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Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Details COVID-19 Micro-cluster Metrics

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today detailed New York State's COVID-19 micro-cluster strategy metrics. After 14 days of data monitoring, the Governor outlined modifications to some current focus zones, established new ones in areas where there are recent upticks in cases, and set criteria for areas to exit a focus zone. New York's micro-cluster strategy detects small outbreaks and takes action to eliminate them.

 

VIDEO of the Governor's remarks is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

 

AUDIO of today's remarks is available here.

 

PHOTOS are available on the Governor's Flickr page.

 

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

 

Happy morning. Good to see all of you. Good to see most of you. Just kidding. From my far right, Mr. Gareth Rhodes. To my immediate right, Dr. Howard Zucker. To my left, Melissa DeRosa. To her left, Robert Mujica, Budget Director. Today is day 235. Statewide positivity rate continues to be good news for the State of New York. We have a lot going on with COVID internationally and nationally, so keeping it all in focus is important. You see numbers going up all across the country. Some people write second wave; it's not the second wave, that's not correct. Second wave was the virus mutates and comes back. 1918 pandemic - the virus changes, comes back; that's the second wave. This is not a mutated virus. This is failure to deal with the first wave, okay? And you see it all across the country, and you see it selectively all across the globe.

 

This is where the United States is. Nevada, top of the list, 58 percent. South Dakota: 35 percent. Wyoming: 35 percent. Idaho: 29 percent. Iowa: 21 percent. Kansas: 19 percent. Nebraska: 19 percent. Mississippi: 17 percent. Alabama: 16. Utah: 16. Florida: 12. North Dakota: 10. Pennsylvania: 9. Where's New York? Go look at the other column, we're third from the bottom. The only state below 1 is the State of Maine. Great governor in Maine. That's where New York is, so we are doing very, very well and this is the comparison. It's not just the comparison, this is one of the problems that we have. The fact that the cases are increasing all across the country is a problem for us. 

 

First, it's a problem with our quarantine program, because we're now up to 43 states that are quarantined. Technically by the quarantine formula New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania would be quarantined. There is no practical way to quarantine New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Remember, this whole concept of states quarantining other states is novel to say the least. I don't think it has happened in the past 100 years. The way we basically enforce the quarantine is at airports when people fly in, because normally you fly in from another state. Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania you don't fly in, you drive in. There are numerous roads that are interconnections. You would have to do some theory of border checks all across the state, and from an economic point of view there's too many interconnections with Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. People live and work one place, work in the other place. It would be devastating for the economy.

 

The quarantining of 43 states just shows you how the world has reversed. Remember, when we started New York has the highest infection rate in the country, because of the COVID ambush because the President was wrong; it was not the China virus, it was the European virus. By the way, there's a movie called Contagion, you may have seen it in 2011. Go back and watch the movie Contagion, 2011. It's almost an exact formula for what happened with COVID. It's amazing. But anyway, in that movie the virus spreads from a poultry market in China, which is how SARS spread, and MERS spread and COVID spread. In that movie it spreads from a bat to a pig. The COVID-19 virus they traced back to bats, and in that movie there's an American who gets infected in China and then comes immediately back to America, and it goes from China to America in 48 hours. How this federal administration thought that the China virus would stay in China for 3 months is wholly inexplicable when you think about it. The President brags about his China travel ban at the end of January, he doesn't do a Europe travel ban until March 16. That allowed 3 months for the virus to come here. 

 

So anyway, we go from the highest infection rate after the ambush, post-ambush, now we have one of the lowest infection rates but now our problem is the other states - quarantining 43 states. We are working with global experts to see if there's a difference in methodology to quarantine. How do you use technology? How do you use testing? Because our current method is you come here and you have to stay here for 14 days before you leave. The enforcement of that is highly problematic. We're not equipped to do that. 

 

It also has a negative effect on businesses. People want to come in for a business meeting, but you would have to stay here 14 days before you could have the business meeting. So, there's new testing technology, there are rapid tests. Is there a better, smarter way to handle a quarantine? Again, this is all - none of this has been done before. We're figuring it out as it goes. We're now up to 43 states - is there a better way? And that we're researching. 

 

For the fall, there are significant stressors, which the scientific community advised all along, by the way. Nobody can sit there today and say "oh, wow. Fall is seeing a surge." They all suggested a surge and New York prepared for the surge because we follow the science. This is a virus. The virus doesn't follow politics. They have never found a Republican virus or a Democratic virus, despite all the research. They have never found a red virus or a blue virus. It's always just a virus, so science matters. 

