Mar 24, 2021
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript March 24
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on March 24, 2021 to provide updates on COVID-19. He also answered questions about sexual harassment allegations and the nursing home review. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus and vaccine updates for New York here.
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Governor Cuomo: (00:00)
It is a beautiful day in New York City. Pleasure to be here. Let me introduce who’s with us today. Let’s start with on my left, Ms. Molly Reilly, Assistant Secretary for Resiliency and Economic Development. She works in the Office of the Governor. To my right, Kelly Cummings, who is the Director of State Operations, Office of the Governor. To Kelly’s right, Dr. Howard Zucker, our great Commissioner of Health. It is a coincidence that Kelly and Molly happen to have the same attire today. I believe it’s a coincidence. I know it is a coincidence. It’s not like any government regulation.
Governor Cuomo: (00:39)
Okay. Let’s take a look at where we are today. COVID update, overall, on the numbers, today, 3.5% positivity. 71 New Yorkers lost their lives still to COVID. We have made tremendous progress, but anyone who says it’s over, they’re wrong. 71 people passed away. Statewide, hospitalizations are down 40, 4,600; ICU, down 7, 918; intubations, 596.
Governor Cuomo: (01:13)
This is where we look like on the positivity curve. Remember, we peaked post-holiday surge, and we have come way down from there. As a matter of fact, we are lower now than before the holiday surge, right? So we’re stable. We went up for the holidays, and we’ve now come down to a lower level than we were before the holidays themselves.
Governor Cuomo: (01:44)
You look at the hospitalization rate, across the state, it’s fairly constant, Long Island, New York City, but fairly constant. The positivity rate in Long Island and Hudson Valley, Long Island had a high positivity rate for a period of time now, and so has the Hudson Valley. This makes the point, again, it is up to us. It’s up to a community’s behavior. Why do you have the Southern Tier at 0.6 and Long Island at 4.3? Same state, same weather, same climate, same basic demographics, Southern Tier, 0.6; Central New York, 0.9; Mid, Hudson, right next door, 4.7. It is the action and the behavior of that community. in New York city, 4.5% in the Bronx. That’s actually good. The Bronx was highest for a while. Queens is now 4.8. Brooklyn’s 4.3. Staten Island, 4.75. That’s creeping up. Manhattan, again, 2.6. Makes the point again it is the behavior of the community. It’s how people act. It’s the virus, depending on our behaviors, how the virus spreads.
Governor Cuomo: (03:17)
Vaccines are everything. This is the way we beat this situation. This is the way we turn the page. This is the way we end this chapter. But we have to do it, and the vaccination process is much harder and much more complicated than anyone, I think, fully appreciates. It’s a relatively simple process, but the volume is so large that it’s massive. We did another call yesterday, as I’m head of the National Governors Association, with the White House. The White House is working very hard to acquire more vaccination, more Pfizer, more Moderna, more Johnson and Johnson. We are now subject to how much vaccine they can acquire. We have more distribution capacity than we have supply. It’s a supply problem right now.
Governor Cuomo: (04:18)
But they’ve made dramatic increases on the supply. They are promising more dramatic increases on the supply, and we’ll then have the distribution network to do it. Right now, we did about 8 million shots in arms. Just for relative purposes, we have about 15 million eligible New Yorkers. We’ve done about 8 million shots in arms, 5 million at least one dose, 2 million, close to 3 million fully vaccinated.
Governor Cuomo: (04:51)
The main focus is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. This is a logistical nightmare. Government has never operationalized a task this large. This is dealing with literally thousands of providers all across the state who have to get the vaccine delivered, who have to know guidelines, safety checks, et cetera. So it’s a massive undertaking. April, May, June, the focus will be vaccination, vaccination, vaccination. The government side is operational, organizational. The citizen side is you have to come and get it. You have to come and get it. We have to talk our way through this distrust, et cetera. But that’s what April, May, June are going to be about.
Governor Cuomo: (05:48)
We’re also focusing on the equity in vaccinations. The vaccination rate among the Black community is still lagging. The vaccination rate among the Hispanic community is still lagging. We pointed this out very early on, and we’re working very hard to deal with that equity, but that’s going to be an ongoing issue.
Governor Cuomo: (06:12)
While we’re vaccinating, because these are complicated times, at the same time, we have to be doing an aggressive rebuilding of New York. COVID is going to decline. Knock Formica. COVID continues to decline. More people vaccinated, we get it under control. Okay. Now you have to bring New York back. New York is not going to self-remedy. The economy is not going to come back on its own. It doesn’t automatically inflate. It is going to be dependent on what we do. We have to rebuild New York. We have to stimulate the economy. The public sector has to stimulate the private sector, and it is going to be a function of how good we are at doing that.
Governor Cuomo: (07:10)
We have to rebuild New York comprehensively, holistically. Physically, we have to rebuild New York. Economically, we have to rebuild New York. We have people who have been out of jobs, who haven’t had funding, who are in debt. Socially, we have to rebuild New York. We have to reconnect with people. Organizationally, we have to reconnect. So this rebuilding is on many ways on an existential level. This is something that we have never done before. We had a taste of it post-9/11, where we were traumatized, but nothing like this trauma in many ways.
