Aug 19, 2020
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo Conference Call Transcript August 19
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke on a conference call on August 19 to discuss reopening. He warned of a second wave in the fall, saying restaurants may need to close again. Read the transcript here.
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Governor Cuomo: (00:01)
You can call me Governor Cuomo, Coumo, Kokomo, whatever makes you happy. I have Melissa DeRosa, Robert Mojica, Jim Malatras, Gareth Rhodes, Kelly Cummings, Beth Garvey on the phone with me. Whole ensemble. On coronavirus, we have good news today. I’m going to give you a disclaimer afterwards, but today is day 172. We did 80,000 tests, 631 were positive. That’s 0.7%. That is great news. The numbers have been great, it’s the 12th straight day that we’re under 1%. So that is great news.
Governor Cuomo: (01:06)
Six New Yorkers passed away from COVID, they’re in our thoughts and prayers. 548 were hospitalized. That’s up 11, 131 in ICU, that’s up five, 60 intubated, that’s flat. The numbers are very good news. The numbers have been very good news for months. The numbers have been extraordinarily good news, 12 straight day under 1%.
Governor Cuomo: (01:41)
What’s the disclaimer? The disclaimer is I say that and people think, “Oh, everything’s great. COVID is over. We’ve handled it. We’ve mastered the situation. It’s over for us.” That is factually not true. Maybe we are at half time in the game and we ended the first half in good shape after a brutal first half, and we’re in the locker room. COVID is not over by any stretch of the imagination, and the feeling of complacency poses an obstacle in and of itself.
Governor Cuomo: (02:40)
I’ve been saying, don’t get cocky, don’t get arrogant. But then on the other hand, I’ve also been saying, “Great news today. Great news today. Great news today.” I understand the duality of the truth here. But, the reason we’re doing well is because we’re being smart. And if people’s behavior doesn’t remain disciplined, we’re going to have a problem and you’ll see the numbers change. The compliance, we see gross violations of the rules. We see it in bars and restaurants.
Governor Cuomo: (03:24)
We’re using the SLA and the state police to compliment the local police and the SLA last night found another five establishments in violation, but people have to be as diligent about their compliance, local governments have to do their job. The SLA and the state police cannot substitute for local police departments. The NYPD has to do its job, not the Sheriff’s department in New York City. Something like 150 sheriffs. They’re 30,000 NYPD. This is the law enforcement. We need the NYPD doing this, we need the national Nassau County Police Department doing it. We need the Suffolk County Police Department. We need the town of South Hampton Police Department.
Governor Cuomo: (04:27)
So, complacency is the issue because we are very much in the midst of it. I said I’m doing a book on COVID. Some people say, “Oh, you’re doing the history of COVID.” And my book is not about the history of COVID because it’s not over. It is what we have learned, what we should learn, what we must do, how we handle this, and what we need to do in the second half of the game. We are still in the midst of it my friends, don’t write about it in the past tense.
Governor Cuomo: (05:20)
And as we sit here today, just to give you a dose of reality, we need to prepare for the second wave. Now, the second wave is not the second wave that they originally talked about. When they said second wave originally, they were referring to the 1918 pandemic, which had one wave and then a “second wave”. The second wave was a mutated virus. The virus mutated, and came back as a second virus, once it mutates it’s technically a second virus.
Governor Cuomo: (06:07)
When we started talking about COVID we talked about a second wave, could COVID mutate and come back in a second wave? We’re still in the first wave, the virus hasn’t mutated. But we do have in effect the second wave, which is the flu season is starting. You put the flu season on top of COVID, this is a very difficult situation to deal with, and that is going to be the second wave. Dr. Fauci talks about a terrible fall, that’s what he’s talking about. The CDC says we’re going to have a terrible fall. Why? It poses a host of complexities. Schools are doing temperature checks on the way in, and they’re looking for symptomatic children. First of all, symptomatic children, you don’t have to be symptomatic, as we’ve learned, they can be asymptomatic. But second of all, symptomatic children, you’re in flu season, who doesn’t have sniffles or a cough? I mean, to pick symptomatic children out of a line is going to be very, very hard.
Governor Cuomo: (07:28)
Second, all across the board, you’re going to have the same complexity. How do you do the flu tests and the COVID tests at the same time? Meaning, we have deployed almost all our lab capacity to do COVID tests. You know what our lab capacity normally did? HIV tests and flu tests. We now have everybody deployed doing COVID tests. They’re going to now need to reduce their COVID tests to do flu tests. We were so effective at commandeering testing capacity for COVID tests that there is no flex in the system.
