Jan 3, 2022
New York Kathy Hochul Omicron Press Conference Transcript January 3
New York Governor Kathy Hochul held a press conference on January 3, 2022 to address the COVID Omicron variant spike in New York City. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Governor Hochul: (00:01)
Well, thank you county executive. It’s great to be back in Bills country. How about that game yesterday? Heading off to the playoffs, which is absolutely delightful after a 17-year drought. But who was counting? County Executive Bello, I want to thank you. You and I were just in the trenches together last year as we managed through the early months of the pandemic, through what we thought was a decline, and now this rise. But one thing that has been steady is your leadership and your willingness to make the tough decisions, but also to leverage the relationships that you have developed over many years of working closely with myself when I was in Congress, and then as lieutenant governor, and now as your governor. So thank you for what you’ve done.
Governor Hochul: (00:46)
I know that you were very thoughtful in your approach, as well yourselves in terms of getting test kits out to students before the break, I thought that was really smart, and how you had the foresight to purchase thousands and thousands of test kits before everybody else was. So you got probably a better price on them too, I’m going to guess, and that was brilliant. I mean, at a time when we’re all trying to manage this, there are people who stand out, and you are certainly one of them. So let’s give a round of applause to our County Executive Bello. And I’m rather fond of new leadership myself, so it’s great to welcome our new mayor here. We’ve had many conversations about how he’s hit the ground running, and we had a relationship during his time as a council member, understanding the deep needs of this city on so many fronts: accessibility to healthcare, good education, jobs. But great to be able to partner with you on this as well, our new mayor, Malik Evans.
Governor Hochul: (01:41)
And so also, I want to recognize that we’ve… Thank you, SUNY Brockport, Madam President Macpherson. I usually see you out in Brockport, but this is one of your facilities, and we thank you for making this not just a place for our event today. This is a vaccination site, and I was able to go back there and thank the workers and Department of Health, and our National Guard, and everyone who’s involved, but also the individuals who stepped forward to get their children tested. And I was very happy to see the number of children in the waiting room and in the line. Yes, this is a very good sign, because we need to do better in terms of getting our children vaccinated. So to SUNY Brockport, thank you for making this available as well.
Governor Hochul: (02:22)
And I love our legislatures. I spent a long New Year’s Eve sometimes thinking about all of you, going through over nearly 500 bills that had to be dealt with before the end of session. I’m not a procrastinator by nature, so we’ll be doing this a lot earlier in the year, but they were dropped on my desk in the waning hours of the year, and so I thought of you often. But I thank all of you for your willingness to first put forth very sharp ideas that need attention, and that’s based on your experience in your communities and what great advocates you are, but also your willingness to work with us to come up with the best solutions. So I do want to recognize our Senator Brouk. I want to thank her for all the work she has done. Samra has been an incredible leader, hit the ground running early on, and has really distinguished herself. And I want to thank her for partnership.
Governor Hochul: (03:10)
And are you the dean of the delegation now, Harry, in… That’s just certainly not age. It must be just seniority. But our Assemblymember Harry Bronson, who I worked with since my days in Congress, as well as Sarah Clark, who I worked with… Her time when she was a staffer, and has evolved into a tremendous leader in her own. And I want to thank her for all she does, and Jen Lunsford for all she’s done as well. We’ve worked closely on many issues, as well as our Assemblymember Meeks. I want to thank you for what you do. I mean, it’s tough to step up and run, especially at a time like this, when you know the people that you represent and care about so deeply are hurting. Our communities are hurting right now, and you are great advocates and champions to make sure we bring the resources to the people you represent. So thank you.
Governor Hochul: (03:53)
Also, want to give a shout out to [Dr. Young 00:03:55] from the Department of Health and the incredible Department of Health team here. They are the ones who are making magic happen behind the scenes. They’re the ones who are on the calls with the elected officials not just now, but since March of 2020, deepening relationships, giving everyone the resources they need. So thank you for all you’ve done in that front, Dr. Young. Please give our thanks to your entire team. So doing the right thing, that’s what we’re talking about here today. And I want to thank all of you for again offering this site, but we have over 15,000 vaccines administered right here, that’s quite an accomplishment, as well as the Dome Arena, which I had launched just about a year ago. Just about a year ago, I was out at the arena, and since then we did over 262,000 vaccines at that site. So little did we know we’d be needing to up the effort a year later.
