Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul held a COVID-19 briefing.
VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.
AUDIO of the Governor’s remarks is available here.
PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor’s Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:
Governor Hochul: Good morning, everyone. It is indeed a beautiful day here in New York. As you see, the storm clouds are parting, as are the COVID clouds parting, and this is a very good day for us to have a conversation, as we’ve been doing for many, many months here. As always, I’m joined by an extraordinary team of professionals. Kathryn Garcia, the Head of State Operations, who is incredible in terms of dealing with everything from every storm that comes our way, a COVID storm or a storm in Ulster. Same to be said with Jackie Bray, our Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. We spent a lot of time in some icy places this past week, but I was very proud of every effort undertaken by the members of our team to help give people their power and restore their lives in Ulster County, which was hard hit. Also Dr. Bassett, who has been doing an amazing job as our Commissioner of Health, going before the legislature. Congratulations on getting through that milestone. It shows you’ve been tested, and also I think they all recognize this is heralding in a new era of collaboration and cooperation, and I’m proud of the efforts you’re taking.
So we’ve been talking about our COVID numbers. They are declining on many fronts. And what I’d like to do is start talking about the next phase. And let’s just take a look back at where we’ve come over the last few months, few weeks, and in his scheme of things, it really has been a fairly short time. We talked about our anticipation of a very serious winter surge. Even back in September, I’d have been on the job just a month, and I wanted to make sure that we knew that our health care workers were vaccinated. Viewed as controversial at the time, but we stood firm and said that anyone who enters a hospital or a nursing facility, or any medical center, should have the knowledge that they will not contract COVID from the person in charge of their health. So we stood by that mandate and, you know, heard a lot about it, but we stood with it and I’m proud that that was part of our efforts to fight what was the impending winter surge.
We started talking in October about the vulnerabilities of the gathering times, whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year’s, Martin Luther king weekend, people travel. And the Super Bowl, which we’ll get to some other day, another year, I guess. And also Valentine’s Day is coming up. So we saw vulnerabilities because we had the pattern from the year before. That’s what we’ve been relying on, is looking at the data and the trends from the previous year. So we talked about making preparations, literally right around Thanksgiving.
And we talked about making sure that we had capacity in our hospitals. That included me signing an executive order that allowed hospitals, in any case where capacity has gone below 10% that they have surgeon flex capacity, and suspend their elective surgeries. That again, created more capacity in hospitals, which, in retrospect was a critical point and a critical step we took to make sure that we could handle what was coming our way, literally within the next couple of weeks. By December 1st, again our first case of Omicron had just hit there. We were already deploying the National Guard to help our nursing homes, and to talk about how we can protect society’s most vulnerable as we had seen them so devastated during the first couple of variants from COVID. So we always think about them and how we can protect them.
And so, December 10th came around. We were watching what was happening around the world. We saw what had happened in South Africa. We saw how quickly Omicron spread. We saw what was happening in England, the UK, we are studying what was happening around the globe and saying, “This is coming our way. We know this is coming to New York and we need to be prepared for that.” So literally on December 10th, in anticipation that we’re heading into the busy holiday season, lots of family gatherings, lot of people going in and out of stores for their holiday purchases, people going to be gathering in restaurants. We said, “We do not want to shut down our economy”. Because I’ve said from the beginning, we’re keeping New York open, but how can we protect people knowing what is coming across the horizon? We saw it coming. So what we did on December 10th, literally two months ago, was initiated, and I don’t think any other states followed suit with this, a plan to say that across the State, any business would have the option: either require people to be vaccinated or let them choose if they want it to enforce having people wear masks. It was a strong action to take at the time. We heard a lot about it, but I, again, stand behind that. As our effort to not have to resort, to shutting down businesses when this variant ended up spreading like wildfire. So we’re proud of that accomplishment.