Governor Cuomo: (08:29)
State Department of Health is going to send out a letter today to every County health department asking just this question, “What plans have you made to perform the necessary flu tests which commence basically in September and COVID tests simultaneously?” That letter’s going to go out today. This is going to be difficult and challenging. It will require a reduction in the number of COVID tests or in the turnaround time on COVID tests and we already have issues on the turnaround time on COVID tests. So, we want to get ahead of this and that letter from the Department of Health is going to do that and that letter goes out today. But I’m telling you, there’s going to be no easy answer to that riddle.
Governor Cuomo: (09:45)
Number two, I want the schools that are doing their plans to reopen, to take into consideration what we’ve seen in other schools K to 12, but we’ve seen most recently in UNC, Notre Dame, 130 infected in one week and they closed. The lesson to learn there is, yes, when you bring back a lot of people and put them in a congregate setting, you can have an increase. Well, we told the students, “Socially distance.” Yeah, I know, we’ve been telling young people to socially distance for the past six months. Go look at Manhattan on a Thursday night and Friday night and Saturday night and tell me how well they’ve been listening. You think their behavior is going to change when they go back to school? 130 students in one week, that is a failure of the testing and contact tracing operations. It…
Governor Cuomo: (11:02)
… tracing operations. It shouldn’t get to 130. Look at that and then look at your school reopening plan and how would you make sure you don’t wind up in that situation? What was your testing procedure? Could it have gotten that big, that fast? Now, frankly, on a college in some ways it’s not as bad because the student was infecting other students. K-12, if you had 130 students positive, it’s not 130, it’s 500 because the student would have gone home and dealt with people in their immediate family. In some ways being on a college campus is less problematic from a spread point of view than K-12. But I want the schools to take this situation into consideration and answer the question, would this have happened in your school? Could you have caught the spread before it got to 130 students? And if you can’t answer, yes, then there’s a problem.
Governor Cuomo: (12:42)
But the basic point on both is opening schools, risky and problematic. That happens in September. In September, the flu season starts. Going to make it much harder to diagnose symptomatic people, going to make some people sick with the flu, which will then make them in a more serious situation if they get COVID. And then it’s going to really stress our testing capacity. That all happens in a matter of weeks. This is not over. The second wave is coming. It’s going to be more challenging. On top of that, we still have states all around us getting infected and quarantine facilities and procedures and lack of compliance in bars and restaurants, which if I had to guess, that lack of compliance is going to be transferred to college campuses all across the state. And we still have local police departments that are not stepping up and doing their job. So there’s a lot yet to come and a lot yet to be written. And yes, 12 days of great news. Yes, months of great news. Yes, much to be proud of. It’s half time.
Governor Cuomo: (14:26)
I’m not writing history because the situation is still ongoing and there’s still much to learn and eyes that need to be opened across the nation and federal lessons to be learned quickly. One other point, the DPS has put out a notice of violation for the response to the past tropical storm. They’re sending out a notice of apparent violation for service providers, Con Edison, Orange Rockland, PSE & G and Central Hudson and Altice Optimum. PSE & G has already been notified that they are not going to receive their incentive bonus that was in their contract for good performance. That was a $10 million bonus that was written into the contract if they performed well. After this tropical storm, they’re not receiving that bonus. DPS is going to do an investigation. I said last week, I am not satisfied with the performance of DPS. I’m going to ask the Department of Financial Services, DFS, to work with DPS. DFS has significant investigatory capacity. Linda Lacewell, from former Eastern district federal prosecutor worked with me in the AGs office. She’s very strong.
Governor Cuomo: (16:20)
And they do forensic audits and forensic investigations. What did you know when? What preparations did you take? What emails did you send? So DFS will help DPS on this investigation because I want a faster, more thorough investigation than they’ve done in the past. I am also going to be proposing legislation to facilitate, expedite and clarify the process for a utility to lose their franchise. A piece of legislation that will redefine franchise revocation. In other words, if you revoke a franchise… utilities have franchises from the state. The state can determine that a utility should lose its franchise. The grounds for that are fairly straightforward and the determination is fairly straightforward in the law. If you revoke a franchise from a utility, then what happens going forward? In other words, let’s say you revoke Orange & Rockland, let me not give you a name, any utility. Who owns the cables and the telephone poles and the trucks? They were paid for in the utility cost by the rate payers. What is a corporate asset and what is an asset of the rate payers?
