May 26, 2021
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript May 26
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on May 26, 2021 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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Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (03:25)
We went through a horrific period with COVID, but we’re coming out the other end and we’re adjusting accordingly. And it’s spring, and it’s going to be in New York spring. New York spring of renewal and reimagination that we make happen ourselves. So we are constantly assessing the situation and where we are and we’re adjusting. We’re watching the positivity rate of COVID. Yesterday, latest numbers, 0.7% positivity, lowest since August 30th. So that’s really fantastic news. Hospitalizations are down, ICU is down, intubations are down. Well, it’s over, COVID. No, it’s not over. 17 people died. So it’s much, much better, but it’s not over. Again, you see a variation. Of course, the state. Finger Lakes, 2.2 highest in the state, New York City 0.6, Long Island 0.6, Mid Hudson 0.7, Western New York, which has had a high rate for a long time is 1.4, New York City guess, which county has the highest? Staten Island, which has been fairly consistent.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (04:55)
And again, these positivity rates, why do you get the variety across one state? Everybody hears the same facts. It depends on individual behavior. It depends on community behavior. But you look at the trends, the trends are all headed in the right direction. So yes, you look at the day to day number, but more you look at the overall trend. Positivity is down. New York’s at 0.7. What does that mean, 0.7? Is that good or bad? What is the positivity rate across the country? What do we compare 0.7 to? What’s the national positivity rate right now, do you think? Guess. What do you say?
Speaker 1: (05:44)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (05:44)
Speaker 1: (05:46)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (05:48)
2.5. 2.6. Zach Fink is a winner, but a good guess. Close. So we’re at 0.7, the nation is at 2.6. That is great. The nation is at roughly four times the positivity rate of New York. here does New York rank nationally compared to the other states?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (06:23)
Come on, this is a participatory Pete. Where does New York rank?
Speaker 2: (06:29)
I’m at a loss.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (06:33)
Give a guess, Zach.
I would say three.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (06:37)
Top three. Good. You’re on today. You did your homework. You’ve been watching these numbers. So 0.7 compared to 2.6 and we’re in the top three states in the nation. And that is congratulations to New Yorkers. They’ve listened, they’ve learned, they’re behaving properly. So congratulations. What makes New York, New York? We went through hell. We had the highest infection rate in the United States of America, but new Yorkers reacted and responded. We’re watching the positivity rate. What determines the positivity rate? Behavior and the percent of vaccinations. We’re at 18 million vaccination. 64% at least one dose, 55% fully vaccinated. And that number of vaccinations went straight up, then plateaued and is now declining. That is a natural curve. You had that great rush of people who really wanted to get a vaccine, then that tailed off.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (07:56)
Then you had people who were lukewarm and now it’s dropping. And getting the vaccine rate higher than 62 is going to be hard. You look at countries around the world. 62% is a high vaccination rate. We would like to get it higher. So how do you get it higher? And how do you make sure you continue to make the progress? And again, the answer is up to us. None of this is predetermined. None of this is going to happen if we just sit back. The only thing that’s going to happen is what we make happen. Part of this is energizing the economy. How do you jumpstart the economy? How do you restart the economy? Government has a role. New York State government is the most aggressive in starting a stimulus development program. New airports, JFK, LaGuardia. We just announced the new round of upstate airport renovations of the new Belmont Arena, which is where the Islanders are going to play. Improving the long island railroad with the third track, new Penn Station, which will be transformative for commuters coming into New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (09:27)
