Sep 29, 2020
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Press Conference Transcript September 29
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s September 29 press conference. He addressed increased coronavirus positivity rates and crime in New York City. Read the transcript of his briefing with coronavirus updates for New York here.
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Andrew M. Cuomo: (00:00)
… a good day and we wish them happy holiday. We have with us today, from my far right, Dr. Howard Zucker, health commissioner of the state of New York, Beth Garvey, special counsel to me, Melissa Derosa, secretary to the governor and happy birthday to Melissa Derosa. How do you celebrate a birthday when you’re in state service, you do a briefing just for a change. To my left, Robert Mujica, budget director for the state of New York and Gareth Rhodes. Let’s go through some facts and then I’m going to outline a strategy that we are going to begin deploying, which we have been deploying, but I haven’t articulated yet.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (00:41)
Today’s date 113. Statewide infection rate. We’ve been doing a lot more testing and a lot of targeted testing, so I want to make sure you understand all the data. When you look across the state, western New York 1.3%. That’s not great, but that is better than it has some days, but we still have a caution flag in western New York. Finger Lakes 0.9%, North Country 0.2%. Capital region 0.9%, Long Island 1.2. New York City, 1.3, but the findings are really within those numbers. Hudson Valley, 2%.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:33)
We do more testing than any state in the nation. More testing than any country on the globe per capita. Why do we do that? When you have that level of data, you can really identify what’s going on geographically across the state. That’s why we do all the testing. You can identify hotspots very quickly. Then you can target those hotspots. We have seen hotspots before. If you remember, we had some factories upstate that had clusters. We’ve had gatherings, certain gatherings that developed a cluster, but this is probably the largest cluster that we have addressed before. The clusters are Brooklyn, Orange, Rockland and that’s where we’re seeing clusters. The activity in the cluster is very different than what’s going on in the rest of the state.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (02:47)
If you look at the top 20 zip codes and to put zip codes in context, there are 1,740 zip in the state of New York. When you’re talking about 20 zip codes, you’re talking about 20 out of 1,740 zip codes. You’re talking about very targeted areas, but we have zip codes where you have 18% positivity, 10% positivity, 8% positivity, 7% positivity, Orange Rockland, Rockland, Kings, a couple in Queens and then you go back to Kings basically. You see a much different story happening in these clusters. That’s actually good news in some ways because you have effectively identified the genesis of the potential growth of the virus. You now, once you have this information, aggressively target these clusters. These are embers that are starting to catch fire in dry grass, send all the firefighting equipment and personnel to those embers and stamp out the embers right away. That’s what this data does.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (04:26)
We’ve shared all this data with the local governments. They are the first line of defense. They must respond. They have been very uneven across the state, as you know and I’ve expressed my frustration with Candor as the moment requires. They have to respond and they have to respond directly. We’ve also asked public schools, we’ve also asked the private schools in the area, we’ve made rapid testing equipment available to them. Rapid test does a test in 15 minutes, so you can find a student, a teacher who’s infected, get them out of the school right away and the rapid tests allow you to do a number quickly. We’ve also made them available to local governments. Attack these clusters. That’s what it is. Attacking the clusters. Testing and compliance, testing and compliance and the discipline and the capacity and the competence to do it. Government these days has to be competent. This is not about rhetoric and giving speeches and slogans. Do your job. You have a job, do it. Competent government must do compliance and enforcement. Why? A cluster today can be community spread tomorrow. A cluster today can be community spread tomorrow. I don’t know who first said that, but if nobody claims authorship, I’m going to claim it. Cluster today is community spread tomorrow. They have to do their job today.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (06:19)
I’m going to be meeting with religious leaders of the Orthodox community and local officials. If you look at those clusters and you look at those zip codes, you will see there’s an overlap with large Orthodox Jewish communities and that is a fact. I will be directly meeting with them to talk about it. This is a concern for their community, public health concern for their community. It’s also a public health concern for surrounding communities. I’ve said from day one, these public health rules apply to every religion. Atheists, it just applies to every citizen of the state of New York period. I happen to be Roman Catholic. I had to cancel the St Patrick’s day parade, which in many ways is a holiday that’s near and dear to the heart of many Catholics. It’s public health comes first. I’ll be meeting with the leaders of the Orthodox community and the local officials in those areas to make sure we’re all on the same page, but compliance and enforcement is key. I can’t say it any more bluntly than that.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (07:46)
Mask wearing is a state law. It’s a law. It’s not, it would be nice if you could, I really think you should. Every health official says it’s a good idea. It’s a sign of respect. It’s also a law. Okay. So yes, health officials say it. Yes, it’s a sign of respect. Yes, it’s good citizenship. It’s also a law. I don’t care what your political opinion is at one point. I don’t care what your religious opinion is. Mask wearing is a law. Well, I’m politically opposed to masks. I’m religiously opposed to mask. I’m ideologically opposed to masks. I’m opposed to masks because they’re a bad fashion statement. I don’t care. It’s a law and the local governments are supposed to be enforcing the law and they haven’t been, many of them and then we’re shocked that there’s a cluster. Don’t be shocked. This is a very clear period of time. Your actions determine your consequences. That’s it. You enforce the mask ordinance, you will have a lower infection rate. You don’t enforce the mask ordinance, you will have a higher infection rate. Those are the facts. We know the facts. Compliance enforcement is key.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (09:25)