And by December 31st, those of you who gathered with me on New Year’s Eve, most of you did not, we were up in Albany talking about our Winter Surge Plan 2.0 and how we can do even more to make vaccines and boosters and test kits more widely available. And then we got hit hard, right in anticipation of the surge. We were ready. We had test kits. We had vaccination sites. And you think about where we were, look at that number. 90,000 people. 90,000 New Yorkers tested positive one month ago. Look how quickly that went up from December 10th. When we put our businesses, mask or vax requirement in place, look at that trajectory. We saw it coming. It happened. We hit our peak on January 7th, but now we’ve witnessed a 93% drop in cases. We are now below February 8th, with 6,000 cases below where we were on December 10th, when we had 11,000 cases and cases are starting to spike up. So that is what we’ve been watching for. That is exactly what we’ve been waiting for. That’s what we’ve been talking about and it’s finally happening.
Let’s also talk about other metrics. Our statewide seven day average positivity: December 10th, 4.2%. One of our worst days, January 2nd, 23% of people tested and we had 400,000 people being tested. We were testing everybody. I was out of testing sites, every corner of this State, and people did an extraordinary job to make the test available so people could know whether or not they should stay home or they could carry on with their lives. So that was really important. Enormous number of tests being done, higher than any State in the nation. And we are showing a 23% infection rate, those who being tested, testing positive. So, look at that drop. Another drop, and actual numbers from 23% to February 8th, 3.67%, and the numbers continue to decline. That’s an optimistic sign as well. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.
You’ve heard me talk about hospitalizations. My biggest nightmare was thinking that our hospitals could be so overrun with patients that we would not have the capacity to handle them. We are experiencing a serious shortage of healthcare workers. Many of them had been sick. We lost some, literally lost their lives when they ran into the burning building, so to speak, during the height of the pandemic, when it hit New York City so hard, two years ago. Many of them retired, many of them are exhausted. And so, we had a severe shortage of workers. What does that mean? That means you could have beds, but they’re not staffed beds. You can’t accept a patient to be taken care of. And there’s certain ratios that at the met to make sure they’re getting quality care. So I’ve always been concerned about this number. We are seeing, as you saw, that peak, how many people were hospitalized. January 12th, we had 12,000 people in hospitals. We’ve now seen a 63% drop with 4600 hospitalizations yesterday. That is still higher than we had been.
But look at that trend is going down quickly and we’ve been talking about our bed capacity, we had parts of our State were it dropped to zero. Those are the places where we had to suspend elective surgeries. We have sent National Guard into many hospitals to help them, and they’ve been so grateful I’ve gone in person and thanked them. So now we have seen our bed capacity go up to about 20%, and that’s going to continue to rise. But again, that gives me the comfort to know, if I need to deploy people from one healthcare system that’s doing well to another one, we have that flexibility. So now our total hospital bed census is about the same, and the healthcare workers are getting healthier. Many of them are sick themselves just one month ago. And, we’re seeing some other metrics as well that are looking really good. Again, we look at the cases per a hundred thousand.
Look at the warning sign here. December 10th, we had 51 per hundred thousand. Still considered a high number at the time, considering how low it had been just a couple months before, but at our peak, it was 381 per hundred thousand. That’s incredible. That was one of the highest in the nation. Second highest, look we are today. We are now the fourth lowest in the nation. Fourth lowest, with 32 per hundred thousand. Why is all this? Because New Yorkers and businesses stepped up, and did the right thing. And I will always be grateful for them for being the reason these numbers have been declining.
And again, we’ll talk about our hospital admissions. We’ve mentioned this a little while back. I started asking the questions. I made countless calls to hospital leaders in every corner of the State. I asked, “What do we see? Are these people really sick with COVID or we call them a COVID patient? Are they diagnosed with COVID? Are they in a hospital sick because of COVID? And back in December, only 18% were in this category of incidental COVID. People that tested because they entered a healthcare facility were in there for some other purpose, you know, it could have been a heart attack, could have been a car accident. Only 18% were these incidentals. And that’s when Delta was the primary variant.
Look at the change. Look at the change when our hospital admissions went up to 1900 a day, daily new admission was 1900. We are now down to a much better number, down 53%. But also you’ll see that there’s been a change in that trajectory. Now more than half of the people they admitted for COVID, listed as COVID are in for another. That also goes to the severity of what we’re dealing with here. Yes, they’re still taking a bed. Yes. There’s still a healthcare worker who has to take care of them. Yes, they need medical attention. But when you’re trying to analyze what we’re going through right now, you look at that number and look at, in two months, what has changed. And so now the majority were asymptomatic for COVID, but were testing positive. So these are part of those individuals who don’t even know they had COVID. That’s another comparison that we thought was important. And these numbers are down all across the State.