 

What happens in the fall: schools open, colleges open, people come indoors, the outside activity is much safer. There's a COVID fatigue factor that I want to talk more about in a moment. Flu season starts, the symptoms in flu season look like the symptoms from COVID and, added bonus problem, other states are coming to New York with higher infection rates. These are all stressors for the fall. The good news is, we have prepared for it. We have, what we believe, is the most sophisticated COVID detection and elimination system of any state because we've spent time, we've invested and because New Yorkers are invested in it. 

 

What's the best you can do? Detect the smallest outbreak as soon as it happens. Patient zero. Trace it back to where it starts, find a small outbreak, a small cluster and jump on it. Quick action to contain it and eliminate it. That is the best you can do in this situation. You see an ember land in dry grass, ring the alarm, everyone runs, stamp out the ember. The embers are what we call micro-clusters. We can identify them from the testing data from the hospitalization data and mapping software. 

 

We identify the micro-cluster, that's called a red zone. We then put a buffer around it, that's called an orange zone, we then put a buffer around the orange zone which is a yellow zone. Why? Because these areas are so small that people walk to a store, people walk to a restaurant and you see the viral expansion will be a series of concentric circles. It just works it's way out. You drop a pebble into a pond and you have that first ring and the second ring and the third ring - that's how COVID spreads. We will focus on the intense cluster and then set up buffer zones and that's what we did. 

 

Most restrictions in the red zone, reducing the restrictions in the orange zone and the yellow zone. Reduce the restrictions in that area - much better than what we were doing and what many states are doing where they only have statewide data. The only mitigation program is close the entire state. Reduce activity in the entire state. We went from that to regions. There's a problem in a region, reduce the activity in the entire region. We now have the data that takes it to such a small level, we say we're going to reduce activity, but only in that small area — so we reduce disruption. It's only in your neighborhood. It's not five miles one way and it's not five miles the other way. It's only in your area, which allows the economy to continue to run with less disruption. And then we said, we put in place the restrictions: we then watch the data for 14 days, we come back after 14 days and we make whatever adjustments. The adjustments we're going to make are these: to exit a red zone, under 3 percent after 10 days, 4 percent in less populated areas. What does that mean? The virus spreads faster in a denser population than in a more rural population. In a more rural area, you come into contact and proximity with fewer people than in a denser environment. If you are in the middle of New York City, you have one factor for spread. If you're in the middle of the North Country, you have another factor for spread. An orange zone: under 2 percent after 10 days, 3 percent in less populated areas. A yellow zone: under 1.5 percent after 10 days, 2 percent in less populated areas, right? 

 

So, the differential between a populated area and a less populated area is also a more sophisticated analysis tool, but it's also inarguable. Additional considerations — now remember, you're talking about very small communities here. Look at the hospitalization numbers. Are the hospitalization numbers are going up or down? Where are the cases coming from in that community? Is there a congregate facility that is starting the spread? Has the local government been cooperative in increasing compliance and enforcement? I've talked about this a lot, but guys — guys being gender neutral — a cluster does not happen unless two things happen: a lack of compliance and lack of enforcement. That's the only way it happens. That is the only way it happens. People didn't comply, went to a party with more people, went to a bar with more people, had a private party in a backyard with more people. People weren't wearing masks. A lack of compliance and a lack of enforcement by the local government. Where people don't comply, the local government has to enforce. If you have no compliance and you have no enforcement, you know what you have? Spread. That's it. There's no rocket science here. How did it happen? People didn't follow the rules. The government didn't enforce the rules and now you have spread. And then everybody says, "oh my gosh, this is terrible. Here we go again." Yes. One plus one equals two. No compliance, no enforcement, more spread. Period. So that's a factor — is the local government actually doing the enforcement and we know that has been spotty. And then, since you're dealing with small community, is the community cooperating or is the community taking a hostile attitude and saying, "we're not doing it. We're not wearing masks. We're going to violate the gathering rules" etc.? So, these are additional considerations and this is literally conversations that we have with people and groups in the community.  

