans at WABC. Dave, your line is now open, please unmute your microphone.
Dave Evans: (01:03:57)
Governor, can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (01:03:58)
Yes, sir, Dave. How are we doing?
Dave Evans: (01:04:01)
Hey, I liked your Valentine’s Day idea, but I wanted to ask about, if I could for a second, jumping back to the nursing home. My question is, when we look back at that period of May, June and July when the deaths were so high and folks weren’t segregated when they came from the hospital back to the nursing homes, do you wish that things had been handled differently? That you had better guidance from the CDC or from the health department, that things were handled differently?
Governor Cuomo: (01:04:30)
Well, Dave, let’s make sure we’re clear on the facts. The federal guidance said that people who were in hospitals, but who were presumed not contagious could go back to a nursing home which could handle them. Not all nursing homes can handle them. And the nursing home had to, by law, say that they could handle those people. Now, the OAG’s report and the Department of Health has said, if a nursing home accepted the person and couldn’t handle the person, then they violated the law. And that has to be justified because that’s not just during COVID, a nursing home should never take a person who they can’t handle. And that’s an ongoing concern.
Governor Cuomo: (01:05:32)
Because if they accept the COVID person, do they accept the person with pneumonia? Do they accept the person with any disease that they can’t handle appropriately? But do I wish… I wish this never happened, Dave. I wish none of it happened. I wish there was no COVID. I wish no old people died. I wish I didn’t have to call out National Guard who got sick. Some of whom got sick and died. I wish I didn’t have to ask essential workers to leave their homes, bus drivers, some of whom got sick and died. I wish I didn’t have to ask the nurses and the doctors to work around the clock and deal with hell. Some of whom got sick and died. I wish none of it happened. That’s what I wish. Melissa.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:06:31)
And if I could add one other thing on this point, what we found when we went back and looked at this data was that between March and June, 37,500 staff members who worked in nursing homes had COVID during the period of those months. And one of the earliest misconceptions and mistakes from the health community was this perception that asymptomatic spread was not going to be a problem. And so that was something that we’ve learned from, and that we’ve made dramatic changes on in terms of mandating testing and facilities. When the COVID positivity was lower over the summer, it was once weekly. We’re now back up to twice weekly statewide. And the unfortunate thing about this virus and the people that it preys on is that every day, roughly 40% of the people that were reporting and that death numbers still come from nursing homes. Despite twice weekly testing, despite the vaccines that’s going on right now, those numbers are still continuing to be that high.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:07:29)
And when you look at it nationally and you see that 35% of all deaths in this country, of the 430,000 deaths, are nursing home deaths. This is something every state in the country continues to struggle with. It is a tragedy for every family who comes into contact with this virus. You look just across the border in Pennsylvania, 11,170 nursing home deaths. Their population’s obviously lower than ours. Their overall COVID death number’s obviously lower than ours. Florida, 9,328 deaths, whereas their overall COVID number of deaths is lower than ours. They weren’t hit in the spring. And so this is a virus that is very difficult to tackle. It’s a virus that’s very difficult to control once it gets into this population.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:08:10)
And the only model that we’ve ever seen that’s been completely successful in keeping COVID out of nursing homes was there was this one study that was done of a nursing home in France where they literally hermetically sealed it and didn’t let anyone go in and out and the staff lived there. And short of that, this is something that is very difficult although we all get up every morning striving to do better and striving to make sure that these nursing homes are doing better for the families that they serve.
Governor Cuomo: (01:08:37)
And Dave, let me add something else. The, what do you wish, when I say experts in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts because I don’t. Because I don’t. You want to talk about making mistakes, how did COVID come here for three months and nobody knew? How did COVID leave China go to Europe and come here and all these federal watchdogs, nobody knew it? How did you let New York sit here for three months receiving passengers from Europe who had the virus and nobody knew? How did you tell us that to spread the disease you had to be symptomatic, which meant the sneezing, the coughing, that’s how it’s spread. Only to do a total 180 degrees later and say, “Oh, by the way, you can be asymptomatic and spread it.” What? That’s all the difference in the world. It got into nursing homes because it was here before anyone knew. It was brought in by staff.