Governor Cuomo: (07:55)
You have school children out of school for a year. What does that mean? You have people isolated. Dr. Zucker and I were talking about it this morning, the mental health issues that go with this, the trauma issues that go with this. But what is life about? You go through situations in life. You go through difficult situations in life. Things happen. Health problems happen. Family problems happen. Things happen. The question is do you weather it, do you learn, and do you grow from it? That’s going to be our question with COVID.
Governor Cuomo: (08:39)
Now, disasters happen. I worked in the federal government before the state. I worked on federal disasters all across the nation, all across the world. Disasters happen. Floods happen. 9/11 happened. But you should learn from it when it happens. Disaster preparedness is basically yet a relatively new field for government. We talked about it for a long time, but until we really had these disasters, we didn’t appreciate it. We had Superstorm Sandy. Whoever heard of a superstorm? Whoever heard of flooding downtown Manhattan and flooding Queens and flooding Long Island and the Hudson flooding, all the way into the Hudson Valley? Nobody ever heard of that before. We went through it. We learned from it. We are different because of it.
Governor Cuomo: (09:44)
I was driving in today. I went through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. There was two large brass doors made by a submarine company so that you close the doors. You seal the tunnel so it can’t fill with water. Whoever heard of worrying about filling the tunnel with water? Nobody until after Superstorm Sandy. Pumping stations all across the MTA now to pump out subway systems, coverings for every subway opening now, Long Island building the electric grid aboveground so when you have a flood, you don’t short out all the transformers. This is our post-Sandy world.
Governor Cuomo: (10:39)
Post-9/11 is a different world. From a security point of view, we changed dramatically. To this day, it’s been so long now you take it for granted, but there’s an increased security presence everywhere, at airports, in front of public buildings. There are barricades. There are more police, more security forces. That’s all post-9/11, learning the lesson.
Governor Cuomo: (11:11)
We have to learn the lesson post-COVID. In truth, this nation should have learned this public health lesson way before COVID, because we had warnings after warnings. But at least now let’s learn the lesson post-COVID, because, and I hate to say this, there will be a next time. Anyone who says with COVID, “Well, this is one and done. This is one in a lifetime,” no, my friends, this is not one and done. This is not one in a lifetime. This was in many ways predictable, because we had seen many warning signs before, which I’ll mention in a moment. But it will happen again.
Governor Cuomo: (12:03)
Just look at the past 20 or so years. 1997, we had the avian flu. SARS, 2002, a coronavirus, coronavirus. COVID was not the first coronavirus. SARS was a coronavirus 20 years ago. Swine flu, 2009. MERS, 2012, a coronavirus. Ebola, 2014. Zika, 2016. Dengue, 2019. Every few years, we have had a warning, and what happened? We didn’t really make the changes and the remedies that we needed to put in place. Then COVID hits, 2020, and everybody says, “Oh my gosh, what a surprise.” No. Warning, warning, warning, warning. You do nothing to prepare. Now you have a real crisis with COVID-19.
Governor Cuomo: (13:12)
Let’s not make the same mistake twice. Let’s make the changes to our public health emergency management system. We need an emergency management public health capacity that is much more sophisticated and operational than it is today. When we talk about emergency management now, we talk about it in terms of natural disasters. We talk about it in terms of floods, et cetera. We talk about it in terms of security needs. We have to get serious about a public health emergency management plan.
Governor Cuomo: (13:48)
Look at all the things we had to scramble to do and do on the fly here in New York, an emergency medical staff to come in because we needed more nurses and doctors. We had to have the hospitals work as a system so we could balance patient load that we had to design on the fly. We didn’t have enough PPE. We didn’t have enough masks and gowns. We didn’t have enough manufacturing capacity for PPE. We didn’t have enough testing capacity. We didn’t have enough Q-tips, Q-tips for testing capacity. We didn’t have enough quarantine facilities. They weren’t set up. We didn’t have enough laboratories to test the results once we found enough Q-tips to take the samples.
Governor Cuomo: (14:40)
There was no contemplation of how you regulate the borders and test people coming in to see if they’re sick. We’re still not as a nation testing people to what I believe is a sufficient degree to make sure they’re not bringing in variants from other nations. This is now an international complex. We know that COVID came in through the airports. We need a testing mechanism that’s run by the federal government that protects our borders.
Governor Cuomo: (15:19)
Citizens have to be better prepared. I as a person have to be better prepared. You as an individual have to be better prepared. New Yorkers have to be better prepared to protect themselves and to be in a position to assist others. We have to be better educated and trained as citizens of the state. It can’t be that we’re watching TV and we’re glued to the TV to find out vital information and vital basics to protect ourselves. We should be prepared and have the information and the education so we can protect our own health, our families, and our communities.
Governor Cuomo: (16:12)
We are launching a first of its kind in the nation New York State Citizen Public Health Training Program. What this is is a state-of-the-art public health training program for citizens so they are informed, they are educated, and they are trained for the next one, for the end of COVID and for the next one, whatever that may be. The time to get that education and training is now.
Governor Cuomo: (16:49)
Cornell University has developed a curriculum for citizens to be trained about public health emergencies. It is an eight-session, 16-hour curriculum, eight hours of what they call self-paced content, where you can go online and do it at your leisure, your pace, eight hours of interactive sessions, where you hear Cornell professors, SUNY professors, national experts giving you the most recent, up-to-date, best information to educate yourself. The curriculum, and Cornell has done a fantastic job, talks about COVID-19, preventing COVID-19. But remember, COVID-19 is the third coronavirus we faced. SARS, MERS, COVID, all coronaviruses, all believed to come from bats, all believed to come from wet markets in China, and all similar.
