Dec 23, 2020
NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo Press Conference Transcript December 23
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a December 23 press conference on COVID-19 in the state. Read the full transcript of his news briefing here.
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Andrew Cuomo: (00:03)
Good morning. Welcome, everyone. From my far right, Gareth Rhodes, Chancellor Jim Malatras, Kelly Cummings, Director of Operations, Dr. Howard Zucker, Health Commissioner. To my left, Melissa De Rosa, Secretary to the Governor, to her left, to Robert Mujica, Budget Director of the State of New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (00:22)
Today is day 298. Numbers for today. Statewide positivity without micro clusters, shouldn’t say without all micro clusters, it’s just without micro clusters. They put that in there just to test me and test you. Today, 5.37. It was, yesterday, 5.58. Overall positivity with the micro clusters, 5.8; it was 5.89. Positivity micro clusters, 7.09; was 6.81. 200,000 tests, 164 statewide deaths. They are in our thoughts and prayers, especially during this holiday season. What a terrible, aggravating circumstance to this miserable year. Statewide hospitalizations, 6,800; discharges, 672; admissions, 1008. ICU up 40, intubations up 19.
Andrew Cuomo: (01:25)
By percentage of population: Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes. The Finger Lakes has been a problem for the past several weeks.FIt is not getting better. It’s a serious concern for us. I’m going to be speaking to the elected officials in the Finger Lakes and to the hospitals. And we’re considering several options because that is a serious and deadly situation. And it’s not getting better. Western New York, we’ve made progress. Rest of the state is basically flat. Positivity, it’s Finger Lakes and it’s Mohawk Valley. Mohawk Valley is actually higher now than the Finger Lakes, so the same situation with the Mohawk Valley. New York City, when you look at the numbers: Staten Island, 5.51, and there’s no reason for that. Follow the precautions, save lives. The issue of the new strain is very serious, and I don’t believe this country is taking it as seriously as it should. And more importantly, I don’t think this country is taking the action that it should take, okay? So let’s just talk facts first. Fact: it is in the UK and it is more dangerous. Boris Johnson says it’s 70% more transmittable. Boris Johnson closed parts of the UK. Other European countries have banned travel from the UK. But it is more dangerous. How much more dangerous, we don’t know. We don’t know if it’s more deadly. We don’t know if the vaccine works on it or not. We think the vaccine works on it. That’s our “working assumption,” but it is real and it is dangerous. It is traveling around the world as we speak, right? It’s on planes, and it is transmitting, and other people are getting on planes, and it’s the holiday season and it is traveling around the world. That is a fact, it’s not a personal opinion.
Andrew Cuomo: (03:48)
120 countries now require testing before people leave the UK, or ban in people from the UK. That is not a personal opinion, that is a fact. Number 4: France went so far as to stopping truck traffic from the UK. Caused massive backups by stopping the traffic coming into France. That’s how seriously France took it. And then you have federal officials in this country who say, “Well, it may be here already.” Okay? Those are five inarguable facts. When you hear those facts, you have to say to yourself, what? What happened? And what are we doing? And why are we not doing what 120 other countries, that are far less sophisticated, that paid far less of a price for COVID, that didn’t have the experience that we had… why aren’t we saying test the travelers in the UK before they get on a plane? Why aren’t we saying test travelers, period, before they get on a plane and come to the United States? I mean, why wouldn’t you do that?
Andrew Cuomo: (05:21)
This is what happened in the spring. It is deja vu. It is the same mistake the federal government made that killed thousands of people and cost billions of dollars. They lost track of the virus. They knew it was in China and then they lost track of it. And what happened is the virus got on a plane and went to Europe and then got on another plane and flew to the United States, and nobody knew it. That’s what the history books will write was the gross negligence of this federal government. That will be the legacy. And we are doing the same thing again, and it makes no sense. When did common sense leave government? When did government become so bureaucratic and so apathetic and so slow that basic common sense eludes them? Because that’s what this is. 120 countries around the globe.
