Mar 15, 2021
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 15
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on March 15, 2021 at a vaccination site in Old Westbury to provide updates on COVID-19. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus and vaccine updates for New York here.
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Governor Cuomo: (00:00)
All right. It’s a pleasure to be in Old Westbury today, back at Old Westbury today, walking through the preparation for a mass vaccination site. It’s amazing how different this world is. There was nothing called a mass vaccination site several months ago. We have a whole new language. We walk through this facility now, and you look at the way it’s set up, it looks like something you would see after a science fiction movie, but it is the reality that where we’re living.
Governor Cuomo: (00:33)
I want to thank Timothy Sams very much, the new president, for all his help today. Reverend Calvin Butts was here for many years. He leaves big shoes, but we’re sure President Sams is going to step up. I don’t want to thank him for his hospitality. We have our great health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, you’ll hear from in a moment. We have Tracey Edwards who’s the president of the Long Island NAACP. We have Bishop Lionel Harvey, Bishop of the First Baptist Cathedral of Westbury. We have Christian Jargon, who was the president and CEO of Discover Long Island, which is great work here on Long Island. Michael Dowling, CEO of Northwell Health. Northwell has just been phenomenal, not just on Long Island. Let’s give Northwell a round of applause, what they’ve done. And we have more to do. And we have John Dorso, who is the epitome of a labor leader and a progressive labor leader. Let’s give him a round of applause.
Governor Cuomo: (01:39)
We have to get serious today. We have three major tasks that this state must complete simultaneously. First is the vaccination. The vaccine is the weapon that wins the war. Great, it’s developed, but you have to get it, and then you have to get it in people’s arms. Now, President Biden, who’s done an amazing job accelerating the acquisition of the vaccination, now says we’ll have enough by May 31 to make everyone eligible. That doesn’t mean we’ll have enough to vaccinate everyone by May 31, but we’ll have enough to make everyone eligible.
Governor Cuomo: (02:31)
The vaccination task is massive. Just to give you an idea, all the vaccinations we’ve been doing, all these weeks, all these months, we have fully vaccinated 2 million New Yorkers. Okay? We have 15 million eligible New Yorkers to vaccinate. All right? All this work, 2 million. We have to do 15 million New Yorkers. So we have a long way to go. This is an operational, logistical situation that we’ve never dealt with before. It is a major, major task.
Governor Cuomo: (03:16)
The single most effective vaccination mechanism is what we call a mass vaccination site. This is a mass vaccination site. It is one large facility capable of doing thousands. In some cases, we keep them open 24 hours a day. But from what we call a throughput, from just getting needles in arms, these mass sites are the most effective. There’s going to be one here, obviously at Old Westbury. It’s being set up right now. One at SUNY Stony Brook at the South Hampton campus, and there’s going to be one opening at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood. They open on Friday, this Friday. They’re preparing to open now. They open on Friday. They start taking appointments on Wednesday. So Wednesday you can start making appointments. Wednesday also is the day that eligibility opens up for a new class of essential workers. And that’s on the website, public-facing essential workers.
Governor Cuomo: (04:31)
Between now and Wednesday, 60-year-old plus have priority for schedules. Okay? So mass vaccination sites open Friday. They start taking appointments Wednesday. On Wednesday, a next class of essential workers becomes eligible. Between now and Wednesday, the 60-year-old plus still have a priority for appointments. I don’t know anyone who is 60 plus. I’m still waiting for mine. I have to get down to 28-years-old before I’m eligible. Some of these people here though, they look to me like they’re bumping up near the eligibility level, but I’m still not there. Actually, I am there. I just don’t look like I’m there, and I’m going to take mine. And I’m going to take mine at a pop-up center in a black community, because I want to make that point that I want to take the Johnson and Johnson, because I want to make the point that the Johnson and Johnson is safe. So I’m going to take mine in the coming days. That’s vaccines overall. Massive undertaking.