Governor Hochul: (04:42)
We sort of thought as we said goodbye to 2020, 2021 would be the end of all this, and clearly it’s not. Clearly it’s not, but we never gave up. We stayed in the trenches. We stayed there on the front lines, fighting the best way we can, so I want to thank everyone. And tomorrow, we’re going to continue ramping up our statewide efforts for testing and vaccinations. There’ll be a new state-run testing site tomorrow, just a few blocks away at the YMCA Carlson MetroCenter. And those will be from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM, so people who work till 5:00 or so, make sure you get there by 6:00. And that’d be one of our 19 test run sites as well as 1,800 locations across the state, so we’re looking forward to that, but we’re not in a good place. I’m going to be really honest with you. This is the winter surge we predicted. We know that particularly after families gathered December 25th, over that weekend, another weekend holiday we just completed with New Year’s, there’s a lot of human interaction.
Governor Hochul: (05:40)
And what happens when humans gather? They spread the virus. And we fully anticipate on top of the surge that’s already been ongoing that there’s going to be another wave that’s occurring as a result of these holidays. But if history is an example, last year, we saw this. I started predicting this back in October. We did see a dramatic decline actually after Super Bowl weekend, probably the last big time people got together indoors for a while. So when we see the Bills in the Super Bowl, make sure you’re all vaxxed, make sure you’re boosted, and make sure you’re wearing your mask. I hope I didn’t jinx anything, but they’re going to be there. So we know what to do, but also it’s about getting vaccinated, boosted, wearing our mask. And again, people who are sick, please stay home. So we did talk about our plan. It’s all about keeping kids in school, and one of the things I’m excited about is making sure that we have other ways to enhance our opportunities to keep kids in schools. A lot of it has to do with keeping them wearing masks.
Governor Hochul: (06:34)
We had a statewide mask mandate, as well as making sure that they’re vaccinated and that we have test kits that can go home with the kids if anyone else in the class tests positive. So we already had masks and test kits, but we distributed almost a half a million masks to the Finger Lakes area and to Monroe County. And we have many facilities here, so we’re going to keep those as well. Our goal is keep the masks, testing, prevents severe illness, keep increasing vaccines, and work in collaboration with our local leaders. So our numbers are misleading today, having 51,000 cases of positive today and about 1,100 in the Finger Lakes. Unfortunately, I’m going to say as a result of the holiday weekend, those numbers are probably going to be much higher tomorrow. They didn’t go from nearly 90,000 to 51,000.
Governor Hochul: (07:25)
That is simply a function of people not getting tested over the weekend, so my concern is that trend that you see there is going to continue going up. And it’s the cases per 100,000 we look at. These numbers are rather shocking when you think about where we are, but as we have to remind everyone, this is not the first strain of COVID-19. It is not the Delta variant. People are testing positive, which is a much higher rate, but the severity of the illness is far less than we’ve seen before. So shocking in the scale and the numbers, the number of people who are testing positive, but also grateful, so grateful, that we’re not seeing… And now it’s been with us for a solid month now. I remember it was December 2nd when I had a press conference in the city of New York with the mayor saying we have our first cases in New York City.
Governor Hochul: (08:17)
So literally a month later, we have enough data to say right now, we can say with certainty that the cases are not presenting themselves as severely as they could have, or we had feared. So that is the silver lining, if you will, in what we’re looking at. Hospitalizations continue to rise. That is a trend that is again troubling. We are looking at the percentages of each region, how many cases, as well as how many hospitalizations. We’re not where we were, but we’re not looking to break that record from April 12. That is not what we’re striving for. We’re hoping that similar to what we saw in South Africa, that it goes up quickly. And this is not that wave we saw last year that kind of kept going up and up. This is straight up, and love to see it come straight down.
