Oct 5, 2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Press Conference Transcript October 5
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s October 5 press conference. He addressed COVID-19 hotspots and the state’s response. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus updates for New York here.
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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (00:00)
… the delay. I pride myself on my punctuality. But some of the issues that we’re going to discuss today we were just working on resolving and that’s the reason for the delay. From my far right, Mr. Gareth Rhodes. To his left, Dr. James Malatras. To my right Melissa DeRosa, secretary to the governor. To my left, Dr. Howard Zucker, health commissioner extraordinaire. To his left, the ever- smiling and jovial, Rob Mujica, budget director. Thank you and again, I apologize for being late. Today is day 219, but it feels like just yesterday that this started, doesn’t it? Have that same freshness and energy. Groundhog Day. Remember that movie, Groundhog day?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (00:54)
These are the numbers for today. Again, we’re looking at two different universes. Now it’s a little different than the past. We’re looking at the statewide numbers and we are hyper-focused on what we call hotspots. Where was the first hotspot in the United States of America? Trivia contest.
Speaker 1: (01:21)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:21)
Yay, you win. Three questions today. We had the first hotspot cluster in the United States, New Rochelle, New York. So we know this well. We’re oversampling in the hotspots and with testing all across the state. The 20 hotspot zip codes, 5.5%. Our hotspot zip codes are where many states are right now. And you’ll see it in some of the numbers. Statewide positivity rate is 1. 01 outside of the hotspot zip codes. One percent is an unbelievably low infection rate. And as we are going into the fall, I believe it’s going to be practically unsustainable, but it’s remarkable that we’re that low right now.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (02:25)
If you roll in the hotspot zip codes, which now distorts the balance of the sample, it’s 1.2. Number of deaths, eight. They are in our thoughts and prayers. Statewide white hospitalization 636. ICU, 149. Statewide intubation, 70. Context first, we’re coming into the fall. We have been told since early March, beware the fall. Beware the fall. Weather gets colder. More people move in doors. Flu season. Schools open. Schools opening are almost a predictor of increased infection rate. Colleges opening turned out to be more problematic than we thought, colleges opening. SUNY’s doing a great job. That’s why Dr. Jim Malatras is here today. If SUNY was not doing a great job, Dr. Jim Malatras would not be here today. That’s how you know that.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (03:29)
So the fall is a challenging period, as we know. And we expect to see the infection rate go up in the fall. Context. All over the globe, the infection rate is going up. All over the globe. Countries that were doing remarkably well are now seeing spikes. U.S.A. overall is going up. Israel has a real problem. EU has a real problem. Canada has a problem. Argentina has a problem. The UK has a problem. And the UK, remember, they were up, they were down. They’re up again. You look across the nation. States are all going up. So context, beware the fall has been right. New York is the outlier in all of these international and national trajectories. We are the exception to the rule. This is the one situation where we want to be the exception to the rule. Other states up, other countries up.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (04:51)
That in and of itself is a complicating factor because New York state is not hermetically sealed. We put a quarantine in effect, I know, but people still drive in. It’s still water through a screen. People are still coming in on flights. International flights. People in Texas are coming in. People in California are coming in. People in New Jersey are coming in. So that’s an added problem for us. If you look at the hotspot infection rate yesterday, western New York Is a hotspot. Yesterday was a good day, 1.2%. Broom has a hotspot. Came out of a pub restaurant, but a Broom has a hotspot. Orange County, Rockland County, Brooklyn, Nassau could be on there with a hot spot in one section of Nassau.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (05:55)
These clusters have to be attacked. Picture that map as a map of dry grass and picture those hotspots as embers within the field of dry grass. That’s how I think of it. The only course is to run to those embers and stamp them out immediately and dramatically. That’s why I don’t sleep at night. So you have to attack the clusters. How do you attack the clusters? Testing, Testing, testing, testing. Get the facts, follow the data, contact tracing off the testing. Testing in itself doesn’t tell you anything, just that you have a problem. Contact tracing helps you solve the problem. And enforcement. Enforcement. “Oh, that’s so harsh enforcement.” Yeah, it’s not. Enforcement is kind. You know why? Because enforcement saves lives. That’s what enforcement does.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (07:24)
Lack of enforcement is not kind. I believe that. I believe that. And I have said that from day one. And the state has been bullish on this and it has worked. It’s worked. It’s not like I’m putting forth a proposition. Enforcement works. Any rule is only as good as the enforcement. Don’t speed. Are you enforcing it? Don’t litter. Are you enforcing it? Any rule is only as good as the enforcement, especially when it’s a rule that people don’t want to follow. Seat belts. Only as good as you enforce it. Don’t text and drive. Only as good as you enforce it. I say to people, when I see them texting and driving, I say to them, I pull up, I roll down my window. I say, “Hi, you are texting and driving. That is a violation of the law. I know because I passed that law.” It’s only as good as the enforcement.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (08:39)