Governor Cuomo: (18:08)
So COVID, but not just COVID, COVID and being prepared for the next one. Health literacy, health priorities, public health for community resilience, public health preparedness, health impacts of emergency events. It will educate you so that you can protect yourself, your family, your community. Part of the course, there will be exams. They have a nicer word for exams. I forget what it is, assessments. If you pass the assessment, you will get a certified training program completion from Cornell and from the Department of Health that says you have been trained as a citizen public health leader. In the-
Governor Cuomo: (19:03)
… is a citizen public health leader. In the event of another healthcare emergency, this would be a body of people who could volunteer to help in their community. I believe we will ultimately attract thousands of people to do this, because first, why wouldn’t you want to inform yourself after the hell we just went through? And they would then be across the state, and available as a possible volunteer army.
Governor Cuomo: (19:41)
The best person to protect you is you, an informed you. It’s about information and knowledge. Also having the information and knowledge I think will go a long way towards reducing the anxiety that people felt now. People felt out of control. Isolated, and out of control. “I don’t know what spreads it. I don’t know if I can accept a bag of groceries. I don’t know if I can touch a doorknob. I don’t know if I can go in an elevator with another person.” All these questions, when you’re dealing with a frightening disease. We’ve been in a state of emotional trauma, of anxiety, and a feeling of loss of control. The information and the knowledge I think will help reduce that anxiety and restore a sense of control. If you know what you’re dealing with and you know how to deal with it, you will be more comfortable in the situation, and we will be ready for the next time, and we’ll have a sense of security about the next time, because we’ll know what to expect.
Governor Cuomo: (21:02)
The time to prepare for a disaster is before it happens. Once the disaster happens, it is too late to do the preparation. We learned that again with COVID. After COVID hit, it was too late to figure out where to get PPE. We had to send planes to China. It was too late to figure out where to manufacture Q-Tips and where to get emergency medical staff. The time to prepare is before. Learned that lesson from COVID.
Governor Cuomo: (21:40)
This course is totally free. It is a Cornell course. If you had to go to Cornell and pay for this education, it would be very expensive. It’s online. It’s free. You take an assessment. You get a completion. Gives you a sense of knowledge, gives you a sense of control, and puts you in a position to protect yourself, and your family, and your neighborhood. And god forbid there’s another emergency, you could volunteer to help.
Governor Cuomo: (22:15)
We’re joined by Dr. Lorin Warnick from Cornell University. I can’t thank you enough, Doctor. I know this was an unusual request. I believe that we are the first state in the nation to do this. We’re going to make the curriculum available to every state, because I think educating our citizens about this is going to be vital, because let’s be honest, most of COVID was about educating citizens about how to act and how to behave. “Wear a mask,” right, was basic public health information. “Wash your hands.” How it’s transmitted. This was all basic public health information that we were imparting to the public. If the public had known these things before, it would have been much easier to deal with this situation and the anxiety would have been lower. And frankly, there would have been less politics involved, because there would have been more knowledge and more science involved.
Governor Cuomo: (23:27)
So you have been phenomenally cooperative. Cornell University is a great state asset, but you did a great job, a great curriculum. We’ve had many people go through it already. Everybody’s impressed. And this is one of the public services, Doctor, that I think is going to make a real difference, and a great part of the legacy of Cornell in New York State. So thank you very much, and thank you for being with us today. Please.
Dr. Lorin Warnick: (23:57)
Yeah. Thank you. It’s really great to be here today for the announcement of this innovative new program, and I want to thank Governor Cuomo and the State of New York for engaging Cornell and other research institutions to help New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We at Cornell are really honored to be a part of this effort by developing the Citizen Public Health Training Program that’s being launched today, and it’s really exciting to see this being offered. The course will be available to any New Yorker. It will allow citizens of our state to learn from Cornell educators and to become public health leaders for their families and communities. As was said, the curriculum was developed by faculty at Cornell. They drew on expertise in our Master of Public Health program and from other departments around the university focused on health communication and community engagement.
Dr. Lorin Warnick: (25:06)
The course uses the eCornell online learning platform, so that makes it accessible in any location. There’s four different learning modules that can be done in sequence, and the material will help people understand the principles needed to respond to COVID-19, including prevention and vaccination efforts, and these modules also motivate participation in personal and community health promotion, and this will in turn help build preparedness for future health emergencies. Our goal is to increase the understanding of social and environmental determinants of health and to improve public health in New York State. With so many informed and motivated citizens, New York will be better prepared to confront challenges that impact health, and these range from equity and sustainability, to food and housing insecurity, and much more.
Dr. Lorin Warnick: (26:15)
I want to recognize the excellent work of the team from Cornell, from Northwell Health and state government who worked together to design and develop this outstanding program. And I speak for all of us here at Cornell University in saying that we’re excited to be part of what’s really a historic effort to help, first of all, stop COVID-19, and then support future public health needs. So thank you very much. It’s great to be with you today.
Governor Cuomo: (26:47)
Thank you. Thank you, Doctor, and please thank everyone at Cornell on my behalf. Thank you very much for being with us.
