Aug 24, 2020
NY Governor Cuomo COVID-19 Press Conference Transcript August 24
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference on August 24 to share updates on COVID-19. He said the coronavirus infection rate in the state is .66%, the lowest to date. Read the full transcript here.
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Andrew Cuomo: (00:00)
… infection rate that we have had since we started this. So that is really great news and it’s not just that the .66 as one day is great news. It’s consistent with what we have been seeing all along. If you have been looking at our infection rate over the past couple of weeks, it has been below one percent. It’s not an anomaly, the .66. It’s basically tracking what has been going on which is we’ve been doing a great job keeping control of this virus. Congratulations to the people of New York. It wasn’t rocket science, it just took the nation a long time to understand it. We’re dealing with a virus, it’s a question of science not politics. You can manage a virus, but you have to understand what you’re dealing with. It’s a virus. It’s a function of medicine and science and biology and you have to treat it that way.
Andrew Cuomo: (01:01)
We made a mistake early on, we made a lot of mistakes early on with this European virus, I call it the European virus. Some people call it the China virus. The virus did not come to New York from China. The federal government missed that. The virus came to New York from Europe. That’s why it’s the European virus. That’s why if somebody knew what they were talking about, they would call it the European virus. When they say the China virus, which some people refer to it as, it actually makes the point of the mistake that the federal government made. They believe the virus was still in China. The virus was not in China. The virus had left China and gone to Europe and had come here from Europe and they never knew that the virus left China and that’s why New York was ambushed. But we then had an issue in this country where we treated this as a political issue, as opposed to a medical issue, as opposed to a public health issue. And that caused the virus to raise out of control in other parts of the country. That’s not what happened in New York, New York was a pure ambush because we didn’t know it was coming from Europe. But in New York after the ambush, we treated it seriously and we made a difference. The other numbers, 482 hospitalizations, 122 ICU patients, 54 intubation’s, the number of lives lost is seven yesterday and they and their families are in our thoughts and prayers. The three day rolling average is five. If you look across the state, the numbers are good all across the state, with one exception. But you see Long Island over the past few days, .8, .7, .7, .8. Today from yesterday .6. It’s true all across the New York City boroughs.
Andrew Cuomo: (03:13)
Western New York, we have a caution flag and we’re focusing on it and trying to understand exactly what is happening. The number of positive tests is somewhat escalated. Not a cause for serious concern, but it is a caution flag and we’re looking at it. There have been several clusters in Western New York. There was a steel plant in Erie County, a food processing factory, two nursing homes, people coming in for hospital procedures. A number of them have tested positive. This seasonal labor forces that come in for farms. But we do more testing in New York than any other state, so we can identify when you start to see and increase of “cluster” as we call it. That’s very important, so you can then attack that cluster and you can stop the spread at that cluster. So that’s what we’re looking at in Western New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (04:19)
We have done a number of initiatives to protect our progress as we call it. Where our infection rate is low, the question is how do you keep it low? How do you make sure you’re not getting infected from people coming in from other states where the infection rate is high. And how do you make sure you’re maintaining compliance, bars, restaurants, young people. We’re actually setting up testing sites at our airports, to be able to do faster testing of people coming in. Also hospital staff. We have beefed up our compliance efforts. I’ve said many times it’s the responsibility of local government to use their police to make sure the health orders are being enforced in bars and restaurants. To supplement their efforts, we have the state police and the state liquor authority that is inspecting bars and restaurants to make sure they’re in full compliance with the rules and regulations. They’ve looked at just under 4,000 establishments and 34 additional violations.
Andrew Cuomo: (05:29)
There was a drive in in the Village of Westhamptom over the weekend. It was a concert series and it was a matter of concern. We’ve had bad experiences with several towns and villages on Long Island, but I want to thank the Village of Westhampton, the trustees, Mayor Moore and County Executive Steve Bellone. The concert series happened over the weekend and the village police force was there and they were enforcing compliance. I asked County Executive Bellone if he would have the county personnel also attend the concert and make sure that all the health ordinances were complied with. And I want to thank them very much. That’s a positive sign. You can do these types of events, but people have to comply, right? The event is safe and prudent if people comply. The problem becomes when you stage the event, you host the event and people don’t comply and the local authorities aren’t prepared to deal with it. We’ve seen that in Southampton. That’s not the case in what happened at Westhamptom, the exact opposite happened. So I want to thank them very much.