Now we have targeted many more tests and testing resources into those clusters. As I said, this is a fire-fighting drill for us. We have really two sets of numbers, in some ways today. We have the overall normal testing numbers and then we have this effort that’s been in these clusters where we have done a disproportionate, accelerated testing schedule. The 20 hotspot zip codes. If you average the 20 they’re at 5%, as you saw, some of them were up to 18%, but if you average all 20, they’re about 5%. That is five times the normal state rate. That’s why they’re hotspot clusters. Statewide positivity is about one, 1.1. Those hotspots are five times what the statewide positivity is. If you take all those tests from those hotspots, which again are disproportionate because we’ve poured so many tests into those hotspots and add them into the overall state number, then we would be at 1.3 with that over sample, but we’re at 1.1. 1% is basically the lowest infection rate in the nation and where do you want to be as a state? Ideally, you want to be the lowest infection rate in the nation. That’s 1%. These hotspots are five times that number. Number of deaths are two. They’re in our thoughts and prayers. Number of hospitalizations, 571. ICU, 147. Intubation 61.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (11:35)
New York City. I understand there’s a high level of anxiety in New York city. Covid has been very disruptive on almost every level in New York City. It has been disruptive to how people work, how people live, how people travel. A question of children going back to school, yes they are. No, they’re not. Yes, they are. People trying to make plans. The level of disruption has been extraordinary. That’s not a New York City phenomenon alone. That’s all across the state. That’s all across the nation. That’s all across the world. Disruption is in and of itself, a forced to be acknowledged and recognized. You’re going to have a lot of PTSD from this period in time, we’re already seeing substance abuse up, mental health issues up. This was a traumatic period. Don’t underestimate it. You’re going to see the consequences of that trauma for months, if not years, in many different ways. Acknowledge that. The disruption causes anxiety. Yes. Many people in New York city are anxious. Yes. I talked to them all day long. I’m a Queens boy. That’s my orientation. Born and bred, not an import to the state. We love the imports. Come move to New York, move to New York, but I’m the original species. I get it. I get the anxiety, but we have to keep it in focus and we have to address it and remember, at the end of the day, we are New Yorkers. We’ve gone through difficult times before. We’ve gone through 9/11. You can knock us down, but we get up, we dust ourselves off and we come back stronger than ever. That is the definition of being a New Yorker. That is the culture of this place. This is a difficult place. It’s a difficult place to make it here. The competition is intense. The energy is intense, but have we gone through tough times? Sure and we come back better again and again and again and we will, again. In the meantime, what’s the treatment for anxiety? What pill can I take? I can’t distribute pills. I tried. The health commissioner stopped me. I was going to issue… That’s a joke, but he would stop me if I went to do it. Here’s my treatment for anxiety. Facts. Facts, not rumors, not hearsay, not anecdotes. Logic and action. Facts, logical facts, correct facts and action. This is about doing things. Accomplishing. Doing things that are responsive to the problems you have identified. This is no time for incompetence. It’s no time for apathy. It’s no time for indecision. It is the time for action. Covid is real. You don’t do the testing, you don’t do the compliance, you don’t have the hospital beds, more people die. That’s the reality of the situation. You make a mistake on testing, you open schools and you’re not ready, people get sick. That’s the reality that causes me anxiety. It should. It should. Constructive anxiety, not negative anxiety, but the anxiety is the body’s way of saying there’s possible danger. By the way, there’s possible danger and there has been disruption, but deal with it factually. Deal with it logically. Take action. People have seen the New York state government acting all through this. Every day I said, here’s the problem. Deep breath. Problem can give you anxiety, but here’s the solution and this is what we’re going to do and the action actually alleviates the anxiety because people know intelligent action is being taken and that makes them calmer. When they are calmer and they have confidence, then they actually start to think more logically.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (16:35)
We’re announcing the New York City stabilization and recovery program. Stabilization and recovery. Stabilization means all this disruption, all this tumult, first stabilize the situation and then let’s talk about long-term recovery. On the stabilization, let’s talk about schools. Many, many New York City school parents are anxious. The principal’s union came out, increased the anxiety because the principals union said the schools aren’t ready to reopen. That increased parent’s anxiety. Why? Because they’re principals. When you’re called to the principal’s office, that was real. When the principal’s office calls a parent, I have to talk to you about Johnny, that’s real. They are principals. I respect their opinion. I respect the statement from the union. I knew and I know, that they did not do that easily or cavalierly. I take their opinion very strongly. At the same time you have Michael Mulgrew and the teacher’s union saying the schools are safe to reopen. Why would the teacher’s union…
Andrew M. Cuomo: (18:03)
Why would the teachers’ union be saying the schools are safe? Why would Michael Mulgrew want to endanger his teachers if the schools were unsafe? You have the mayor saying the schools are safe. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows? Who knows?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (18:25)
New York City did a plan. They say, “We will do X number of tests and we will do this cohorting, we have these policies in place.” We will know tomorrow by the data. The schools must report to the state the data. They’re doing testing. The numbers will tell you the facts. And once you have the facts, you can operate logically.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (19:02)
If the schools are not safe, I’m not going to allow them to operate. Period. Period. For me, the equation is very simple: Would I send my child to that school tomorrow knowing the facts I know? That’s my decision point. We’ll get the facts and we will know, and we’ll operate logically. I say to every parent in the city of New York, if those schools are not safe, I will not allow them to operate. Period.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (19:44)