We’re New York tough. What’s within tough? Smart. Follow the data. Follow the analytics. Disciplined. Do the enforcement. Stick to the rules. Stick to what’s working. I’ve said this 100 times. But at this point in my life, I’ve said everything 100 times. Too many local governments are not doing enforcement. Warnings are not enforcement. “Put a mask on, or I will ticket you,” is not enforcement. “Store owner, you’re not supposed to have this many people in your store.” We are past that. Everybody knows the rules. You don’t have to pull over a car today and say, “You’re not supposed to text and drive.” They know that. They know that. What you wind up saying is, “I got away with it.” We’ve been saying you get away with it for too long. And we have lived through this repeatedly.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (09:54)
This was bars and restaurants. How many, the times did I come before you and say, “Bars and restaurants are a problem. We have gatherings in front of bars and restaurants. Local governments have to do the enforcement.” Week after week after week. And it got worse and worse and it got worse. I even said, “Forget it. I give up. The state government will do bars and restaurants.” And we put together a task force. We did over a thousand violations. And you know what? Compliance with bars and restaurants is markedly better than it has been. When was the last time many of you wrote a story about bars and restaurants and gatherings in front of bars and restaurants. Why? Because the owners know they’ll lose their license. “Oh, that’s tough.” No, we saved lives. I believe that. We saved lives. New York City has clusters. Queens, Brooklyn. We also have clusters akin to this, Orange, Rockland, a little bit in Nassau.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (11:14)
I just got off the telephone with Mayor de Blasio, Comptroller stringer Council Speaker Johnson, UFT President Mike Mulgrew. We had a very good conversation. It was a collaborative, positive conversation. It’s a complex situation, works on a number of levels. There are a number of issues. And we talked through them. We have clusters where the viral infection rate is higher by 3-4%. Where does the virus mainly transmit? Dr. Zucker was on the phone, we asked him that question. Schools, which are also the place where different communities come together. So my child goes to a private school, your child goes to a public school. But our children are on the same hockey team or on the same soccer team. Or they play together in the playground. Schools can be locations of transmissions.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (12:29)
Religious gatherings, especially in these communities. New Rochelle, first hotspot, was an Orthodox Jewish man who went to a temple, hundreds of people. And then a wedding. Hundreds of people. Orthodox Jewish gatherings often are very, very large. And we’ve seen what one person can do in a group. Look at this Rose Garden with the President, by the way. Outdoor event. “Oh, those are safe. Outdoor events.” No, no, no. Safer than indoor. Nobody ever said safe. Safer than indoor. And look at that growing list of people at a Presidential Rose Garden event who were theoretically tested before they came in. How many people could have been infected? One, two? And look at the spread in the Rose Garden. You know what happens here. You’ve seen it over and over again.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (13:43)
Third are public spaces. These are basically in priority order. Fourth are businesses where consumers may interact, but that is way down on the list, relatively. And the key to all of these areas is enforcement. All of them. We have rules for all these areas. We have rules for all these areas in place now. Well, then how’s it increasing? Because people are not following the rules, that’s why. On schools. My number one concern has always been schools. I said to the parents of this state, ” I will not send, I will not allow your child to be sent to any school that I would not send my child.” Period. And you have my personal word on that. I’ve spoken to thousands of parents who have called up and said, “I’m worried about sending my child to school.” I said, “I won’t allow a school to open that I wouldn’t send my child to.” That’s my test. On the schools in these areas, not all of them have been tested.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (15:03)
So we don’t have data on all of the schools in these hotspot clusters. That troubles me. And on the telephone call, we were all basically in agreement. They have sampled some schools in the clusters, but not all the schools. And these are the hotspot clusters. So if you have to prioritize testing, you want to go to these schools first because you know they are in hotspot clusters. So some schools in those clusters, we have not yet done testing on. Better safe than sorry, I would not send my child to a school in a hotspot cluster that has not been tested where I did not have proof that the infection rate was low in that school. I would not send my child. I am not going to recommend or allow any New York City family to send their child to a school that I wouldn’t send my child. We’re going to close the schools in those areas tomorrow. And that’s that.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (16:23)
Religious gatherings. The City’s proposal does not close religious institutions. We know religious institutions have been a problem. We know mass gatherings are the super spreader events. We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks. For weeks. I don’t mean little violations. You’re only supposed to have 50, they had 55. I’m talking about, you’re only supposed to have 50 outdoors, they had 1,000. These are pictures from the past couple of weeks. And these are just emblematic.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (17:41)
You’ve all seen pictures like this for weeks. What did you think was going to happen? What do you think was going to happen? Religious institutions are mass gatherings and raise the greatest potential. It’s schools and it’s large mass gatherings. Schools, frankly, because they’re students and that’s where our heart goes, our priority goes. But in terms of numbers, it’s large gatherings and large religious gatherings are large gatherings. These have been going on for weeks. You don’t see masks and you see clear violation of social distancing. When were these pictures from?