 

The current micro-clusters, this is what they did. First, what this shows is it is working. It is working. Again, because one and one equals two. If you talk to the community about increasing compliance, if you increase enforcement — the spread will come down. Brooklyn went from 7.7 to 5.5. Queens in Kew Gardens, 4.1 to 2.5. Queens in Far Rockaway, 3.2 to 1.8. Rockland, 13 to 4. Orange, 34 to 4. All areas 7.9 to 4.5.  

 

That's good news. Celebrate. Don't panic. Don't fear. "Well, it's out of control." No, we have it managed. We know how to do this. We just have to do it. "Oh, I'm gaining weight. We can handle it. We know how to do it: back on the treadmill, no cheesecake. We'll get it under control." This is a manageable problem. When we make progress, we adjust the targets. Brooklyn had a red zone, an orange zone, and a yellow zone. Brooklyn: the red zone remains the red zone, the orange zone becomes a yellow zone, and the yellow zone remains yellow. Okay? So, in Brooklyn the orange zone will go to yellow zone. There were less restrictions in the yellow zone than in an orange zone. So, this is what South Brooklyn will look like.  

 

Queens in Kew Gardens - there are two areas in Queens - overall the red zone went from 4.7 to 2.5. Great. Orange 1.9 to 1.6, yellow 1.9 to 2.1. In Queens: the red zone goes to yellow, the orange goes to yellow, the yellow stays yellow. We are also adjusting the Queens map to add in the Ozone Park neighborhood, which has seen an uptick in cases. So, ozone park becomes a yellow zone and that is what it looks like. And that is the cluster of cases and there you see Ozone Park. Far Rockaway, red zone went from 3.7 to 1.8, orange went from 4 to 1.7, yellow went from 4.4 to 3.5. That's real progress. Queens: red goes to yellow, orange goes to yellow, yellow goes to yellow. Far Rockaway is all yellow.  

 

Rockland red zone went from 11.6 to 4.8, yellow went from 9.1 to 6. We made progress but not enough. Rockland: red remains red, yellow remains yellow. Orange went from 12 to 4, yellow went from 19 to 1. That's really significant progress. Red remains red, yellow remains yellow. Although we made a lot of progress, the numbers are still not acceptable. So, we have more to do.  

 

Broome County same thing. 4.8 to 4.6 - that's marginal progress at best. It remains yellow. We also are tracking some new micro-clusters. This is the statewide map of micro-clusters but we're seeing recent upticks in counties along the Pennsylvania border. That could be from a couple of causes. Pennsylvania has a high infection rate. You could have people going from those counties into Pennsylvania. You could have people from Pennsylvania coming into those counties. In a lot of those counties, people worked in one place and live in another and we're working to find specific events that triggered it. We haven't found them yet. It looks more of a widespread, community spread at this point. We're going to do more testing to try to find out exactly what's going on, but Steuben County has been about 4 percent for three weeks and that is not good. And again, we're going to try to drill down but right now part of the County is going to be in a yellow zone. Chemung County has been at about 5 percent for about 3 weeks - that's a problem. Again, we're trying to find out a specific cause of the spread, but it may very well just be the proximity to Pennsylvania. So, we're focusing on that but Chemung County is going to have an orange zone and a yellow zone buffer and you see the concentration of cases in this slide on your left. It's always the same concept that concentration of cases become the most intense zone and then we have a buffer zone. Buffer zone because that's where it's going to spread next. These will be overall numbers. Red zone positivity rates are 6.6. Statewide without is 1.4; with is 1.6. Seven New Yorkers passed away, they're in our thoughts and prayers. State hospitalization 950; ICU 201; intubations 103. This is what the state looks like, taking out the over-samples- the hot spots for the two past two weeks.

 

It's my last point - this is the fall. We talked about the fall and winter. People want to know what's next, what's happening, what's happening. We're in the fall. I'm wearing my very attractive fall tie today. If you can't make it out these are leaves that are falling. Very attractive is a personal opinion. It's not a fact. It's my opinion that I'm offering. I want to separate fact from opinion. I think it's an attractive time. Several members of my team commented otherwise. But what's going to happen in the fall, micro-clusters, this conversation, will rise and they will fall. They'll rise; they'll fall. That's going to happen with micro-clusters, new ones, because these are so small, these areas. They're going to flare up and then you run and you put them out. The next day there's another flare-up somewhere else. That is going to happen. That's going to be the way through the fall.