And if you’re going to continue to grow, there are going to be more commuters. If any New Yorker needs inspiration about our future, just go look at the Moynihan Train Hall and look at the capacity of New York inaction. Look at the Mario Cuomo bridge. When you say, “Well, we can’t do big things anymore.” Newport Authority Bus Terminal, which is long overdue. MTA, accelerating its subway plan and the new East Side Access Project, which is a marvel of engineering. And it has been going on and we’ve been working on it diligently. It’s interesting because nobody really knows what it is and nobody really has seen what it is. But it is an entire transit complex underground, and we’re going to do a tour of it tomorrow. And I think people who come on the tour are really going to be shocked at what that project is and the difference that it could make for New York and how impressive it was.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (10:51)
Remember East Side Access, everybody hears the terms, it’s bringing trains from Queens into Grand Central, and then accelerating transportation from the long island railroad into the East side of Manhattan and then to the West side of Manhattan. But it’s a phenomenal engineering feat. It’s not finished. We’ve been accelerating the timeline, but it is at a point now where you can actually get a feel for what it’s all about, and it really is going to be exciting and extraordinary. You remember when we opened up the Second Avenue Subway up to 96th Street and people were blown away. This is that on steroids. So the state is doing everything we can in terms of macro economic development. Is that going to turn around the economy? It’s going to help. It’s going to make major, significant, transformative changes. It’s going to show optimism. It’s going to show potential.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (12:02)
But the growth comes from private sector growth and you have a private sector that has been all but paralyzed through COVID and badly damaged through COVID. So how do you start that private sector economy up and running? Government is not going to make the economy work, we can stimulate it, but it’s going to be the private sector is going to be those individual businesses, individual real estate projects. And to stimulate those projects, we have $800 million in small business grants and $2.7 billion in emergency rental assistance. This is going to affect literally hundreds of thousands of businesses. For the Business Relief Program, 330,000 eligible small business-
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (13:02)
… 30,000 eligible small business grants. For the Tenant Relief program, 200,000 lower-income households and landlords. What is this designed to do? Get money to small business. Let them reopen. Let them hire. Get money into a low-income tenants, who’ve been struggling, let them pay their rent, so the landlords are financially stable. The landlords can start to improve properties once again. Small business owners can start to improve their business once again. That’s the real economic engine in New York. We’re going at it top down and bottom up. Top down is major infrastructure, transportation improvements that can dramatically transform the economic dynamic of the city and the state. That’s the big state projects, east side access, new airports. Bottom up, get money in to all those small businesses, get money into those small landlords so they can start to renovate and they can start to recuperate.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (14:28)
Now the applications for the business program open June 10th, the applications for the rental program open on June 1. They are on a first come first serve basis. They start June 1, June 10th, that’s a week, two weeks away. People should prepare their applications now because it is first come first serve. If you don’t send in an application, then don’t complain if the application isn’t granted. But in terms of economic stimulation, getting that money out, getting it into the hands of small businesses, getting it into the hands of tenants, getting it into the hands of landlords so they can start to run their business, that’s how you’re really going to see this economy come back and come back quickly.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (15:29)
At the same time, we’re working on dual tracks, re-imagine, re-energize the economy, also continue to manage COVID. You continue to manage COVID by continuing to vaccinate and by personal behavior. As I mentioned earlier, we have to continue to get the vaccination numbers up. We’ve seen a 47% decline in the number of people coming in for vaccinations, so this is an issue.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (16:04)
Where is the need in terms of vaccination? The greatest need are the 12 to 17 year olds. They are 5% of the current COVID tests, but they’re 10% of the positivity rate. That’s the highest differential of any age group, meaning there are more infected 12 and 17 year olds when we actually run the tests. Also, that group, 12 to 17, is the lowest percent vaccinated by far in the state. Why is that? Well, they just became eligible for the vaccine and what they’ve heard for the past year is they are not a priority when it comes to COVID. Right? So it’s understandable. It’s not like the 12 to 17 year olds are delinquent. It’s that they’ve not been eligible and they’ve not been stressed as a priority when it comes to COVID, but they are now, especially with reopening schools, et cetera. What do we do? Identify the need, increasing participation, especially among the young people and get creative. None of us have been here before. There is no book to follow, so get creative.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (17:37)