Speaker 2: (18:47)
The one on the right is more recent than the one on the left.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (18:51)
Okay. But they’re in the recent past. So this has been going on for weeks. We’ve been talking about it for weeks. If we’re going to keep religious institutions open, it can only be with two conditions. One, the community must agree, whether it’s the Jewish community, whether we’re talking about Black churches, whether we’re talking about Roman Catholic churches, the religious community has to agree to the rules. And they have to agree that they are going to follow the rules and they have to agree that they are going to be a full partner in the enforcement of the rules. That’s condition one. I’m going to meet with members of the ultra-Orthodox community tomorrow. I want to have that conversation directly myself. This cannot happen again. If you do not agree to enforce the rules-
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (20:03)
If you do not agree to enforce the rules, then we’ll close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that. Second, after we receive the agreement, an agreement is only as good as the enforcement. We have to have real enforcement in these clusters and the other statewide clusters. The enforcement will help the community. If the rule is no more than 50% of the people in a black church, I want someone at that door when 50% enter the church. A person there who says to the pastor, “You agreed to follow the rules. That’s 50%, that’s it, or we close it down.” It does not work without enforcement, but both of those conditions have to be in place. If I do not have the agreement from the religious community directly as a starting point, then we will close down the religious institutions. If they do agree to do it in partnership, then I want a real enforcement capacity. We’re not going to make the same mistake twice. Tomorrow, I’m going to meet with the larger congregations, New York City, Rockland, Orange, Nassau, and have that conversation. That’s step one. If we get past step one, then we need enforcement in place. Enforcement is enforcement. I’ve said this to you. I have this conversation with the local officials all day long.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (22:09)
Well, we issue warnings. That’s not enforcement. Well, we do public education. That’s not enforcement. There is no person in the state of New York who needs you to tell them, at this point, “You must wear a mask.” They know they must wear a mask. There was no need for public education. Find me the person who says, “I never heard that. Really? You have to wear a mask? I never heard it.” Find me the person in the state who says that. Enforcement is enforcement, okay? New York City only did 26 enforcement actions. Enforcement is here’s a violation. New York City deployed 1,000 people for days, three days, 1,000 people for three days is what? Is 24,000 personnel hours. 24,000 personnel hours? You only did 26 enforcement actions? That’s not enforcement.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (23:26)
We have to be more aggressive. I understand that it’s in politic. I understand the sensitivity in the community now, but I also understand you will see people die if we don’t do more enforcement. I also understand that we have learned this experience before. This is the bars and restaurants story. Week, after week, after week, we have to do the enforcement. Nobody’s doing the enforcement. Week, after week, after week, nothing changes. The state took it over. I did 1,200 enforcement actions, 228 immediate license revocations just on bars and restaurants.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (24:15)
1,200. Now, was I happy about doing 1200 enforcement actions? No. Immediate license revocation is very difficult. That business basically closes. People lose their jobs. You don’t want to do this, but life has options, my friends. You don’t do this, the virus spreads, people die. You tell me, which is the nice and kind and responsible course of conduct? 1,200 enforcement actions just on bars and restaurants. That’s enforcement. The state is going to take over the enforcement oversight in all the hotspot clusters, okay? Local governments will need to provide us with personnel, but the state will take over the enforcement with the local personnel. I do not have enough state personnel to supplement every local police department in the state. To give you an idea, we have about 5,000 state troopers. There are about 35,000 NYPD, okay?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (25:47)
Most of this enforcement is also going to be done by health department officials, other agency-type officials. I said from day one to the local officials, I understand this is all tough stuff, and politicians like to make people happy as a general rule. I like to make people happy as a general rule too. I just have a superseding rule, which is, I like to keep people alive. I’d rather you be alive and angry at me, than have people happy with me. I’m elected to do a job and be responsible, and that’s what I want to do. I said from day one, blame me. Blame me. You have to revoke a bar owner’s license? Blame me. We have to close a temple because it’s over 50%? I’ll do it. We have to close a Roman Catholic church? I’ll do it. I had to close the St. Patrick’s Day parade? I did it. I’ll do it, but none of these rules are going to make a darn if you don’t have the enforcement.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (27:04)
Another issue that came up on the phone, which is right. Targeting by zip codes is imperfect. The virus doesn’t travel by zip codes. Neighborhoods and communities aren’t organized by zip codes. Zip codes can be arbitrary and can leave out some communities that are infected. Zip codes can include communities that have a low infection rate. This is a zip code in Brooklyn. The white areas are inside the zip code, but we have the infection rate by address. You have areas in that zip code that aren’t infected. You then have areas outside the zip code that are infected. The zip code as a template is rough justice, but only rough justice. We can refine that. That takes some review and analysis. Look at the actual cases that you have again, by address and make sure you’re including the relevant zone, not just a zip code, you have to go a little bigger.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (28:34)
You go a little bigger. If you don’t have an infection rate in certain communities, don’t include those infection rates. The zip codes as a starting place, but we then want to have a team of epidemiologists and demographics people actually look at the maps and where the infection rate is and make sure we’re drawing the right circle or the right borders. The controller raised that point, and it’s a good point. The health officials agree. When we did New Rochelle, we did a circle. Every other state, every other country does a political subdivision, a county, a city, a town. The zip codes are not the best template to use, and we want to refine that template.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (29:46)
For example, we’re closing schools in zip codes, but the school district is different than the zip code. Just because the school is located in that zip code, doesn’t mean the students come from that zip code. The catchment area can go the opposite direction from the zip code. Right now, that’s the best we have with the New York City data, but we’re going to refine this. Non-essential businesses, public spaces. Remember, it’s mass gatherings, public spaces, schools should close, but we need to have the right template designed before we can do that with full accuracy. The only action we’re taking today on this data, we are using the zip codes to close those schools tomorrow. If we expand the regions and that then includes other schools, we’ll then notify people as soon as we know, but for today, or we have other zip code … That is the zip code data, so it’s the schools in those zip codes. As we refine it, we’ll let you know.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (31:01)
In total, schools close tomorrow. I’m going to be meeting with the Orthodox community tomorrow. See if they will agree to live and abide by the rules and advocate compliance. If the rabbi advocates compliance, that would be a very positive start. If the communities don’t agree with the rules, which is possible, I had some conversations where some religious leaders believe they have herd immunity, which is not true. Some people believe have followed politics and think that masks are ineffective, and this is all a hoax. That’s not true, but if they don’t agree, then the state will take action. If they do agree, and we have the ability to enforce, then we will go with reduced guidance, 50% rules, primarily outdoors, et cetera.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (32:13)
We’re going to do statewide enforcement, state-supervised with local resources, but enforcement has to be enforcement. We need better templates, geographic templates and zip codes. We also need better data on these schools in these hotspot zip codes, more testing, faster testing, so we find out exactly where we are. We need to establish criteria for reopening. When do the areas reopen? What testing data, what percent over what period of time? That has to be established. In closing, New York City is not unique, we have this all across the state. Again, we started with the first hotspot and it’s going to continue. It is the way of the world. It’s the way this virus moves. It starts in a cluster. It always starts in a cluster wherever, and the question always becomes, can you stop it in the cluster? Can you tamp out the embers before it’s a fire out of control? That’s always the question. That was the question in Wuhan, China.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (33:41)
Could you get to Wuhan and stamp it out before it spread? That was the question in New Rochelle, and we did stamp it out in New Rochelle, by the way. Every state is dealing with it, but it’s a statewide issue. It’s testing and it’s enforcement. That’s what we’re down to. We’re New York tough, smart, disciplined. Just to reiterate, the fall is perilous. We have to stay vigilant. When we talk about 1%, I understand that it is a hyper ambitious goal. You have to remember, we were at 20% infection rate at one time, and I understand that we are surrounded by higher infection rates.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (34:37)
New Jersey is 2.1. They were three last week, okay? Connecticut is 1.3. They were 1.5 and Connecticut has always been a relatively easier situation than New York. I’m envious of my friend, Governor Ned Lamont. Pennsylvania is at 7.9%. We have people coming in and out of here every day from these states. We have people flying in from other countries, so 1% hyper ambitious, unrealistic. Keep the bar high, raise the goal, and we do the best we can, but I’m also realistic. These are the facts that surround us. That’s why right now you take out our hotspots. We have one of the lowest infection rates in the United States of America, and that is the gold standard. That’s what we want to try to achieve. Even if it is not fully realistic, but New Yorkers have done an amazing job, highest infection rate at one time, lowest in the nation. God bless New Yorkers. I want to make sure as governor, I’m doing everything I can to honor and fulfill their sacrifice and their toughness and their love for each other, and we’re doing that. Questions?