Andrew Cuomo: (06:56)
The MTA, the MTA had one of the really extraordinary challenges of all time when you think about it. The MTA had to continue their service all through COVID because the MTA was the way that the essential workers get to work. “Essential workers” who are the heroes of this COVID situation, they are middle class, hard working New York families. They rely on public transportation to get to work. We had to keep the subways, the Long Island Railroad, Metro North, running all through COVID, all through the toughest times of COVID. And they did that, the MTA. We then had to find a way to disinfect the trains. Just think of that concept for a second. Disinfect the trains. We’ve been fighting for decades to get trains clean, right, and train stations clean and subway stations clean. Clean of refuse, clean of garbage et cetera. Nobody ever talked about disinfecting an entire public transit system. Nobody ever talked about disinfecting a transit system in the middle of a COVID crisis. But they did that.
Andrew Cuomo: (08:21)
Phil [Lang 00:08:21] is here from the Long Island Railroad and God bless what they did, because it was really extraordinary. And buses, trains, disinfected. Thank you very much Phil, for everything. It was really a masterful feat. 150,000 stations cleaned. 2.5 millions cleanings of subway cars and commuter rails, so it’s really been fantastic and it was our responsibility to make sure the essential workers could get to work and could get to work safely, right?
Andrew Cuomo: (08:58)
We as a society asked them to show up every day so that people could stay home and stay safe. You needed the essential workers to go to work. And they did. And our obligation was to make sure they were safe, or as safe as they could be and the MTA doing what it did is part of that.
Andrew Cuomo: (09:18)
It’s not that the MTA slowed down during the COVID crisis; they actually used the opportunity to accelerate. What’s the silver lining to less traffic and lower ridership? A lot of negatives. What’s the silver lining? Well if there’s less ridership and there’s less traffic, maybe you can accelerate construction because you’re inconveniencing fewer motorists and fewer riders. That’s exactly what the MTA did. They completed the L train tunnel under budget, six months ahead of schedule. And that was predicted to be one of the great construction complexities of all time.
Andrew Cuomo: (10:03)
Construction complexities of all time. And again, they use this period to actually get more done than they would have normally gotten done. We just cut a ribbon at an LIRR grade crossing and open the New Hyde Park Road grade crossing. First, this is opened two months ahead of schedule. It’s supposed to take nine months to give birth. It was seven months to give birth. This is a project that I know from when I was just starting to drive, and this was a traffic nightmare for decades. And it was one of those situations that you would just say as you were going through it, “Why don’t they fix this? Why do you have traffic backing up?” 40% of the time the train would be passing, so the arms would come down, you would stop traffic. Why? Why backup traffic? Why damage the environment? Why burn all that extra gasoline?
Andrew Cuomo: (11:10)
Why don’t they do something? Well, they were right. And of course, it’s always easier said than done, but General Lieber, Mark Roche and his group pulled it off. They got it done fast. They got it done on budget, which normally just being on time and on budget is a great success for government to have a government project come in early, that’s unheard of. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. But they did it and it was a pleasure for me to see. This is a picture of what it was like before, like so many other grade crossings. And this is it afterwards. So well done again to Janno and his whole team. This project is part of a larger project that’s called, the Third Track Project, which is a multi billion dollar project. It’s going to make a significant difference for the Long Island railroad.
Andrew Cuomo: (12:14)
And this is the latest milestone. The third track overall is about 10 miles. It will be finished in 2022. We’re at the halfway point and the project is on time and it’s on budget. So again, I want to thank the MTA because they are doing their part and then some. We just on Long Island went through the response to the most recent tropical storm. The response by the utility company was unacceptable and it’s even worse because this is not the first time we’ve had a storm. Storms have become more and more the norm because of Long Island location, New York city’s geographic location, there’s subject to storms. It’s unacceptable that the utility companies continue to have such problems during the storm and in the aftermath, we know these storms are going to happen. We know that in the middle of the storm power’s going to go out for consumers.