I talked to Dr. Fauci the other day, as I continue my daily calls with healthcare experts in the state, other states and in Washington. And he said, “Are you also looking at the infection, the hospital ratio?” Which was an interesting observation, we learned from this data that, of the people that are contracting Delta, looking at August 2021 Delta, 62% of people who are infected ended up in the hospital. With this Omicron variant, we see only 3.5% dead.
Now you can also factor into that, that many more people are vaccinated. And we’ve been saying from the beginning, if you get vaccine, if you get boosted, your chance of being seriously ill enough to go to hospital is dramatically reduced. This is what this bears out as well. So Delta was sever. Omicron is not considered as severe, but I will tell you, there are still people lying in a hospital today because of Omicron. So it is something we still take very, very seriously, but that’s a smaller ratio.
And I mentioned vaccinations, very proud that we are number one among the larger states for having people vaccinated. We’ve been aggressive about this – pop-ups, mass sites, engaging our partners and the private sector, clergy, everybody you could possibly think of has been involved in this process.
So right now we have about 70% of our teenagers fully vaccinated, that’s very good. I’ll look at the numbers though. We have a little more work to do with the younger kids. That just started more recently, I understand that, teenagers have been eligible to be vaccinated since June, but I think we can do better.
And this is a message I’d like to get out to all the parents, as well as the pediatricians and other influencers on families healthcare decisions, please get your kids vaccinated. Let’s give them that extra suit of armor, when the time comes they can be boosted. We’re waiting to hear from the CDC, if they’re going to have this available for younger kids, but I believe this is one of the reasons why we are in a very good place today.
It is the people who’ve been vaccinated, staying out of the hospital, freeing up capacity, as well as just our numbers overall have been declining. So this is something we are going to continue, despite what happens. We are going to continue focusing on vaccinations and our boosters, over 6.6 million New Yorkers have received their booster, many more are eligible, and we’re going to continue to get the availability of boosters out there to everybody.
So, as I mentioned, we’re going to look back a few months, look where we are. Overall cases are down, positivity rates down, hospitalizations are down, cases per hundred thousand are down, and new admissions are down. That is a beautiful picture, that may be one of my favorite slides. And vaccines and boosters are up and our hospital capacity is up
So New Yorkers, this is what we’ve been waiting for. Tremendous progress after two long years, and we’re not done, but this is trending in a very, very good direction. And that is why we are now approaching a new phase in this pandemic. And well, how do we know we’re in a new phase? I’ve been talking to everybody, people in the local diners, getting their reflection, talking to businesses, everybody from, as I mentioned, Dr. Fauci and healthcare experts, we rely on Dr. Bassett regularly, she consults with other national leaders in our neighboring states. Talk to elected officials, talk to labor leaders. I talked to, called every major healthcare leader and hospital CEOs, business leaders, talked to many businesses over the last few days.
As well as educators, school superintendents, parents, the leaders of the teachers unions, everybody I could think of has received a phone call from me to ask them how they feel about where we are, where we’re going and what we should be doing next. So consulting with all of them has given me, not just the data, but the on the ground view from the people that are most affected.
That’s how I make the best decision. So, we had a mask or vax requirement for businesses. It was an emergency temporary measure put in place literally two months ago. And at this time we say that it is the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor businesses and let counties, cities, and businesses to make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to mask or the vaccination requirement.
Given the declining cases, given declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to lift this in effect tomorrow. And I want to thank all the businesses and the county leaders and the health departments, in places as far away as Erie County, who did the right thing to help us get through this.
I believe this has made a huge difference and it gives also patrons of businesses the comfort to know that they were safe when they went into these stores during our most vulnerable time, when we saw those numbers literally off the charts and now those numbers are coming down and it is time to adapt. However, we want to make sure that every business knows, this is your prerogative, and individuals who want to continue wearing masks, continue wearing masks.
And I suspect, when I walk the streets of New York City, as I often do, I’m still going to see a lot of people wearing masks because they will feel safer. That is something that they are very, very welcome and encouraged to do, but in terms of having a requirement, it is being lifted as of tomorrow. And so thank you to the business owners, it wasn’t easy.