How do we justify the principals’ union versus the teachers’ union versus the mayor? We get the facts. We get the facts. Everybody has a theory. Nobody’s been here before. This has never been done before. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who knows? You’ll know when you have the facts.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (20:10)
The state can close down any school in the state of New York. That gentlemen right there with the very attractive blue tie signs a letter, closes down any school in the state. New York City, Buffalo. Long Island. You have my word as a parent, as a citizen, as your representative, if a school is not safe, I will not allow it to operate.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (20:42)
Take a deep breath. And we’re going to have the facts. They’ll either report the testing data or, by the way, they won’t report the testing data, and if they don’t report the testing data, it means they already violated their own plan that they were supposed to be taking tests. Right? If you don’t get data, that’s the answer. They can’t get the data. But we also all agree, if you can operate the schools safely, we want children back in school. That’s the best by every expert. If you’re going to operate safely, you want the students back in school. The question is: Can you operate safely? We will know by the facts. Okay? That schools.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (21:29)
Crime. New Yorkers are very concerned about crime. Why? They should be. That’s a fact. It’s not illogical. They should be. Shootings with victims are up over 100%. That’s why New York Yorkers are concerned about crime. The percent of shooting victims, 86% black and brown, 86% black and brown. That’s why Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, that’s why they are concerned. The crime problem in New York City is real.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (22:17)
I don’t believe in denial as a life option. If you deny a problem, you will never solve it. You deny a substance abuse problem, you’ll never solve it. You deny an addiction, you’ll never solve it. Government is the same way. First instinct is to deny. “Oh, you’re wrong. There is no crime problem.” Yeah, New Yorkers are not wrong. There is a crime problem. Okay, then we have to address it.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (22:56)
This is not a New York City phenomenon either. The tension post-George-Floyd’s murder between police and the community has never been higher. It’s all across the nation. Everybody knows that. But it has to be resolved, and it’s not going to resolve itself on its own. The police have a position. The community has a position. You see these repeated flare ups, another video, another video, another video, cop versus protestor, protestor versus cop. It’s over and over and over the same thing. “Well, I think it’s going to get better. It’s going to change when the weather changes. It’s going to be gone by Easter. Oh, it’s nothing different than it’s always been.” Sound familiar? That was Trump on COVID. Denial. Denial doesn’t work. It didn’t work with COVID. It’s not going to work with crime.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (24:02)
It’s a real issue, and it’s also an opportunity. redesign your public safety function. Why is the answer to every 911 call a person with a gun? Why? Why is the only answer to a 911 call an arrest? How about if it’s a substance abuse issue? How about if it’s a mental health issue? Why is your response from a public safety point of view always a gun? You know the expression, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” When all you have is a gun and a badge and the ability to arrest, that’s your only solution to that issue. A more multifaceted public safety function that has mental-health response, substance-abuse response, a domestic-violence response and then for violent crime where someone’s life is at risk, yes, a person with a gun and a badge who’s equipped to arrest. That has to be redesigned.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (25:22)
New York City has 35,000 people, $10 billion budget doing public safety. What’s the best way to spend $10 billion? Of the 35,000 people, how many should be mental-health people? How many should be substance-abuse people? Good questions. They have to be answered. Who’s going to answer them? We say in the state, each community has to answer them because there’s going to be a little different. New York City is different than Buffalo, is different than the Adirondacks, is different than Suffolk County. You design the approach that works for you. Local governments have that collaborative, put people in the room, public-safety experts, mental-health experts, community representatives, and redesign your public safety plan.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (26:17)
It can be fun. It can be exciting. Right? Nothing is static in life. We’re redesigning our education system now. Remote learning, whoever heard of remote learning a few months ago? We’re redesigning education. We’re redesigning medicine. Telemedicine, whoever heard of telemedicine? We’re redesigning medicine. We have to redesign our public safety function. That’s good news. But paralysis in this dysfunctional situation is bad. News. People are dying. That’s a fact. It has to be resolved.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (27:02)
Politically, it’s a quagmire for a local politician to step into. Why? Because it’s controversial. You know what politicians like to do? Avoid controversy. That’s what politicians like to do. I’m a little exceptional that way. I’m wired a little differently. To get the local officials to do it, I said, “Let’s do this, if you don’t have a redesigned public safety function by next April, you’re not going to get any state funding in the budget.” You know what that means, you’re not going to get any state funding? It means you’re bankrupt. They can’t survive without state funding, so you have to have it done by April. But I said, “You should start doing it now because April is around the corner and this is not going to be a fast process and it’s not an easy process, so you should start doing it now.” 146 jurisdictions in New York state are already doing it. It’s not just New York City. It’s every community with a police department. 146 started for next April. You know what jurisdiction didn’t start? New York City. “Well, we redesigned in the past.” The past is the past. That’s why they call it the past. Today, it’s not working. It’s not working today. I don’t care what you did in the past. It’s not working today. Today, you have to come to the table and make it work because this situation is not sustainable. People will die.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (28:58)