Governor Cuomo: (05:57)
Ancillary problem to the vaccines. We don’t want to just distribute them. We want to distribute them fairly. COVID discriminated. COVID was race-blind, but COVID wound up discriminating. COVID killed two times as many blacks as whites, two times as many blacks as whites. COVID killed one and a half times more Hispanics than whites. Why? Because COVID preyed on the underlying health disparity, the communities that were healthcare deserts, the communities that didn’t have the same access to healthcare, so they had more comorbidities. They had more underlying conditions. And that’s why COVID killed, literally killed, more black people and Hispanic people than white people.
Governor Cuomo: (06:51)
When it comes to the vaccine, we have to correct that injustice. This vaccine has to be available to everyone equitably and fairly, and we have to do social justice with this vaccine.
Governor Cuomo: (07:07)
We are going to make this vaccine available in the communities that have been hardest hit. I am asking faith-based church leaders, pastors, let us use your church as a pop-up vaccination site. Opening up vaccination sites in public housing, opening up vaccination sites in community centers, we will bring the vaccine to those communities hardest hit. We’ve done over 120 popup sites already. I want to get my vaccine in a church, predominantly for the black community to make a point. But we need the black community and the Hispanic…
Governor Cuomo: (08:03)
We need the Black community and the Hispanic community to come forward and have confidence in this vaccine. You want to hear a frightening number? On Long Island, about 11% of the population is Black, only 5% has taken the vaccine. Half the eligible population. Hispanic community, about 17% of the population, only 8%. White community, is actually higher than the population. We have to fix that. We have to fix that.
Governor Cuomo: (08:46)
Now, it gets complicated and I want to be honest, they’ll say, “Well, there’s a hesitancy problem in the Black community.” It’s not a hesitancy problem. We tend to come up with polite definitions for problems we don’t really like to acknowledge. There’s not a hesitancy problem. There’s a trust problem in the Black community. They don’t trust the system. They don’t trust the federal government, Trump administration said it’s safe. They don’t trust it. By the way, I didn’t trust the Trump administration when they said it was safe. That’s why we set up a whole separate New York State panel to review it. But we did set up a New York State panel and they reviewed it, the best doctors. We have done over five million doses, nobody’s experimenting on anyone. The leading Black medical professionals in the United States of America say take the vaccine.
Governor Cuomo: (09:54)
I had my mother take the vaccine. I’ll have my daughters take the vaccine. I’m going to take the vaccine. Please listen to the leadership of the Black community, and the Hispanic community. Listen to the pastors who are here. Listen to Bishop [Harvey 00:10:11]. They would not recommend the vaccine if it was not safe. And there’s a risk to taking a vaccine, no, no, there’s a risk to not taking the vaccine.
Governor Cuomo: (10:29)
Second track that the state has to work on simultaneously. Today the legislature puts in their budgets, so the Senate puts in their budget, the Assembly puts in their budget, I presented my budget several weeks ago. This is the most important budget in the history of the state of New York. You tell me what we do in this budget, I’ll tell you what the future of New York state is. We’re recovering from COVID. We have a tremendous deficit, largest deficit in the history of the state. We have the greatest needs for the people of the state; unemployed, housing problems, mental health problems, food insecurity problems. We are at a pivotal moment in this state. And what we do now will decide the trajectory.
Governor Cuomo: (11:20)
And the budget is more than just a budget. The word budget doesn’t really work. It’s like hesitancy. This is not a budget, this is the plan for recovery for the state of New York. And we have real issues on Long Island, New York City has serious, serious issues; growing crime, growing homelessness. Zoom has changed the world. COVID, we will recover from. Zoom isn’t going away. COVID may go away, Zoom’s not going away. And Zoom said, “You can live your life a different way. You don’t have to get in the car and commute. You don’t have to get on the train and commute. You can just do it by Zoom.”