I’ve walked in a lot of restaurants, showing here in New York City, my vaccination card. And I just want to thank all of them for everything they did. They are part of the New York story and our response to this pandemic. They are an example of what leadership, even in their own lives and in their own communities looks like.
And they stepped up and some of them, it wasn’t pleasant, but I want to thank them because, because of them, we were able to lift this at this time. Again, I will always, always retain the flexibility to make adjustments if necessary, you know how I operate. I’m looking at data, looking at trends, looking at everything that’s out there.
But I also want to deal with the reality that we have a very good picture that has been painted over the last few weeks, particularly as we were approaching the expiration date of this temporary measure that’s been in place now literally for two months.
So let’s talk about some places where it’s still in effect. We are still going to continue for now the requirement at state regulated healthcare facilities. I think that’s very obvious of why we wanted to make sure our health care facilities are safe. That’d be adult care facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities, schools and childcare centers, and I’ll be talking about that in a minute.
Homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, as well as bus and train stations. The federal government regulates the airports, the airplanes and trains like Amtrak. So that is still under their jurisdiction. But also just know that those are more concentrated areas, as well as the areas where people, we believe people are most vulnerable.
I want people to know, this pandemic is not over. It is not over. That is why we’re still going to maintain protections for vulnerable populations in areas where people are very concentrated, because I want people to feel safe. I want people to still feel safe when they come into the cities and go to their jobs, that they’re not going to contract this virus.
And you’re going to hear a little bit about this from Dr. Bassett in a couple of minutes, but a day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t tell me they were also experiencing long COVID, long haul COVID. And this is devastating for people who want to get back to work, but just have so many symptoms they cannot. So, so I want to just strike the right balance here and let people know that the time in our judgement, based on all these metrics, is correct to lift it for the requirement for businesses.
But also there are vulnerabilities that we need to continue to protect until further progress is made. So that’s important to know. Now ask me the most common question I get asked in the state of New York. I think, you know. When are school masks coming off? Let’s talk a little bit about history here. Literally on August 17th, one week before I was sworn in as your governor, I knew I needed to hear from the education field.
I spoke to PTAs, school superintendents, principals, all the leaders, the leaders of the representatives of the teachers, parents, everybody. I said at the time, and this is August. There was still talk that there were schools in our state and school districts that were going to continue remote.
I said, no, no. We have to get our children back in schools. We went through that experiment, it served a limited purpose, to keep some educational engagement going during the worst, worst months of this pandemic. But now we had started having vaccines available, starting that summer for older kids, the numbers were looking better.
And I said that these kids, based on all the experts I’ve been talking to, need to be back in a safe learning environment because the mental health effects and the isolation and the depression and all the other collateral damage that our students went through, we need to start healing and help the teachers who went through hell and back to do the very best they could while their own kids were learning at home on the kitchen table and they’re trying to teach a classroom.
And the parents, everybody went through a lot, and I said, what is the best way we can get our kids back in school and keep them open, even though other parts of the country, they were throwing in the towel and saying, well, we’ll just leave them all remote.
We couldn’t do that here in the state of New York, we value our kids. We value education. And I said, we have to make sure our schools are open. So after consulting with all these people, part of that whole education ecosystem, we decided that the safest way for the students, the teachers, the administrators, everyone who was part of that system, the safest way to return to school was to have a mask requirement.
That’s what we talked about before I was governor, we instituted my first day in office and said that the era of remote learning is over, except in extraordinary circumstances. And that was the whole genesis behind the mask mandate. So keeping kids safe, keeping them in school, that’s still a priority. You know, it was just over the December holidays, right afterward, you saw in places like Chicago, everybody saying it has to be remote. We have to stay remote.
No, we were smart. We got test kits out to everybody. We gave an opportunity to people to find out who may be positive before they came back from break. We’ve been using really smart practices here to say no, in New York State, our schools are open, so that’s going to continue to be a priority.
So what we want to do, we know there’s another break coming up. Most of the public school students in the state will be back the week of February 28, after they’ve had their winter break, some of them may be traveling to other states, maybe going to Disney world. I’m not sure where they’re going, but they won’t be in class for at least a week, 10 day period.