When you’re talking about New York City’s stabilization, I’m nervous about schools. I’m nervous about crime. I’m nervous about homelessness. I’m nervous about cleanliness. Now you’re really nervous, and now you have a population that is really destabilized. There’s a cumulative effect to these situations. That night of looting really shook people up. What I’m saying is we’re resolving them and we’re going to resolve this issue also. The mayor can lead the collaborative. If he doesn’t want to lead it, the head of the council can lead it. By the way, the council has to pass the plan. It has to be passed by the council. The head of the council can do it, public advocate could do it, controller could do it, but somebody got to do it or say, “I don’t want to do it.” And then I’ll find somebody to do it. Maybe it’s better that it’s not a political official, but somebody has to convene and lead the effort to redesign the public safety functions.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (30:28)
People in New York City, the leaders in New York City say, “Well, here’s how I think it should be done. This is what I think public safety should look like.” Great, do it. I need somebody to do it. Government is about action and progress. You want to be a Progressive? Make progress. That’s how FDR defined the word progressive.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (30:52)
Everybody talks about it like it’s a new word. Zack Fink talks about it like he’s a new word. “I’m a progressive. I’m a progressive. New. I’m new. New progressive.” No, Zack Fink did not make up the word progressive. Nobody made up the word progressive one year ago, two years ago, three years ago. You know who was the Progressive? FDR. Al Smith, big campaign poster in my room in Albany, original: “FDR for progressive government.” I brought in to Zach Fink. I said, “Do you think you came up with progressive? I want to show you a poster.” You know what he said? FDR stole it from him. How can that be? But anyway, that’s a different conversation.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (31:39)
Third is the economy, in terms of stabilizing New York. Here’s the economy in a nutshell: We have tremendous losses because of COVID. We’re not liable for them. I’m not accepting liability. I’m not accepting the premise that New York state or New York City should pay. We didn’t do anything wrong.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (32:01)
The federal government should pay. The federal government was wrong. It’s the federal government that allowed us to be ambushed by COVID. It’s the federal government that missed that the virus went from China to Europe, and they missed it for three months. It’s the federal government that missed people getting on planes in Europe and coming into New York. It was the federal government that does the border control at the airports. It was the Department of Homeland Security that was supposed to be protecting the border. You know how they wanted to build the wall in Mexico? “Protect the country. Protect the country. Protect the country.” Yeah, then in the meantime COVID is walking in the door at JFK and Newark International Airport. While you’re spending billions keeping us safe from Mexicans, we were invaded by Europeans with COVID and you were totally asleep at the switch, and we had no notice. The other states at least had several months notice. We had no notice, so the federal government is liable. They are going to pay that bill. Not us.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (33:08)
You know when you’re at a dinner table and they put down a check and you’re there with a number of people? If you’re not liable for the check, don’t touch it. Once you pick up that check and look at it, now you’re liable.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (33:24)
How is New York City, New York state going to solve the deficit? We’re not it’s Donald Trump’s deficit. He has to fix it. Rupert Murdoch says New York City, New York state should pay? Yes, because he is a Donald Trump supporter. No, Mr. Murdoch, Donald Trump pays or you could pay, but New York City, New York state is not going to pay.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (33:54)
Either the Congress could come up with a package, I spoke to speaker Pelosi yesterday, she is talking to the white house about coming up with a relief package, or in November Donald Trump could lose, Joe Biden could win. Joe Biden will do a state and local relief package. Or the Senate could become Democratic, Senator Schumer become the Senate leader. He will do a state and local package. He will make sure New York is covered in the state and local package. Why? Because he’s a great senator. Why else? Because he’s the New York senator and he has to come home to run. Those are very real possibilities. Either Congress passes or Joe Biden wins or the Senate goes Democratic. In any of those cases, it’s a federal problem. Worst case scenario from New York’s point of view, Donald Trump wins and the Senate stays Republican. Then what happens? Yes, then they try to kill us, which is what they’ve been doing from day one. Then we have all bad options.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (35:15)
To close a $50 billion deficit, which would be an historic deficit, you would have to do all of the above: You’d have to raise taxes. Raise income taxes, number one. You’d have to cut the budget and cut expenses, and you would have to borrow. You’d have to do all three. None of them positive for the economy. It would only be a question of how much damage you do for how long. It becomes math. You can’t close $50 billion without tax increases, millionaire’s tax, billionaires tax, a wealth tax, cutting expenses dramatically-
Andrew M. Cuomo: (36:03)
… tax, cutting expenses dramatically and borrowing. If we did that, you’re looking at a bad spell for New York city and New York state, and I’m not going there. We’d have to do a financial control board for any locality that borrows. I would never sign a bill that allows borrowing for a locality in this environment without a financial control board. All the financial decisions couldn’t be political, which is… The political process now makes these budget decisions, right? I’m going to give this much to this union, but I’m going to lay off this union. Those are political decisions. These would have to be financial decisions, and they’d have to be done by a financial control board. But I’m not picking up the check, because I don’t assume or accept any liability. It’s all Washington. And if Trump wins again and the Senate Republican wins, yes, we have a terrible economic forecast. Cleanliness, I’m getting a lot of complaints in New York city about the cleanliness of the city, the garbage piling up. That adds to schools, crime, economy, and now garbage piling up, literally. People saying there’s a odiferous environment because of the garbage piling up. I don’t know what’s going on in New York city. If they can’t do it, I have offered to send in the National Guard to come help pick up the garbage. State can bring in trucks, personnel, and clean up the city. I think that would be important. This is a public health pandemic. Cleanliness matters. You know, we made millions of gallons of hand sanitizer. Cleanliness matters. So if the New York City Department of Sanitation and resources can’t do it for one reason or another, I can deploy the National Guard. We’ll come in.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (38:28)