Governor Cuomo: (12:16)
This is a very delicate moment, and that’s what this budget is all about. And we have to do it in a number of weeks, and we have to be serious about it. There are significant revenue raising proposals. How you raise revenue, can actually raise revenue, or can cost you revenue. If you’re not careful the way you do it, you may actually lose money for the state, because businesses and residences will make changes.
Governor Cuomo: (12:47)
There are also pieces of legislation that we’ve been trying to get done for a long time that we have to get done this year; passing marijuana reform, and legalizing recreational marijuana. We’ve tried to do that for the past three years. We have to get it done this year. There’s been too many young lives that have been ruined because of the marijuana laws. I spent this past weekend on the phone with the Assembly Majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, working through it. We’re very close on marijuana. Truth is, we’ve been very close before. Remember, Crystal Peoples-Stokes is from Buffalo, Buffalo Bills, we all know play in Buffalo. I said, “Look, this is not about getting in the red zone anymore. We have to get over the goal line this time. We need the seven points.” A lot happening on that budget that we have to get done and that starts today.
Governor Cuomo: (13:43)
And thirdly, we have to reopen the economy. We have to get back to work. We have to get people earning checks. We have to get businesses moving, people need to return to normalcy. They need the mental stability of normalcy. Kids have to get back into classrooms. We have to reopen. And part of that, which we’ve been moving all along, we’re going to announce today that we are going to start again, a great Long Island tradition, which was the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach. And that is going to happen this year. We’ll have masks, we’ll have social distancing, but we’re going to do that again. Last point, and I’m sorry for going on so long. On the way here today, I went through a lot of places, a lot of memories. We had Superstorm Sandy on Long Island and we spent months with Superstorm Sandy. It devastated life. Businesses, homes, jobs, people, and in the midst of it, it seemed like we were doomed. I tell you, it just seemed like we would never be able to build back. And it was a dark, dark period for people. And there were a lot of tears, and there was a lot of despair, but we said, “You know what? We can build back from this. And as a matter of fact, we’re not going to build back, we’re going to build back better.” We said that during Hurricane Sandy, that was our expression. Build back better. We’re going to learn from it.
Governor Cuomo: (15:37)
Sometimes God comes and he knocks you on your rear-end for one reason or another. Or life comes and knocks you on your rear-end for one reason or another. Circumstances happen, things happen, people get sick, accidents happen. The question is what you do when you get knocked on your rear-end, and New Yorkers get up. And they get up stronger, and they-
Governor Cuomo: (16:03)
New Yorkers get up and they get up stronger, and they learn the lesson, and they rebuild, and they rebuild back better. That’s what we did after Superstorm Sandy, and that’s what we’re going to do after COVID. This is not the last time we’re going to see a pandemic. It will happen again, but we will never be caught surprised, and uninformed, and unprepared, like we were this time. The silver lining in this storm, you saw people come together, and form real community and real resilience, and you saw love, and you saw volunteerism, and you’re going to see people volunteering to work in this mass vaccination site, putting their health at risk because they love their neighbors. That is the silver lining. That’s the essence of what New York is. That’s the essence of what New York represented to this nation through COVID. When the nation watched New York last year getting beaten up, they saw New Yorkers stand up. We gave hope to the nation, and we’re going to do it again. Thank you and God bless.
Governor Cuomo: (17:22)
Let me introduce our great health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker.
Dr. Howard Zucker: (17:29)
Thank you, Governor Cuomo. It’s a pleasure to be here with you here at SUNY Old Westbury. Today’s announcement is wonderful news that puts us another step closer to ending this awful pandemic. The science is clear that getting the vaccine, wearing a mask, and keeping a safe distance from others, the devastation of the last year will finally stop. Long Island has done a great job on the vaccination front. The tremendous success we’ve seen here in Nassau County, where more than a quarter of the population has gotten at least one shot, is a model for the rest of the state. That’s due in part to the mass vaccination site at Jones Beach, our pop-up locations throughout the island, and the advocacy of our Equity Task Force and our community partners.