Governor Hochul: (09:04)
We just don’t have a time on that, but we’re doing all we can. And again, we have many more defenses this time. One year ago, vaccinations were scarce. They were going to people in nursing homes and essential workers. Everybody was saying, “When can I get that vaccine,” just one year ago. The vaccines are so plentiful. They’re out there. There’s no person who cannot get a vaccine in the state of New York. So we are at a far better place, just to put this in perspective. So we’re looking at a critical moment, but we also want to… We’re going to start asking some questions. We talked about the hospitalizations. I have always wondered: When we’re looking at the hospitalizations of people testing positive in a hospital, is that person in the hospital because of COVID, or did they show up there and are routinely tested and showing positive, and they may have been asymptomatic or even just had the sniffles?
Governor Hochul: (09:55)
Someone is in a car accident, they go to the emergency room. They test positive for COVID while they’re there. They’re not there being treated for COVID. Now, someone’s conditions can worsen while they’re in the hospital. I’m not saying that won’t happen, but I’ve just been doing a random call around to some of the hospital leaders that I touched base with, and I’m seeing numbers from 20 to sometimes 50%. But we don’t have clear data right now, that’s anecdotal. Beginning tomorrow, we’re going to be asking all hospitals to break out for us how many people are being hospitalized because of COVID symptoms, how many people happen to be testing positive just while they’re in there for other treatments. So I think that’s important. I think I just want to always be honest with New Yorkers about how bad this is. Yes, the sheer numbers of people infected are high, but I want to see whether or not the hospitalizations correlate with that.
Governor Hochul: (10:48)
And I’m anticipating to see that at least a certain percentage overall are not related to being treated for COVID, but we’re still going to watch hospital… Hospital capacity is still hospital capacity. You either have beds for sick people or you don’t. And if you have a heart condition, you don’t want to be turned away because the beds were filled with either other people’s conditions like that or with COVID, so we’re watching that very closely. Right now, Finger Lakes’ capacity overall is about 14% of acute beds. Any institution has 10% or below, it’s an automatic cessation of elective surgeries. Last year, it was statewide. Regardless of your circumstances, you could have had almost no infections in your area and elective surgeries were shut down. It does not have to be that way. That was an approach based on not having the resources we have now, like vaccinations and boosters and having widely available test kits.
Governor Hochul: (11:42)
So we’re watching that number. And ICU beds, that’s a low number. That is a low number, so we’re working closely in partnership with our hospitals to get those numbers much higher. Also, what else can we do? We have about 21 hospitals affected by having to not be offering elective procedures right now. We’ll see whether that trend holds, whether that gets better. That had started out at 32, so we’ve actually taken hospitals off the list. Some have come off, some have gone on, but about 21. 21 hospitals statewide is not that bad, but based on what we’ve seen over this weekend and the numbers that were starting to creep out, this could change very quickly. We could see a drop soon in our hospital capacity. And at that point, we’ll be deciding whether we need to take wider steps.
Governor Hochul: (12:29)
And we’re ready to do it, and we have the plans in place, we’re just watching this for a couple more days to see what those steps might be. We also have to continue supporting our health systems, and that means deploying more National Guard. As I mentioned on Friday when I announced my larger 2.0 plan, for the first time, we are now requiring that National Guard members be trained as EMTs, because I kept saying, “Send in the National Guard. Send in the National Guard. They’re amazing. They do everything for us.” But if they don’t have any medical training, there’s limitations on what they can do. So the ones who have medical training immediately went into our nursing homes, into our hospitals to relieve the pressure off our incredibly overworked and exhausted healthcare workforce. But in order to be able to deploy them more fully, I want them all trained as EMTs.
Governor Hochul: (13:13)
We have our first classes starting now, about 80 individuals, smaller class. We’ll get that ramped up, but then have them available literally in one month, one month from now of 80 more people I can deploy. So we’re sending medics to Monroe Community Hospital, medics at Wayne County Nursing Home, as well as ambulance units. When I was on the phone with President Biden and also with his team a couple days later, I asked for more ambulance teams. We have about 11 ambulance teams stationed around the Batavia area positioned to assist both that area, but the Finger Lakes in West New York. So these ambulance teams are really important for transport as well, and we also have an ambulance system in Syracuse available to help. So unfortunately, this is the sad part of what we say, is that 103 people are no longer with us, people that started out the holiday weekend with their families that passed over the weekend.