I understand there’s a higher level because people are staying at home, but in this environment, we don’t need people complaining about cleanliness of the city. On the issue of homeless, it’s getting cold. There are homeless encampments. There are homeless people living on sidewalks, living under scaffolding. There’s no reason for it. We’re better than that. I’ve worked on the homeless issue since I’ve been in my 20s on every level, ran a not-for-profit, managed it in the federal government, did a plan for the nation in the federal government. Homeless people should be offered safe shelters with services. Many of the cities in the states closed their shelters during COVID. It’s time to reopen those shelters. You can open schools, you can open bars, you can open restaurants. You can open gyms. You can open flexible art studios. You can open a shelter. You have to open it with precautions, but open the shelter. Get homeless people off the street, keep them safe, get them a test, get them treatment.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (39:49)
This is imminently doable, should be doable. It should have been done a long time ago. Remember we had homeless on subways for years, remember? And we had the same circular conversation. Never made sense to let people sleep on the subways, put themselves in danger. What kind of society says, “Oh, yes. I respect you. You can sleep on the subway all night?” That’s not respect. We fixed that problem, and we can fix this problem. Homelessness is now a public health concern. If there’s a homeless person on the corner who is sick with COVID and people are walking past that person, now it’s the public health concern for that homeless person and also for all New Yorkers who are walking past that person. So there’s no reason for it. Reopen the shelters. There are 680 shelters across New York state, New York City. There are 130 shelters for adults. 32% are empty, 27 at less than full capacity. We’re putting out guidance on how to operate a self shelter, but it’s common sense. We’ve done this on a number of facilities now, and we know how to do it.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (41:17)
On the long-term recovery, I’m focused first on the stabilization of New York. The long-term recovery, we have to find that how many of these changes we’re seeing, how many of these disruptive patterns are permanent. You have people working from home, people who don’t want to go into the office, people who are living in other places. Is that short-term, or is that long-term? When do they come back? Or, have they just readjusted their lifestyle so they’re saying, “I’m not going back to the office five times a week, and I’m not having my employees come back. I like it better. I can give up the office space. They work from home, or some hybrid?” We don’t know. We have to assess that. And I also think there are some factors that will still be calibrated in that equation, and one of them is when you get a vaccine. If a vaccine is safe and ready by the end of this year, that’s one situation, if it’s ready by the end of the beginning of next year.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (42:38)
But if you start to say spring, summer… And I mean the full vaccine. You have to have it, it has to be safe, and you have to administer it to 19 million people. How do you do that, and how long does it take you to do that? And that safe question is already complicated, because there’s a sense among the American people that the vaccine process has been politicized. Why? Because the vaccine process has been politicized. Because the president says he calls the FDA, and thinks the FDA is being political on their approval process. President accuses FDA being political. You wonder why the American people don’t trust the vaccine? Because the president said the FDA is political. Now what happens? The FDA approves it? Well, the president says it was political. The president overrides the FDA. Well, then for sure it’s political, because I never saw a Dr. certificate hanging on the wall when I went to visit President Trump.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (43:57)
Rob came with me. Did you ever see a doctor certificate in the Oval Office for President…
Andrew M. Cuomo: (44:02)
No, so he’s not a doctor. So people have to feel that it’s safe. We want to make sure we can tell New Yorkers it’s safe, and then we want to have a distribution plan. And we’re putting together our own group to determine… Once the FDA says it’s safe, we’ll have a New York group of doctors and some of the best doctors around the world who will review what FDA did. So I’ll be able to say to New Yorkers, “It is safe.” At this rate, you could have polls that say half the American people wouldn’t take the vaccine right now, because they don’t believe it’s safe. I want to be able to say to New Yorkers, “It is safe, take it.” And I’m going to have the best distribution, because ideally we want to be the first COVID-safe state in the nation. What’s our goal? New York is the best? Highest goal, first state to immunize, vaccinate everybody. That’s our goal. Well, you set the bar high. Yeah, it’s New York. We set the bar as high as you can.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (45:17)
This is the group that’s going to review a vaccine once the FDA says it’s safe. If this group reviews the FDA data and protocols and efficacy, and if they say it’s safe, I will say to the people of New York, “It’s safe, we’re going to administer it. We should take it.” Again, we want to have the best vaccination program in the nation, be the first COVID-free state. Think of all the lives you’ll save if you’re the first COVID-free state, and think of the business opportunities if you were the first COVID-free state. I said this last week, and President Trump tweeted, ” New York is now going to be the last on the list to receive the vaccination.”
Andrew M. Cuomo: (46:05)
You know what that is? It’s called a threat. That’s called a threat. If you have your own state review, I’m not giving you the vaccine. That’s what he’s saying. It’s a threat. It’s also unethical. It’s also illegal. He can’t use government power to stop distribution of a vaccine to New Yorkers because he is personally upset. But that’s what he said, and what I say is, “Don’t threaten New York. It doesn’t work. I know you’re mad at us. I know we rejected you. I know you feel that you are a subject of scorn and a joke in New York when you were here. I know the tabloids mocked you. I know the people in this state overwhelmingly voted against you, but be bigger, be better. Remember the oath you took, and try not to threaten and try not to do anything criminal.” That’s my advice, but the threats don’t work. We know how to handle bullies in New York. We’ve come across our lot, because we are New York tough, smart, united, disciplined, and loving. Questions?