Okay. Today, we’re announcing get a shot and make your future. We will raffle off, on a weekly basis, full tuition, room and board scholarships to any public college or university for four years. It will be just among 12 to 17 year olds who come in and get their shot. Okay? Tomorrow through July 7th, any 12 to 17 year old, who gets their first Pfizer dose, Pfizer’s two doses, we will award 10 four-year scholarships by a random drawing of those people who got the vaccine every Wednesday. It is an incentive for students. You’re 12 to 17. You’re planning on going to college. You wondering about how you’re going to pay for it. This is a full four-year scholarship to a SUNY school, to a CUNY school, to a community college, then moving on to a four-year program. It’s a significant incentive for students. By the way, it’s an incentive for parents. For a parent, you’re worried about paying college tuition, tell your 12 to 17 year old and go out, get a shot. It protects. The family protects the 12 to 17 year old and they are then eligible for a raffle.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (19:24)
Again, it’s going to be among a small population, so your odds are good because it’s only the population that has been vaccinated. Once you get your vaccine, you go to a website, you input your information, we’ll do a random drawing every Wednesday from that universe. People who received the vaccine earlier have a greater chance to win because they are eligible for every drawing every week. Okay? It’s not just those people who get it that week. Once you get the vaccine, you go into the pool. But if you get the vaccine earlier, you’ll have more chances to win because you’ll be in the first week pool, the second week pool, the third week pool, fourth week pool, et cetera.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (20:22)
Get the vaccine and get it early. It makes total sense. It’s free. It’s available. There’s no appointments. It’s smart, and you also have a chance to win a full scholarship. But we have to do it because what we do is going to decide the path ahead. It’s time to get on with life. It’s time to rejoin society. It’s time to see family. It’s time to see senior citizens. It’s time to start human contact, social contact. And it’s our opportunity to make this state better than ever before. This is not about reopening. All these states and countries talk about reopening, we don’t want to reopen. We don’t want to go back to where we were the day before COVID. It’s been over a year. We want to be better than we were the day before COVID, and that’s our goal.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (21:25)
Last point to remember, first, congratulations to the Islanders. They could clinch the round tonight at the Coliseum. All venues have the option of going to 100% capacity for fully-vaccinated people. Some venues, and we authorized, you can be 50% vaccinated, 50 unvaccinated, but that limits the capacity of the venue. The sections that are fully vaccinated means people can sit right next to each other, which also, by the way, are a more enjoyable way to participate in the event. You go with your buddies, your family, to see a ball game, you want to sit next to your family, that happens in a vaccinated section. The unvaccinated section has a seat or two empty in between people, so it limits the capacity of the venue. We’ve authorized 50/50. But the venue can choose to go to 100% vaccinated.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (22:48)
If you’re operating an arena stadium, a theater, concert venue, you can go to 100% capacity, only vaccinated people. That’s what Radio City Music Hall did. That’s what Mr. James Dolan did. You can go to Radio City Music Hall, you must be vaccinated. You must show your card when you come in or your Empire pass, but he then has 100% capacity, so it works for the venue. It also works for the public because it’s another incentive to get vaccinated. Right? We’re in the business now of creating incentives to get vaccinated. Go to a subway station, get a vaccine. You can get an MTA pass. You can win a ball game ticket. You can win a lottery ticket. Young people, you can win a scholarship. You want a better chance to get a ticket, Islanders are sold out today. You want a better chance to get a ticket, having a vaccine allows you to participate in those venues that go to 100% fully vaccinated. From a public interest point of view, it works because it’s another incentive for you to get the vaccine so you can participate in those activities. It’s a win-win and New Yorkers are winners, so I encourage everyone to do it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (24:25)
Let’s take some questions.