Governor Cuomo: (18:28)
Could a utility claim, well, I own the poles and the wires and the cables and the trucks and you have to now pay me for those assets which the rate payers already paid for? Or would they just find a confounding way to wrap this up in litigation for a prolonged period of time? And litigation can cause more chaos, right? The last thing you want to do is get into a prolonged litigation where you don’t know who’s responsible for turning on the lights in the morning. So I’m going to propose a piece of legislation to do that because frankly, we’ve gone through this situation too many times. And I have personally been onsite in these emergencies with these utility companies, in their offices, with their chief executives. I have personally been in the tunnels, looking at the cables. I’ve personally been in the substations. I’ve personally been with the utility workers. I have lived this with them.
Governor Cuomo: (19:58)
I understand what happens in a storm. I understand the snow falls on a tree and a tree has branches and the branches collapse. So when the branch falls, it hits the wire and when the wire gets hit, the wire breaks. I get it. I get transformers get overloaded but the service we pay them for is in that precise instance. That’s what we pay them for. It’s like an ambulance drivers saying, well, I had to get there fast and I had to drive fast and that’s why I had an accident because I had to drive fast. I know. You are an ambulance driver. That’s what I pay you to do and that’s the skill set you need to do the job and that’s the equipment you need to do the job. I don’t need an ambulance driver to take us on a Sunday stroll. These utility companies predict, understand we’re going to have the storms and we’re going to have the emergencies and that’s the art form of the business.
Governor Cuomo: (21:17)
So we’ll do the investigation. I told you about PSE & G. This is going to be a much faster investigation than before. It’s going to be a much more thorough investigation than before. Department of Financial Services is very good at this. And they’ll work with DPS and I’m going to propose a piece of legislation on how to have an accelerated, fair revocation process. And I understand that utilities are powerful, but I’m going to say that the legislature, at the end of the day, we represent the people of the state. And they’ve been paying these bills for many years and they’re not going to pay twice if there’s a revocation.
Governor Cuomo: (22:02)
… years, and they’re not going to pay twice if there’s a revocation.
Governor Cuomo: (22:04)
Okay. Questions, operator?
As a reminder, to ask a question you will need to press star one on your telephone keypad. Again, that is star one to ask a question. We’ll pause for just a moment to compile the Q and A roster.
Our first question comes from the line of Andrew Siff from WNBC-TV, your line is open.
Andrew Siff: (22:46)
Governor, hello, how are you? I have a question about indoor dining.
Andrew Siff: (22:52)
In New York City, still not available, so a lot of the restaurateurs wonder why indoor dining is open in Westchester and Long Island when the health data is virtually the same. Secondarily, the restaurants today are saying with fall approaching and colder weather approaching, they’re going to be put out of business unless there’s some kind of either financial help or indoor plan, because they’re not going to be able to function without these outdoor tables. How do you respond to that?
Governor Cuomo: (23:24)
Thank you, Mr. Siff. I understand the inconvenience that many businesses are dealing with going through this. I understand that many businesses are under economic hardship and they feel that if they can’t get back to full operating that they’re going to have issues. With restaurants, we’re very aware of it. We made the provision for the outdoor dining precisely for that reason. Now they’re right, the weather’s going to start to get cold. What do we do if it’s cold and people don’t want to eat outside? I get it. Again, that’s in the fall, right? Today, in this environment, two weeks is what a year used to be, right? Everything changes every two weeks.
Governor Cuomo: (24:21)
First, Westchester doesn’t decide when the Westchester restaurant’s open. New York City doesn’t decide when the New York City restaurants open. Nassau doesn’t decide when the Nassau restaurants open. The worst thing we can do now is cause confusion for people with different politicians saying different things. You guys can be helpful because you guys know the law, even if a politician doesn’t. The state law governs all these issues: Closing schools, opening schools, closing gyms, opening gyms, closing restaurants, opening restaurants. A local politician will say, “I think we should close restaurants. We should open restaurants.” You know the law, so you could be helpful from a public dialogue and not to create public confusion. That’s maybe the local politician’s opinion on what should happen, but that’s not the law, that doesn’t govern, it has no legal relevance.
Governor Cuomo: (25:40)
The restaurants in New York city, New York city is in a different situation than Westchester County and is in a different situation than Nassau County. Anyone who has been following this situation at all realizes that. Frankly, to like in the two situations is just absurd. They’re different demographically, they’re different by population, they’re different by density, they’re different by crowding factor. Westchester never had the problem that New York City had. Nassau never had the problem that New York City had. They are two totally different environments. Are we more careful in New York city because of those factors? Of course we are. It would be negligent not to be.