Andrew Cuomo: (06:37)
Any official who’s hears anything, test before they come. It’s not banning, it’s not impeding. Test before they come. The way we did 200,000 tests in this state, just this state, yesterday. Test travelers before they come. That HHS and the CDC have not acted on this is really reprehensible. I don’t know if they’re just checked out… and if they’re checked out, they should resign. I don’t know if they are, because it’s in the midst of a transition. Then you should say, “Mr. Joe Biden, why don’t you make this decision?” But to do nothing when you know the virus is coming here, when you say it may already be here, which would then mean you would be concerned that you want to isolate it and stop the spread. It’s just the greatest failure to do one’s job. And this is not a special insight, and this is not political. It’s the UK. Every other European country has done it. Why? Why would you put people’s lives at risk?
Andrew Cuomo: (08:19)
Dr. Redfield, Secretary Azar, they were part of a political administration, and they’re going to have to answer for their political activity over the past four years. But it’s over now, the politics. Why didn’t you do your job now, Mr. Secretary? Why didn’t you do your job now, CDC Director Robert Redfield? I’m sure the president isn’t pressuring you anymore, so just do your job. New York Times, which… I believe in a free exchange with the free press… when I disagree, I say I disagree; when I agree. I say I agree. But the New York Times wrote a smart editorial today. A contagious variant of the Corona virus has been detected, Trump administration is doing little to address it. Because the federal government doesn’t act, it puts the onus on States, because it doesn’t help me or help the people of New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (09:31)
I’m not in the finger-pointing business. “Well, the feds should have…” Okay. But at the end of the day, my job is to protect new Yorkers. So if the feds don’t act, I’m going to do whatever I can do. And we made tremendous progress. The airlines that fly into New York… there were three airlines… all three agreed to do testing before those flights land in New York. New York is the only state that has made that request, and New York now is safer than any other state, because the people who are landing here are being tested. If I could do it, why can’t the United States do it? I did it in three phone calls. They didn’t fight me. Why wouldn’t the United States do it?
Andrew Cuomo: (10:22)
And the Times says this is reminiscent of the early days when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China. They enacted a travel ban against China, but it was already gone. They closed the barn door after the horse left. My expression, not the Times’, the Times would never speak in such colloquial terms. But that is the situation. “Well, there are limitations to Mr. Cuomo’s plan, I think it’s still pejorative.” No. My plan can only affect the state of New York. And they’re right that you can fly into another state and I can’t pr-
Andrew Cuomo: (11:03)
And you can fly into another state. And I can’t prevent flying into another state, only the federal government can do that, and the federal government should do it, and they should have done it already. One of the great political hypocrisy is of 2020, we get to year end, right? Here’s one of the great political hypocrisy for an elected official. “Don’t you worry about COVID. It’s a hoax. It’s overblown. The government is being over-reactive. Freedom. They’re trying to shut us down. Don’t worry about those restrictions. Protest. Go to the bars and the restaurants. Don’t wear a mask. That’s what you should do. Me, I want a vaccine.”
Andrew Cuomo: (11:55)
If your constituents, shouldn’t worry about it because it’s a hoax and it’s overblown and it’s oppressive, then why do you Mr. Politician want to take the vaccine? That is one of the great hypocrisy, “Don’t you worry about it, but me, I’m taking the vaccine as soon as I can.” United States, CDC, HHS, do something, do your job on the way out the door. Just tell the UK test travelers before they land in the United States. State Lab is doing specimens from across the state. We’re looking to find out if it’s here, where it is, we want to isolate it. If it is more easily transmitted, we want to catch it in the crib. That’s what contact tracing is all about. Find it. Patient zero, where is patient zero? We want to find patient zero on that variant. And in the meantime, stop other people who are infected from coming.
Andrew Cuomo: (13:09)
This is the holiday season. The next 10 days are going to be key for us. If you look what has happened around the nation, you see a spike that has increased since Halloween. It got colder, people went indoors. But then you see a spike that happened in other parts of the country in Thanksgiving and coming out of Thanksgiving. Those parts of the country had more travel at Thanksgiving than we did. More travel as a proxy for more social gatherings. More social gatherings, fewer precautions, more spread. We did not have that same post Thanksgiving spike, because we were more cautioned and more intelligent about it. The question is, what happens through Christmas week ones and Christmas week in New Year’s. Do we stay as diligent or does that number go up? Does this stay flat? How high does it go up? How fast does it go up?