Governor, regarding the reopening [inaudible 00:47:43], we have these clusters in these specific neighborhoods. As of tomorrow, you want to go with indoor dining as well. Is there any potential delaying that, not only specifically in these neighborhoods where the clusters are, but additional shutdowns there, and by extension the rest of the city? Is the rest of the city not ready for indoor dining, given that we’re seeing this uptake?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (48:00)
At this point, it’s a cluster problem. A cluster problem is caused by lack of compliance. That’s how the cluster problem starts, from lack of compliance. Why was there a lack of compliance? Because the local government failed to do its compliance job. Oh, those are harsh words. Yeah. Well, it’s a harsh situation that was created. People get sick, people die. And you sat right there, and I said 150 times, “Local governments are not doing compliance.” On the bars, restaurants, we sent in the state police. I said, “I don’t have the state police to do all the compliance statewide.” That’s how the cluster happened. And let’s be honest, there were pictures of people violating compliance and not wearing masks. We all saw them. They all circulated. Lack of compliance, now you have a cluster.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (49:05)
If you do not now control and attack the cluster, you have community spread. We’re not there yet. That’s why I want people to wake up and attack the cluster. Compliance first. I don’t believe we’re at the point of rolling back anything. If the local governments do not do the compliance and attack the clusters, you will be there in the short term future. Because once you’re up to 18%, 20% positive, just think of the exponential equation of that spread as we sit here. The day before, we had infection rates up to 30% in some of these clusters. One out of three people is infected.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (50:02)
All those infected people are out there meeting and talking and going to schools and going to temples and going to churches. The numbers balloon. So now there’s a real issue to deal with, but we’re not there yet on closing. This could be held to clusters if the local governments respond and respond in a way they haven’t done up until now. What they have done has not worked, and that’s why there’s a cluster. And look, I get in some areas there’s religious sensitivity. Let’s be honest. I get it, but I have no problem, and I’ve said from day one I love and respect the Jewish community, the Orthodox community, the Catholic community, the Muslim community. These laws apply to everyone, and these laws are going to be enforced against everyone, because I love you. Because I love you.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (51:19)
That’s why I’m enforcing these laws, because I love you. When we see the infection rate at 20% in some zip codes, that means people are going to die. And because I love you, I want to protect you. And when I didn’t do my compliance, that wasn’t loving. That wasn’t loving. It was weak, it was scared, but it wasn’t loving.
Governor, you said you’re meeting with Orthodox leaders. Is that meeting in person? Are you going to Brooklyn or Rockland County, or are you doing this virtually?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (52:00)
I’m doing it virtually, because I want to do the entire community. You know, you have Orthodox… Well, you have Orthodox leaders all across the state, but the concentration we’re talking about, Orange, Rockland, Nassau community, and Brooklyn, is the predominant communities. And we’re going to do it virtually.
And you’re doing that today? What do you plan on-
Andrew M. Cuomo: (52:25)
As soon as we can set it up, either this afternoon or tomorrow, but it’s a big community. We’re just coming off the holiday, starting another holiday. So, as soon as they can get the full community. Whether it’s today or tomorrow morning, I don’t know yet. They were setting it up as they came in.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (52:43)
One second [Zack 00:52:42], go ahead.
Governor Cuomo, earlier today mayor Bill de Blasio said he was considering restricting gatherings and closing down businesses in those impacted areas. Does your office understand that he has the power to limit movement in that kind of a way, or do you need to authorize it? And also, could you clarify what you mean by school closings? The mayor is saying 3%, but I think that just applies to public schools. Is the state still following the 9% regional threshold for school closings?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (53:09)
Yeah. The law is the law, and the law is clear. The state has statewide jurisdiction for any public health COVID-related matter, period. State can close schools, state can close businesses, state can open restaurants, close restaurants, et cetera. The way it works is you have local government, you have state government, and you have federal government. Local governments are under the state. I’m under the federal government, so I have it worst, because Donald Trump gets to tell me what to do, which can be incredibly infuriating on a daily basis. And I have a high tolerance for pain, and it can still be incredibly infuriating. So-
Andrew M. Cuomo: (54:02)
And it can still be incredibly infuriating. So we have legal authority. No city can take actions that supersede our jurisdiction and they would need our authority or permission to take those actions. That’s the first part of the question.
But so you just talked about compliance, compliance, compliance. You want the city government to enforce these issues, but you have to approve it. If they want to-
Andrew M. Cuomo: (54:35)
No. Enforce the current laws. The current law was everybody has to wear a mask. Why didn’t you enforce the current mask law? Why didn’t you enforce it? By the way, why don’t the NYPD wear masks? What signal does that send? Wearing a mask is the law, but the police officer who’s supposed to enforce the law doesn’t wear a mask.
To clarify, De Blasio needs your permission to close down businesses or large gatherings in particular areas within New York City?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (55:16)
Yes. But compliance was enforcing the existing laws. Everybody was supposed to wear a mask. There was only outdoor dining. Bars were only take out alcohol, not convenings. Religious ceremonies have a cap of participants. What’s the current number on the cap of participants, 50?