Governor Hochul: (14:01)
And it’s just so sad to think about the pain and anguish that they’re going through because of this. And I know Derrick Watson was one of our young students here, and I can’t imagine what his family’s going through right now. You think your 17-year-old’s going to live forever, and certainly outlive the parents, and I’m just so sad for this community having to deal with that passing. And our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Vaccinations. Okay, we have this 95% at first over 18 window. That’s a great number. That’s one of the highest in the nation. But I’m always saying, “Why aren’t they getting that second dose?” So I was on the call this morning with my team and saying, “Okay, now we’re sending not just robocalls and text messages saying, ‘Why aren’t you [inaudible 00:14:45].’ Let’s start personally call these people. What’s the problem? Get that second dose.”
Governor Hochul: (14:50)
That’s what’s going to make the difference. One dose will not protect you against this virus. It just won’t. It’s always been planned to get the second. And so we want to make sure you do that, then be in line to get your booster, because there’s a certain time length. But the good news is we’re now going to have FDA approval for 12 to 15-year-olds to get the booster. Now, the first children able to be boosted were last summer. So it’s a six months’ lag time for Pfizer, so they should be eligible right now. And I was in the room talking to a couple of children who were getting their booster shots. I thought that was great. So these parents are really on the ball. They knew the first date that their children were eligible, and now very soon they’ll be able to get the boosters.
Governor Hochul: (15:28)
So that’s very good. So FDA recommends five dose after the second dose. We’ll see with the CDC if they have any different changes. So we need to get those numbers up, 29%, 5 to 11. We get that high, we get that up to 50, 60, 70, 80, you don’t have to worry about when they’re in school at all. I mean, that eliminates the worry. And I don’t know why any parent would allow that to continue, where you know there’s something that can help them. You’re not the first, you’re not the second. There have been hundreds of thousands of children already vaccinated so safely. So come on, let’s protect our kids and make sure that their lives can continue on. And as we keep talking about working with our local officials to keep kids in schools, again, I commended Monroe County, the city of Rochester. We’re doing the right thing, protecting our kids, but also knowing that part of their health is their emotional health.
Governor Hochul: (16:15)
And that emotional health took a huge hit. We don’t need any more studies to see that. You see it in the eyes of parents who say, “My child is not the same as they were before this pandemic.” That year of isolation, detachment, not real learning. If you’re a kindergartner, first grader, you lose a year of education. That’s a quarter of your education already gone. I mean, that’s gone. And so we are excited about having more test kits available. We’ve had 5.2 million test kits delivered to schools already with the express purpose of keeping kids in school, or having them be able to… If someone test positive in a classroom and they’ve been exposed to them, they go home, they test negative the next day, they can come back. They test again later in the week. So the question is: How do parents get these very rare test kits that you always see the lines for?
Governor Hochul: (17:04)
We’re going to put them in your hands. We’re going to put them in the kids’ backpacks. We literally had a plane flying to JFK with another 3.7 million kits. I’m always excited when I see planes going overhead. I think they’re bringing my test kits. And we had over almost 200,000 provided to Rochester school districts as well to Rochester area, so we’ll keep it going. We’ll do our part. We’ll do our parts. Parents, you have a role to play. Teachers, God bless you for showing up and making sure you’re vaccinated, that you’re safe, that the kids are keeping their masks on. You’re amazing, what you’ve been doing, and all of us have our role to make sure you have the resources and support you need. So how do we expand testing as well? We started thinking about this. Students at college campuses are not in school right now, but they were testing before they left on campus.