 

Don't get unduly alarmed by a micro-cluster. The infection rate in our micro-clusters is lower than the infection rate of most states. We talk about 4 or 5 percent in a micro-cluster. Pull up the chart again please, Jack, of the chart of the states. Just to give you a sense of how we're doing relatively, we say a micro-cluster is 3, 4, 5 percent. All hands on deck. 3.5 percent statewide you would be like you're in the numbers 34 level of statewide infection rates. Many states would love to have the infection rate that we have in our micro-clusters as their statewide rate. Do you get that point? Can you go back to where we were, please? So that's going to rise and fall.

 

Fall turns into winter. Winter is going to be the season of the vaccine. That may very well be the most challenging operation government has had to perform all through COVID. You think testing was hard? You think testing and tracing was hard and putting them up and getting them moving and that was a challenge to government? It pales in comparison to administering vaccines. Just to put the numbers, we did 12 million COVID tests over seven months, moving heaven and earth. We have to do 40 million vaccinations and a COVID test is a lot easier for a person, than telling them take this vaccine, getting past the skepticism, roll up your sleeve, I have to give you a shot, then you have to come back in 21 days and you have to get a second shot. This is going to be a massive undertaking. The National Governors Association - I'm  the chairman this year - we sent the White House 35 questions as to how is this supposed to work so it's not the redux of the debacle that was testing seven months ago.

 

But the White House is going to stand up at one point say, here is the vaccine, we have the vaccine, happy days are here again, it's over. No. No. The identification of the vaccine is maybe the beginning of the end. Now, you need 300 million doses, you have to convince the American people to take it, you have to prioritize who gets it first, and then you have to put together a logistical operation not seen since World War II to actually administer them. You know the federal government always forgets that government actually has to operate.  Okay, go do testing. But there are no tests. Okay everyone go get PPE. Except you can't. And no tests and no states can buy masks and gowns, et cetera. I hope they learn the lesson and the 35 questions from the National Governors Association asks just that.

 

Last-last point - people talk about COVID fatigue. You know first I said about COVID fatigue, look, I heard COVID fatigue to mean, I'm tired of wearing the mask, I'm tired of doing the social distancing, I'm just tired and I don't want to do it anymore. To that I said, you don't have the luxury of fatigue because the virus is fatigue and until the battle is over you can take a nap. That's how I heard fatigue. But there are different facets to fatigue that are frankly more problematic. COVID has caused tremendous stress on society and tremendous individual stress. It is - it is frightening, COVID, and it has caused significant anxiety among many people. I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not a medical doctor. I'm telling you from talking to people and hearing their voice and hearing their concerns, I'm telling you we have a serious problem of the emotional stress and anxiety that COVID has caused. And the longer it goes on, the worse it is getting. COVID in the early stages, I think, was almost a form of adrenaline that kicks in and you do what you have to do, and you function and that get you through. The adrenaline phase, and now you have this overwhelming emotional sense and people are feeling it. And, it is worrisome to me - not as a Governor, just as a person. Yes, we see it in the numbers, you see it in substance abuse, you see it in domestic violence, you see it in the number of people calling for mental health treatment. But I'm just telling you as a member of society, I have friends that I'm worried about. I speak to friends and my family who I am worried about - you can hear it in their voice. There is an emotional toll - one day they will be talking about PTSD from COVID. They will be. And then they will be up here with some mental health experts and some psychiatrists who are talking about the PTSD effect on children, on seniors, on all individuals who are suffering from the anxiety and stress from COVID. That is going to happen. We're all now so functionally oriented that I think we're missing the emotional and mental health that has gone on. What do I do about it? We're trying to increase services across the board, but it's just percolating. Today I would ask New Yorkers, just change the prioritization of who we think we are and move loving up to the top, you know? Don't do what I do - I get someone on the phone or I'm talking to someone, and I say, "How's everything? Everything good? Good. Let's talk about this. You're feeling good? Family, good? Good, let's talk about this." The "How's everything going?" "How do you feel?" "How are you dealing with this?" is more important than ever before. And slowing down and asking the question and slowing down so the person can answer the question and get past the trite, quick response - "I'm fine, I'm fine, I'm fine, oh yes, I'm fine, everybody's fine." Nobody's fine. Nobody's fine. You can't be going through this and be fine. You can have issues that you feel you're dealing with fine, but nobody can be fine. This is a terrible period. And just take that moment to show some love and then we do everything, we're smart, we're united, we're disciplined, we're tough.