Dr. Lorin Warnick: (26:52)
Governor Cuomo: (26:53)
I’d also like to thank the team at the Department of Health who worked very hard on this, Dr. Zucker, and Kelly Cummings, and Molly Riley, who really spearheaded this effort for us. I encourage everyone, everyone in the state to take this course. Being informed, having knowledge, having information, reducing that anxiety, so that when, god forbid, the next one happens, there’s not that same panic and tightness in our chest. I expect, I expect another pandemic. I expect it. You look at that timeline, every few years, there was something. I expect another one to happen. I expect another one to happen in the next few years, or a COVID variant, or a mutation from COVID. I expect it, because that’s what history tells us.
Governor Cuomo: (27:55)
Let’s be better prepared. Let’s be better informed. The months that we spent coming up to speed on basic public health information, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again. And that is a real positive lesson to be learned from what we went through. I’ve had literally thousands of conversations during COVID with people, and the lack of information drove, and anxiety drove a sense of being out of control, and that creates a panic. This can go a long way to avoiding that. It’s free. It’s smart. It’s well done. It’s 16 hours, and it will be the best 16 hours you’ve spent investing in yourself, and your family, and your community, and it will give you peace of mind. So it’s very well done. Please enroll, and we have enrollment open throughout this month.
Governor Cuomo: (29:07)
It’s part of rebuilding, but it’s only part of rebuilding. And as we move into rebuilding, I want people in the state to think about rebuilding as a state of mind. I was going to do a song about that, but somebody beat me to it. But rebuilding is on every level. We went through a traumatic crisis. We’re rebuilding from a traumatic crisis, that was physical, that was psychological, that was economic. And think about rebuilding, and growing, and learning from that trauma. How do you come from that trauma and come out better? Think about reopening and what that means. Recovering physically, economically, socially. Re-imagining a different place. There’s now Zoom. People have had a totally different lifestyle for the past year. We’re not going back to where we were. You don’t put Zoom on a shelf. It doesn’t go away. And you don’t want to forget the experience. You want to learn from the experience and reimagine what we can be with what we have learned.
Governor Cuomo: (30:37)
There’s a physical reconstruction to this. There is a reunification. What does it mean when all these fraternal organizations didn’t have a chance to meet, community groups that didn’t meet, social groups that didn’t meet, sports teams that meet, kids that didn’t go to school and participate in all those social activities? A reunification of the body politic, and a total rethinking. We went through the unimaginable. Nothing is now unimaginable. So rethink what we could do, what we can be, and let’s show signs of progress and hope.
Governor Cuomo: (31:21)
It has been a dark winter, a dark COVID winter, an isolated, frightening, traumatic winter, where we were locked up indoors, isolated. You know what? Spring is here. It is spring as a season. It’s spring as an attitude. It’s spring as a philosophy. It’s rebirth. It’s renewal. The sun is back. The flowers will bloom. Rebuild, renew, rebirth, and show positive signs of progress. New Yorkers have been traumatized. New Yorkers are worried about New York. What’s going to happen? Are we going to come back? Are we going to be okay? Of course we are. And let’s start not just building and doing it, but showing it.
Governor Cuomo: (32:24)
Great example of the Hudson River Park. Hudson River in Manhattan, Manhattan’s West Side, was at one time a manufacturing backdoor, like so many cities. That’s where the supplies came in, through the docks on the West Side of Manhattan. Then the economy turns, the West Side of Manhattan is turned into the Hudson River Park. 4.5 mile park, right up the West Side of Manhattan, right along the Hudson River. Amazing. One piece was left out, a pier called Pier 76, which is now in a very critical area for us, because it’s a part of the city that we want to do significant redevelopment as a sign and an engine for economic stimulation. But Pier 76 was left out, and 20 years ago, government said, “The City of New York shall use best efforts to relocate the tow pound on Pier 76.” Pier 76 was turned into a tow pound where they left towed cars. And 20 years ago, the city was going to change the use from a tow pound and make it part of Battery Park, part of a public park system. They talked about it for a long time. This is a New York Post op-ed by then Councilman David Yassky, now a Director of Policy for me. 2003, he’s writing about what a waste of space and time it was. Last year, we passed the law mandating that Pier 76, be vacated and turned over to the Hudson River Park Trust. And I want to thank the Legislature very much for passing that law, because that’s why this has finally happened. Pier 76 is going to be a fantastic piece of real estate. It juts out into the Hudson River. It’s 725 feet long, 300 feet wide. It’s right on the side of the existing Hudson River Park. It’s the size of four football fields, believe it or not, and we’re now going to convert it into a public park space.
Governor Cuomo: (35:06)
It was a pier built in 1964, so it’s really a pier built at the end of the manufacturing period, and it was for loading barges and storing containers, but it was built really at a time when New York City was moving away from that. And you see how spectacular the location actually is. It’s probably one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in Manhattan with its location. It’s also especially important for us, right across from Pier 76, that low, white building you’re looking at, that’s the Javits Convention Center. What we’re going to be doing today, literally, is stripping down the tow pound, taking the roof off, taking the sides off, and just leaving the steel frame, and turning it into an open space for the West Side of Manhattan.
Governor Cuomo: (36:20)
Whenever government talks about doing a project, the important question to ask is always, “When will it be done? A specific date, please.” It is under construction now, as we speak. It just started, and it will be completed for this summer. Ambitious schedule, but we think we’re going to make it, and we believe it can be open as early as June 1. It’s going to be architecturally interesting, because it has the steel skeleton, if you will, that will remain, that was constructed in the sixties, but it will be entirely open, and a great passive recreation area.