Speaker 1: (55:44)
For religious gatherings, 50, yeah.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (55:45)
50. You have religious gatherings, you can’t have more than 50 people. Look at the pictures of religious gatherings with hundreds. How did it happen? How did it happen? Well, we need more new laws. More new laws? If you’re not going to enforce the laws, then creating more of them is not going to help. If you did enforce the current laws, no more than 50 in a religious gathering, everybody wears a mask, the bar laws, the restaurant laws, you will control the infection rate. You know how you know? Because it’s controlled all across the state. What happened in these clusters? There wasn’t compliance and the city didn’t enforce it and Orange County didn’t enforce it and Rockland County didn’t enforce it. And in those communities in Nassau, Nassau didn’t enforce it.
[inaudible 00:56:50] Mayor Bill de Blasio says at 3%, he’s going to close schools. If that’s the citywide average. Is the state still under the 9% thresholds and would that impact private schools in the city. Can you clarify that?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (57:03)
Yeah. I’m sorry. The religious rule is 50% or what?
Speaker 1: (57:07)
Of the capacity?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (57:08)
With no cap?
Speaker 1: (57:10)
There’s no cap on religious gatherings per a court case, but we are appealing that. That was the Seuss case.
Melissa DeRosa: (57:15)
We had set a third and then the courts overruled us and put it at 50%. And we’re in the midst of an appeal on that.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (57:20)
Okay. It’s 50% capacity of the given.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (57:24)
On the schools, we have benchmarks. But on the schools it’s the overall totality of the circumstances. So for example, the New York City schools were opened on the premise that they were going to do certain number of tests, random tests for pupils, random tests for students. First question is going to be, are they taking those tests? Did that happen? Were they able to administer them? If that doesn’t happen, then the plan is aborted then, in my opinion, right? You don’t get to an infection rate because they didn’t do the tests. So, you can’t have a bonafide, the infection rate number, if they didn’t do the tests in the first place, right?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (58:10)
If they do the tests, then you want to look at the numbers of the tests. Are there clusters? Is there something in the data? And then if there’s not and it’s just uniform across the board and you’re dealing with a community spread that might infect the school, then we have a benchmark of 5%. The city has recommended an even tighter number of 3%, but the legal number is 5%. But depending on the circumstances, we could close them at 1%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5%, 6%. You want to look at the totality of circumstance.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (58:55)
First question is going to be, are they taking the tests? You guys assume the infection rate. The infection rate is only relevant if you actually took the tests and they were statistically significant. If I take five tests and I tell you the infection rate is X, or if I have tests in just some schools, but not other schools, just teachers but not students. So, the first question is, is the testing protocol, right?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (59:26)
You want to add something to that, Dr. Zucker? Is that right with the 5%?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (59:30)
No, it’s the totality of circumstances. We set 5% as a benchmark. If you had 5%, there’s a problem. A real problem. But you can have a problem below that. You look at the totality of the circumstances. For example, these clusters we’re talking about now, many of them are below 5%. Now, Zach had a question, then you.
Governor, this new vaccine test force is tasked quite literally with evaluating the safety of a future vaccine. One expert I talked to you from Columbia University noted that the other task force charged with overseeing the distribution notably lacks public health experts, especially those familiar with issues affecting communities of color and a lack of trust in the healthcare system and maybe reluctance to get a vaccine.
What do you say in response and why is there one task force with all these experts, some of them are people of color, determining the safety, which does include some issues affecting these communities while another one, it’s almost entirely just white people who are state officials or industry leaders?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:00:39)
Yeah, there are two steps, right? The first is, is the vaccine safe? And that’s more of a pure science function. They’ll review the FDA protocol. What was done, what was not done, was it done properly? They won’t really be in a position to do new research, but they can review what was done.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:01:03)
The second is the distribution implementation. How do you do 19 million vaccines? How do you do it fairly, how do you do it safely? That is still in formation, that committee. Because that’s a very complicated task and it has a number of levels. We’re starting to talk about it. There was social justice concerns. There are racial justice concerns. There’s going to have to be an extraordinary public education campaign because there are a lot of people you’re just not going to talk through the anxiety about the vaccine.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:01:40)
You also have, it’s going to be a real discussion on the prioritization. A lot of people are going to say it should be nursing homes and essential workers first. Some people are going to argue essential workers before nursing homes because they’re being exposed. So, that committee, which is the second committee after the first committee acts, we’re still going through the issues. And that committee is in formation because there are more issues that are coming up and I want to make sure we have a, a committee that discusses all the relevant issues. There were geographic issues, regional distribution issues. So, that committee is still information,
Then why not have an expert on such matters? This Columbia epidemiologist, she noted that it’s not so much about who’s on the committee. It’s on who’s not. I don’t even think there is an epidemiologist on this distribution committee. And again, there’s not really anybody whose background suggests that familiarity with some of these issues with vaccine skepticism and skepticism over the healthcare system more generally in communities of color.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:02:53)
That’s why I said it’s in formation. Because we’re still talking through what issues could come up and that’s why I say the committee’s in formation. Meaning as we identify new issues, we’re going to add people who can speak to those issues.