Andrew Cuomo: (14:24)
We are not destined for shutdown. I want to do everything I can to avoid a shutdown. The shutdown does tremendous economic damage and collateral damage to families. We can’t survive with these economic shutdowns. And, no hospital in the state, no hospital has advised us that they are within 21 days, three weeks of 85% capacity. So on the fear of overwhelming the hospital system. No hospital has said that they’re within 21 days. But, that could change if the spike goes up dramatically. And that’s what we need to watch over these next 10 days. Celebrate. I’m going to celebrate, I deserve to celebrate. I was good, I’m on Santa’s good list. I have that on inside information. Celebrate, but just be smart about the way you celebrate. Avoid the density, open the windows, take a walk outside. Just be smart about the way you celebrate. Celebrate smart. Stop the shutdowns.
Andrew Cuomo: (15:42)
That’s what’s going to be on all our travel signs and flashing signs. Kelly Cummings is doing that to remind New Yorkers. Celebrate smart. Stop the shutdowns. Celebrate smart, stop shutdowns. Smart is part of being New York Tough. It’s part of our DNA. In the meantime, we’re in a race between the vaccinations and the increase in the COVID rate. 89,000 New Yorkers have received the first dose. Nursing Home Program in the first two days, 90 facilities, 22,000 vaccines administered. Great job. More good news. Well, more surprising news. The Pfizer Vaccine, we found out, had more dosages than they said, per vial. That’s good news. This is the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination kit. This is the Moderna vial. The Moderna vile was supposed to have 10 doses. This vial would do 10 doses. Actually they’re getting 11 doses per vial, which is different, but good different as opposed to bad different.
Andrew Cuomo: (17:11)
And after a year of having a lot of different pop-up and 90% of it being bad, I’m glad that this is different, but good. So we actually have more Moderna Vaccines than we thought, because there were just more vaccination in the vial. That was also true for Pfizer. So they both made a mistake, but it was a mistake in a positive direction. I’m working on the State of the State now. State of the State I issue in the beginning of the year. The overall balance for the state of the state is, how do you stay open safely? And how do you reopen safely? And the balance is going to be, how do you use vaccinations and testing to determine safety? You have to two tools. We’re now the most proficient state in the nation on testing. We have vaccinations coming. There will be people who will receive two vaccinations shortly, and they will have been vaccinated.
Andrew Cuomo: (18:29)
How do you use the vaccinations and the testing to define or determined safe in terms of reopening? You can’t wait for the vaccine to hit critical mass, 75 to 85% of the population. That is months and months away. And by the way, the more they talk, the further the timeline. First, it was going to be June, then it was going to be September. Now some people are suggesting even longer. We can’t go through nine months with restaurants shut. Oh, we have to come up with a smarter way to do this. And this is going to be a different period in history. You’re going to see a global competition and a global sorting out where certain states, certain regions figure this out first and better than other places. And there will be winners and losers through this period. And that’s the really smart long-term vision that we have to have in this state.
Andrew Cuomo: (19:49)
But we’re talking about a demonstration. Can you reopen venues using rapid testing? Ancillary question. Can you reopen venues using vaccinated people? We’re not there yet with vaccinated people. But can you reopen venues using rapid testing? That’s the question that the Department of Health has been analyzing because I want to speak to it in the State of the State. But we’re looking to test on hypothesis. The National Football League currently does games without testing. The Buffalo Bills are going to have a playoff game. Could we allow fans to the game with testing and then contact trace after the game? That’s what the Department of Health has been working on. The Buffalo Bills proposed 6,700 fans. Department of Health is working on a model where you would test the fans before they go in. If they’re negative, they go in, and then contact trace afterwards to see what the effect was.