Governor Cuomo: (37:07)
This is an interim step for the pier. It will be used as a recreation open space now, but the Hudson River Park Trust will then start a series of planning meetings, community meetings, et cetera, to come up with a long-term redevelopment plan for the pier. You see that it’s an essential component to where we are focusing our energy and our reconstruction, starting from the east, which is my right, and I think your right. Empire Station Complex is rebuilding of a New Penn station. Part of that is the new Moynihan Station, which was just redone. Part of that is rebuilding the Old Penn Station. Part of that is building a new terminal to the south that they call the 780 block, but an entirely new-
Governor Cuomo: (38:03)
[inaudible 00:38:01], that they called the 780 block, but an entirely new mass transit system. More tracks, more capacity, more mass transit. You then have an extension of the Highline, which is a great tourist attraction and just a great asset for the community itself. New affordable residential commercial, second Highline North connection. We’re expanding the Javits Center to make it the internationally competitive convention center to bring back shows and Pier 76 will be part of that. So when we talk about rebuilding and not just waiting for an artificial reinflation of the economy, but actually showing people progress and showing people the future, this is a big component of it. Last point, the state budget is due April one. In the world of COVID, nothing is easy. COVID has even complicated the budget process. As you know, I am obsessive about getting the budget done on time. We’ve gotten the budget done on time every year that I’ve been governor. That never happened before. We’ve done it for about 10 years.
Governor Cuomo: (39:25)
You have to go back to a different time in history where the state actually got the budget done on time. It used to be an annual folly where it was late and it was always hyper politicized. So I’ve been obsessive about getting the budget done on time April one. I am also obsessive about COVID and public health. So I have competing obsessions. Obsessed on getting the budget done on time. Obsessed on fighting COVID. Competing obsessions, it sounds like a medical condition. Going to see a doctor on competing obsessions. But we do have COVID complications with the budget. Speaker Carl Heastie announced yesterday that he tested positive for COVID. He’s going to be just fine, I’m sure. He already had received one vaccine. He was waiting for his second vaccine on a two-shot vaccination. Dr. Zucker and I discussed it. After you have even one shot, your first vaccine, it tends to help the severity of the illness if you get it. And the Speaker is young and the Speaker is healthy, so we’re sure he’s going to be fine.
Governor Cuomo: (40:54)
But that will then trigger quarantine measures for staff that he worked with. And it is going to complicate the budget process. The way the budget normally is done is in group meetings, literally negotiation sessions that I’m involved in that go on for days with us in a room, and then dozens of negotiating sessions for different parts of the budget with 10, 15, 20 people in a room that is not going to happen this year. We’re going to try to get it done April one, but I’m not going to risk public health to get it done April one, and we’ll see where it goes.
Governor Cuomo: (41:49)
Top priorities for me in the budget, legalized cannabis. I just had a discussion this morning with someone. We’ve been trying to legalize cannabis for three years, I’ve failed every year. We’re close, but we’ve been close three times before. If we were playing horseshoes, we’d be in good shape. But this is not horseshoes. You either get it done and sign a bill or you don’t. I understand there’s an opposition to legalizing cannabis, but we are there already is the argument I just had. In a perfect world, maybe you’d be against legalizing cannabis. In a perfect world, you could argue no gaming, no gambling, no casinos. We don’t live in a perfect world. We didn’t have casino gaming. I know, but it was in New Jersey, and it was on Native American reservations, and it was in Connecticut. So yes, we had casino gaming, just not in this state.
Governor Cuomo: (42:58)
So people drove to New Jersey or Connecticut or to a Native American reservation. We have passed the point of legalized cannabis. It’s in New Jersey. It’s in Massachusetts. To say we’re going to stop it is not an option. It is here. The only question is, do we regulate it here? Do we gather the revenue here? Or do we have people driving to New Jersey, which is right there, or to Massachusetts, if you’re in the Northern part of the state? But it is here. This year, we have to get it done. And getting it done by the time the budget is passed is essential. We are close, but we’ve been close before. This is getting it over the goal line. And those last few inches tend to be the toughest. But that’s a top priority.
Governor Cuomo: (44:04)
Public safety reforms are top priority. You want to talk about bringing New York City back? Yes, economic issues. You know what else I hear right after economic issues? Crime, crime. For an area to recover, the area has to feel safe and people have to believe it is safe. We’ve had rising crime in New York City, not just New York City, cities across the state, cities across the nation. We have tension between the police and the community, not just here in New York, all across the nation. After the George Floyd killing, it erupted nationwide. In some ways, good, good. It’s a crisis. And it exploded. And the tensions between the community and the police now were visible for all to see. Fine, resolve them. Don’t ignore them. Don’t deny them, resolve them. Because this tensions is still there. The community still lacks trust in the police. The police still feel misunderstood and mistreated by the community.
Governor Cuomo: (45:34)
This is not a situation where we can get a divorce. We need public safety, and public safety doesn’t work unless you have a relationship of trust with the local community. Every locality has to go through a collaborative process where they heal the divide and they come up with a public safety plan that keeps people safe. The rates are up. The Black community, Hispanic community are paying a very high price for this. The overall economy is going to pay a price. If people don’t feel safe, they’re not coming back. I said April one is a deadline for local governments to come up with a public safety reform plan that fits their community. I’m not telling anyone what their plan should be. Whatever works for Buffalo works for Buffalo. Whatever works for Nassau works for Nassau .whatever works for New York City works for New York City, but come up with your plan and pass it and pass it by April one.
