ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo said in today's daily press briefing that he is “cautiously optimistic” that social distancing restrictions are showing effectiveness in reducing the spread of COVID-19. But he also announced another high daily death toll – 777 people died yesterday, bringing the state death toll to 7844 since the infection first hit.
“These lives lost are people who came in at the height of the virus,” he said. “Now we're losing them.”
Despite 290 new hospitalizations since Thursday, that is still a “dramatic decline,” according to the governor. And for the first time, ICU admissions were in the negative numbers.
“We hope we have seen the worst,” he said, “but we don't know for sure until we know what New Yorkers do.”
Cuomo said the spread of the virus to the suburbs and upstate “seems to have stabilized”, saying “we've been very aggressive in jumping on hot spots.”
“Overall,” he continued, “New York is flattening the curve. And we have to.”
Cuomo said the state has no capacity to meet the worst case projections and never could possibly have met that need. That, he said, is why social distancing and personal responsibility is so important.
“What we do today will determine the infection rate two to three days from now.”
Asked if his credibility was damaged by numbers far below all projections, Cuomo said his credibility would only be damaged if he hadn't listened to the data he was given by experts.
“You ask the best minds for what to expect, and prepare based on what they tell you. You only lose credibility if you're in denial, you don't act fast enough, or you don't meet the goal.”
Governor Cuomo said the state is adding $200 million in emergency food assistance for 700,000 low income New Yorkers. He announced that Air BnB is paying for hotel rooms in union hotels for healthcare workers, and some hotels are offering free hotel rooms for them as well.
He also said the state is asking Congress to establish a COVID-19 Heroes Compensation Fund, similar to the fund established for 9-11 first responders, to support all essential workers who become sick due to their work during the pandemic.
The governor said that although no hospitals in the state are “comfortable,” as they're accustomed to having several months' worth of supplies, they have what they need for several days and the state is checking in daily to distribute supplies where they're needed. That sufficiency, however, is dependent on the rate of infection remains where it is.
He then turned to the question of when the state can reopen, something the White House has begun discussing with a target of the beginning of next month.
Cuomo said the state has nine million people who want to get back to work, but everything depends on having enough tests to know who is safe from a future infection, and who needs to isolate longer. He said, as governor, he does not have the ability to help companies with the mass purchases they need to make to develop the millions of tests needed not only in New York, but across the country.
He called on the president to use the Defense Production Act to facilitate that purchasing and production. He said New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are prepared to be “full partners” with Washington to facilitate ramping up that productions, which he said needs to happen in “weeks, not months.”
Cuomo also said a key step to restarting the economy is a federal stimulus bill that actually addresses the needs of states hardest hit by the virus, without being “a political pork barrel.”
And he called on everyone to learn from the past.
“Who should have warned us in December or January? The headlines were there in Asia and Europe. The president has asked,” he said, “and I think he's right – the question is right. How did this happen? I still want to know.”
He said it's not time for the “blame game,” but the answer is necessary to avoid being caught by a second or third wave of the virus. He pointed out that the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 hit in three waves over tenth months, and the second wave was far worse than the first. He pointed out that both Hong Kong and Italy are already reporting a second wave of the virus.
“In January and February, we still had sources telling us we had nothing to worry about,” he said. “Before we move forward, let's make sure we're not making the same mistakes. Let's study the data, look at what's happened around the world, and listen to the best advice.”
Cuomo unveiled a new video featuring a montage of New Yorkers who shared photos of themselves complying with the state order to stay home.
“Statisticians didn't know how unified New Yorkers can be,” he said. “That's what they couldn't count. That's what they couldn't figure out on their computers.”