Governor Hochul: (17:50)
They had facilities. They had the infrastructure set up for testing. And this actually came to us from Syracuse University, and I want to thank Chancellor Kent Syverud for approaching us and saying, “We have a plan. We tested 4,000 students a day on our campus. Those students are not here. They’re not coming back for a little while. Do you want to use our facilities?” And the answer was, “Heck yes. Heck yes, of course we do.” Then I thought, “Okay, we’ve got one campus here. What about every other SUNY campus? Can we use your facilities?” So this is a brand new announcement that beginning tomorrow, we’ll be at the Syracuse Carrier Dome, a place I have a little bit of my history about. I tried to get it named the Ernie Davis Dome, but that’s another whole story. I’ll get over it after all these years. I tried, but it is the Ernie Davis Field there. Tomorrow, from 10:00 to 3:00…
Governor Hochul: (18:36)
We’re just getting ramped up. This idea just came together literally 24 hours ago. So we’re getting started, but that’ll be staffed by the National Guard. We want to thank the National Guard again for helping lead the way. But here’s what we’re going to do: This week, we’ll have SUNY Plattsburgh, Buff State, Purchase, Oswego, Cortland, Binghamton, Stony Brook, Syracuse, as I mentioned, Albany, and SUNY Buffalo… All those sites will now have testing available for the public to come on to campus. You don’t have to pay for parking. We’ll be getting the hours out, and more to come next week. So again, we’re trying to be creative in our approach to make testing easier for everybody, and I want to thank our local leaders helping us as well. Also, we think about the impact that COVID had on families. We had to have rent relief and help landlords, and everybody weren’t able to make those payments because they lost their jobs, no fault of their own.
Governor Hochul: (19:26)
Today is the first day to apply for our very first in the nation, nobody’s done this before, a $539 million homeowner assistance fund. So elected leaders, our partners in state government, please help us get the word out to your constituents that they should apply for this, or else make a phone call here to find out how that works for them. So that’s what we’re focusing on. You know what we need to do. The battle plan is clear. It lies before us, and all of us are part. We all have a role to play that’s really important, and I look forward to the next New Year’s Eve when we talk about how we at least won this phase of the war with this pandemic. I’m not saying it’s going to go away, but how we’re managing it is the key thing. We’re protecting the people’s health, we’re protecting the educational opportunities for our kids, we’re protecting our businesses, and we’re doing it in a smart way. So thank you everyone for being part of this. With that, if there’s any questions from the press, the tough ones go the people in the front row here.
Speaker 2: (20:22)
Governor, in the Finger Lakes region, the schools here were actually early adopters of test to stay. However, the new guidelines from the stay almost pull some of that back. The guidelines from the state say they can only test to stay if the exposure was at school. You’ve been very clear, most of our county leaders have been very clear, that there’s not a high transmission in school, it’s outside of school. So is that being looked at?
Governor Hochul: (20:47)
Yeah, it certainly is. Again, we are refining everything. Again, we react to what the CDC allows us to do, then we have to adapt and make sure. Even our whole quarantine idea that it was… They said you could reduce an overall, I’ll get back to students, but the overall quarantine for individuals who tested positive. Everybody was sent home for 10 days. They may have been absolutely asymptomatic and are not contagious after five days, and yet they’ve got five more days. That has been such a huge disruption to our economy, from restaurants, to the bus drivers, to people who work in schools, our school… It’s just been paralyzing. So based on what the CDC allowed us to do, we scaled that to saying yes, you can go back after five days if you show no symptoms, no fever in 72 hours, and you also have been vaccinated.
Governor Hochul: (21:33)
With respect to schools, you’re absolutely right. I mean, there’s a thought that if they’re next to a child who tests positive, instead of having the whole class go home because there could have been exposure, and having those children stay home for 10 days, which is wildly disruptive… I mean, I literally was with one of my staffers, and she looked down at her text. She says, “Oh my gosh, my children are going home for another 10 days. They just got back, because they were exposed to someone else.” Back for a couple days, and now it’s… We can’t do that. That’s almost as disruptive as saying it’s full-time remote. That has to end.
Governor Hochul: (22:07)
So we’re going to smart about it, and asking where the exposure came from is a different question, but I think we can get to the same place. We can really get to the same place where there’s minimal disruption. Test to return if you’ve been exposed but show negative, but then test again in three days. This is not just a one-off. You have to test again just to confirm that, and that’s the way we can have more stability in our school system. But thanks for the question.
Speaker 2: (22:29)
I have one quick follow-up on test to stay. The Rochester City School District doesn’t have the resources and manpower to pull it off. The county has told us that they’ll try to help, but they don’t have resources either when it comes to manpower. Can the state do anything to help?