Dr. Howard Zucker: (18:19)
With this site opening as SUNY Old Westbury, we will be able to get more vaccines into arms as soon as possible, but there is still a long road ahead. We cannot rest on our laurels or let our guard down. This virus continues to adapt, and we are now in a race between the vaccines and variants. The sooner we get a majority of New Yorkers fully vaccinated, the sooner we head off more strains of this virus that become easier to contract and are deadlier, or could be deadlier. Please, come get your shot here at SUNY Old Westbury or Jones Beach, or the closest vaccination site that you can find. Take whichever shot is offered. They will all work. This is how we stop COVID in its tracks, we get our lives back to normal, and we create a stronger New York that Governor Cuomo Has proposed.
Dr. Howard Zucker: (19:11)
I’d like to now introduce Kristen Jarnagin, who is the president and CEO of Discover Long Island. Thank you very much.
Kristen Jarnagin: (19:24)
Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Thank you, Governor Cuomo, truly for your leadership throughout this entire year’s crisis. It has been devastating to the tourism industry throughout the country. Long Island is no different. Tourism is the hardest hit industry related to COVID. On Long Island, that means about a hundred thousand tourism jobs. We’ve lost more than 30,000 of those jobs. I’m so proud of how our industry came together, and all of our businesses really pivoted during this time to offer takeout and to have igloos to try and bring people back. But really, the key to bringing people back and to bringing this industry back are the vaccines. This is an incredible announcement because not only do vaccines mean a return to normalcy for tourism and getting our jobs back, but it also means that we can look forward to that Long Island institution of the Bethpage Air Show, which we missed last summer. We pretty much missed an entire year. Long Islanders love our summers. We go through winter so that we can have summer, right? Long Islanders know that the Bethpage Air Show is the unofficial kickoff to summer. That’s how we all know it’s finally here. I want thank especially at Bethpage, Linda Armyn, the senior vice president, for their incredible sponsorship of this show.
Kristen Jarnagin: (20:46)
Previous to COVID, tourism is a $6.3 billion industry on Long Island. We feel like thanks to these great pop-up vaccines, it’s going to return to that. We’re going to have our Long Island summer that we’ve all looked forward to, and we’re going to be able to go to Jones Beach, and The Vineyards, and our historical sites, and really enjoy this wonderful place that we all call home. Thank you very much for your leadership and for getting us returned to normalcy as soon as possible. Thanks.
Bishop Harvey: (21:34)
First of all, I’d like to thank the governor for his stellar leadership. During this time of crisis, he’s done a yeoman’s job and we appreciate it so much. I want to recognize some of our trusted stakeholders who are here with us and some of our clergy who have assembled in this place.
Bishop Harvey: (21:54)
First of all, Dr. Debra Salas-Lopez, the senior vice president of Community and Population Health at Northwell, Bishop Isaac R. Melton, Pastor Sedgwick Easley, Pastor Sunny Philip, Pastor Tristan Salley, Elder Mark Moses, Pastor Omar Jolly, Girish Patel, Habib Ahmed, the Islamic Center of Long Island, Brent Hill, the executive director of the Five Towns Community Center, Barbara Powell, the president of the Hempstead NAACP, Doug Mayers, the president of the Freeport NAACP, and Pearl Jacobs, the president of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association, and then my friend Tracy Edwards, who is over here.
Bishop Harvey: (22:44)
I’m extremely pleased to be here. I’m ecstatic at this point. It has been an arduous, and a long, and a trying year. But the reality is we can feel a new season that is coming, a dawning of a brand new day. The new season that is ahead of us, if we do the things that are right, is going to be a blessing to so many. I’m not talking about the spring, because that is going to come no matter what. I’m talking about the season when we’re safe from this dreaded COVID-19 virus, and we can enjoy life the way it was intended to be and how it should be each and every day as we conquer this virus.