Governor Cuomo: (26:38)
You open a restaurant indoor dining in Westchester, in Mount Kisco, where I live, that’s one thing. You open it up on downtown Manhattan, that’s a different situation. You even know that the current dynamics are totally different. We have much, a much bigger problem in New York City today than any of the surrounding suburbs with a lack of compliance. The restaurants are much more of a problem today. The bars are a much bigger problem today than Nassau or Westchester. You know that you’ve heard the SLA numbers every day. You know how many violations they’re giving in New York City, and those are restaurants and bars. It just takes a modicum of common sense to understand the situation. You just heard me say I need NYPD to do a better job of compliance, that any system that’s relying on 150 sheriffs to do the job of 30,000 and NYPD is obviously flawed. Yes, news flash, New York City is different than Westchester.
Our next question comes from the line of Jennifer Lewke from WHEC-TV. Your line is open.
Again, Jennifer Lewke, Your line is open.
Jennifer Lewke: (28:33)
Governor, the Feds now say that they will allow States to continue existing unemployment payment towards that 25% share for the additional weekly federal benefit, meaning there would be no additional cost for New York in order to offer the unemployed the $300. Will you apply for that FEMA money to fund that payment?
Governor Cuomo: (28:53)
I don’t know what the Fed’s most recent decision is. I don’t know that any of it is legal. I don’t believe the whole executive order mechanism is legal. I think this is all an artificial construction for political reasons as a tactic in their legislative negotiation. But I’m not. I don’t believe any of it would be a legal construct.
Governor Cuomo: (29:26)
I also serve as Chairman of the National Governors Association. All the governors will tell you that if the states need to reinvent their unemployment insurance administration program, it will be weeks or months before anyone gets a check. If you remember last time, we went through weeks in New York of backlog because every time you change the administration process, you have to redo the software, et cetera, because you’re issuing millions of checks. New York was one of the faster states doing it. Some of the other States took months to reboot.
Governor Cuomo: (30:18)
None of it is real. The executive order, I don’t think it a legal mechanism. A state’s ability to redesign their administration system is a virtual impossibility in a short period of time. This is just tactics for them because they are trying to say to the legislators: “We don’t need you. We can do it by executive order.”
Governor Cuomo: (30:44)
It’s an impossibility for the state of New York to contribute any money to unemployment insurance. You cannot get water out of a stone. That is a fact. We have a $ 14 billion deficit and we can’t pay for it. As far as FEMA reimbursing us, that goes down with one of the other great lies: the check is in the mail.
Governor Cuomo: (31:19)
President Trump, listen to this, President Trump says to me in the oval office: “I’m going to wave the FEMA 25% match.” The way FEMA normally works is they help, they build Javits, et cetera, and then the state pays 25%. Very often the federal government waives the 25%. The president said to me: “I waived the 25%.” I came back I announced that he waives the 25% that we’re supposed to pay for FEMA. I called the FEMA secretary, director, whatever they call him, Gaynor. I said, “I just spoke to the president, he waived New York’s 25%.” It was all public. Make a long story short, they refused to waive the 25% and say that we owe them 25%. FEMA I’d rather do business with the old-time bookie on the street corner than do business with FEMA.
Our next question comes from the line of Kevin Maher from News 12 Long Island. Your line is open.
Kevin Maher: (32:54)
Good afternoon, Governor. In terms of reopening the schools, where do you stand on the possibility of allowing schools to have-
Speaker 1: (33:03)
The possibility of allowing schools to have high school sports in the fall, considering Connecticut’s governor has given the okay and New Jersey’s governor has given the okay, as long as school districts are prepared to also have safety precautions in place. Where do you stand on that?
Governor Cuomo: (33:19)
Yeah, I’m going to ask Rob, have we put that guidance out yet, Rob?
Not for schools on sports, but we’ve put out guidance for youth sports generally. And so we’ve allowed youth sports to occur in the state with guidelines. We have not allowed tournament play, which means mixing one team against another team, right against another school, against another state, because then you’re mixing them together. So intramural within the teams, yes. Within the schools, yes. But as far as competing with other schools, that we have not said yes to yet. And right now, the focus really is on the classrooms and getting those opened before we go into the youth sports.