Andrew Cuomo: (13:26)
We know the consumers are going to want to know when their power comes back on just so they can plan and they can live their lives. We know that trees are going to fall, and branches are going to fall and wires are going to come down. Why is it every time there’s a storm the utility companies are so slow in their response? Why? We pay for the utility companies to provide a service? They’re not doing us a favor. This is what we pay for. And we don’t pay just to have the utility companies function on a nice day. The essence of what we pay for is, be ready for a storm. Be able to handle the storm. Give me information when my power goes out and get my power on quickly. That is what we are paying the utility companies for. And the way that utility company works is they get a license from the state franchise agreement, they then get paid by the rate payers and get a profit on top of their cost.
Andrew Cuomo: (14:49)
I believe some of these utility companies now have the attitude of too big to fail. We have the license to operate, well, there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s not true. They work for the people of the state. If they’re not providing the service, then fire them. We pay for that service. If they’re not providing the service, then find someone else to provide the service. The laws right now in the state of New York, I believe are too protective of the utility companies. And that has to change. Right now there’s a legal limit on what you can penalize a utility company afterwards. And the current law says the penalty can be $100,000 or 0.02%, 0.02 of 1% of the gross operating revenues. That’s the legal limit of what they can be penalized.
Andrew Cuomo: (16:07)
If that’s the limit compared to the money they’re making, this is de minimis. They’re just paying penalties basically as a cost of doing business. They give you a silly analogy. There’s a delivery company that operates in this state that operates many trucks all across the state. The trucks, the delivery trucks routinely park where they’re not supposed to park. And they get parking, but they keep doing it. The delivery company just pays the parking tickets as a cost of doing business. They’ll pay the 20, $30 for the parking ticket as a cost of doing business. We’ve gotten to a point with these units would be companies where they basically say, “Okay, penalize me. The penalty is going to be relatively de minimis compared to the overall cost of doing business, I’ll pay the penalty.” We have to change the law, change the amount of the penalties so the penalty is actually a penalty.
Andrew Cuomo: (17:18)
Look at the word, penalty. It has to be a penalty that will change your behavior because it is significant. Saying $100,000 per incident to these companies is not significant. Their cost of repair, their cost of the modification is much more than they would pay in a penalty. That has to change. Second, we have to have a faster process of revoking their franchise. They have to know that they can lose their operating certificate and it’s not going to take years to do, and we’re not going to wind up in the courts, we can do it and we can do it quickly. And there has to be a mandatory communication system that operates during the storm. People are reasonable. Yes, there was a storm. My power went out. I got it. I need to know when it comes back. I have children in the house, I need to know if I should stay in my house, if I should leave, if it’s one day, two hours, one week, I need that information. And they have to provide that information.
Andrew Cuomo: (18:41)
This is going to require a change to the law. I’ve heard many legislators about how they’re upset. If you’re upset, do something about it. Change the law. That’s what we need you to do. Take the upset, take the emotion and make change. Pass a new law and do it right away.
Andrew Cuomo: (19:07)
September schools are back and working through that issue. Question of youth sports has come up. The state has done a lot of research on youth sports and the guidance we’ve come up with is this, what’s called lower risk sports. Tennis, soccer, cross country, field hockey, swimming in all regions of the state can practice and play starting September 21. So schools will be coming back. There’ll be a little bit of a period to gauge what’s happening. And September 21, they can start to practice and play all across the state. There is guidance posted by the department of health on just how they should do it, but there’ll be no travel practice or play permitted outside of the school’s region. So a school can play in their region. They can play with a-
Andrew Cuomo: (20:03)
A school can play in their region, they can play with a contiguous regional county, but nothing outside of that until October 19th. Again, we’re doing this in phases. We want to see what the effect is. We want to see how it works. Schools opening in general is a big question mark, what could the effect be? The fall is a big question mark. Many of the experts are suggesting there may be a second wave or recurrence, so phasing it will allow us to watch it. The “higher risk sports” which is full physical contact, like politics, tackle football, wrestling, rugby, ice hockey may continue to practice, but they’re not authorized the play at this point.