Speaker 3: (36:26)
Governor, on the schools specifically, do you have a sense of how many that is total in Brooklyn and Queens? What will the duration be, and why did you think now is not a time to really go after the essential businesses? I mean, do you think you could do that as soon as this week?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (36:40)
Essential businesses are like number four in the spreader priority, right? Schools, mass gatherings, religious institutions, especially in these communities, public spaces, businesses, but the businesses are not mass spreaders. You’re talking about small stores. We’re not talking about large box stores in these communities, right? We’re talking about small stores, the difference whether you had six patrons or eight patrons at any given time, and we want to … The businesses will be really effected by the lines you draw. We’re going to … I believe we can draw better lines than a zip code. Before we create confusion, on one side of the street, you’re open, one side of the street, you’re closed. Why? When the zip code line is on this side of the street, not that side of the street.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (37:51)
Let’s get the right template, and then we’ll take those actions. The big generators, schools, it’s children. There are about … Do you remember the numbers of schools we said were in these areas? Mike said it, how many were tested?
Speaker 4: (38:13)
Approximately 28 or-
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (38:15)
28 or 30, they were like 180 or something like that. Many of the schools in these clusters just have not been tested yet. That gives me concern and they are possible transmission places. Then it’s going to be the mass gatherings and the religious institutions. Those are the pictures, right? That’s what it is. It is those super-spreading situations, and that’s what we have to get a handle on .
Speaker 5: (38:42)
Governor, the mayor had proposed-
Speaker 6: (38:46)
[crosstalk 00:38:46] are you talking about [inaudible 00:38:48] and other private schools in addition to the public schools?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (38:50)
Speaker 5: (38:52)
The mayor had proposed Wednesday to close the schools. You’re moving that up one day. What is the reason for that? His argument was, ” We’re just about through with giving every child that in-person day in the blended model, Wednesday is when it makes sense.”
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (39:07)
We had a phone call now. Well, Mike Mulgrew recommended it. Speaker recommended it. The controller recommended it. I think what was the determinative fact was there has not been testing in those schools. Some of the schools in the hotspot zip codes have been tested, but some have not. How can you send children into a school in a hotspot zip code, when you know that you don’t have any information as to whether or not it’s safe?
Speaker 5: (39:44)
Well, you sent them in today. You could’ve made this decision yesterday on Sunday.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (39:50)
Yeah. Except I wasn’t involved, right? I had the conversation today, so I can’t move any faster than this.
Speaker 5: (39:56)
Just a quick follow up, you’re not closing the schools in Orange and Rocklin, the other hotspots, just the New York City schools, why?
Speaker 5: (40:02)
… Auckland, the other hotspots, just the New York City schools, black.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (40:03)
We may close those schools. We don’t have the same level of problem. But I’m going to be speaking to those community leaders also tomorrow, because it’s roughly the same situation. If the religious leaders do not agree to abide by these rules then we will close the religious institutions, period. If they agree, I will only go forward if I know we have a state supervised enforcement action. Because I’ve seen this movie and you’ve seen this movie, 26 enforcement actions is not enforcement. And I understand it’s difficult, but I want a person monitoring the attendance in a temple, in a black church, in a Catholic church. And if the rules are violated then action has to be taken at that moment. And that enforcement has to be in place.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (41:16)
The challenge is I don’t have, on the state side, enough people to say, we’ll do all the enforcement. That would be easy. And I would do that in a heartbeat. I didn’t even have enough people to do the Bars and Restaurants Task Force. We took people from all over. I have environmental inspectors on that task force. But it also proved it worked and both conditions have to be in place if we’re going to allow the rigid religious institutions to stay open. If one or two doesn’t happen, then we’ll close them. I don’t have a problem with that.