Andrew Cuomo: (21:19)
And Commissioner Zucker and Robert Mujica have been working with the bills on this. And I’m going to ask them to comment. Commissioner Zucker, the picture he’s using his hand, that’s because he’s Italian, Dr. Zucker, and they tend to talk with their hands. Robert Mujica is not smiling. That’s because the man is incapable of smiling. I’ve known him for 10 years and I’ve yet to see him smile. So don’t take anything from his facial expression. There’s no negativity intended. That’s just his face in repose. But Dr. Zucker, would you like to make a comment and then we’ll go to…
Howard Zucker: (22:01)
Sure, thank you. Thank you Governor. As the government…
Andrew Cuomo: (22:03)
… comment and then we’ll go to [crosstalk 00:00:01].
Howard Zucker: (22:03)
Sure. Thank you, Governor. So as the governor mentioned, this would be a demonstration project. It’s a public health model. It’s never been done anywhere in the country before. As the governor mentioned, what we will do, we will work with a team to get all the fans tested who are coming in beforehand, 6,700 people, prior to the game. We’ll have proof of a negative result prior to entering. We’ll work with the team and we will do contact tracing afterwards. And as I said, this is a demonstration project. My concern here is we can control how fans come into the stadium. We can control other factors as well dealing with the stadium. But the ancillary events, the parties are where this virus can spread. The events at the airport is a classic example, which we saw the other day. Thousands gathered without masks. And that’s how disease spreads.
Howard Zucker: (22:51)
So how do we control that? That is really the question and that’s what we are working on as well. And this is all obviously community spirit. We are extremely proud of the Bills. We’re all New Yorkers. We work on these things together and we will get through it. But that is our plan as a demonstration project, Governor. And no one else has done this in the nation before. Thank you.
Andrew Cuomo: (23:10)
Thank you, Doctor. Mr. Mujica.
Robert Mujica: (23:15)
So, the Bills have submitted a plan that the state is reviewing and we’ve gone back and forth with them on the elements of the plan, but they will control ingress and egress in the stadium. They will have social distancing within the stadium. Masks will be required at all times. Fans who are not wearing masks or won’t wear masks would be ejected from the stadium if they are not. And there will be ushers in every section. Some sections will be closed off. And as Dr. Zucker mentioned previously, the Department of Health actually went to another stadium to see how some of these protocols could work, and they’re comfortable with that. The testing is the newest piece which no one else is doing anywhere in the country. But as the governor points out, this would be the beginning to start to show how you could start events with testing and all of the other mitigation factors we have. This would be the first in the nation and the first in the Northeast. Thank you.
Andrew Cuomo: (24:22)
Thank you very much. Countdown to Christmas, two days. We’re distributing 7,300 toys, coats, school supplies. New Yorkers are the best. Even with everything that’s going on, they were so generous and we want to thank them all. We want to thank Walmart and the China General Chamber of Commerce and the literally hundreds of New Yorkers who donated toys, even though the economy is terrible and everyone is suffering. New Yorkers are just beautiful people. I don’t even have another way to say it. A happy Festivus for those who celebrate Festivus. Today is Festivus. If you’re putting up your poll today, we hope you enjoy. My Festivus gift to the LCA is no Christmas briefing. We are not going to do a briefing on Christmas. So you have the day off.
Andrew Cuomo: (25:21)
The LCA for those who don’t know, that’s the Legislative Correspondents Association. Those are the reporters who we work with here in Albany. But Friday is also the airing of grievances for the LCA, which is our extended family. You know where to get me on the airing of grievances. If you’re not going to be here, I have some grievances that I would like to air. So I would just ask people who are not going to be at work, if they could leave their home numbers with the press office, so I could contact them to air my grievances. But 10 days, 10 days, holiday season is 10 days. What we do in the next 10 days is going to be key. Let’s be smart, part of being New York tough. Questions?
Speaker 1: (26:14)
Thank you, Governor. If you’d like to ask a question, please use the raise hand function at the bottom of your window. We’ll take a moment to compile the Q&A roster. Governor, your first question comes from Michael Gormley from Newsday. Michael, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Michael Gormley: (26:43)
Hello, Governor. Will you be extending the rent eviction moratorium?
Andrew Cuomo: (26:50)
What is the-
Michael Gormley: (26:51)
Andrew Cuomo: (26:51)
Yeah. Hi, Mike. How are you?