So, let’s talk about when the kids come back, or even before that, let’s make sure that there’s test kits and we’re giving them out right now. And I’m going to talk about the extraordinary number of test kits we’ve amassed in a very short time, more than any state in the nation. And what are we doing with them?
Getting them out to schools, getting them to parents, getting them in the hands of people that can find out whether a child is positive before they come back and that’s how we stop the spread. So after this break parents will have test kits for their children. We want them to test the day after they come back.
And again three days later and let the school know if your child tests positive, keep them home. But by that Friday, just a few days after the children come back, we’ll be able to look at those numbers, but not just those numbers. We’re going to be looking at everything we’ve looked at throughout this entire process that actually led us to today.
We’re going to look at the cases per hundred thousand. We’re going to look at the percent positivity. We’ll also keep an eye on hospital admissions and even pediatric admissions – what’s happening with them? Are they continuing to decline – which is a very good metric right now.
Look at our vaccinations. It’s just one of many factors to look at. As well as we are going to be watching the global trends. We were forewarned about Omicron the last time. Throughout the fall, if you remember, even New York City’s numbers are about one percent the entire fall, and all of a sudden Thanksgiving came a week later and all broke loose. I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I pray it does not happen, but I do know that it’d be negligent on our part, not to be watching closely what is happening elsewhere as we calculate the best way to keep our children in school and safe.
Therefore, after the break, after we had kids tested, we are going to make an assessment that first week in March, based on all the metrics I’ve just described to you and look at that combined picture. There will not be one number that says yes or no. It is going to be an assessment of all these factors that have guided us throughout, guided us to the decision we made today, and that’ll give me the comfort as well as the conversations I had yesterday, just on a Zoom call talking, again, with the school superintendents, principals, PTA leaders. Called all the teachers, administrators, everybody who’s part of that system. We solicited their input, their advice, and I believe that they felt comfortable with this approach, that it’s not reactive. It is thoughtful. It is based on everything we’ve been doing since day one and we’ve done it successfully. So I wanted everybody to have that picture.
We’re developing right now, anticipating that day will come, that we’re developing the guidance in consultation with all the people I just mentioned, all those organizations. It’s not going to be ready yet because we’re going to fine tune it every single day, but there should be very clear guidance so schools will know what to do in a circumstance, you know, if the masks come off, someone tests positive in the classroom, what are some of the triggers? And so that is what we are going to take this time now to amass to make sure we get it right. No other state has done that. The federal government has not given guidance so we have to be very thoughtful because we know that as New York owes others will be following our lead and how we manage the situation in this new phase.
So I want to be very clear. We’re going to talk about a new winter toolkit, but this fight is not over. We’re not surrendering, this is not disarmament. We’re going to continue to be adaptable and responsive to the changing circumstances. But again, the trends are very, very, very positive. So we are going to have this blueprint for moving us forward. And I’m just going to give you some of the outlines, reinforcing everything we’re doing. Protecting the most vulnerable, increasing our vaccine and booster doses, strengthening the healthcare system, empowering local leaders and supporting New Yorkers who are dealing with long term effects of COVID and I’ll go through each one of those briefly.
The most vulnerable, we know where the most vulnerable are. They’re in our nursing homes. There are people who are immunocompromised. They are people in hospitals, congregate settings, and yes, for now they’re in our schools. So we are going to continue focusing on protecting all of them.
And this means testing, look at our nursing home cases, how they spiked. December 10th, we only had 678 active nursing home cases. Given the size of the population that was very positive. By January 14th, we had 8,500 nursing home cases. Thank God they’re coming down. They’re still down considerably, but they’re still a concern to us. You know, these people, even if they’re vaccinated, it is still a concern because many of them again have underlying health conditions. And we want to make sure that we do everything we can to protect these individuals. So, we are going to continue watching this.
That’s why we’re going to maintain our visitation rules. I talked to Washington about this. I asked them to give us more flexibility because they have regulatory power over institutions that accept Medicaid. So we are going to continue to ask people who visit individuals in nursing homes to have proof of a negative test within 24 hours of their visit. Continue wearing your masks in there. And when you’re visiting family again, this is a strong statement, that, yes, you can still visit people, but we’re going to ask you to do it safely so you don’t spread the virus inside a setting that is very, very vulnerable. So we’re not suspending visitation. We did not do that. But we want to make sure that people do it in a smart way.
