May 25, 2020
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo Memorial Day Press Conference Transcript
Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo held coronavirus press conference on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020. Read the full transcript here.
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Governor Andrew Cuomo: (06:57)
Good morning, to all. To my right, we have Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor. To my left, Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo, who is representing her whole family and the honor of allowing us to throw a wreath in honor of Memorial Day. To her left, Gareth Rhodes, who has been working with us from the onset of this tragic COVID situation. We’re at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. This is a remarkable, remarkable facility. It’s always a pleasure to be here. It was started by the Fisher family, which is one of the great families of the state of New York. Susan Marenooff Zausner’s here with us today, who is the president of the organization. We want to thank her for her kindness.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (07:55)
And today we honor the service members who have lost their lives. We remember their families and the pain that they’ve dealt with, and we thank them all for their service, their bravery, and their sacrifice. I want to thank the [Gailband 00:08:13] family, Stu and Ellen, for being with us today and giving us the honor. Let’s take a moment of silence in memory of all those who are fallen, and wishing their families peace on this difficult day. Thank you. This is the USS Intrepid. I’ve been here a number of times. Every time I come, I learn something else. A remarkable history itself, launched in 1943, over 30 years of service, served in World War II, the Cold War, Vietnam War. It really is a phenomenal walk through history, visiting this…
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (09:03)
… phenomenal walk through history, visiting this great ship. 250 Americans who served on board lost their life while they were serving on this ship. And that brings home the message of today.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (09:19)
President Kennedy was speaking about Memorial Day and giving thanks to those who served and who made the ultimate sacrifice. But he reminded us that as we express our gratitude, never forget that the highest appreciation is not about uttering the words, but to live them. That is the greatest acknowledgement of the sacrifice that has been made, to carry it forward. And this Memorial Day, I think it’s especially poignant and powerful when this country is going through what it’s going through. And we know something about loss because we’re living it again. Over 100,000 Americans will lose their lives to this COVID virus.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (10:06)
How do we honor them? We honor them by growing stronger together. And during these times there are so many Americans who have really risen to the challenge, done more than anyone could ask more than anyone could expect. We want to make sure that we remember them and we thank our heroes of today. And they’re all around us and they did extraordinary service to allow us to continue doing what we’re doing.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (10:38)
I can just imagine the responsibility of a chief executive who has to call men and women into war and how they deal with that responsibility. I know that I feel a grave responsibility to our frontline workers, our essential workers, who understood the dangers of this COVID virus but went to work anyway, because we needed them to. We needed the nurses and the doctors to perform phenomenal service in the hospitals. We needed the police, the fire department, the EMS to show up. We needed the frontline workers in grocery stores to show up so others could stay home and be safe.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (11:26)
And I bear heavy the responsibility of explaining to the people of this state and beyond what we were dealing with when we were dealing with the COVID virus and how dangerous it was, and then in the same breath asking people to please show up tomorrow, having just explained how dangerous it was. And many of those people who showed up and did their duty and served with honor lost their lives to keep others of us safe. And in many ways, that is a microcosm of what we hear talking about today on Memorial Day.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (12:03)
But as John F. Kennedy said, remember with your actions. And today we’re saying, we honor that service, and we’re going to make sure that every government in the State of New York provides death benefits to those public heroes who died from COVID-19 during this emergency. I also believe the federal government should be doing the same, honoring the frontline workers, showing Americans that we appreciate what you did, that you showed up when it was hard that you worked when it was hard. You appeared for duty when it was troubling to do so. And I’m sure many people were afraid to show up, but they showed up anyway and they deserve not just words of thanks, but actions that show the appreciation. And I think the federal government should dedicate federal funds and pay hazard pay to those workers who showed up. It’s a way of saying, thank you. We understand what you did. We appreciate what you did. And it’s a way of showing Americans that when there is a next time, and there is a next time, that we truly appreciate those people who show up and do their duty.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (13:26)