Speaker 3: (24:26)
Governor, I want to ask you about the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, JCOPE, do you believe that it’s broken in its current form? There’s a couple of moves in the legislature to make changes. One is a total overhaul, which would be constitutional amendment, as you know, which would take a couple of years; the Senate passing legislation, which would kind of make some tweaks and change how the votes are taken. Do you support either? Do you think the current system we have is working effectively?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (24:52)
There is doubt that JCOPE, or let’s say ethics enforcement, could be better. The best way to do it, I’ll give you two options, is the constitutional amendment or designate special prosecutors who have authority from the state and funding from the state to do it. Take, theoretically, three district attorneys across the state and say you three district attorneys, you have authority to police ethics and criminal matters vis-a-vis state electeds, Assembly, Senate, and we provide you the funding to do it.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (25:51)
The fundamental problem with JCOPE is the legislature is immune from JCOPE. In other words, the legislature takes-
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (26:03)
In other words, the Legislature takes the position that JCOPE cannot discipline them, that only the Legislature can discipline the Legislature. That’s why you need a constitutional amendment, which means whatever JCOPE does it’s not binding on the Legislature, because their position is only their Legislative Ethics Commission can impose a sanction on a legislator. Well then, what are we talking about? JCOPE says Senator Smith is guilty of violating these ethics. Legislate just position is, that’s nice, but it’s not binding, because only the Legislative Ethics Commission can render a finding against a legislator. So JCOPE has no legal authority to enforce any finding against the legislator. Then what’s the point? What is the point?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (27:22)
So you have JCOPE, “We say Senator Suzy violated ethics.” “Nice, thank you very much.” Now we go to the Legislative Ethics Committee and the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee makes the only decision that’s relevant against Senator Suzy. Then what was the point of any of it? Well, they’ll say, “Legally only the Legislature can police the Legislature. Only the Legislature can enforce against the legislator.” Well, then you’re saying JCOPE is a toothless tiger. That’s the reason you need a constitutional amendment because otherwise their position is, “JCOPE is meaningless. We do not accept JCOPE jurisdiction over the Legislature.”
Speaker 4: (28:26)
Is it too dominated by the executive branch and the party in power? And is that a fundamental flaw, you think, when it was set up initially?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (28:32)
The fundamental flaw is a constitutional barrier because the fundamental flaw is it can’t enforce anything. It’s non-binding. It’s essentially advisory. If the Legislature takes the position that its findings are not binding because there is no outside agency that has any authority for any sanction. So it’s meaningless. It’s meaningless. Now, the Constitution says only the Legislature, and I’m going to ask Beth to clarify the language in legalese, the Constitution says, “Only the Legislature can discipline a legislator.” Okay, well, change the Constitution. I don’t know that the Legislature couldn’t agree voluntarily to say, “Even though the Constitution says the Legislature doesn’t have to accept, we will accept a finding of JCOPE and we will honor that finding.” They have not said that. So until you have that, you have nothing, because their position is it’s not legally binding. So then, what is it? Advisory? Is that right on the law, Beth, can you just clarify?
Yes. They don’t specifically reference discipline in the Constitution, but Article Three, I believe it’s Section Two says that, “the Legislature, each house is the sole judge of the qualifications of its members.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (30:28)
So what they’re saying is, the Senate Ethics Committee is the only committee that can discipline its members. The Assembly Committee is the only committee that can discipline its members. Well then, what is the point of JCOPE? Well, constitutionally, all right, I believe you could pass a law that says, “We will voluntarily, I, Zack, think, agree that I will accept the finding of JCOPE.” They won’t do that. Or they have not done that.