Andrew Cuomo: (20:50)
Last point I signed several bills last week into law that make it easier to vote, allowing a voter to get an absentee because of risk of illness, that’s COVID. Counting the ballots postmarked on or before election day or received by the board of education without postmark the day after election day, eliminating the requirement that voters wait until 30 days prior to election before requesting an absentee ballot. Those were good bills, I signed them, that will make a difference.
Andrew Cuomo: (21:24)
We’re going to make the system even better, I’m issuing five executive orders today. Extending the temporary illness option to elections not administered by the Board of Elections, so the COVID exception will apply across the board. Mandate county boards send the mailing to all voters notifying them of the deadlines and methods to request an absentee, because by law you still have to request an absentee. You don’t just get an absentee, you have to request an absentee. They send it to you, you fill it out, you send it back, there are two steps to it. There have been issues about the paperwork that the Board of Education used, so they’re going to make changes to that to make it simpler.
Andrew Cuomo: (22:10)
All Boards of Educations must make sure they have everything in place, the staff in place to count the ballots as soon as possible. And the Board of Elections have to report staffing plans and any needs for additional staff. If they don’t have the staff, tell us, tell us before, so you can get the staff because you have to be able to count the ballots. You have to be able to tabulate the vote. We want it done, we want it done right, but we want it done timely. And we don’t want to hear after the fact excuses why you couldn’t do it, tell us how you’re going to do it before the fact and your staffing plan from the board of elections that will actually do that.
Andrew Cuomo: (23:04)
This election is going to be, I think one of the most critical in modern history, it will be controversial. You already hear the statements questioning the vote and the accuracy of the vote and mail in ballots. We want to make sure every vote is counted, every voice is heard and that it’s fair and right and accurate. And we will do that because we are New York tough, and smart, and united, and disciplined and most importantly loving. Questions?
Speaker 1: (23:44)
Governor, the Financial Times reported the President is considering authorizing emergency use of vaccine before the elections [inaudible 00:23:50] weeks. Does the state have legal or logistical authority to block that supply chain so that if there are concerns about safety or efficacy [inaudible 00:24:00] vaccine [inaudible 00:24:01] New York state?
Andrew Cuomo: (24:03)
Yeah, I don’t know what the president is talking about, exactly. That’s not anything new, that tends to be the rule that I don’t understand what the president is talking about, must be me. We’re going to look at exactly what he said what does he mean an emergency order? Who does he think is going to administer it? And we’re having the health department review it as we speak, as soon as we understand the facts. And as soon as we ascertain that they are facts, right? Because sometimes the president says something, but it’s actually not true. So as soon as we find out what the facts are, we’ll analyze it and what have an opinion.
Speaker 1: (24:47)
When the FDA issues an emergency use authorization and it has done, and they’ve used it for various treatments for testing, it’s a process that I’m sure you’re familiar with. If the FDA, by his order, approves for emergency use of a vaccine that has not undergone a phase three trial, does the state have the authority to block it’s use in New York? [Inaudible 00:25:15] supply chain block [inaudible 00:25:18].
Andrew Cuomo: (25:20)
Yeah. No, I understand the question, the question is, can the Department of Health in essence overrule an FDA approval? That is a legal question that we are looking at. Part of it depends on the apparent efficacy of the vaccine, right? If it’s a political vaccine and there’s no bonafides to it, that’s one situation. So it will depend on the facts.
Speaker 2: (25:49)
Governor, the MTA is talking about a $10 billion through next year because of the coronavirus. They’ve asked the federal government for $12 billion in additional aid. Without it, they say, you can see deep service cuts, fare hikes, layoffs. At the same time, they’re looking to grow labor costs by almost a half billion dollars adding almost 800 new jobs. Do you think the MTA is doing enough to get its house in order before turning to the federal government for help?
