Aug 7, 2020
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo Conference Call Transcript August 7: Opening Schools
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke on a conference call on August 7 to announce the reopening of schools in New York. He said: “If anybody can open schools, we can open schools. That’s true for every region in the state”. Read the transcript here.
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Governor Andrew Cuomo: (00:00)
Couple of announcements. Then we’ll take your questions. Today is day 160. New York did 70,000 tests yesterday. We are at 1%, and that’s great news. Five New Yorkers passed away. They’re in our thoughts and prayers. 579 were hospitalized. 139 were in ICU. 66 intubated. Those numbers, all about flat. That is all great news, especially when you consider what’s going on around us. I mean, you have increases not only across the country, but even in our region. Again, our performance is extraordinary in this sea of spread.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (00:53)
Our numbers are great because we’re doing what we need to do. The quarantine procedures are all in place. We’re enforcing compliance, enforce compliance. Local governments still are not doing enough. This is a function for their police department and their health departments. They have to be more aggressive. I don’t know how else to say it. The state has a supplemental task force, state police and the SLA, that is fulfilling the obligation the local governments are supposed to be fulfilling, right? Last night, 14 more establishments were given violations: three in the Bronx, four in Brooklyn, five in Manhattan, two in Queens.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (01:46)
There’s a blackout that happened in Manhattan, 5:00 this morning. Upper West Side and Upper East Side… There’s about 200,000 outages. The power came back very quickly. Con Ed says that there was a transmission station issue along the East River and Queens, which feeds parts of Manhattan. Con Ed said there was no fire or visible explosion, which there has been in the past. They don’t know exactly what it was. They’re deconstructing the equipment now to find out exactly what it was. They think it may be tied into problems from the tropical storm, but they’re not sure. The outage also briefly halted service on subway lines and Metro-North, but the MTA is working to restore that. By now, almost all of the power is back on in those situations.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (02:58)
I’m going to send a letter to the congressional delegation with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assemblyman Carl Heastie that says to our congressional delegation, in this last piece of legislation, it’s critical, and we need federal assistance. We need $30 billion over two years for the state to meet its obligations, $12 billion for the MTA. Otherwise, there’s going to be increases. If the Port Authority doesn’t get funding, you could see a curtailment of construction at LaGuardia or JFK. Construction at LaGuardia and JFK is even more important now than ever before because that is a significant boost for New York City. New York City needs a significant boost with all the problems they’re experiencing.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (04:05)
On schools, today is the deadline to look at the infection rates and make a determination. By our infection rates, all school districts can open. Everywhere in the state, every region is below the threshold that we established, which is just great news. Look, let me say it this way. You look at our infection rate. We are probably in the best situation in the country right now, as incredible as that is. If anybody can open schools, we can open schools. That’s true for every region in the state, period.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (04:54)
Now, every school district has submitted plans to the Department of Health and State Education Department. State Education Department, as you know, is a separate department. It’s run by the Board of Regents. I have nothing to do with it. Department of Health has the plans. Department of Health can disapprove plans if they’re not responsible from a health point of view. There are 749 districts that have to submit plans. Of those 749, 127 districts have not submitted plans to the Department of Health. 50 of those, an additional 50, are either incomplete on their face or deficient. The Department of Health is going to continue going through the plans over the weekend and on Monday, is going to notify those school districts where it’s incomplete or deficient. There may be more than the 50, but it’s 50 right now, and notify those school districts who have not submitted a plan. As I said, it’s 127 now. Department of Health hasn’t finished their review. They will, over this weekend, and they’ll make those notifications today and Monday to those school districts. They are all authorized to open.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (06:37)
Again, we’re going to watch the infection rate between now and the day that schools open. If there’s a spike in the infection rate, if there’s a matter of concern in the infection rate, then we can revisit it. For planning purposes, they can reopen. They then go to step two, right, which is the local school district has to come up with a plan. They have to deal with their parents and teachers, which is going to be a more complicated issue than I think many of them fully appreciate. I have been deluged with calls from parents and teachers. There is a significant level of anxiety and concern. I’ve said a number of times, these school districts have to be talking to the parents and talking to the teachers because if the teachers don’t come back, then you can’t really open the schools. If the parents don’t send their students, then you’re not really opening the schools.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (07:55)
To facilitate that, I want the school districts to do two things. One, I know where the bulk of the questions are coming from. A set of questions that I have from a policy matter is remote learning and the equity in the remote learning process. We’ve learned from the experiences we’ve had during COVID that remote learning can be quite unequal, given the demographics and given the circumstances. I’m going to ask the school districts to post their remote learning plan on how they’re going to do remote learning to the extent they are, if they are, in their district.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (08:57)