Today, we also honor the veterans who we lost to coronavirus during this epidemic, Jack Conyers, Stephen Patty, Cleveland Jessup. And those are just a handful people from New York. We’re still in the midst of this COVID battle. We are making progress here in New York. Again, the hospitalization rate is down. The net change in hospitalizations is down. Intubations is down, which is very good news. Day to day hospitalizations are down, which is continued good news, and in many ways, the most important news, it means the number of people who are coming in to our hospitals on a day to day basis continues to drop. And the most important number to me, the number of lives lost. 96 is still painfully high, but only in the relative absurdity of our situation is that relatively good news. And we remember those 96 families today.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (14:44)
John F Kennedy’s words of appreciation were echoes of the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln, after thanking those who lost their lives in the Civil War. ” It is for us, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried on.” It’s about the unfinished work. That’s what Abraham Lincoln said. That’s what John F. Kennedy said. That’s what almost every great leader of this country has said. It’s about dedicating ourselves to the unfinished work.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (15:22)
And we do that here in New York. We honor the memory of the fallen by going forward, by living, by growing, by advancing, by learning from it, by being stronger than ever before, by taking the values and principles of America that they lived and died for and raising them to a new level. By rising even higher and even stronger than ever before. And we will do that. We will do that here in New York. We’ll do that in this country, because America and New York are tough, smart, united, disciplined, and loving, at the end of the day. And that has brought us to this point where this country is the strongest, best country on the globe. And it will take us forward.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (16:15)
Speaker 4: (16:17)
Yes. Governor, when you had required people in nursing homes who were working there to get tested twice a week, were you also requiring the patients to be tested as well?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (16:31)
We are testing the patients. It’s not really the… It is a requirement that the staff be tested twice a week. Some of the nursing home operators have pointed out that that’s a burdensome task, and I understand that it is, but it is a requirement to maintain your nursing home license in the State of New York. We’ve known from day one that the nursing homes are the most vulnerable places for this COVID virus. We were introduced to it, Seattle, Washington, in a nursing home, vulnerable population in the most vulnerable place, in a congregate setting. So, I understand the burden. We’re working with them to get the testing, et cetera, but I want to make sure that we can all say at the end of the day that we did everything we could.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (17:21)
We still lost 96 people yesterday. God and Mother Nature has a hand in this, but we did everything we could. They got the best hospital care, the best nurses, the best doctors, and still we lost 96 people. I want to make sure we can say that all across the board, and we can say that about nursing homes. And that’s why it is a requirement to test the staff. We’re also testing the patients, the residents of nursing homes. I wouldn’t call it a requirement, but we are testing all the people in nursing homes.
Speaker 4: (17:57)
What’s the criteria for that? When would they be tested?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (18:01)
They’re tested on an ongoing basis. It’s happening now.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (18:03)
They’re tested on an ongoing basis, it’s happening now. They’re tested by nursing home staff, or we have state personnel who are doing the testing. But the whole thing with this virus is to find it early, and isolate. And again, nursing homes are the prime breeding ground for this killer.
Governor, on the death benefits, is this funded by the state, given the state’s finances? I’m sure it’s difficult. And who qualifies as a frontline worker on this?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (18:29)
Yeah. Any public employee who works in the State of New York, whether you’re a city employee, county employee, state employee, those … that local pension fund or state pension fund will pay those benefits. Frontline workers, we have a full list, but they’re the people we’ve been discussing. It’s the frontline public healthcare workers, police workers, EMS workers, fire department workers. The people who showed up. And look, they showed up because I asked them to show up. They showed up because I required them to show up. There’s not a transit worker who drove a bus, or conducted a train, or a nurse who didn’t walk into an emergency room who wasn’t scared to death. They knew what we were talking about. I mean, it was enough to shut down society, tell everyone to stay home. But then in the same breath, I say to them, “You have to go to work in the morning.” It weighed heavily on me, it still does, that I had to ask people to do that. To put their lives, literally, in danger. And we knew they were putting their lives in danger. And that they did it anyway. I have such respect and esteem for what they did. And I want to make sure that we repay that. Not just by saying thank you, and running nice television commercials. That’s why I use the words of JFK, and Abraham Lincoln. You want to say thank you, show that you’re grateful. Show the respect. And the least we can do, and I would say what we must do, is for their families, those who died from the COVID virus, make sure the appropriate death benefits.