Andrew Cuomo: (26:20)
Yeah, I think the… Look, if the federal government does not provide assistance to the MTA, to the state, to the local governments, to the hospitals, to the schools, it’s going to take the economic crisis we’re in now and it’s going to increase it exponentially. Every economic expert will tell you that when they look back at prior economic disruptions, if you then force additional cuts by the state government and the local governments, you make the situation worse. And it takes the nation longer to come out of the recession.
Andrew Cuomo: (27:03)
As a practical matter, as simple math, the MTA ridership has been down dramatically, it still is down dramatically. That means their revenues are down dramatically. Their costs have not been reduced, so something has to give and that’s what the MTA has to work through. I am confident that the MTA, like the schools, like the hospitals, like state governments, like Nassau County, like Suffolk County, if there is no federal aid they’re going to have to take a very sharp pencil to their books, and they’re going to have to find a savings wherever they can. I’ll ask [inaudible 00:27:45] if he wants to add anything to that.
Andrew Cuomo: (27:46)
One other point though, New York is in a different position then almost any other state, certainly any other state outside of the Northeast. The COVID problem in New York was a direct result of the negligence of the federal government. If this was a private situation the state could sue the federal government for negligence, gross negligence. The federal government is responsible for public health and international monitoring of public health. CDC, Centers for Disease Control, NIH, Department of Homeland Security, their job is to track global pandemics like MERS, like SARS, like swine flu, like H1N1, like Ebola. That’s what they do, state government doesn’t do that.
Andrew Cuomo: (28:54)
Their responsibility is public health, homeland security, track diseases around the world and make sure you know where they are and make sure you know if they’re coming here, that’s the federal job. You know what they did? They failed, they failed. You know how you know that? They admitted it, they admitted it. They said China virus, the virus came from China. The virus was in China in December, they don’t take action until March. What did you think was going to happen between December and March? You think the virus was going to sit there in China and wait for you? December, January, February, March, no. I mean it defies common sense. The virus got on a plane and it went to Europe. And the…
Andrew Cuomo: (30:02)
And it went to Europe, and the federal government, hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, knew nothing. And it went to Europe in January and February, and then it got on a plane, and it came to New York. You know where the European flights come? They come to New York. They come to JFK. They come to Newark. And it was coming for weeks and months, and they never knew. That’s where the explosion came from. And when I say they admit it, go pull the quote from CDC, Dr. Redfield, go pull the statement, the testimony from Dr. Fauci, who say, “Yes, we thought it was coming from China.” It was coming from Europe, and everybody was still looking at China. They have admitted that, and that’s how we had the explosion.
Andrew Cuomo: (31:03)
Why? Because it had been coming for weeks and months due to federal negligence. Now, the other states can’t make that argument because once it happened in New York, now they’re on notice, right? It’s in America. Big time. Not just a couple of cases in Seattle, a little bit on the West Coast, flights from China, from the Wuhan province. No, it’s in New York. It’s here. It’s here big time. They had notice. We had no notice. We were ambushed because the federal government failed in its job, failed in its job.
Andrew Cuomo: (31:45)
Now, you cost New Yorkers’ lives, and you cost New Yorkers billions of dollars. And now, to add insult to injury, you want to say you’re not going to provide federal funds to help alleviate the damage that you caused? That’s going to be their position. It’s reprehensible. Let those Congress people produce no federal funds and then come home to New York and run for reelection in November, and let’s see what happens. Don’t provide subsidy to the MTA, let the LIRR service reduce, or the fares go up, and then let the congressional people explain it when they go to the people on Long Island and ask for their vote. You have a point, Janno?