We’ve been providing high quality masks, the N95. We’ve been providing testing kits. We are out there requiring vaccination availability, requiring that they make boosters available way back in November before all of this even hit. So focus of ours, nursing homes.
The vaccine, I mentioned before, we can do better. We’re going to keep increasing the amount of opportunities. If any school would like us to set up a vaccine pop-up, we have them all over. We’ve been doing hundreds of them. We’re also going to continue our testing. Testing sites are going to remain open. Vaccination sites are going to remain open. We encourage people to take advantage of them, especially if you’re going to be traveling or seeing someone who might be in a vulnerable situation. So, we’re going to get more young people vaccinated, hopefully, I need everybody on board with that.
Also, we’re waiting to hear about vaccines being available for the younger kids, little ones up until age four. Right now it’s not been approved, but we’re hoping the Pfizer vaccine will be available for them even at the end of the month. And then we’ll be encouraging people to take advantage of that. So that’s what we’re going to continue doing.
We have to just prepare for whatever comes our way. No one could have foreseen how this pandemic and even just Omicron in the last couple months, really brought our healthcare system to its knees in some parts of our state exposing vulnerabilities that have been there a long time. And it really hit people hard and those healthcare workers, again, I can never give them enough gratitude for what they continue to do. I try to go out and visit as many as I can and say thank you but that rings hollow, sometimes, when they’re just in the throes of this.
So we’re going to keep protecting our healthcare system. We use, I mentioned have amassed more test kits than any state in the nation. 92 million test[s] have been acquired, ready to be deployed. We’ve distributed over 27 million already, schools have received 14 million. I know it’s going to continue to go up as we make a real concentrated effort as this holiday is coming up. And we’re distributing masks, as I mentioned, to our counties and to nursing homes as well. Making sure everyone has a high quality mass is when one of our strategies to deal with these vulnerable populations.
Also, the shortage of workers is this has been incredible. I really focused on this, particularly in our budget address. And last fall, I signed an executive order to increase staffing flexibility. That’s going to remain in place. We’ve deployed the National Guard. They’re still on site. I’ve visited them. And also training our National Guard. When I said, hey, let’s call the National Guard. We need them in our nursing homes, in our hospitals to backfill and add support and find out that very few had medical training. We are now changing that dynamics. Our National Guard members are being trained so the next time around they can be administering vaccines and being more engaged, although their presence has been so, so appreciated.
I mentioned what we have to do in the budget. We have to strengthen this healthcare system. We don’t know what the future brings. All I know is that the present needs to be dramatically improved and I don’t know that if we have another experience at all like this, that we can count on the federal government to deliver the resources that they have done in the past. So I’m doing this as an investment now to add resiliency and sustain our health care system, which we saw the vulnerability in many communities. And so you’re making the largest healthcare investment in state history, $10 billion, but also includes $4 billion in bonuses and improvements and upgrades for our facilities that really need help. So you’ll be hearing more about that. That’s Capital Improvements to help our hospitals. A lot of hospitals lost income. We think about the length of time that they were not able to conduct elective surgeries. That’s a revenue source for them. That was cut off during the pandemic and once it was restored, even again, those that fell below 10 percent capacity this past fall as we were dealing with Omicron had to cut that off as well. So we know that’s been a drain, so we need to work to help build them back.
Also working with our local leaders. You know, just a few names here, our county executives, our legislators, they’ve been incredible. When we’ve asked them to help us set up vax sites or get test kits out to people, I’ve consulted with them, we’re fully engaged, speak to the associated counties and mayors and local governments. I come out of that world. I know that it’s important to have the voices of those communities represented and I want to continue empowering them. And so we’re going to continue working with them as well.
Another issue, as I mentioned a couple of times now, is this long COVID. I’m very fortunate to have Dr. Bassett being willing to champion this issue and lead our research into this and gather people as she’ll talk about. We know that there’s a lot of people, as I mentioned, a day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t tell me they or a family member are experiencing the symptoms. We want the healthcare industry to take this seriously. We’ve taken steps to make sure that people receive adequate medical treatment, reimbursement for lost wages. And again, I’m proud of what we’re going to do.