Will the NYPD be involved in enforcing social distancing restrictions among individuals or purely through this task force on businesses, schools, religious institutions?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (42:15)
It’s individuals but you want to prioritize your impact. Mass gatherings have the most potential to do a super spreader, right? Rose Garden, New Rochelle. So certainly mass gatherings first. If I’m an investigator and I’m out there and I want to make a difference in the world, mass gatherings, mass gatherings at religious institutions, mass gatherings in parks. By the way, mass gatherings of young people at parks in front of NYU, right? College kids coming out 2, 300 to party. Those are all mass gatherings and that’s a priority for compliance. School’s priority. And then you go down, businesses and then individuals.
So would they be authorized then to ticket people who are walking on the street without masks, for example?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (43:28)
Oh, they are now. Zach…
But is it [crosstalk 00:43:31] for them to enforce it in that way? You say it’s not the highest priority, but-
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (43:34)
Zach, it is now. You walk down the street without a mask. You’re within six feet of a person, you are in violation of the law.
But will they enforce it through this new task?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (43:46)
Yes. And they should be enforcing it now. That question should not be a question. The answer is of course. NYPD should be enforcing it now. New York City Department of Health should be enforcing it now. You should have no question in your mind that if you walk down the street and you’re not wearing a mask and a police officer sees you, you’re going to be ticketed.
Governor, doesn’t Orange County and Rockland County have higher infection rates than-
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (44:20)
It depends. It depends on where.
If they have high infection rates why not close the schools there as well?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (44:26)
Well, that’s what we’re going to be talking about. And there’s some disparity in what the infection rates are and we want to drill down on the data. But it’s the same basic conversation we’re having here. Excuse me one second.
Do you believe you have the legal authority to close down religious institutions [inaudible 00:44:49] wasn’t there a recent court order barring you from doing that?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (44:52)
We believe we have the legal authority. We will assert the legal authority. We have been sued by the religious organizations. Our legal authority was upheld. I don’t like getting into a litigious situation with the religious community. I have enough questions that I have to answer when I get to the Pearly Gates. I don’t want to also be questioned as to why I was sued by the Catholic church or the Jewish community for closing temples. So I have enough issues on my plate. But yes, we believe we have the legal authority. Did you want to say something?
Melissa DeRosa: (45:38)
No. I would just say Louis, you have to remember back. So when we did New York on pause back on March 20th, we banned all mass gatherings, more than 10 people, and we closed all non-essential businesses. It was the mass gathering rule that was upheld. And so technically during that period of time, individuals could walk into a religious institution and pray, but you couldn’t have more than 10 people in a religious institution regardless of occupancy at any given time. What changed was when we began to do the phased reopening and we started to say that businesses could have 50% capacity, we said houses of worship could have 33% capacity.
Melissa DeRosa: (46:15)
The lawsuit was over whether or not it was fair that in a religious institution, you were taking a different standard than any other business. And the court at the time went with the businesses. But what the governor’s describing as if we’re moving into a situation where we’re indiscriminately saying a mass gathering number in a certain region based on infection rate would be lowered, let’s call it 10 people. I’m not saying that’s what it’s going to be. But just for example sake, 10 people, then you’re not saying a religious institution is being treated differently than any other institution because the law would be applied evenly throughout. Does that make sense?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (46:52)
Can you put up the picture of the two congregations again?
Melissa DeRosa: (46:58)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (46:58)
Wait Louis. Isn’t Louis [crosstalk 00:47:00]
On the non-essential businesses, could you clarify your stance or do you mean against shutting them down and closing them or you mean against the mayor’s proposal? What exactly are you waiting for on the non-essential businesses?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (47:14)
On the non-essential businesses, also on the schools, we all agree we need to do a better template than a zip code. A zip code is not the best definition of the applicable zone, right? You have information beyond the zip code level. You have addresses, you have census track data. So if you have to draw a… I use the word containment zone. In New Rochelle I got into all sorts of trouble. If you have to circumscribe an area, make sure you have the right boundaries. And before you make a determination about essential businesses or not, make sure you have the right geographic area because you will be closing businesses.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (48:20)
And if you don’t do it right, it’ll just be arbitrary and capricious and then they’ll bring you into court. And they’ll say, it’s just because I happened to be in the zip code and one side of the street, the deli’s open on the other side of the street, the delis closed. What sense does that make? All you’re doing is bringing the people across the street. So what is the best area? Once we have that done, then I don’t have a problem with closing the essential businesses. Then you determine for how long by what data, et cetera. But even all of this comes back to do you have the enforcement capacity to enforce any of this? All these great rules, but do you have the enforcement capacity?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (49:18)
So I know we’re giving you a lot. First action, close the schools tomorrow, use the zip codes because that’s all you have for now. If you come up with a different template, I’m sorry, when you come up with a different template, if it includes additional schools, include additional schools. Meet with the Orthodox community, see if they will agree to live by the rules. If they do, then we need to put in together a statewide enforcement task force and the local governments have to give me enough personnel to make it work. And that will be statewide including New York City. Then redraw the geographic boundaries. See what’s in and see what’s out. Then put that out there. And that’s all.
Speaker 7: (50:17)
So governor, why do you think Mayor de Blasio has not been able to pull the trigger on enforcing these things?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (50:25)
You’d have to ask the mayor.