Michael Gormley: (26:53)
Andrew Cuomo: (26:55)
Happy holidays to you and to your family. I need to consult with my counsel [inaudible 00:27:02] here on the eviction. Isn’t it still in place?
Speaker 2: (27:07)
It’s still in place. I believe it’s in place through Sunday. So obviously we update these things as we go, and we’re not going to let anybody who’s evicted due to these circumstances be evicted. We’ve continued to extend this as well as the commercial rent eviction moratorium. So it’s not but it’s still in place through Sunday.
Andrew Cuomo: (27:24)
It’s in place through Sunday, Michael, but I will extend it after Sunday. Next question, operator.
Speaker 1: (27:36)
Governor, your next question comes from Gwynne Hogan from WNYC. Gwynne, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Andrew Cuomo: (27:47)
Gwynne Hogan. Operator, how do you unmute a phone? Star one.
Speaker 1: (28:00)
Gwynne, please unmute your microphone.
Andrew Cuomo: (28:04)
Operator, do you want to go to the next one, and then we’ll get Gwynne back?
Speaker 1: (28:09)
Okay. Governor, your next question comes from Jackie Roberts from WGRZ. Jackie, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Jackie Roberts: (28:18)
Hello. Thank you for taking a couple questions. I just wanted to clarify, the plan for Bills fans in the stadiums, is that still in review or is that for certain happening for the playoff game?
Andrew Cuomo: (28:32)
That is in development. We’re working with the Bills. You saw the outline of the proposal. You heard Dr. Zucker speak about the Department of Health demonstration program that he’s interested in. But Rob Mujica, Dr. Zucker, and the Bills are still trying to work through this. It’s never been done before. And how to do it is the devil is often in the details. We would like to do it. Department of Health is interested in the concept. You heard the concerns of the Department of Health. Could you create ancillary situations that you are not contemplating that are problematic? The stadium is basically a controlled area. But could you create situations that you have not contemplated that wind up problematic? Right? The spontaneous rally at the airport, which God bless the fans, they were excited. I was excited. But those large gatherings without masks, those are highly problematic. And could we be creating something like that inadvertently? That’s the Department of Health concern and that’s one of the things they’re talking through. So nothing is final to say it concisely. Operator.
Speaker 1: (30:05)
Your next question comes from Nick Reisman from Spectrum News. Nick, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Nick Reisman: (30:13)
Hey, Governor. Two questions. One, I was wondering if you could go into the detail about just how future events could be impacted by whatever happens with the Bills playoff game in 2021, how you would use this as a model potentially going forward. And also as a follow-up, I was wondering if you could respond to the news from the Census Bureau that shows preliminary population numbers having declined in New York over, I think, about a six months to 12 month period in 2020.
Andrew Cuomo: (30:45)
Past six to 12 months in New York has been a difficult time. Really, it was going back to the spring, Nick, where New York was seemingly unique in the COVID pandemic. Right? Just remember where we were, and it was all New York all the time. It was almost as if there was something about New York that made it susceptible to COVID. And then the cruel truth comes out later it had nothing to do with New York. It was federal incompetence that allowed the virus to land at JFK and Newark Airport, like they’re doing now. And the reason I have a bad feeling about it is it was perceived as anti-New York. It was perceived as a New York phenomenon. Get out of New York. Get out of New York. New York is where COVID is. And I think that hurt New York. I know it hurt New York. Plus the federal war on New York, SALT, et cetera.
Andrew Cuomo: (32:07)
But COVID and the apparent connection between New York and COVID hurt New York. And it was untrue. And we see that now, as a matter of fact, one of the safest states in the nation for COVID, New York. Literally one of the three safest states, New York. Higher infection rate, Florida. Higher infection rate, North Carolina. Higher infection rate, Texas. Higher infection rate, California. So that’s the truth. Had nothing to do with New York. And by the way, New Yorkers were smarter than almost any other state in dealing with it. That’s the truth. And the expression, the truth will out. Well, the truth has outed. What was the other part of the question, Nick?
Andrew Cuomo: (33:03)
What was the other part of the question, Nick?