And at this time I’ll turn it over to Dr. Bassett, to talk about a gathering that we had asked her to convene, and she did very successfully, and we’re going to continue working on that as well. Dr. Bassett.
Dr. Bassett: Thank you. Thank you very much for that introduction and for your focus on long COVID. As the governor has outlined, as we see the acute infections from COVID decline, we also have to reckon with its long-term effects. One of the most troubling of these is what clinicians have called post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, commonly known as long COVID. People with long COVID have symptoms that do not improve, symptoms that recur or change in the weeks or even months after infection. And this syndrome has been documented not only in people who had serious COVID illness, but also in those who had mild illness and even those who had apparently asymptomatic infection. It’s a problem that likely involves millions of people around the world.
Our understanding of long COVID is still evolving, including its occurrence, its patterns, its risk factors and its mechanisms. So it remains poorly understood. But there’s no question that it is real and that it can greatly disrupt the lives of those who are affected. And that’s why the governor and our department has been so keen that our state be at the forefront of responding to long COVID and identifying ways to support its diagnosis, management and therapies as they emerge and are shown to be effective.
Last Thursday, the Health Department hosted a convening of experts on the issue of long COVID with the purpose of speaking with clinical researchers, basic scientists, physician scientists, legal experts, patient advocates, and others about the many aspects of this condition. As far as we know, we’re the first health department and the nation to have this sort of gathering.
It was aimed not only at the clinical care community, but the general public and including people living with long COVID. So it was a very impressive group and the event was live-streamed. I can give you all the website, if you missed it. It’s ny.gov/longCOVIDpanel.
So the goal of these discussion was to learn as much as we can and to share this knowledge. And we had three separate panels, one focused on research, one on models of care, and one on policies and practical steps. We’re very grateful that it offered a rich discussion. We’re writing up a final kind of report and synopsis of the recommendations that came out of it. But I’d like to share a few of these recommendations today.
The first of course is that we need more knowledge. Among the things that will aid this process is establishing formal case definitions so that clinicians know how to diagnose long COVID. You may be aware that the Health Department has a history of developing these. It was the state Health Departments, clinical definition of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children that formed the basis for what became the center for disease control’s case definition.
We need more provider education. So the providers understand that this is a condition that they should seek and diagnose. Many individuals report being bounced from provider, to provider, to provider who have been unwilling, maybe even not interested in listening to their symptoms. So we need to increase diagnostic ability and competency.
And finally, this Health Department has the privilege of overseeing Medicaid, one of the most important insurers in the state. This offers us the opportunity to pioneer mechanisms for reimbursement of care for people living with long COVID. And we will be looking into how we can leverage this approach.
We also have learned from other conditions, HIV being a prime example, how important it is to involve the affected community in this work. So all of this will also include adopting an equity lens. We know that Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous New Yorkers have borne a brunt of COVID acute infections. And we need to be alert to the occurrence of long COVID in these groups.
We also need to ensure that access to the best possible care is not limited to people who have resources, but is available to all for this newly recognized and emerging condition. It should never be a condition for which only people with resources get care. So this is a few of the things that we’re looking into Governor and I thank you and look forward to sharing more information in the future.
Governor Hochul: Thank you, Dr. Bassett for the very thoughtful approach that you brought to this conversation and you really are a national leader in this conversation. I would suspect you’ll be asked to address many organizations and gatherings of healthcare professionals, as we delve deeper into the causes as the place that was the hardest hit, the first time and now with Omicron. We have a pattern of individuals who’ve been experiencing this from the very beginning. We want to make sure that they know that we are taking it seriously, just acknowledging that it exists and taking people’s complaints seriously is an important step toward eradicating this.
So again, recapping our winter toolkit goals, protecting the most vulnerable, increasing our vaccine and booster doses, strengthening the health care system, empowering local leaders and supporting those who are experiencing long COVID. And with that, we’ll be taking questions again.
I’m very grateful to New Yorkers for helping us get here, especially the businesses that hung in there through some very challenging times. We wish you the very best success.