Also, there’s been a lot of questions about testing. Most of the plans will say, a student comes in, temperature check, and if the student has a temperature, they have to be tested. What does that mean? How is the student tested? Where is the student tested? If there are 20 students who have a temperature on day one, how do you get those students tested? Where do you get them tested? What happens in the interim? Teachers also want to know how a teacher can get a test, and how would that be done. Different school districts have different theories, but that question of testing for students and teachers is a high level of concern. To facilitate that dialogue, I want the school districts to post their, quote, unquote, “testing plan” for their school district. Whenever they talk about testing, how will you do that? That’s what the parents want to know. How quickly will it be done? et cetera. That’s a second component of the plan that should be posted on the website.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (10:31)
The third… the questions around contact tracing in a school. If a student tests positive in a class, tests positive… The student came in, student had a fever, student then got tested. What is the contact tracing for that positive? Do you test the class? If the student goes to a number of classes, how do you do it? How will the school do contact tracing? Will the school ask the local government to do it? Will the school ask the local health department to do it? These three areas are the highly-questioned areas, almost across all school districts: remote learning, how do you do testing? How do you do contact tracing? I want the school districts to do just that component of their plan that they then post. A parent who has questions on one of those three areas, they can go right to those three specific answers rather than waiting through the entire district’s plan because I don’t think district plans are quite lengthy. I’m asking school district to post those three components.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (12:12)
Second, I’m asking all the school districts to have discussions with the parents. There should be at least three discussion sessions with parents where the parents are given notice. They can be online, however it works for the local school district. They have to communicate with the parents, and explain the plan, and answer the questions of the parents. Not every parent can make any one date, so the school districts should have three opportunities between now and August 21st. They publicize them and they say, “Here are the three dates,” and parents can participate online, however they do it. Parents need an opportunity to be heard, and the schools should welcome the opportunity to actually explain the plan.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (13:15)
For the big five school districts, I’d like them to set up five sessions between now and August 21, just because there are more parents, and you want to give parents an opportunity to ask a question. You’ll have thousands of parents, so even five is, I don’t think, overly exhaustive. I don’t know how many questions you can get to, but the more dialogue, the better. I’m asking the school districts to set up at least one discussion just with the teachers where they go through the plan, and everybody is in one conversation. Teachers, administrators… They discuss exactly what is in the plan. If the teachers have questions or concerns, let’s get them aired, and let’s get them in a point where everybody’s hearing the same thing.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (14:21)
Good news: All schools can reopen. Again, we have the best infection situation in the country. If any state can do it, this state can do it because we’ve been smart from day one. We do the masks. We do the social distancing. We’ve kept that infection rate down. We can bring the same level of intelligence to the school reopening that we brought to the economic reopening. Our school guidance has been touted as the smartest in the country. Our economic reopening guidance was the smartest in the country. If anyone can do it, we can do it. We have been successful because we’ve been smart, and we have to continue to be smart.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (15:15)
With the school districts, I want those two tasks performed. One, specific plan by school district online by the end of next week. Here’s our testing plan. Here’s our contact tracing plan. Here’s our remote-learning plan. As they define it in their local reopening plan… Here is when we say, if it’s student tests positive, this is how we do testing. When we say a teacher can get testing when they want it, this is how we do it. If a student becomes positive, if a teacher becomes positive, this is how we do contact tracing. To the extent we do remote learning, if they do remote learning, this is how we do it, and this is specifically how we’re going to address the equity issues that we encountered the first time.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (16:20)
Those three plans, which are components of the overall plan: online, posted, people can read them. Second task: talk to the parents, talk to the teachers. Talk to the parents, talk to the teachers. Three online sessions with the parents between now and August 21, except for the big five school districts. They do five sessions between now and August 21, so parents have an opportunity for their question to be heard where it’s just not numerically impossible and then a session with the teachers alone. Teachers are invited to the parents’ discussions, but teachers alone, because teachers do have a separate set of issues. Teachers are older, often, so a session with the teachers because that dialogue is everything, as I’ve been saying. This is not really a bureaucratic decision. It’s a parental decision. Okay. Operator, I’ll take questions, please.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, I would like to remind everyone, in order to ask a question, press *, then the number 1, on your telephone keypad. As a reminder, please limit one question per participant to respect the timeframe. If you have a follow-up question, press *1 again to be back on cue. Thank you. We’ll pause for just a moment to compile the human roster. Your first question comes from the line of Dan Clark. Your line is now open.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (18:34)
Hey, Dan. Good morning. Say something, Dan. Talk to me, Dan. Don’t diss me, Dan.