Bishop Harvey: (23:32)
To reach that season, we must do two things. We got to keep being safe from COVID and we’ve got to get that vaccinated. It is imperative that we get the vaccine in our arms. The governor had said that it was a trust issue. I have a saying that I teach, that trust is only extended to the limit of truth. That’s why we have these trusted stakeholders that are behind us, because-
Bishop Harvey: (24:03)
… have these trusted stakeholders that are behind us, because they’re not going to tell you something that is going to hurt you. They’re going to tell you something that is going to help. And it’s important in our Black and brown communities that we get vaccinated. My mother has gotten vaccinated. My father has gotten vaccinated. I have received the vaccination. And so many of us in our churches have done it.
Bishop Harvey: (24:23)
This is an important time for faith leaders and for community leaders, and for every single person in our community to really take on the mantle of becoming leaders. Our community was hit hard. It was devastated. I stood in front of so many caskets during this season. And it is through the vaccine that we can best protect ourselves and each other. We know what the Bible says in Philippians 4:13, that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Christ will strengthen me through this lifesaving vaccine. God has our back and he also has arm.
Bishop Harvey: (25:05)
So faith leaders are proud to partner with the state and with our governor to open pop-up vaccine sites at our houses of worship, to make it more accessible to our communities, and this is how we achieve equity and justice in the vaccine. I give the clarion call to my community and all communities across Long Island: get the vaccine in your arm. Whether it’s at your house of worship or a mass vaccination site like this one at SUNY Old Westbury or any other site, get the vaccine in your arm. Get the vaccine because it will save your life. I’d rather have the vaccine then have the virus. So go to ny.gov/vaccine to make your appointment, and help bring in the season of healing, health and hope, love, peace, and joy. Thank you so much.
Tracey Edwards: (26:21)
Well, thank you very much. It is an honor to be here. It is a cold spring day. I am surrounded by clergy and our governor is on Long Island. It’s a wonderful, wonderful day. Wonderful day. Governor, I want to thank you for your leadership. I want to look at you. I want to thank you for your leadership and for your resolve for this issue. We need you to continue going with this vaccine.
Bishop Harvey: (26:58)
Tracey Edwards: (26:59)
We need you to keep going with this vaccine. COVID has devastated the state. Long Island continues to be one of the hardest hit regions, especially for our Black and brown New Yorkers. We must take the vaccine.
Tracey Edwards: (27:18)
Now I’m going to tell you a personal story, off script. So today, right after this, I am going to have an infusion. And I’m going to have an infusion because I want to make sure that the cancer that was in my body does not return. I’m not asking you what’s in the infusion. I’m not looking up all of the ingredients in the infusion. I am sticking out my arm and I am taking the infusion. And that’s what we have to do. Our communities take insulin, metformin, all kinds of… We can line up at the drugstore so quickly, because we want to save our lives. And that’s what the governor is talking about. We must take the vaccine. The vaccine is a weapon that wins the war on COVID.
Tracey Edwards: (28:25)
And we need our clergy, because as Martin Luther King said, religion and science are not competing interests. They are our trusted messengers. And when your pastor says to do something, you trust your pastor, you trust your doctor. That’s what we need to do. This shot is the only thing that will get our lives back, whichever vaccine is offered to you. The governor, our governor has done an amazing job for Long Island, for New York. It is there for you to take it and we cannot have any excuses at all. We all need to do our part, not just for ourselves, but for our families, for our friends, for our community.
Tracey Edwards: (29:29)
So governor, I thank you for being here. You stay continuing to lead us through this crisis because we need you. Thank you.
Governor Cuomo: (29:47)
Thank you. Well, everything has been said, and it’s been said better than I said it. Tracey Edwards, let’s give her a round of applause. Bishop Harvey. Kristen Jarnagin. Dr. Howard Zucker, who’s done a great job all across the state, let’s give him a round of applause. Get the vaccine. God bless you.