Governor Cuomo: (46:43)
But we have to be able to ensure public safety for people. Otherwise, you’re not going to see the type of rebuilding that we need to do. We have an aggressive rebuild New York programs was an aggressive green building program. That has to be funded. In times like this public safety, one of the top priorities, and then stimulating the private economy. Show growth, show potential, show development, show new mass transit stations, show new airports, new tunnels, new bridges, new parks. Show progress. That’s our rebuilding program. And show the most dramatic transformation to renewable energy. And that’s our green rebuilding program. That has to be funded. Universal broadband, affordability and accessibility. You need both. Too many children were left behind when education went remote, and too many of those children were lower income Black children, Hispanic children, poor children who were left behind. Now is the time to do it.
Governor Cuomo: (47:59)
We need to provide comprehensive rent relief. We have to do it intelligently. We want to make sure there’s no fraud, but people need rent relief and small landlords need rent release. And we have to reform our nursing home programs. For profit nursing homes, like many for profit service providers, to me, pose an inherent conflict. For-profit prisons. The prison is operating to make money. How do you make money? You provide fewer services. You save money on meals. You save money by investing in the facility and you increase your profit. Yeah, I’m more interested in making sure a for-profit nursing home invests in the facility and the people and the services and the care. I don’t want for profit nursing homes squeezing profit out of the nursing home and maximizing profit by minimizing the quality of care. So those are top priorities for me and the budget.
Governor Cuomo: (49:19)
There’s a funding gap in the budget. My belief all along was… I said to the federal government, ” We need $15 billion.” And I implored Washington in their funding program, our congressional delegation, senators, “We need $15 billion.” $15 billion would allow us to restore everything that was cut and address the new needs that COVID presented. It’s not just about restoring the budget. You now have a rent problem, an economic development problem, et cetera. I said we needed $15 billion. The federal government rent relief, to the state, provided about 12.4 to 12.6, depending on how you want to count it, billion dollars. So on my estimate, there’s about a two and a half billion dollar gap that is left. The legislature has a larger gap in their budgets. So there’s a funding differential also that’s part of the budget. But for me, having a budget that accelerates reconstruction, rebuilding, rebirth, learns from COVID, public safety, because we’re not bringing back New York without public safety, and then legalizing cannabis, which should have been done three years ago and should have been done two years ago… It’s like casino gaming. It’s likely legalizing marriage equality.
Governor Cuomo: (51:10)
I believe New York is the progressive capitol of the nation. Not just because we say it is, but because we perform that way. And legalizing cannabis is this year’s priority to be the progressive capital of the nation. We won’t be the first, but our program will be the best. The goal of all of this? Create a New York post COVID that is better than any New York before. We are better for Superstorm Sandy. We are better for 9/11. We paid a terrible price, but we learned and we grew. And the same thing has to be true of COVID. We paid a terrible price on many levels, but life is about learning and growing and being the stronger for it. And we will, because we are New York tough. And that’s what New York tough means. Resilience is part of it. Being smart and understanding the challenge that lies ahead, to be united in that challenge, to be disciplined and focused and not to let life knock you off track and to do it with love in your heart. That’s our plan, and that’s what we will do. Let’s take some questions.
Thank you, governor. If you’d like to ask a question, please use the raise hand function at the bottom of your window. We’ll take a moment to compile the Q&A roster.
Governor Cuomo: (52:47)
Oh, we’re joined by special guests who have us just for the question and answer period, because they’re busy otherwise, and they’re working on the budget. So they didn’t have time to join us this morning, but I’m glad they did make time for us during the question and answer period. We have Robert Mujica, who is the budget director. He’s was looking very stern faced because he’s coming down to it. He only has a few days left on the budget, and you can see the stress on his face. And Beth Garvey, who still smiles. Even through the stress and through the mask, Beth Garvey smiles because she is unfazed. Questions.?
Governor, your first question comes from David Evans, from WABC. David, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
David Evans: (53:52)
Governor, can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (53:53)
Yes sir, Dave.
David Evans: (53:54)
Hey, Governor, I wanted to ask, you just went over a lot of material for about almost an hour. And I just wanted to ask you, I know you’ve said in the last couple of times that you’ve talked with us, that you said you don’t want to talk about the AG report, you don’t want to talk about assembly investigation. And that’s your prerogative. I understand that. But you’ve talked here for about an hour about a lot of different things, and there seems to be that it’s accepted as fact from those who’ve asked you to resign that you can’t do your job, that you can’t work on the budget, that you can’t respond to the COVID crisis. What do you say about all that?
Governor Cuomo: (54:31)
I say it’s clearly not true. Because the reality is the exact opposite, Dave. We’re opening new vaccination centers all over the state. We’ve increased capacity dramatically. You’ve seen me doing that. We’re negotiating the budget as we speak and we’ve been doing that. We’re making good progress on that. We were opening Pier 76 today. So they were just wrong, Dave. And look, they don’t even understand the nature of the job. Nature of being governor is there are always multiple situations to deal with. The past four years, we had to deal with Donald Trump as President. You want to talk about a distraction? That was a distraction. Next question, operator.