Speaker 7: (50:26)
But I’m asking you.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (50:28)
I know you are asking me and that’s why I am saying you have to ask the mayor. Look, I think it’s not just the New York City issue, it’s local governments plus or minus. Some are very aggressive by the way and do a great job. But some have been very reluctant. And that’s why I had to do the Bar and Restaurants Task Force. I mean, how many times did you sit here and I saw the skepticism in your face when you would say, “Here he goes again with his bar and restaurant rant.” But yes. How many weeks did we say, look at the crowds, look at the pictures, Look at all the young people in front of the bar, do something, they did nothing? Part of it is the environment, the NYPD tension with the community. Do they want to engage in this kind of activity? Then you go to… the mayor’s been using the sheriff. The sheriff’s office is 150 people. What do you think 150 people are going to do? I mean, it’s just not enough. And then you have the political overlay.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (51:48)
You’re dealing with government saying to religions, you shouldn’t have more than X people in your church or your mosque or your temple. That’s an politically uncomfortable situation. I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, if you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues. I have had a 30 year relationship with the Orthodox community. It goes back to my father. I have a very close personal relationship with them. This is the last thing I want to do. Forget the politics, I don’t care about that anymore. Personally, I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s a difficult conversation. And you’re right on the line of government intrusion on religion. So it’s hard. I didn’t want to close down 1000 bars, put people out of work. It’s hard, but I know in New York City’s case, 26 enforcement actions, that with this rampant ongoing violation. You think 26 enforcement actions was going to stop it? No.
Speaker 8: (53:26)
The state is going to oversee the enforcement with local personnel. What does that mean and why is it going to be different than what you just described?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (53:43)
What we did with the bars and the restaurants is I used state personnel from all across the state and it was run by the state police and the SLA. Here we’ll have a task force put together, run by the Department of Health and the state police. And local governments will need to assign people to that task force who are supervised by that task force, deputized by that task force to give out state summonses as directed by the supervisors of that task force, right? So you can be a Nassau County Department of Health official. You are assigned to the task force. I’m the state person running the task force. I say, you’re going to be stationed in front of St. Peter’s Church. The capacity is 150. You stand at the front door. When they go over 75, you close the door and call me. And if you have any problem, the state police officer is down the block and he’ll come help you. That’s your job. You are from the Department of Health, Nassau County, but you were assigned to a state task force.
Speaker 8: (55:12)
So the state is telling the local officials where to be?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (55:17)
Say it one more time. I’m sorry.
Speaker 8: (55:18)
The state is telling the local officials where to be?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (55:24)
No. The state is determining where to be primarily based on the hotspot clusters, right? Here in New York City, we knew where the problems were. We knew it. So we’re all looking at the same areas because we all have the same data on the zip codes in the communities. We just haven’t been aggressive enough on the enforcement. And I said from day one, blame me. I’m willing to do the enforcement. I have a different political perspective. I think it’s kind and right and responsible as opposed to harsh and I’m going to make enemies. And the state taskforce is going to do it, but I don’t have enough people. I don’t have enough personnel. So I need them to assign me personnel.
Speaker 8: (56:19)
I’m just wondering, if the locals didn’t do it before, what makes you think you’re going to do it now?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (56:26)
Oh, because they’re not doing it in their name. It’s my name that they’re doing it in. And that makes all the difference.
Speaker 8: (56:34)
That’s going to make the difference.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (56:36)
Oh yes, because there’s no political recriminations to them. I’m going to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, if you don’t agree, then we will have to close down your religious institutions. I’m going to have to say that to the black ministers. That’s not a comfortable conversation.
Melissa DeRosa: (57:05)
Just to punctuate the governor’s point. So just so we’re all clear. Section 20 of the executive law regarding emergency response delegates the authority on enforcement in an emergency to the locality. So let’s just use that as the baseline. To go on the governor’s point on the SLA, what was happening a lot over the summer was everyone was seeing on social media reports of bars and restaurants and drive-in concerts, whatever it may be, in clear violation of the rules that we put into place in order to keep the virus contained in New York. We would reach out to the local health departments, local governments, say, “What are you doing about this?” And politically, it was very difficult for them. Oh my friend’s cousin owns that bar. This person I know owns that restaurant. It was just this one time. And so the governor put together the SLA Task Force. The hope being from the SLA Task Force was that we would go after individual bad actors before having to blanket punish an entire industry.
Melissa DeRosa: (57:55)
So rather than in that moment in July and August say we’re closing all bars and restaurants, indoor, outdoor, everything, we tried to surgically go after the individual bad actors. And it was incredibly effective. To the governor’s point, you now see dramatic change in compliance. At the same time, my phone was ringing off the hook, Robert’s phone was ringing off the hook from local politicians, state legislators, assembly and senators in these areas saying, you closed down my friend’s brother’s bar, you’re being gratuitous. It was just one violation. You’re going after and finding these people. And we said, “Yeah. We are because we lived through mass graves on Hart Island and we lived through sirens in this city and we lived through death and we’re not doing it again. So we will take it over.” And when they say, “Well, we’re upset.” You can say, well, the governor’s office is terrible. They’re going to continue doing it and they’re going to continue doing it no matter what we say so you better just follow the rules. And we have seen a dramatic change in compliance as a result. And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (58:50)
Let me do it another way for you. Just turn the picture a little bit so I don’t have every local official calling me this afternoon. First, many local governments have done this very well. Second, this is a very different situation because this is a state law that has been delegated to them to enforce. State law, which is a new state law, delegated to them to enforce. They don’t close down religious institutions. It’s not what they do. They don’t close down bars. They don’t close down restaurants. They don’t close down drive-in concerts. They don’t tell people to wear masks. They don’t tell people you can’t gather 100 people in a park. They have never done this before. It’s not what they do. COVID, we passed these new state laws you are-
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:00:03)
… COVID. We passed these new state laws. You are delegated to enforce them. It’s your job. We’ve never done this before. It’s not what we do. My local police don’t close down bars, and we don’t tell people to wear masks. I know you’ve never done it before, but you have to do it. We don’t go into a church and say, “You’re violating the 50% rule. Close the church.” We don’t do that. I know, but you have to do it now. That’s for the bureaucracy to accept that and pivot and do it, and these are all difficult laws. Think about it. You’re a local politician. Pick one. Close temples, close mosques, close schools, close Catholic churches. No, thank you.
