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NY Governor Cuomo Gives Update on Coronavirus Response. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2020 - 11:00   ET



GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): On the do no harm, you take a place like Erie County, any region in the country or in the state, that is still on the ascent or on the plateau, beware of a hot spot, beware of an increased need.

In this state, what we've said is any need anywhere in the state, the rest of the state will surge capacity and equipment and energy to help that part of the state.

So when Downstate New York needed help, Upstate New York was there. If Upstate New York needs help, or western New York needs help or central New York or the north country needs help, the rest of the state will be there. And you have my word on that.

In these crises, pressure brings out the best and the worst in people. I believe that. Individually, you get to really see how a person responds at a time of crisis. You get a little snapshot of their character and of their foundation.

It's also true of the collective. It's also true of society. And when I say we have to move to help western New York, yes, there will be some places in the state where you hear a voice that says, no, no, no, we have to worry about ourselves. We have to take care of us and they're on their own the way we're on our own.

Not in New York. That's not how we operate. Nobody is on their own. We are one state, we are one family, we are one community, and we're there to help one another.

So whatever Erie County needs, whatever western New York needs, you have my word that the rest of the state will be responsive.

Hopefully, we're on this plateau, and on the other side of the plateau is a descent, so we can manage it. But if it's not a descent and it's an ascent anywhere in the state, the rest of the state will be there.

And part of it is testing, testing, testing. I know it's a granular topic, but it's important.

We're also going to have a regional calibration that we're going to make on hospitals. You have many hospitals that are very quiet. Some hospitals are actually laying off people, believe it or not, in the middle of this because they have no patients.

We artificially stopped the number of patients going into a hospital because we ended what's called elective surgery, elective treatment. Therefore, people can't go to the hospital for an elective procedure.

In those parts of the state and in those hospitals where the hospitals are laying off people because they're so quiet, and they have that capacity and capacity for the virus is not an issue, we're going to allow elective outpatient treatment, which means the number of beds remain available because the number of people using those beds is still relatively minimal.

And we're going to allow it in those hospitals and counties in the state that do not have a COVID issue or we don't need their beds in case of a surge.

This will not include Westchester, Rockland, New York City hospitals, et cetera, because we have a real COVID problem there. It wouldn't include Erie County, Suffolk County, because we still need beds. It's going to be determinative, and it's complicated and it's been somewhat politicized and you hear different things on testing.

Here are the simple facts on testing. Again, testing is something that no one would have expected as an issue, right? Testing we do in this country and nobody really noticed.

We have a whole system. It's a private-sector system. And when you went to the hospital and the doctor said you have to have your child checked for this, or you have to be checked for this, you go to a lab, you have your blood tested, that was the testing system.

No one ever imagined this testing system was going to become hyper- relevant to survival and would need a capacity of 20, 30, 40, 50 times what the system was doing. So this came out of the blue in many ways. And it's one of the lessons we will learn. But for us it came out of the blue.


How does it work? You have national companies that are private manufacturers of laboratory equipment. And their piece of equipment can operate their test kits. OK?

And there are a number of these private sector companies. And they make a machine. They sell that machine to labs, a network of labs all across the nation. We have about 211 labs in New York State.

They buy these machines from these national companies, and they then have that machine. Sometimes they buy a number of machines from different manufacturers and now they have a number of different machines. Some have higher output. Some have lower output. But each one requires that you go back to that manufacturer to get a test kit and reagent that works for that manufacturer's machine. OK?

So it gets very complicated quickly. There are different what they call reagents, chemicals, that you need for each manufacturer's test kit and each manufacturer's machine. And the big labs will have bought a number of different machines from a number of different manufacturers, OK?

So these are some of the big manufacturers, not all of them. You hear about Abbott, which has a new, fast test. These are all -- these companies are all working to come up with these tests now and who is faster and who is quicker, one-hour tests, 20-minute test, 15-minute test, 5-minute test.

But every one of those manufacturers, you need to have their test kit and their reagents to operate on their machine. And you have some labs that have five or six different manufacturers' machines.

When you go to the manufacturers and you say, I need you to increase capacity, many of the manufacturers are saying, I can't. I can't get enough reagents. I can't get enough swabs, these cotton swabs. I can't get enough vials. I just don't have enough material for my own test kits. That's the determiner of testing capacity, OK?

And you're asking a system that, let's say, normally did 1,000 tests. You're asking a system that did 1,000 tests, by the way, I need 50,000 tests. So they didn't anticipate this volume.