Thank you, governor. Next up is Marcia Kramer from CBS 2. Marcia, your line is now open. Please mute your microphone.
Marcia Kramer: (55:47)
Governor, how are you doing this morning?
Governor Cuomo: (55:48)
Good, Marcia. How are you?
Marcia Kramer: (55:51)
Oh, I have a budget question. The legislature has proposed to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations by $7 billion. A group of the largest city and state employers, 250 plus, have sent a letter to you in the legislature saying that would be counterproductive, it would slow the recovery, and it would prevent people from coming back in terms of working remotely. And they also say that because people won’t be here, that that $7 billion won’t show up. I wonder what your feelings are about the need to raise those $7 billion worth of taxes. You have said in the past that raising revenue could actually cost you revenue. And do you think that your political problems may make it more difficult for you to negotiate with the legislature and change their mind if that’s your intent? Will it stop you from getting the legislature to listen to you?
Governor Cuomo: (56:54)
Marsha, first, I went through the list of priorities… The budget always has two sets of-
Governor Cuomo: (57:03)
… two sets of concerns, right? Because a budget, we use the word budget, it’s not really a budget. It’s really an action plan. In that action plan, there are always what they call policy items and then just financial issues. To me, the action part of this budget, the reconstruction, the green transformation, the new public facilities, cannabis, broadband access, showing a new New York, showing a way forward, public-safety reform. You want to talk about 250 business leaders saying they’re worried about taxes, you know where their second worry is going to be? Crime. Crime. You know it better than I, Marcia, because you’re out there all day long talking to people. That rebuilding agenda is very, very important to me. Cannabis is not just social equity. It’s also a revenue for the state.
Governor Cuomo: (58:12)
On the pure numbers, by the numbers that I have said for months, we have about a two-and-a-half billion dollar gap from what the federal government provided. The legislature, you’re right, has a much larger gap at about seven billion dollars. The budget process and the budget negotiation is always the same. It’s not really political. We both have the same legal options when it comes to a budget. The assembly and senate has certain legal rights. I have certain legal rights, and we try to compromise without having a legal battle or without shutting down the state. That’s the same dynamic every year, and that’s what we’re doing again this year. You have both policy items, if you will, that I’m very focused on, and then you have a numerical differential on the financial need. My number has been two-and-a-half billion dollars there at seven billion dollars. There’s a differential on the numbers and there are differentials on the matter of policy. What we try to do is compromise the entirety. Rob, do you-
Speaker 1: (59:49)
Will you support the seven billion dollars or will you try to convince them that it’s too much?
Governor Cuomo: (59:53)
Well, I try to convince them on all the items that we just discussed. I try to convince them on rebuilding, public safety, cannabis, green economy, nursing home reforms, two-and-a-half billion versus 7 billion, right? They try to convince me the opposite way. And that’s the budget compromise. That’s what’s now in play.
Governor Cuomo: (01:00:23)
That normally is done in a room with multiple people for days and days and days. They literally go around the clock, normally, in meetings. None of that can happen this year. That’s a practical complicating factor, but the essence of the basic budget compromise doesn’t change. They’re higher on the need for revenues than I am. I am more aggressive on the rebuilding public safety, not necessarily more aggressive, but my focus is rebuilding, public safety, nursing homes, cannabis, and then we try to compromise the entire package.
Governor Cuomo: (01:01:21)
Rob, do you have anything to add to that, or you Beth?
Robert Mujica: (01:01:28)
No, Governor. I think that’s right. We’re continuing to talk through and going through the items as you discussed, and now we’re focused on the recovery items and how we identify the resources for funding those.
Governor Cuomo: (01:01:42)
Okay. Next question, please, operator.
Thank you, Governor. Your next question comes from Andrew Donovan of News Channel Nine. Andrew, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Andrew Donovan: (01:01:55)
Governor, good afternoon. Can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (01:01:57)
Yes, sir, Andrew.
Andrew Donovan: (01:01:59)
Two questions pandemic related. 30 States or so have either opened vaccines to everyone of age or set a date to do so. You mentioned the importance of specific dates earlier. At what date are you considering New York open its eligibility to everyone of age?
Andrew Donovan: (01:02:17)
Second question. You’ve gotten some statewide pressure to lift the 11:00 PM curfew, but I want to speak on behalf of central New York, where even your data shows the sustained infection rate is less than 1%. With Syracuse basketball in the Sweet 16, businesses are hoping for some extra chances to make money. Local leaders have called for a local exemption or a suspension of that curfew. Would you consider a change to the curfew for this Saturday’s game?
Governor Cuomo: (01:02:45)
First, congratulations to Syracuse. That was a great game. Coach Boeheim. It just warms my heart to watch them play. On the curfew, I’ll turn it over to Dr. Zucker.
Governor Cuomo: (01:03:03)
On the dates on the eligibility, just to make sure people understand how this works. We get an allocation from the federal government. Depending on the allocation from the federal government of vaccinations, we distribute them and then we open the eligibility to the extent we have allocation. We have prioritized certain groups early on, which followed the federal guidance, nursing homes, nursing home workers, essential workers, 65-plus. We’re now down to 50-plus. We will be changing those numbers as we get more allocation. There was supposed to be more allocation this week from Johnson & Johnson. Apparently there was some production delay in the amount of Johnson & Johnson. We get these allocations on a weekly basis, Andrew, so we make the adjustments on a weekly basis. But if they continue to increase, as they should, the allocations, you’ll see us go down to 40, 30, and it’s 16 an up. But you’ll see that over the coming weeks. It’s gauged to how much allocation we get, and then it’s just a mathematical equation.