Speaker 3: (01:00:56)
Governor, any [inaudible 01:00:56] how long a duration would be for the schools? For example, would you want testing in the schools to indicate when they could reopen? Or is it the community at large, meaning within the zip code?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:01:06)
It may be both. We don’t know. And that’s what we want to establish. Dr. Zucker’s going to work with the city and some other outside experts to make that determination.
Speaker 9: (01:01:20)
[inaudible 01:01:20] timeline on the boundaries? We know of two concerts that are planned in Brooklyn this week in the ultra-orthodox community. Are you going to have to close down larger venues this week?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:01:30)
Well, first of all, it shouldn’t be happening anyway. Period. It violates the existing law. You have to enforce the law. State-wide, I’ve gone through this in Suffolk. They had a music concert, fundraiser in one of the towns in the Hamptons. You can’t have a concert mass gathering today. You can’t. I don’t care what zone you’re in. You can’t do it.
Speaker 5: (01:02:14)
[inaudible 01:02:14] Mayor DeBlasio yesterday announced a plan, asked for your approval, set of presser for 12:00 today. You all scheduled one for 10:30, then 11:45. I understand you had to meet with him first, or [inaudible 01:02:28] over the phone, discuss it, your team and his team, but I wonder if you could explain to the public why you couldn’t have a joint announcement, a joint press conference. We in the world could ask you all these questions together and have a united front. I think a lot of people have a lot of frustration about that division. Can you explain it to them?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:02:49)
No. You have a federal government. You have a state government. You have a city government. You have county governments. This is a situation where by law is governed by state law. The mayor said that yesterday. The mayor said, “I have a plan. I’m going to propose it to the state.” Okay. Now, I have to review it. I have to see what the speaker says. I have to see what the Hasidic community says. I have to see what the police say. I have to see what the controller thinks. I have to see what my health officials think. It’s a complex issue. Right?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:03:29)
And he did announce it, so people now want to know. It’s caused a lot of aggravation. My phone has been ringing off the hook. Has said, “The community is very concerned. Parents are very concerned. What’s happening? What do you know?” So, I want people to know as soon as possible, especially your schools are closed tomorrow, so you can figure out what to do tomorrow. And this is the most recent update. And I spoke to him about it. I spoke to him, Mulgrew, the controller, the speaker, and this is what we agreed we would do. This is the plan of action. You are hearing it as soon as I could get it to you.
Speaker 10: (01:04:17)
Governor, what kind of testing going forward do you want to see in schools? You said there’s not enough going on in the city. At least the city schools were doing monthly random testing, a certain percentage. Do you want to see something more than that? And then, how about the issue [inaudible 01:04:34] religious schools in these areas, do you want to see more specific testing?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:04:39)
I would say two things. I would say three things. First, I probably know more testing than any non-testing expert in the state, and I know more about testing than I ever wanted to know. And we do more testing than any state in the United States. But I know what I don’t know, and I want to get the input. We have the best global experts that we work with. I want to hear what they think. But number two, if you know you have a hotspot zip code, test that school. Test that school. If you’re going to send a child into a school that you know is in a hotspot, in my opinion, you have to test that school before you would ever send a child into a zone that you already know is a hotspot.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:05:40)
Second, random monthly. What is the interval between the tests? In other words, does that mean you’re going to random… You have 30 days, 31 days, let’s say, is it all in the first week, maybe? All in the last week? Is it spaced out every week? What are the intervals between the test? Because this goes like this, right? “Well, we did a test on day one, but then we didn’t test again until day 10, and lo and behold, from day one to day 10, it went up four points.” No, I think random is fine. Monthly, I don’t know what that means, monthly. Does that mean you could just do it once a month? I understand daily. I understand weekly. I don’t really understand random monthly because it sounds like it’s a month. If you’re saying there could possibly be a month between tests, but that doesn’t work for me. I can tell you I would not accept that plan for my school.
Speaker 10: (01:07:03)
Will there be an impact to indoor and outdoor dining in these cluster areas?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:07:06)
There could be. There could be. We’re reviewing it.
Speaker 10: (01:07:10)
Do you think it will be this week?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:07:12)
Yeah. We need to come up with the template because I don’t want to confuse businesses. You’re in, you’re out, you’re in. There’s been enough of that. When government comes up with a plan, stick to the plan, don’t change the plan. It suggests to people confusion and incompetence. So, what’s the right geographic template? What’s an essential business now? What’s the indoor dining rule now? What’s the mass gathering rule now? And then, how do you enforce it?
Speaker 8: (01:07:48)
You’re the governor of the state, the mayor’s the mayor of the city. That doesn’t preclude you from speaking together. Does it? Why can’t the two of you, as [inaudible 01:07:59] suggest, come together, one message from one place instead of these different voices from different places?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:08:10)
Look, I’ve been with the mayor many times. He has a schedule. I have a schedule. I wanted to get you the information quickly. I didn’t put out this plan. He did. So, if anything, you’d want to ask him why didn’t you propose a plan to the state and work it out first and then just announce a final plan, as opposed to announcing a proposed plan that the state then had to react to. I don’t know. Why do you sit in that seat? I don’t know. People have their own styles and their own way of doing things, but that’s all it is.
