Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul hosted a media availability following her second cabinet meeting in Albany.
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:
We just concluded a very fascinating cabinet meeting. It’s my second time assembling our cabinet. The first time was two months ago and that was done remote. So it was great to see the entire team all together in person, a lot of new blood, a lot of exciting individuals and very talented and as well as some of my more seasoned veterans who are with us.
I’m really pretty pleased with the individuals who are very focused on one thing, and that is delivering results for New Yorkers. And my philosophy is to really empower these cabinet leaders to use the power of their agencies to do good for people. It’s that simple. It’s our philosophy. And any way we can break down barriers and silos that have existed before, I’m encouraging them to have a lot of cross-collaboration.
So we had some really important conversations as well. We learned from each other. So we talked about not just our immediate recovery from the pandemic, which we will give you the update on in a couple of minutes, but also just what is the long-term prognosis as we emerge from this pandemic.
And I talked about in our State of the State, this new era for New York. I wanted to hear from my cabinet members, how did that mantra, how that philosophy really applies in their own work every single day. So we really start out by addressing something that has always been there, has always been simmering under the surface and that is inequities in society: racial, ethnic, geographic.
And so we’ve talked about different agencies and their responsibilities, but also through the lens of addressing inequalities. And we talked about first of all, we heard from Brian Benjamin, our Lieutenant Governor, and he has really seized the opportunity to talk about gun violence and how we can be doing so much more to address this issue. He is my representative on our interstate gun task force, gun intervention task force. We’re working for the first time ever with nine adjoining states and the NYPD, as well as the Boston PD to have a strategic approach that addresses the influx of illegal guns coming into our state. So I thank him for that. He also talked about his role in dealing with NYCHA. NYCHA, public housing in New York City is one of those areas that sometimes too hot to handle. It’s controversial, but that’s why I gave it to Lieutenant Governor, because he has a depth of experience and understands the needs of the community. So I wanted to empower him to focus on the issues there as well. As well as having him focus on, as I did as Lieutenant Governor, the Regional Economic Development Councils. Which is really where all the action happens. That’s where the communities have a chance to define their own destiny and to focus on projects that will right the wrongs of the past, and sometimes connect communities that were divided by infrastructure or lack of access to waterfront, incubator space and downtown breweries and all the exciting things that can happen in vital downtowns. So I want to thank him for working on that as well.
Then we also listened to our other leaders and I raised the question: as we’re coming through the pandemic and the inequities are still so prevalent, how do we address them? I mean, not just talking about them, but how do we get our arms around it and actually do something.
So someone whose counsel I’ve relied on from the very beginning, since she ascended to become our Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mary Bassett spoke about how we have to talk about how we can eradicate those inequities by quantifying and addressing them with a very strategic approach that as well as we talked about.
Also Adrienne Harris, an individual who’s really stepped up as our Superintendent of Financial Services, talking about areas where we can even address something like a freeze to have on check cashing fees that were automatically expected to increase. Because of steps that she’s taking on a thoughtful way, realizing this is not the time to increase fees on people. They’re dealing with coming through a pandemic, but also inflation is sucking up so much of our income these days. So she’s just putting a whole different approach on what she does and bringing more transparency to the work of the Financial Services Department.
And Dr. Ann Marie Sullivan, literally has gone on to see individuals who are homeless in our communities. [She has been] talking about a different approach to addressing their very real needs and how we can help them get the services that they need to have through a whole spectrum of opportunities. But also, the fact that 40% to 50% of all New Yorkers have had some impact from the pandemic on their own mental health and particularly for our children. So she’s done a lot of on that front.
We also talked about bringing on our other partners here, our other cabinet members, how we prepare for the workforce of tomorrow in light of what we just came through with the pandemic.
And Commissioner Reardon did an extraordinary job issuing, what’s the number again, it was off the charts.
Commissioner Reardon: The benefits?
Governor Hochul: The benefits.
Commissioner Reardon: Over $104 billion to 4.8 million New Yorkers.
Governor Hochul: $104 billion in unemployment benefits. And that’s how much under normal circumstances we would allocate in a 50 year period, 50 years, we did it in two years. That is extraordinary. So we talked about that, but also what do we do now? How do we realize there are people who fell between the cracks or whose job was automated out of existence. How do we get them into the workforce training that has to occur for us to emerge out of this stronger than ever before. So she talked about the career centers we have partnering with SUNY and CUNY, and also the fact that by no longer requiring that financial assistance is unavailable for part-time students, how transformative that simple change can be for individuals to have access to education.
Hope Knight, our President and CEO of Empire State Development Corporation, she talked about how we build up our pipeline to talent because when we’re recruiting businesses to come to our state and I spend a lot of my time doing just that, the first question is: tell me about the talent pool. Tell me where I’m going to get the workers with the skills I need. So we’re really taking a different approach, integrating the Department of Labor’s talents with Empire State Development, because they know, even before the deal is signed, what businesses would come here if they had the right talent and how we can address those needs in a preemptive way, a proactive way, so she spoke about that.