Governor Cuomo: (01:04:36)
Andrew Donovan: (01:04:36)
Why have so many states been able to set dates specifically for everyone?
Governor Cuomo: (01:04:41)
Well, they are projecting forward on what the federal government will provide. We’re sitting here, not even in April. Some states are saying, “In May this will be our eligibility.” May to me is a long way away, and you can base that on what the federal government now tells you will be available in the beginning of May or you can wait until you get closer to the beginning of May and there’s more specificity.
Governor Cuomo: (01:05:25)
I just want to make sure that the allocation projections that we’re getting from the feds are right, frankly. I don’t want to say we’re going to open up to 30 year olds in three weeks, and then something happens with the allocation, like it happened this week, and then I say, “Whoops, sorry;” because a lot of this is out of our control. But you could project through April, through May and come up with dates based on allocations. I’d rather get the specific allocation number and then tell the people of the state so we don’t have to change advice and we don’t create pandemonium for the scheduling operation.
Governor Cuomo: (01:06:24)
Dr. Howard Zucker: (01:06:25)
Regarding that, we are reviewing this request and we want the team to win, but we also want people to be safe, and so we’re looking at that to be sure that whatever decision we make, make sure that the fans are safe. This similar question came up in Buffalo when we had the Bills.
Governor Cuomo: (01:06:42)
Dr. Howard Zucker: (01:06:42)
We held back.
Governor Cuomo: (01:06:42)
Well, we are actively looking at it, Andrew. Rob Mujica has also been looking at it. We’re looking at the data. I join you in the desire to do it. If we can do it safely, we will.
Governor Cuomo: (01:07:01)
Next question, operator.
Thank you, Governor. Next up is Morgan McKay of Spectrum News. Morgan, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Morgan McKay: (01:07:14)
Hello, Governor. Thank you for taking my question.
Governor Cuomo: (01:07:17)
Morgan McKay: (01:07:19)
First, Governor, how are the women who have come forward accusing you of sexual harassment and still in your employ being protected?
Morgan McKay: (01:07:27)
Second question, you said a few weeks ago that you would be releasing what the state turned over to the Department of Justice when it comes to the nursing home data and documents. This has not happened. Can you make a commitment to do so today? Thank you.
Governor Cuomo: (01:07:40)
Yeah. In terms of the review, as I said a number of times, the assembly is doing the review, the attorney general is doing a review, and we are cooperating with that review. I won’t have a comment on it, and any conditions they have on that review are being followed.
Governor Cuomo: (01:08:03)
On the Department of Justice, I said that I wouldn’t have any issue with turning it over. I don’t know what the Department of Justice said, and I don’t know what the legal issues are. If there’s been any update.
Governor Cuomo: (01:08:20)
Beth, do you have any update on that?
Beth Garvey: (01:08:21)
Governor, we’re continuing to review with outside counsel on that one.
Governor Cuomo: (01:08:29)
Morgan McKay: (01:08:29)
Governor, the two women that are still in your employ that have accused you of sexual harassment, how are you guys taking steps to protect them? Are you they working from home? What are you guys doing to help protect them?
Beth Garvey: (01:08:44)
Governor Cuomo: (01:08:45)
There are rules. Beth, you want to go ahead?
Beth Garvey: (01:08:50)
Yes, please, Governor. Certainly every individual who comes forward and makes a complaint is protected from retaliation, and we are taking measures to ensure that that occurs in this case as well. Any further comment as to the specifics would be inappropriate at this time.
Governor Cuomo: (01:09:09)
Yeah. But, Morgan, Beth’s point is there are rules and conditions about how people who make complaints are handled, and we’re following those.
Governor Cuomo: (01:09:18)
Operator, you want to take one more please?
Thank you, Governor. Next up is Paul Liotta of the Staten Island Advance. Paul, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Paul Liotta: (01:09:31)
Good afternoon, Mr. Governor. Thank you for taking my question. Speaker Heastie just tweeted that his COVID diagnosis won’t affect budget negotiations. I just wanted to ask why you tried to connect the two?
Governor Cuomo: (01:09:44)
Oh, I’m sure his COVID diagnosis won’t affect the budget negotiations. We’re going to have the same negotiations. Not just his diagnosis, but COVID itself, you can’t put the same number of people in a room and have meetings. Zoom only goes so far. Part of the Speaker’s staff will now by regulation, Department of Health regulation, there’ll be quarantined. We want to protect this staff. I want to protect my staff. Want to protect senate staff. I think there will be practical complications just in that you can’t put people in a room and you can’t meet. We’re going to have the same conversations, but it’s practically much more difficult. That’s my only point.
Governor Cuomo: (01:10:41)
It’s not even the Speaker, by the way, because the Speaker himself, yeah, could be on a Zoom, or just do this from home. It is the staff level more than anything else. Not being able to have 15 meetings going on with 10 people in each meeting that complicates it, that practically complicates it. But COVID complicated that anyway.
Governor Cuomo: (01:11:20)
Okay. Thank you very much.