I know that it’s based on numbers, but given the data that you’ve been looking at, Mayor de Blasio has said that New York City could open sometime around mid-June, which is actually not that far away. Based on the data you’re seeing, is that a possibility?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (20:42)
You know, Zach, we’re all … there’s only one set of numbers. This is not pick your numbers here. We have statewide criteria. They are the same across the state. And we know where we are on each of those criterion on any given day, and they’re posted on the website. There’s one set of numbers, we all know the numbers. The question is, at what point do the numbers drop to the reopening threshold? Now, people can speculate, people can guess, “I think next week,” “I think two weeks,” “I think a month.” I’m out of that business, because we all failed at that business. All the early national experts, “Here’s my projection model,” “Here’s my projection model.” They were all wrong. They were all wrong. Now, there are a lot of variables, I understand that. We didn’t know what the social distancing would actually amount to, I get it. But we were all wrong. So I’m out of the guessing business. We watch the numbers.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (21:49)
We prepare as the numbers drop, so when the number actually hits the threshold, we’re ready to go. We just finished that. We’re in the midst of that with Long Island, Mid-Hudson Region, et cetera. But just, I don’t want to guess.
There is a letter to you from Staten Island elected officials on that same notion, that they’ve already hit all the parametrics, and that they’re asking you to separate them out from the other four counties of New York City. Would you consider doing that?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (22:18)
Yeah. But then, what you would have to say is, Staten Island is a place unto itself. And I understand the Staten Island mentality. And I love Staten Island, and I have a lot of friends there. But it’s not a place unto itself for this purpose. If you live on Staten Island, you very well may be working in Manhattan. You’re traveling through the New York City area. So, Staten Island is part of New York City. Queens is part of New York City, Brooklyn’s part of New York City, Bronx is part of New York City. I get that sometimes every borough would like to secede, and be its own place. I understand, sometimes I would like to take the State of New York and secede, and just not have to deal with the federal government. So I get it, I get it. But Staten Island just practically is still part of New York City. And that’s the region in which the infection would spread.
[inaudible 00:23:23] quick follow-up, the state dashboard shows an uptick in hospitalizations in Central New York and in the Finger Lakes regions. To what degree do you attribute that to reopening in those regions, and how concerned are you about it?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (23:36)
Yeah. First of all, the numbers do bounce. And when we reopen it would be, you could expect an uptick. I like to make the point that it’s not necessarily determined that you will have an uptick. It’s contingent on how people act, and what people do. But increasing gatherings, increasing activity, you will increase the infection rate. It does bounce anyway. Where we’ve seen the uptick in hospitalizations, I don’t believe factually that could be linked to the reopening, because it’s too fast. If you get the virus today, the virus takes a couple of days to incubate. You then start to have some symptoms. You might feel ill to stay home, or you might now.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (24:32)
If you feel ill to stay home, you’d be home for a few days. But it’s like 10 days until you’d even think of going into the hospital. And that does not sync up with the reopening. It was too fast.
Governor, I’m sure you can hear behind you, car traffic is picking up. Naturally, people are going to be a little afraid to get back on the subway, despite the disinfecting. Congestion pricing was supposed to start up in January. I want to see if that is still at all on track, if you still want that in place.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (25:02)
The congestion pricing, the big hurdle there is approval by the federal government, which actually has nothing to do with this entire COVID situation. Legally, some of the roads are federal roads, which then gives them the right to have to approve the congestion pricing plan. There have many conversations with them about the pricing plan, but they have not yet approved it. So put COVID aside, and everything else aside. You need federal approval, and we haven’t gotten the federal approval yet. Now why they wouldn’t give us the federal approval is beyond me. Which comes back to the possible, what if New York were to secede point, which we can’t do, but it’s nice to think about.
[inaudible 00:25:49] the administration for that approval?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (25:50)
There have been multiple conversations between the MTA and the federal administration on congestion pricing.