To the committee as members?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:03:12)
To the committee as members. It’s just in formation. That was the initial cut of the committee, but we’re identifying additional issues. Essential workers want to have a voice on that committee. Nursing home advocates want to have a voice on that committee. There’s this regional distribution. You have a lot of people upstate who want to voice on that committee. You have poverty people who want a voice in that committee, who believe it’s going to be loaded towards the rich and the powerful who have access. So, it’s a very complicated discussion and I want to make sure everybody has a voice.
And just lastly, are these taskforce meeting now, are there any deadlines or will they only meet once if the vaccine is approved by the federal government?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:04:01)
They haven’t met yet. Our conversations have been internal yet. You wouldn’t convene the meeting on distribution until you believe we’re actually on a track to have one. And part of the reasons why people don’t trust this is some president says it was going to be ready by November, right? Then it was going to be ready by December. Then Dr. Fauci says, may be late spring. CDC says maybe mid next year. So, you need a finite date that says this is going to happen. I don’t want to spend a lot of time coming up with distribution plan if we have nothing to distribute.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:04:49)
One more. I’m sorry, sir. Go ahead.
Speaker 2: (01:04:51)
I wanted to ask about absentee ballots in Brooklyn. There’s been some concern. People are getting neighbor’s absentee ballot, some people around the corner. So, I wanted to see what your thoughts were on the absentee ballot process in New York City right now. Seems to be running into problems very early already.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:05:07)
Okay. I don’t have any specific knowledge about that. But I bet you one of these smart people know something about absentee ballots in Brooklyn?
Melissa DeRosa: (01:05:18)
So, obviously we saw the same news as everyone else as it was breaking last night on social media. And to say that we’re troubled by this is the understatement of the year. It looks like it’s confined to about 100,000 people in Brooklyn. As they said, there could be some spillover and other zip codes. But we know of the 100,00 that are in Brooklyn. And what it looks like happened is two issues. One, they sent the military absentee ballots and it said “military absentee.” There should have been a slash in between those two so people knew that they’re both military and absentee, not military absentee. And then the second issue was that with their printer, who I believe is based in Rochester, they mismatched the application and the envelope. So there are people who were getting the correct ballot, but not the correct envelope.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:06:02)
And so we’ve obviously called the board of elections, the state board of elections. And we’ve told them that they’ve got to figure out how to deal with this right away. They’re an independent entity. They’re not an extension of our office, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do everything we can to try to rectify this issue. So, what they’ve said is they’re trying to look at ways to send those people who got those ballots new envelopes so that you’re not in a situation where you’re sending additional ballots, but you’re sending the person a correct envelope. So, they’re in the process right now of trying to identify everybody who was impacted so that they can deal with it. But it’s unacceptable. And it’s something that they’ve got to take charge of right away.
Speaker 2: (01:06:36)
It begs almost a larger question. There’ve been calls to reform the New York City Board of Elections. They say they only answer to the state and the city council can’t really do anything about them, and others have called it the patronage mill. So there’ve been these long standing questions about the board of elections and who’s in it, who’s in charge, what can be done to see that this stops happening every time?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:07:01)
You would need a state law to choose the New York City board of elections.
Melissa DeRosa: (01:07:04)
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:07:05)
If they let the New York City Council pass a law, which they do all the time, that reforms the New York City board of elections, and then ask the state to pass it. I it’s very common that the New York City Council will pass a law that requires state approval, but pass the law and then give us the law. We can’t pass your law if we don’t have it, right? So tell them, pass the law and then give it to the state. Then they can say the state refused to pass the law, but we need a law before they can say that. I don’t want to penalize politeness. Why don’t you take the last question?
Speaker 3: (01:07:46)
Thank you so much. So, you spoke about quality of life issues in New York City. We’re facing a terrible problem with people openly injecting drugs on city streets. What do you know about this? And what, if anything, can you do to address this?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:07:59)
Yeah. I don’t know anything specific about it, but I think it’s these constellation of issues. And that’s what I’m trying to say in the New York City stabilization and recovery program. Long-term recovery is going to be a different issue. We have to figure out what’s actually going on. But we need to stabilize the city now. And there is a lot of anxiety. It’s more than quality of life. It’s crime, homelessness, the economy, the cleanliness, picking up garbage. You put all those things together and it’s frightening people. I can tell you that.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:08:43)
And I want them to know we are addressing them. We understand what’s going on with crime. It’s not a New York City problem, but has to be resolved. Not in New York City uniquely, it’s a nationwide problem. Homelessness. They have to be off the streets, like they should have never been in the subways, reopen the shelters. Well, COVID. If you can re-open a school, you can open a shelter, right?
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:09:08)
The police have to do their job and they have to arrest people who deserve to be arrested. If somebody is openly injecting drugs on a city street, they should be arrested. So, I think we have to attack the whole constellation because there’s a negative synergy that’s now going on. It’s this feeling of the city being degraded. As I said, I’m not an import. I grew up here. I have seen the city go through cycles. Most of the younger guys, you’ve only seen an up cycle. You don’t remember what the city was like, because you weren’t born some of you, in the ’60s when it was really bad and the ’70s. So, I’ve seen the city go up, I’ve seen the city go down and it’s a question of leadership and effectiveness, and we’re going to make sure New York City comes back stronger than ever. But we have to stop the denial and we have to acknowledge the problem because that’s always the first step. Acknowledged the problem. We have a problem.
Andrew M. Cuomo: (01:10:28)