Speaker 5: (01:08:57)
Governor, speaking of sitting in seats, but you all are a few feet away indoors and not wearing a mask. I wonder if you could speak to the mask wearing culture in this room, in your office, and what it says, as you talk about the need for enforcing laws and being consistent, what it’s telling to those communities who might, I feel it’s probably pretty safe to say, are tweeting even as we speak about your presence together without masks.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:09:28)
We have sat in these seats six feet apart, socially distanced, without masks since COVID started. The rule is six feet apart, and that’s what we do. This state has been a model of mask wearing. We were the first state to mandate masks in the United States of America. We have done more advertising for masks than any state in the nation. We’ve done national public service announcements on mask wearing. I’ve been the most outspoken governor against the president for not mask wearing. I’ve been the most outspoken governor against the CDC and NIH and the vice president for not condemning the president’s failure to wear masks. I visited cities all across the country and advocated mask wearing.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:10:25)
I said that this nation and its health officials made a terrible mistake by telling this country early on not to wear masks. The surgeon general tweeted they are unnecessary. Whenever I am in a situation where I should wear a mask, I do wear a mask. Don’t confuse people by putting forth your own mask wearing rules. Do that with your family. If you are six feet apart, you do not need to wear a mask, let alone these people are all tested on basically a daily basis.
What about aerosols, though? Isn’t there new evidence that the virus spreads through the air?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:11:11)
The rule is six feet social distancing. Do you want to change the rule?
Who’s determining this rule? You’ve said that the CDC can’t be trusted for public health guidance, but there is lots of new research that shows the virus can spread through [crosstalk 01:11:28].
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:11:28)
The CDC’s rule is six feet, the state law is six feet. If there’s new data, and we should come up with a new law, then the CDC could do that. That Department of Health could do that. But the law is six feet. That is the law. The law is a mask. The law is not a helmet. If new data comes out and says, “You should wear a helmet,” and then we’ll have a helmet law. The law says a mask, not ear muffs because we don’t believe the virus goes in your ear. Maybe somebody will do an article saying it can invade your ear and then we’ll have a new mask with ear muffs. Last question.
Speaker 11: (01:12:13)
What’s your level of concern that the outbreak is going to continue to increase? What’s to stop, if we do close out more indoor dining, what’s to stop people that live in hotspots from going down the block, or catching the train and flocking outside-
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:12:27)
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Which is why the health officials are very worried about how you draw the lines. Because what the health officials will tell you is if you don’t draw the lines correctly, you will be taking the infected people in the zip code and sending them to the next community to have outdoor dining because their outdoor dining’s closed and you can actually be spreading the virus. That’s why the geographic template is very important. This has never been done before. Every other government closes subdivisions. The entire city, the entire county. Brooklyn closes.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:13:25)
Now, theoretically, you want to drive into Manhattan, you can drive into Manhattan, but you have to drive into Manhattan or take a train into Manhattan. You want to go into Queens to eat, you can go to Queens, but you have to go to Queens. You get this small area, you just walk across the street. You walk two blocks, and we were trying to contain you. That’s why New Rochelle, what we did was a one mile circle, and it had a margin around it. So, in other words, the circle was wide enough where there was a buffer between the infected community and the non-affected community. But yeah, that is a very real concern, and there’s a very real question of, if you do this wrong, are you just spreading, inadvertently, the virus? So, how you draw those lines is very important.
Speaker 11: (01:14:40)
What would enforcement look like, then, in that situation? Is that going to be [inaudible 00:01:14:44]?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:14:44)
No, the enforcement winds up the same. You draw the lines, and then the enforcement is the enforcement. And the enforcement is indoor dining is only supposed to be 25%. You have 30%, you get a ticket. It’s supposed to be outdoor dining… Whatever the rules are, they enforce in that template, but you’re right, make sure that template is right.
Governor, so you’re saying there aren’t enough data from some schools [inaudible 00:15:10], some schools aren’t testing enough or don’t have the adequate capacity, should those schools have been allowed to reopen in the first place? [crosstalk 01:15:18].
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:15:23)
We didn’t say inadequate data. There’s no data. These schools opened and have done no testing. That was the city plan that the New York City parents signed off on, and the New York City teacher’s union signed off on. They had this random monthly testing plan, but they did not have a provision that said if the higher infection rate zip codes will be tested first. So, I think this has been educational for them, and that’s something you want to look at. My point is, you have no data on some of these schools in these hotspot zip codes, would you send your child to school tomorrow, to a school that you knew had no data on infection rate but didn’t know it was a hotspot zip code, would you send your child?
Speaker 12: (01:16:44)
But good answer. Right? But you’re [inaudible 01:16:49].
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:16:49)
I wouldn’t, so that’s how I do my decision. Sorry?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:16:55)
No. State put out guidance. And then the 700 school districts came up with a plan pursuant to that guidance. I said 876 times, put the plan on the web, Let the teachers union look at it, let teachers look at it, let parents look at it, let the reporters read the plan and report on the plan, and if a savvy reporter sees an obvious hole in the plan, I’m sure they will write about it. Capisce? Thank you, guys.
Speaker 13: (01:17:37)
[inaudible 01:17:37] right now in Brooklyn, I’m told this crowd. Who should be enforcing that?
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:17:47)
The city of New York.
Speaker 13: (01:17:48)
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:17:48)
The NYPD, the New York City Department of Health, today, is in charge of enforcing the laws. That’s what I’m saying. We have these laws. Everybody knows the laws. They’re not being enforced. They have to be enforced. “Well, we have tension with the police. We have tension over here. I don’t want to…” I get it, but if you don’t enforce the law, the virus will spread. So, your question is relevant. There’s an ongoing activity that violates the law. How is this possible? That’s why I’m saying, I want state supervised enforcement going forward in these clusters because I am unhappy, statewide, with the enforcement that’s been going on. If you had done the enforcement, these things don’t happen. You saw the pictures. How did the virus get high? That’s how the virus got high. There’s no mystery here, right? Thank you, guys.