Last week Latisha James proposed legislation that would require that police officers use force only as a “last resort” after they’ve exhausted all de-escalating tactics. The police unions are not happy. The Legislature is taking a look at it. I’m wondering if you support such a law change, if that would be the right approach to tackle police violence and excessive force of the police in the state?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (31:43)
Yeah, there is no doubt use of force is a major element, Luis, that we’ve all been talking about for years. They’re talking about it on the national level. We’ve been talking about it, we’ve made legislative changes, and use of force is an important element. But there’s also no doubt that the problem is bigger than that. And that’s where I want to start. We have a major crime problem in New York City. Everything we just talked about with the economy coming back, you know what the first step is? People have to feel safe. We’re building new projects. We’re stimulating small business. What comes before that is people have to feel safe, public safety. Otherwise, none of it works. None of it works. You look at the economic trajectory of New York city, you look at the rate of crime in New York City, and there’s a direct correlation. Invest in your small business in Flatbush, Brooklyn. I’m not going to invest if I feel the neighborhood is unsafe.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (33:07)
So we have a major crime problem. We have a major problem in the subway system. MDA did a report that the number of police on trains in the subway station is di minimus. New Yorkers don’t feel safe. You know why they don’t feel safe? Because the crime rate is up. It’s not that they are being neurotic or overly sensitive. They’re right. They are right. Well, the answer is more police? No. The answer is you have to reform the policing public safety function in a way that restores trust with the community. It is a relationship issue. A recent poll said, on trust of police, the numbers are dramatically different than they used to be. The NYPD was one of the most respected police forces in the United States. So it is that relationship that has to be remedied. We provoked that and started it by saying, “Every police department in the state, every jurisdiction with a police department in the state, had to go through a community driven collaborative to restore the relationship and reform public safety.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (34:55)
99% of the jurisdictions did it. New York City did it. It’s a good first step, but it’s not enough. It wasn’t inclusive enough. And it is that relationship of distrust. Yes, George Floyd brought it to a head nationally, but it happens again and again and again and again. Anniversary of George Floyd. His family is in our prayers and best wishes, but the message is we still have more to do, because it is about the relationship. Use of force, what they’re saying is, “I don’t trust the police department now to use the appropriate force necessary. I don’t trust the police department now to do X, Y, and Z.” Until you restore the trust and make the reforms necessary to restore the trust we’re going to have this problem. Defund the police, defund the police is not the answer, in my opinion. Defund the police basically means abolish the police. Oh, that’s going to help?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (36:26)
Gun violence going up, all crimes are going up, your answer is, “Abolish the police”? No. It’s reform public safety in collaboration with the community so the community says, “I now trust the relationship.” And it is not going to be a band-aid. It has to be a real discussion. Now, we basically mandated local governments go through it. You had a lot of creative ideas that came out of local governments. Why send a police officer to a mental health issue? Why send a police officer to a domestic violence dispute? Why not have specially trained people for domestic violence? Some communities say, “We want to be on the panel that hires police. We want to do the interview process so that we know this is a police department that represents us.” But it’s about the trust in the relationship. And, to me, of all the things we have to do, and we’re talking to New York City specifically, crime, crime, crime are the top three. And then we will get everything else we’re doing can actually be maximized. But it’s not going to work, Luis, without getting control of crime.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (38:14)
I am, in some ways a rarity now, a lifelong New Yorker. God bless New York. We have so many people who moved here from other places. I’m a lifelong New Yorker. I’ve seen this cycle over and over and over again. I remember getting on a subway train and making sure there was no jewelry. Making sure you weren’t wearing a chain. Kevin used to wear these very gaudy gold chains, and he would have to put them inside his T-shirt, tuck them in so nobody took your chain. He also had this very gaudy ring, like a pirate’s hat, he had to take it off, put it in his pocket.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (39:03)
… ring, like a pirates had. He had to take it off, put it in his pocket. You got on a train, you walked the train to find the police officer on the train, and you sat in that car. You went into a station, you walked the station to find where the police officer was standing, and you stood next to the police officer. That was real. That was real. If we don’t get a handle on this, it is going to inhibit the effectiveness of everything else we’re doing.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (39:40)
Subway system, subways are cleaner than they’ve been, they’re operating better than they’ve been. New 2nd Avenue subway, El train renovation, but they’re not as safe, and people are afraid to take the train. Well, we’re going to open new east side access, we’re going to cut time off your commutation. It doesn’t matter if I’m afraid to get on the train.