Janno Lieber: (32:39)
Our thoughts are, you know it, the MTA has got $2 billion of recurring savings we put in effect in the last couple of years. There’s hundreds millions of dollars more of savings in our budget plan that has been recently discussed. And as you know, the positions that you’re talking about, which, by the way, are for car cleaners to accomplish the disinfection that the governor talked about, we have a hiring freeze and none of those jobs are going to be filled unless the economics permit. And right now, as the governor said, the MTA is approaching a fiscal cliff, and the economics do not permit. So we’re trying to be responsible to make sure we have a workforce structure in the event that the economics of the MTA are put back together again by federal intervention. But right now, we have a hiring freeze, and none of those jobs are going to be filled.
Andrew Cuomo: (33:25)
Yeah. And let me just add one point to that, to Janno’s point. Look, New Yorkers had a responsibility to the essential workers. I believe that. I believe it was a moral and ethical responsibility. Look at what we did. I got before a microphone like this, and I said day after day after day, COVID is very dangerous. It can cost you your life. We have to close schools, close businesses. You have to wear a mask. You have to take this seriously. It’s very dangerous.
Andrew Cuomo: (34:03)
In the next breath, I said, but we need the essential workers to go to work. In the next breath, we need the police. We need the firefighters. We need the transit workers. We need the Long Island railroad workers. We have to disinfect trains. In the next breath! And the essential workers, nobody said, well, why should I go to work? Why don’t I stay home and be safe with my family? They showed up, not because these are high-priced jobs. The bankers, the hedge fund operators, the big lawyers, they stayed home. These were the working families of New York, and they stepped up for us. We had a moral responsibility to make sure we were doing everything we could do to keep them safe.
Andrew Cuomo: (34:54)
And one of those things was to make sure the public transit system that they needed, because they couldn’t drive to work and pay the parking and pay the gas and pay the tolls, that that was safe for them. So did the MTA have to pay to disinfect the trains? Yes. And I’m proud that they did, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, because if you’re going to ask essential workers, please put your life at risk, put your family’s life at risk, that you could bring home the virus, to keep other New Yorkers safe, we have a moral responsibility to make sure we were doing everything we could to keep them safe.
Speaker 2: (35:38)
On the table, the MTA has said is fare hiked above what was already planned, they have this two year cycle, roughly two years. They raised verified 4%. The chairman of MTA first said there would be no pandemic-related fare increases. Now, they’re saying they are considering them. There are folks that say that should be the last thing on the table because right now you need to grow ridership and increasing fares will actually push some people away. Any thoughts on whether that should be on the table or not?
Andrew Cuomo: (36:03)
Look, I don’t know what’s on the table, what’s off the table. I think it’s all premature. The table is set by the federal government. The federal government should provide federal relief to the MTA. You shouldn’t get to a situation where, after everything that happened, after everything the federal government did to us, they’re now going to say, we’re going to starve the MTA and starve the state and starve the hospitals and starve the schools. By the way, the federal negligence that caused COVID is in a long series of negative federal actions, right? This is after they pass the SALT tax reform that raised taxes of New Yorkers, raised property taxes. Since I’ve been governor, taxes for every New Yorker have been lower than ever. Since I’ve been governor. First cap on property tax increases. You know who raised your taxes? Donald Trump in Washington with SALT. Then they won’t fund the AirTrain from LaGuardia. Then they won’t fund the Second Avenue subway in Manhattan. Then they won’t approve congestion pricing. Everything they have done has been negative to New York.
Andrew Cuomo: (37:27)
Let’s take one more. [inaudible 00:37:28]
Speaker 3: (37:28)
A follow-up on the youth sports. What constitutes a reason for [inaudible 00:37:34]?
Andrew Cuomo: (37:34)
The regions are the regions are the regions, as determined in the Bible. And if not in the Bible, then in the initial phase, the reopening plan. So Long Island’s … Not really in the Bible. That was just my dry sense of humor that no one appreciates, except my mother. My mother does appreciate my sense of humor. The region is Long Island, Nassau, and Suffolk, New York City. They are the regions that we’ve used for the phased reopen. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
Speaker 4: (38:08)
Governor, governor, the MTA is ending the taxi program [inaudible 00:38:11].
Andrew Cuomo: (38:09)
I don’t know. You have to go ask MTA. Well, I don’t know. You have to go to MTA. Thank you.