Governor Cuomo: (01:10:08)
It was brought in by visitors. Once it was here, they said it was spread by symptomatic people, that was untrue. It was also spread by asymptomatic people. But then to play politics with it the way they did, that was mean. That was mean. When the Trump administration was trying to divert blame so they said, well, the states, not just New York, by the way, they blamed all the Democratic states for the deaths in nursing homes. The politics wasn’t just here in New York, it was all the Democratic governors. There was New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania. Blame all the Democratic governors for the deaths in nursing homes. No, that was mean. Because if you lost someone in a nursing home, then it put a thought in your head. Well, maybe it didn’t have to be. Maybe my father died unnecessarily. And that was just cruel to do.
Governor Cuomo: (01:11:19)
That was just cruel because it wasn’t true. It wasn’t true. And Melissa’s point, you know what’s not true? The same death rate is happening today and it’s higher than the death rate in New York nursing homes. It’s higher today. Today, it’s happening. What could have been done differently? What could have been done differently? It’s still happening today. One more question.
Speaker 1: (01:12:03)
Governor, your last question comes from Morgan McKay of Spectrum News. Morgan, your line is open, please unmute your microphone.
Jennifer Lukey: (01:12:13)
Hello, governor, how are you?
Governor Cuomo: (01:12:15)
Hey you, Morgan?
Jennifer Lukey: (01:12:17)
Hi. So the question isn’t really about having these total COVID-19 deaths. I think everyone knows that although the total might be correct, it’s all about having the accurate number of nursing home COVID-19 deaths. Because as you know, having an accurate number is extremely important in crafting policy and legislation. Would you support you an investigation into the health departments and how they handled this nursing home situation? Do you think they need more staff or different leadership? If they could [inaudible 01:12:49] that having an accurate number for shaping future policy is important. Third question, you also signed a bill in March that provides immunity for healthcare providers when it comes to COVID-19 cases. This summer, when the legislature came back, they narrowed the scope slightly for future incidents. Now there is a bipartisan push to repeal this law. Do you support this?
Governor Cuomo: (01:13:13)
I haven’t seen the bill on the immunity law. Second, the Department of Health produced the nursing home number and the hospital number. The categorization they’re looking for are people who were transferred to… Well, people are looking for different things. People who were transferred from hospitals to nursing homes, and some people are looking for a number of people who transferred from hospitals back to the nursing homes and nursing homes back to the hospitals. Those are going to be sub allocations. The Department of Health said they can only get that from the nursing homes.
Governor Cuomo: (01:13:57)
And remember the nursing homes were doing all this data at a very hectic period. The OAG’s report also says the data from the nursing homes is very sketchy. And that’s why the Department of Health, as my understanding, doctor can correct me if I’m wrong, has been auditing the data to make sure what they get from the nursing homes is actually accurate and then correlating it with the hospitals. But they will have the best information they can get from the nursing homes because they don’t create this data, it all comes from the nursing homes. Do you want to say anything? [crosstalk 01:14:37] I’m sorry, Dr. Zucker.
Dr. Howard Zucker: (01:14:38)
And there’s two different systems where the data comes in. There’s a system that brings in the data into the hospitals, it’s a different system that brings it into the nursing homes. And we look at all this data to be sure that it’s accurate.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:14:52)
So I would just also add to that, that, again, at the very beginning of this, there was duplicative reporting that was going on. We had the hospitals reporting numbers. We had the nursing home reporting numbers, and we were fearful on the onset that we were going to be reporting numbers twice and then we wouldn’t have an accurate picture of what was happening on COVID in New York. Again, 13 states in the country report absolutely no data on nursing homes and only nine states in the country report, presumed New York being one of them. So at this point, I believe that we give more data than any other state in the country.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:15:21)
And as the doctor said, this was information that we had always planned on releasing. We were looking to do it ahead of the legislative hearings that were upcoming and the audit continues to be ongoing. But looking for better national guidance in terms of what is expected on reporting so you can actually get a clearer picture state to state because right now you really have a difficult time comparing any states and the states still are doing reporting that is spotty at best.
Governor Cuomo: (01:15:50)
Okay operator. All of you guys, thank you very much for taking the time today. Have a good weekend and we will talk to you next week. Thank you.