Going back to the original question, do you support making force “last resort” as a riot approaches? New Jersey has done it, do you think that will limit the police’s ability?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (40:23)
I’m talking to the legislature about use of force proposals. Use of force, there’s no doubt, has been a central topic of discussion for the past multiple years, but certainly over the past year, right? That is the issue that was raised by George Floyd. That’s the issue in the Rochester case, the Prude case, and other cases. The use of force. And it is something that I believe should be addressed, but I don’t want people to say, “Oh, if we did this, that will solve the problem.” Because the problem is deeper.
Speaker 5: (41:02)
Governor, you’ve heard a lot of criticism of your administration and yourself from how the policy handled the nursing homes during the pandemic, your staff’s interactions, allegedly bullying other politicians. Alleged inappropriate interactions with women, and large numbers of staff members leaving their jobs under you in the executive chamber. What changes have you made on how you conduct yourself, or behind the scenes for how your staff conducts itself now in this country?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (41:33)
Yeah, well people have criticisms, and take every criticism seriously, and evaluate every criticism. Now, some criticisms are politically motivated, some are philosophically motivated. I’m a Progressive Democrat, some Conservative Republicans find that objectionable. There is also a number of reviews that are going on to analyze the specifics and let’s see what they say. And if there is a problem, bonafide problem, then address it. Yes?
Speaker 6: (42:31)
What are the assistance for [inaudible 00:42:34] and small businesses program? Is there a possibility of extending the date for accepting an application to ensure that all communities, like minorities, are aware of the program?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (42:51)
Good question. Do we have an end date in the program?
Robert Mujica: (42:54)
We don’t have a closing date because we want to see what the responses are going to be. But [MWBE 00:42:59] and disadvantaged communities are prioritized first. The point is to get to those smaller businesses, the businesses with 10 employees or less, are also prioritized. But those businesses that are most challenged are prioritized in the program, so they would go first.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (43:18)
There’s not an end date, there is no closing date, but it is first come, first served. At one point, all the money would be given out, but there’s a priority for the smaller businesses MWBE. Last question?
Speaker 7: (43:35)
Do you think that the recent polling that shows that your approval rating has gone up, validates your decision to not resign, despite all the [cull 00:43:42] colleagues that told you to do so?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (43:44)
I am gratified that New Yorkers think that I am doing a good job, because I’m working very hard to do it. [crosstalk 00:43:54]. Thank you, guys. Yup, Peter, last, last question?
Vaccine incentives, 12 to 17 year olds who have already received the shot, are they eligible? Second question, you’ve got a big lottery this week, have you seen a bump of the past couple of days, that the lottery might have helped?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (44:20)
I have not looked at the lottery numbers. Have you looked at the lottery?
Robert Mujica: (44:23)
It’s hard to tell, because what’s offsetting while people are coming down off of it, because you have 60% vaccinated now.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (44:32)
We have to take a closer look, because you have to distinguish what is the normal increase because you have a big pot, versus what was caused by the inoculations, the free tickets off the vaccination. 12 to 17, let’s be clear on this, if you have received one shot so far, you will be put into the pool, Pete, if you go to the website and fill it out, you will be in the pool. Anyone who gets the first shot this week, goes into the pool. There’s a drawing once a week from that eligible pool. Week two, whoever gets a shot, gets added to the pool. Week three, whoever gets a shot, gets added to the pool. Every week the full pool is eligible. The sooner you jump into the pool, the greater your chances because you are in the pool for more raffles. Do you know what I’m saying?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo: (45:58)
If you get a vaccine, if you already got a vaccine, you’re in the pool. If you get a vaccine today, you’re in that pool for the first drawing, second drawing, third drawing, fourth drawing, right? First one in the pool, has a better chance. [crosstalk 00:46:13] Thank you guys.
Speaker 8: (46:17)
Governor, who’s paying your legal bills? The tax payers [inaudible 00:46:17]?