Some of these manufacturers will say, look, I have a supply chain that is an international supply chain. I get my chemicals from China. I get my chemicals from here. So that ability to ramp up is what we're all struggling with.

And every state is in charge of administering testing because the 200 labs in New York State are regulated by New York State. I regulate the 200 labs. It's only appropriate that the state should be in charge of actual testing in the state. I agree with the federal government's position on that.

I have 200 labs. I should come up with a system that says how many tests in Buffalo, how many tests in Albany, how many tests in Manhattan, how many tests in Long Island. That's my business. I should be held responsible. I should be held responsible for making sure those 200 labs actually deploy across the state in a smart way. Hold me responsible.

Where it gets hard is when the labs that I regulate say, the manufacturers are the problem. And then I call the manufacturers and the manufacturers say, I can't do it because it's an international problem. That's where we are now.

Last night I get home, I have my three daughters with me now, which is a joy, 99.9 percent of the time. We're sitting there watching the news. Governor Larry Hogan comes on the news. Great guy, governor of Maryland, Republican chairman of the NGA, National Governors Association, vice chairman, and I work with the governor.

Governor Hogan said I bought 500 test kits from South Korea. There's a picture of Governor Hogan at the airport, South Korea airliner, and Governor Hogan says, I got 500 test kits from South Korea.


My daughter turns to me and looks at me and says, wow, that was really smart. And she just looks at me. Doesn't say anything else. She didn't have to. I felt an immediate wave of guilt descend upon me.

One of my other daughters, who is a little more pointed in life, more literal, said, why didn't you think of that, dad. Why didn't you think of buying test kits from South Korea?

So I was really just feeling de minimis as a governor. Larry Hogan is a better governor.

Why didn't I think about buying test kits from South Korea, from China? It's not what states are normally responsible for. God bless Larry Hogan. He really thought outside the box and was creative.

But that piece is where the federal government can help us. Take that national manufacturer and that supply chain for the national manufacturers and let the federal government figure out South Korea and China and international supply issues.

Rather than have 50 states now figure out how to go be like Governor Hogan and figure out how to buy tests in South Korea. That's where the federal government should help. And that's the intelligent distribution of responsibility on testing.

So the federal government is right. The states should take the lead, yes. Partnership, federal government, you have to help us with this national manufacturer and supply list.

After you do the testing, states have a second big task. Put together an army of tracers who then trace each person who tested positive, who did they contact, and then isolate those people who you contact?

Also talking about reopening. We're going to make reopening decisions on a regional basis. Based on that region's facts and circumstances about the COVID virus.

In other words, just like some states will reopen before other states because they have a different circumstance when it comes to COVID and their status with COVID, it's also true across the state.

North country has a totally different situation than New York City. Central New York has a different situation. We operate as one state, but we also have to understand variations, and you do want to get this economy open as soon as possible. And if a situation is radically different than one part of the state than another part of the state, take that into consideration. And that's what we're going to be doing.

So the same logic that applies to the country applies to some states, this state, where you have those varieties across the state. And we need to take that into consideration.

So the way we've been working on the economy in general across the state where we recognized there's one state, yes, but there are regional economies within the state, and we've been working with each individual regional economy, we'll do the same thing on this phase.

Let's talk about reopening economies in that regional context and coordinate it regionally. And that's what we're going to be doing.

Again, I said this statewide but I want all our regional partners to hear us, let's not talk about just reopening. Let's not have gone all through this and all we're going to do is go back to where we were.

How do you use this as an opportunity to learn the lessons and to build back better? That's what we have to do.

For western New York, we have my partner, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who everybody knows is from Buffalo. We're going to ask her to take charge of western New York, monitor the public issues. If there's a problem with public health, we'll monitor all the resources across the state and also to start work on the reimagining and reopening plan for western New York.

We're also going to ask Bob Duffy, who worked with me in the state, to organize public health and reopening in the Finger Lakes area, the Rochester area.


Last point, we've gotten through difficult situations before. Western New York, we went through seven feet of snow a couple years ago. That was fun. We learned from that.

This state, we went through 9/11, which was a crushing experience, but we learned from that and we're different and we're better. We went through Superstorm Sandy, and we are the better for that. And we're going to be the better for this. I believe that.

It's the hard times in life that actually make you better and make you who you are. If you're intelligent enough to learn from them and to get the message from them. That's what we have to do here. We have to do it individually. We have to do it collectively.

What did we learn about ourselves, about the world, about the country from this period that we're in? And you get knocked on your rear end in life. Yes, that happens. You get knocked on your rear end. It's going to happen.