Speaker 3: (33:03)
Andrew Cuomo: (33:06)
Oh, I didn’t want to mention this because I knew you would ask a followup or someone would, and I’m going to do it in the State of the State. Here’s the conundrum… Not the conundrum. Here’s the challenge: You have an economy that is basically shut down. You are battling the COVID rate daily. The weapon that wins the wars is the vaccination. The vaccination will take months. Best case scenario, June. Now they’re talking September. Some people are starting to say the end of the year 2021. We cannot go through a year with the economy shutdown. We can’t. We’ve only been at this for 10 months. We could not do another nine months, 12 months. How do you balance that? How do you reopen or keep open the economy safely while you’re waiting to hit full vaccination, critical mass, 75% to 80%? never been done before. Unchartered water. Well, just stay closed until you hit critical mass on the vaccine. What if critical mass is September? No restaurants for nine months? All this continued economic pain for another nine months? You couldn’t sustain it. People couldn’t sustain it. Forget the numbers, psychically you couldn’t sustain it. Psychologically you couldn’t sustain it, but you do have vaccinations. And when somebody is vaccinated, they are apparently safe, so to speak.
Andrew Cuomo: (35:11)
You do have rapid testing where you can show up a half an hour before a football game and get a test and go into the game. How do you use those as tools to keep an economy open or reopen an economy? Big question mark. That’s what I want to speak to in the State of the State. No other state is doing it. No other country is doing it. We’re researching everything. But the alternative of wait until you hit critical mass for vaccines is not enough. And I’m saying too much about this because I’m writing the State of the State, so I have it in my mind. This next chapter is not about fixing a budget hole in the state budget or the city budget. This next challenge for next year is, how does the post-COVID world realign economies and society?
Andrew Cuomo: (36:23)
In other words, what is the last thing effect of the COVID experience? The Zoom calls don’t go away, Nick. The work from home doesn’t go away. The large gathering issue doesn’t go away. The public health consequences don’t go away. What is a city without restaurants and arts and museum and culture and symphonies? Why live in a city? What’s the attraction of a city without that? These are big questions. It’s not about, how do we fill the hole? That’s the micro level, here to there question. We have a much bigger challenge. How did this restructure the economy and where do we fit in it? And where’s our opportunity? Let’s take one more, operator.
Speaker 1: (37:31)
Governor, your last question comes from Shannon Young from Politico. Shannon, your line is now open. Please unmute your microphone.
Shannon Young: (37:39)
Hi, Governor. I just wanted to get an update on the racial disparities study that you announced in April. We’re in December now, and we haven’t really heard any findings from that. And you announced a new task force this week that’s going to be looking at that issue in the vaccination process. So just wanting to get a sense of how that work is going to inform the task force, and when we should expect findings.
Andrew Cuomo: (38:05)
I missed the part of the first question. Did anyone hear it?
Speaker 4: (38:05)
Jim? Yeah, She’s asking about the racial disparity study that we announced in the spring.
Speaker 5: (38:08)
The state Department of Health has been working with the State University of New York, particularly the University of Albany, President Havidan Rodriguez and his staff has been analyzing data and they are virtually complete with their first installment. So there should be more on that in the next couple of weeks, but that has been ongoing and the analysis has been ongoing and almost completed.
Andrew Cuomo: (38:30)
To the members of the LCA, to all the people who’ve been with us all through this year, sincere happy holidays to you. Sincere wishes of peace and love. It has been a hard year, that’s for sure, and that’s the understatement of the decade. But we’ve also seen beauty and we’ve seen strength and we’ve seen New Yorkers have risen to the occasion again and again. And we’ve seen people who heard their better angels and responded. We saw ordinary New Yorkers, nurses, doctors, truck drivers, bus drivers showed that there was no such thing as an ordinary New Yorker. There were only extraordinary New Yorkers. And that’s what I’m going to celebrate this holiday season. The beauty, the love, the strength, the sharing that New Yorkers brought to others. You went from the highest infection rate in the nation to one of the lowest. New Yorkers did that. The love of New Yorkers did that. The heroism of New Yorkers did that. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing, because it saved lives. It saved countless lives, and that is something to celebrate. We find the light and we follow it. Happy holidays.