Governor Hochul: (22:45)
Yes, yeah. And we just talked about how many new test kits we’ve deployed to the mayor, and those are going to continue to be replenished. We now have access to 37 million test kits, which is incredible. It’s almost as many as you ordered. We got on this early as well. We saw the storm brewing. We ordered a lot of test kits, but they come in doses of 3 million or so at a time, and so our high highest priority with those test kits is school districts, school districts. And that’s why we’ll be making sure the city has what they need to stay open. And again, I commend the mayor’s leadership for taking a strong position on this, and the county executive.
Governor Hochul: (23:21)
This kind of leadership is why parents are going to be thanking them at some point and saying, “Thank you for allowing my child to have as normal as a childhood as they could during this time.” We will get to a point… When we get the vaccination rates much higher, then the masks can come off as we start seeing the cases decline. There’s a trend here. We’re going to get everybody back to normal in a classroom. But thank you. Question over here.
Speaker 3: (23:47)
Yeah. Is the state officially adopting the quarantine… Now it’s 5 days, instead of 10. [inaudible 00:23:51] you recommending that to each county? I don’t believe each county is adopting that right now.
Governor Hochul: (23:54)
We adopted that statewide. Yes, we did. We did that last week. We are the first state to adopt. I’m trying to think. It was a week ago, Friday, we were out there immediately saying that we’re going to adopt that. We did put in the caveat that we wanted people vaccinated before they went back, and I know the CDC is looking at it. Dr. Fauci at least said over the weekend he’s looking at whether or not they want to refine it to say that there has to be a negative test to go back. So those are just… Again, I think the public understands this is an ever-evolving situation. We get a change from the CDC, we have to see how it fits into what we’re doing, get the information out to people. And trying to minimize confusion about all this and getting the data out on our websites through guidance as soon as possible.
Governor Hochul: (24:36)
But we already went to five days if… Again, as I said, vaccinated people can go back after five, no fever for 72 hours, absolutely no symptoms. If they’re still sniffling, you just have to stay home. So it’s actually self-reporting, but otherwise we are paralyzing our workforce. And we can say someone’s essential, but if they have a positive test… And look, statistically, 20% of New Yorkers are testing positive, but many people don’t know it. They’re just getting a routine test because their employer requires it, or they just have very light symptoms. And so we want to make sure that we get them isolated as long as necessary so they’re not contagious, but get them back as soon as possible so we can continue on with the functionings of our economy and society. That’s what’s so important.
Speaker 4: (25:24)
Time for one more.
Speaker 5: (25:24)
Governor, there’s been some apprehension from some parents in some school districts within the state about going back in person. What’s the message to the parents and to districts including Syracuse who have decided to start either remotely or partially remotely [inaudible 00:25:44]?
Governor Hochul: (25:44)
My view is that every child should be back in school, unless they’re testing positive. And the reason we know that this is safe is that it is not being spread in schools. It’s more likely that they’re getting it because of hanging out with their relatives and their friends and the neighborhood. The incidents of it being spread in schools certainly exist, but it’s minor compared to their other exposure. So in that sense, they are safer in a school setting than being out there playing with everybody else. And the other part is the denial of a quality education. I mean, the teachers did the best they could. The parents did the best they could, but we asked too much to try and manage children learning remotely, and the disparities among communities across the state.
Governor Hochul: (26:25)
And we saw the digital divide became a canyon, where communities of color particularly did not have access to high-speed broadband or the devices to allow students to learn, and they just did the best they could. We cannot have that. That was an injustice. We cannot have that anymore. The best place for equality of education, the best opportunities for learning is in a classroom. So I’m asking parents to petition their leaders and say, “Why is the rest of the state doing this?” We have plenty of test kits. If we didn’t have testing opportunities, we’d be having a different conversation. We’re making them available with the whole thought that this will give parents and teachers the confidence to know that children sitting there are not positive for COVID, and let the learning continue. All right, thank you very much for coming out today. I really appreciate everybody. Thank you. Happy New Year. Happy New Year.