The question is do you get up? And if you get up, what type of person are you, and did you learn from getting knocked on your rear end?

Sometimes you get knocked on your rear end, and you have nothing to blame. Things happen in life. Health issues happen, bankruptcies happen, things happen. You get knocked on your rear end. OK. Get up. Get up! Have the strength to get up. Have the wisdom to learn from the experience and be a better person for it.

Michael Jordan documentary is on TV. I'm a big Michael Jordan fan. He doesn't make the varsity team, Michael Jordan. Bad coach, maybe. But he got knocked on his rear end. He was disappointed. What did he do? He worked harder. Practiced more.

Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan wasn't just born. God didn't say, here he is. He made himself the great player that he is.

And New York, we make ourselves. This nation we make ourselves. World War I, World War II, the Great Depression. Some of the most tragic situations actually forged the character and the resolve of this nation. New York State the same thing. And we have to be smart enough to do the same thing here.

And we will because we're New York tough. We're not just tough. It's easy to be tough. It's hard to be smart and disciplined and unified and loving. That's what's harder than being tough. But we're all of the above. That's why we're special.

Let's take a few questions. I have to go down to Washington and everything is a little tight from a scheduling point of view today.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the White House visit, what do you see the focus being? Will it be a discussion about reopening with the president? What will the focus of that visit be?

CUOMO: Testing, and what does testing mean and how do we do it and how can the federal government work in partnership with the states. Just basically -- because this is all new.

And, look, it's a situation that is very difficult. And it is a situation where however you do it, it's going to be a blame game afterwards. I heard the president talk about this. He's right.

This is one of those thankless tasks. Trust me, it is one of those tasks where when you get to the end of it, everybody is going to be able to say, you didn't do enough, you didn't do enough, you didn't do enough.

So I get the instinct to distance yourself from it, right? But it is a situation where you need everybody to work together and you need to understand quickly who is in a better position to do what.

From my point of view, I think the federal government needs to take that national manufacturer supply chain issue.

God bless Governor Hogan, but you shouldn't expect all these governors to go run around and do an international supply chain while they're trying to put together their testing protocol in their state, coordinating their labs, how many tests in Buffalo, how many tests in Albany. Then I have to put together an army of tracers. That's thousands of people. It's never been done before. I'll take all of that.

Just don't give me guilt and make me look bad to my family and my state when Governor Hogan goes to South Korea and buys all the test kits.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In regard to reopening the state, it seems to be tethered to testing until yesterday. Symptomatic, merely symptomatic tests couldn't get a test in New York. What can the state do, understanding you need the federal government's help, but what can the state do in the short term to ramp up testing here? This is an area that lags behind.

CUOMO: We are testing as a state, just so you know. We're testing more than any state in the United States, a multiple of other states. More testing per capita than any country on the globe. That's what we're doing in New York. So we are doing more faster than anyone else.

I get the New York altitude. I don't care. That's not enough. I get it. We have to do better. We have to do more. We need more tests and that's what we're talking about here.

The testing will educate you as you're making your transition to reopening, right? How do you get across the swamp? Stone to stone across the morass. Stone to stone across the morass. One step at a time and make sure you're on firm footing. And then you look for the next stone, then you look for the next stone, then you look for the next stone.

The testing tells you where the stones are, and the testing tells you when to pause. And that's why you need the testing. You need more testing in western New York, yes. You need more in Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, and New York City and Long Island We need more all across the board. That's why I'm going to Washington.

Mr. McCarthy?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, when you head down to the White House today, I think it's been fair to say you've had to walk a fine line in your dealings with the president. How is this going to continue when you meet with him today? How are you going to handle this?

CUOMO: Bob, life is a fine line. Life is a fine line. Being in government is a fine line. Everything is a fine line.

I'll tell you how I'll negotiate the fine line. You tell the truth. Just tell the truth. I said that to the president from day one.

By the way, he's done the same vis a vis me. He has no problem telling me when he disagrees. And he tells me when he agrees. I have no problem telling him when I disagree and when I agree.

So fine line, and you can try to figure it out. But, you know what, heck with it. Just tell the truth and whatever it is, it is.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are you going to say when you talk to him today?

CUOMO: You know, I think there's a -- there's been a lot of discussion about testing, but I don't know that people have really -- I think in many ways we're talking past each other. I understand the federal government's point that it's up to the

states, and I believe it is largely up to the states. But then even the federal government will stand there and do a whole presentation on what they're doing on testing, so it's not really up to the states if the FEMA people get up there and an admiral gets up there and talks about what they're doing on testing.