What do you think of when you see pictures of people in the Lower East Side, the Upper East Side, gathering without their masks in front of bars and restaurants? And even some of these other pictures in the country, where there’s mass gatherings at pools and beaches, and no social distancing?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (26:17)
Yeah. Look, I’m a native-born New Yorker, as you know. So I was sort of born blunt. It is just the way of the place. And on the facts, you can reopen, you can increase activity, without increasing virus spread. Be smart. I talk about the masks, and I’ll talk about the masks until I am blue in my face, because they work, they work. It is still inconceivable to me that the frontline workers have a lower infection rate than the general population. The nurses and doctors who are in an emergency room have a lower infection rate than the general population. The transit workers driving the subways …
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (27:03)
Rate than the general population. The transit workers driving the subways have a lower infection rate than the general population. The police have a lower infection rate than the general population because they use the PPE. It works. Why you wouldn’t use it, there’s no legitimate, rational explanation. “Well, I don’t like the way it looks.” You know what? Paint something on the mask. Right? Get a new color. You can get a designer mask. The opposition is so trivial and nonsensical relative to the risk. You could get sick. You could make somebody else sick. Even if you think you’re Superman or Superwoman, you could bring the virus home and get someone sick, and it winds up killing them. It’s not smart. It’s not smart. My colleague, Melissa deRosa, said yesterday, “It was stupid.” That’s another way of saying not smart, sort of the hyper-New York way of saying that. Takes less words. But yeah, so …
Speaker 5: (28:16)
That more people are ignoring or declining to wear a mask and ignoring social distancing because they see the numbers go down, and they just think, “Oh, okay, it’s all better now.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (28:26)
Yeah, the number goes down until you go out and don’t do the PPE and don’t do the mask and then the number will go up. Who’s going to determine what happens to the number? The person in the mirror determines that number. You tell me what people do today, I’ll tell you what the infection rate is three, four or five days from now. If they’re not smart, the number will go up, and then we’ll have to slow down the reopening, which is what you’re seeing all across the country, by the way. Our number’s going down. The rest of the country, the number’s going up. Why? Because they never took it seriously, reopened too fast, reopened without monitoring, reopening without controls. The number goes up.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (29:15)
They haven’t even looked at the history on this. I know history isn’t cool anymore. I like to talk about history, and some people point out that nobody really cares what happened a hundred years ago. I get that, but sometimes you pick up a little hint. We had the 1918 pandemic. You look at the places that didn’t close, they had a much higher infection rate and then it comes back in a second wave, so it’s not smart. It defies history, defies everything we know, defies common sense. Other than that, I don’t have any strong feelings on the matter.
Speaker 6: (29:58)
On evictions, I know it was extended into August, but there were a few extra lines that were in this new one about the tenant needed to be having financial hardships or on unemployment benefits. I want to see why those lines were added, and are you worried that it all puts the onus on tenants to prove they shouldn’t be evicted?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (30:14)
No. Look, a lot of this is common sense and balance. You should not be evicted because you can’t pay the rent. That’s the executive order and that’s true through August. I wanted to take rent off the table for people. All right? That’s one less thing you have to worry about, and one last thing until … and until August. By the way, between now and August is a lifetime, and if we’re still in this chaos in August, we’ll figure it out then, but that doesn’t mean, if you can pay the rent, just don’t pay the rent. It’s not a free pass. It’s you didn’t pay the rent because you can’t pay the rent because there’s a COVID-related financial hardship. You have to be in a position where you can’t pay.
Speaker 6: (31:12)
[inaudible 00:31:12] for that?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (31:13)
No. That’s the definition, financial hardship related to COVID. It can’t just be that you’re rich and you don’t want to pay and you want to stiff the landlord, right? That’s not what this is about.
Speaker 7: (31:25)
Any three way deals with the legislature? I know that they’ve been looking at some bills. They want to come back into session this week. Do you think we could be looking at kind of a big legislative package before they officially get out of session?
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (31:37)
Look, the legislature is going to come back this week. I think that’s good.. I’ve been talking to the legislative leaders all through this, so there’s nothing that we have done that I didn’t talk to the assembly about, and the Senate about. The question is what they do, right? Legislatures tend to spend money, right? That’s basically the power of the purse. The problem in this situation is we don’t have any money. We have a $13 billion deficit. We’re now looking at cutting school aid 20%, cutting local governments 20%, cutting hospitals 20%. The only possible good news is if the federal government actually acts responsibly and provides funding for state and local governments. Otherwise, we don’t have money and any additional money we spend increases the cuts to school aid, local government and hospitals. It’s a zero sum game. There is no printing press in Albany that makes money. We now owe 13 billion. You want to spend more money? Now we owe $13,000,000,001. Where do we get that from? From cuts to schools, education, et cetera. So, that’s the context in which they’re operating.
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (33:16)
There are a lot of good things I would like to do. I would like to get more money to food banks right now. I would like to do more, frankly, for the frontline workers right now. There’s a lot of good work that you could do now, people who need help, but it all takes money and we don’t have it. The trade off is that money is going to come from additional cuts in school aid and additional cuts to hospital and additional cuts to local governments, which fund police, fire, et cetera, which are the last people who should be cut. Again, the only wiggle room is maybe we get federal funding and that’s what I’m working very hard to do, but otherwise, this is all going to be how much we cut really essential services in the state and I wouldn’t make that any worse.
Speaker 7: (34:17)
Governor Andrew Cuomo: (34:18)
Revenue neutral is great, then it just has to be smart. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.