Mr. Clark, your line is now open.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (18:56)
Dan Clark: (18:56)
Can you hear me?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (18:57)
Yes, I can. How are you?
Dan Clark: (19:00)
Good morning, governor. I’m good. How are you?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (19:02)
Dan Clark: (19:02)
I have a question for you. It was going through my mind yesterday. We saw with the nursing homes, that primarily, asymptomatic people brought the disease into their nursing homes, and that’s how it spread so quickly there. How do we prevent the same thing from happening in schools if we’re not testing students and just screening them for symptoms?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (19:23)
Are you a parent, or are you a teacher? That is the question. That is one of the top five questions that I’m asked. That’s what they’re going to ask the local school districts. Some school districts have a better answer than other districts, by the way, right? Remember, it’s up to the local district to come up with a specific plan. That is a very big question. In other words, you have some school districts who primarily talk about temperature taking. Temperature taking… If a kid has a temperature, then test that child, certainly.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (20:13)
How about the asymptomatic spread, right? Governor DeWine, Ohio, a great guy… I hope the negative test is the one that holds. That’s an asymptomatic spread. Nursing homes, asymptomatic spread. How? What happens? How do you detect the asymptomatic spread in a school unless you’re doing testing? Because if you’re not doing testing, the only way you detect asymptomatic spread is when somebody gets sick. That is a very good question. That’s a question that the local school districts are going to be asked, I can tell you that, from both the parents and the teachers. The answer is testing. Then the question becomes, okay, what percentage of testing? Who’s going to do the testing? Do you have that set up? That is a conversation. That is a very good question.
Dan Clark: (21:23)
Thank you, governor.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (21:24)
Again, your next question comes from the line of Marina Villeneuve. Your line is now open.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (21:52)
Marina Villeneuve: (21:55)
Oh, hello. Governor, I was wondering about… There has been some calls from unions and some parents as well about perhaps the need for a statewide policy when it comes to some of these tough questions that you were just talking about, when it comes to when to close down, how to deal with contact tracing. I was just wondering if you think when… As back in March, there was some sort of statewide policy about when schools should shut down as soon as there’s been a COVID case. Do you think that there’s a need for that? I was also just wondering if you had gotten tested yourself following your trip to Georgia? What was the result of that result, or that funding is the need for that?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (22:46)
Yes, I’m negative after the test. The statewide policy is viral infection rate, opening and closing. The school districts, 750 school districts in the state… They are very different. They’re different sizes, shapes, configurations, communities. There is no one-size-fits-all. These questions of remote learning, testing, contact tracing… These have to be done district by district because the circumstances are that different, district by district. What I want to make sure is they get the information up. That’s why, separate plan posted, contact tracing, separate plan, remote learning, separate plan, testing. Get it up, and then schedule these discussions to talk it through. I can’t fashion a plan that will work in every school district because they are just too different, and the circumstances are too different.
Marina Villeneuve: (24:08)
Okay. When it comes to starting or delaying the start of school, can individual school districts decide if they want to delay the start of school or delay when students can start being brought into the classrooms?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (24:21)
Yes, we’re giving flexibility to school districts. Again, like the phased economic reopening, there was no one-size-fits-all. Regions were in different circumstances, and we did have different timing for different regions, if you remember. The same is more true with school districts. There’s 750 of them, so the geographic footprint is even more refined. Their plan on remote learning, their plan of in-school, their plan of hybrid… How long do they close their school district if they get a positive? How many positives? What is their schedule? That, we leave to them.