Governor Cuomo: (34:07)
Yeah. But I understand the thrust of the question that it’s coming. So let’s say we’ll have an answer within the week. Operator, let’s take one more please.
Okay. Our next question or our last question comes from the line of Noah Higgins from CNBC. Your line is open.
Noah Higgins: (34:33)
Hi Governor, can you hear me?
Governor Cuomo: (34:35)
Yes, I can. CNBC, how are you?
Noah Higgins: (34:37)
Hey, how’s it going? Thanks for taking my question. I have a question actually about this book deal, because some people have been questioning its timing since we’re still responding to this crisis. So I’m wondering if you could address some of those concerns and where the profits of this book will go and if you plan to donate them or retain them.
Governor Cuomo: (34:57)
Yeah. The book, as I’ve just been saying on this call, the book is not the history of COVID. That totally misses the point of everything I’ve been saying for the past six months, by the way. We are very much in the midst of it. We have learned much, we have more to learn. We’ve done some things right, we’ve done some things wrong. But I’ll stay with the analogy. Let’s say we’re at halftime in the game. Nobody even knows if we’re at halftime, by the way. Nobody knows if there’s going to be a second wave of a literally mutated virus. Nobody knows how bad the fall is going to be. And in any event, it’s only a matter of time, in my opinion, before there’s the COVID successor. When you think back, we had MERS, we had SARS, we had swine flu, we had H1N1, we had Ebola. Now we have COVID. COVID didn’t just drop from the sky. We had all these warning signs. Who would now believe that COVID is the last one?
Governor Cuomo: (36:35)
So we’re in the midst of this. And my book is going to be about what we need to do, as much, if not more, as what we’ve done. What we need to do. We’re now coming up with the fall. How do you do a COVID test and a flu test? We’re going to be reopening all these schools. Look at UNC, look at schools in Georgia. Look at all the mistakes we’re making. We still have a federal government that has no idea where they are. I mean, I said at my Democratic convention remarks, they’ve ignored the virus, they’ve denied the virus, they’ve done everything except address the virus. This whole methodology of 50 states, each one handles its own situation. Which, when you think about it, how ludicrous. If I had an emergency that was affecting every county in my state, and I said, “Okay, the counties, you’re on your own. State government, I don’t do that. This is all counties.”
Governor Cuomo: (38:02)
So the book is as much about what we need to do going forward as a retrospective. There is no telling of history. When you are at halftime, it doesn’t work that way. Now at halftime, you should go into the locker room and say, “This is what we did right, this is what we did wrong. And now we have to go out there and play the second half of the game.” And that’s where my mindset is. Hopefully in the second half of the game, by the way, the federal government gets into the game. I desperately hope that.
Governor Cuomo: (38:55)
I believe there’s going to a new federal government in the second half of the game. I believe that’s a federal government that is going to … A new federal government comes up, gets put in, they’re going to have to come up to speed very quickly on what the federal government should be doing and can be doing. Right? And I understand the federal government. I was a cabinet secretary and I worked on emergencies, worked on disasters, and I’ve been working with the federal government all through this. So I have some ideas on what the new federal government should be doing. I have some ideas on what the old federal government should have done.
Governor Cuomo: (39:43)
But we’re in halftime. And the halftime analysis is very important. There is no team that goes into the locker room at halftime and says, “Everybody call your wife.” You talk about what happened the first half, what has to happen in the second half. Also, by the way, there are a number of books that have already been written. Governor Hogan did a book. Northwell Hospital did a book. By the way, there are books that have been written about me and what I did that I didn’t even know about. There’s a book that’s for sale on me. I’m on the cover of it. So people write books.
Governor Cuomo: (40:42)
But from my point of view, my purpose is we’re in the midst of this. Let’s look at what we did right, let’s look at what we did wrong, because we still have a lot more to do. And even if once we get past this COVID, we have to deal with it in the fall, then we have a possibility of a second wave, and then there’s going to be something after COVID. MERS, SARS, Ebola, H1N1, swine flu. Oh, that’ll never happen again. Oh, that’ll never happen again. Oh, that’ll never happen again. Yeah, sure. Look, I was even there for Ebola. I knew that we didn’t know what we were doing for Ebola. So let’s learn.
Governor Cuomo: (41:33)
On the finances on the book, you’ll see it on my financial disclosure. A big part of it is what the book actually does and how many sales the book has. And I will be making a contribution to a COVID related entity. But again, a lot of it depends on whether or not the book sells. So I hope you guys buy it. Thank you all very much. Thank you for taking the time.