All right, so then let's just coordinate who does what. What do the states do? What does the federal government do? What do you do and what do I do? I'll do whatever I'm supposed to do. Just tell me what I do. And what are you going to do.

And I'm going to ask them to take this piece of this national manufacturers getting the test kits and the vials and the cotton swabs and the chemicals. And if they get that done for the national manufacturers and then the national manufacturers can feed my 211 labs, then the states can take it from there.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, thanks again for joining us. There's continued frustration over unemployment. We have folks calling, emailing daily saying that 72-hour window where they were promised a phone call back has come and gone. What can you say to them, you know, to ease their frustration? And what's being done to smooth the process?

CUOMO: Yes, this is -- they're right. They are right. I'll tell you the bad news and the good news.

The bad news is there were so many unemployment claims that it has collapsed the unemployment department's system, their Web site system, their phone system. We have 1,000 people who are now working on that unemployment Web site and phone call system.

I mean, it's unbelievable. A thousand people just to take the incoming unemployment calls. That's how high the volume is. And they still can't keep up with the volume.


And there's nothing worse than being unemployed and nervous about a paycheck, and then you call for unemployment benefits and you can't get through on the phone. I get it. I get it.

And we have a thousand people working on it. We have Google working on it. We have all these experts working on it. But they're trying to bring up a system, again, that did a much, much lower capacity. This is 100 times whatever we've done before.

The good news is this. You're going to get the same benefit, anyway. It's not like it's costing you money, right? I know it's frustrating, but once you qualify, the qualification is retroactive, so you're going to get the same benefit. It's not costing you any money. It's not because you couldn't make the call today it means you're not going to get the benefit.

You will get the benefit, it's just an annoying delay. And believe me, people are working seven days a week on it.

Let's take one more.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, as far as your regional committees go, have those regional committees started leading yet? What is the timetable for that? And what will it take for you to say, OK, we've got enough data, open up this particular region?

CUOMO: OK, there are no committees here. This is -- we've always talked about the economy of the state in terms of different regions. Manhattan is not Buffalo.

Let's use that same regional template when we talk about reopening. Let's look at the numbers for that region on the COVID virus. Let's look at the hospitalization rate. Are we on the ascent, are we on the descent? Let's look at hospital rate for that region, infection rate for that region. Then let's make -- be open to making a region-by- region determination, right? So look at that region.

Who does that? The state does that, working with the local governments. That's it. There's no new committee here, there's no new process. It's just --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Bob Duffy is leading that?

CUOMO: Yes. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul in western New York will not just be focusing on that decision, it's more the when and the how, right?

Let's take western New York. When do you reopen it? I called these governors in all these states to try to figure out when. Look at the data. Look at the hospitalization rate. Look at the infection rate and tell me where you are. Are you on the ascent, the plateau, the descent?

The CDC has guidelines you have to be stable or declining for two weeks. Look at the CDC guidelines.

Talk to the local officials. The when is data driven. It's not when do you want? If the question is, when do you want, my answer is I wanted yesterday. It's not what you want. It's data driven. So look at the data. Kathy Hochul will coordinate that with the local officials.

And then I think the better question is, and when we reopen, what did we learn and how do we reimagine western New York to be the better for it? And what lessons do we want to take forward when we do the reopening.

Then on the reopening, how do we phase it? What business is first, do we do it by percentages? Let's talk about all of that.

So it's the when and the how, data driven on the when. Not political pressure on the when while people are yelling at me. I want to open because I don't want to take the political heat. If you don't want to take the political heat, you shouldn't be in the political kitchen, which is called being an elected official in the state of New York.

I have to get to Washington. Thank you, guys. Thank you.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, his daily coronavirus briefing. He's in Buffalo today talking about the challenges on what is a remarkable day in his life as he tries to bring New York State back to reopening.

He's also on his way to Washington to have an Oval Office meeting with the president of the United States. Andrew Cuomo, a New Yorker, Donald Trump a lifetime New Yorker, until he went to the White House, now a registered resident of Florida. But a remarkable day ahead for the governor.

On the state of New York, he says say they are in the descent, starting to go down. He's in Upstate New York. It's more of a plateau there. Talking about the complexity of a reopening date. You can open maybe the middle of New York and the more rural areas before you can open New York City.


But he says testing, testing, testing is the critical issue and that will be the dominant theme. As he goes to Washington to sit down with the president of the United States.

Let's discuss the challenge ahead with CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and Dr. Leana Wen. She's an emergency room physician and a former Baltimore City health commissioner.