Basil Seggos talked about the unique opportunities we have as we continue to position New York State as a true leader in fighting climate change and creating green jobs, what those jobs look like, how we get people to train in those areas, so again, we can be ready for employees for the opportunities of the future. So he talked about how the Environmental Bond Act itself, $4 billion we proposed, that’ll result in 84,000 jobs right there alone. And these are jobs to make sure that we have healthy drinking water and systems to make sure that we’re resilient as well for the next major climate events. And also our offshore wind, what great possibilities we have with offshore wind. I was out there last week on Long Island announcing our first major wind farm. The rest of the world is watching what we’re doing here in the state of New York and it’s a very exciting time for us.
And also lastly, I asked our cabinet members who are dealing with the whole spectrum of gun violence, and this is top of mind for most New Yorkers right now and how it really – we went from being a very safe state, to having a real problem with gun violence, but we’re not alone. And that’s an important point to make well known is that the entire country is dealing with an increase in gun violence.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to tackle this, you know, we can, while rates are going up all across the country, why can’t New York State be one of the first that takes strong steps to eradicate this and make sure all New Yorkers feel safe. And so we talked to the Superintendent of the State Police, Kevin Bruen, who talked about how we can use, and we are putting many more resources, you know, funding for more positions, and put people into areas we hadn’t needed to before, monitoring social media, finding out what individual gang members are talking about or threats or in one, you know, social media posts showing the new gun they purchased that’s not legal.
That gives an opportunity for us to interdict guns before they’re used in a crime. Also Rossana Rosado, our former Secretary of State, now our commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Services, talked about how we have to, within that system, have implicit bias training for people to realize how they’re approaching their responsibilities as part of our criminal justice system and how we can take steps to increase fairness in everything we do. So I wanted to make sure we had her voice in this conversation as well.
And then Janno Lieber, who is often, I talk about, we see him with shovels and plans and all sorts of new ideas and how we’re going to expand our subway services. But he also is responsible for making sure people feel safe on the subways. We’re seeing very good metrics right now. We’re almost back to pre-Omicron numbers, which is great. Before Omicron, we were at about 60 percent of our normal activity on the trains and subways, then we dropped significantly when Omicron hit and hit us hard. But now we’re almost back to where we had been pre-Omicron, and eventually we’ll get to the old pre-pandemic level, so we’re very excited about that.
But what else are we seeing in the subways? This is a place where they’re have been heinous acts of crime and that the homeless have been finding that that’s where they’re congregating and living. And that’s not a place that they need to be, they should be. They need to get services, they need direct interventions. So we talked about how we’re going to have teams – we announced this with Mayor Adams last month, and we had to put out RFPs and get the people hired to get them out there. And we’ll be out there very shortly talking about exactly what they’re doing and their responsibility to make sure that anyone who takes the subway feels very safe and secure.
These are all elements toward our comeback, getting people back to their jobs, making people feel safe in the streets, feeling safe in our public transportation and making sure that there are jobs for them to come to. So this is a very thoughtful conversation, I’m proud of everybody, and it’s a dynamic team. These are the most dedicated public servants ever congregated in one administration. And we worked very hard to make sure that we had diversity and representation from all voices, all walks of life and all racial and ethnic communities, and I’m proud of that. And I was very proud to see all of them in person for the first time as their governor.
So, before we take questions, I do want to talk for a couple of minutes about where we are with COVID, since we’re making great progress. How about this: we are at pre-surge levels. Our average cases are now, average case indicators are now at pre-surge levels. The lowest since October 25th, you saw our spike January 7th, with 90,132 cases.
That is a 97% drop just since January 7th. This is only February. I mean, that is an amazing drop. I don’t think we could have foreseen that. We prayed for it, we hoped it would happen, and it actually did happen. So to everybody who followed our guidelines, the businesses who complied with what we asked them to do, the people who got vaccinated and got boosted and people wore their mask when the numbers were that dangerously high.
We now have the lowest case-rate of any major state, any large state in America. So that’s something that didn’t happen because we wanted it to, that was as a direct result of strategic policies that we’ve been announcing throughout the fall and continuing with our, our winter surge plans.
So we’re also number one in large states in terms of testing. We’re proud of that, and we’re continuing to distribute over 34 million test kits already out there, and we’re going to have 92 million in the hands of New Yorkers in the next few weeks. So 7-day average is down, our positivity rate, 3.27. Our peak was at 23% hospitalizations. Look at that 72% drop in hospitalizations over the last month. That is such a relief for all the healthcare workers who’ve just been working so hard, showing up day after day, absolutely exhausted, I could see it in their eyes and they still showed up. And so we’re still so proud of everything they’ve done for nearly two years now, but this is also good news for all of them and for the people.
Despite the fact that we’re seeing a decrease in hospitalizations, we still lost 66 New Yorkers yesterday, and we look forward to the day when that is a zero in front of that indicator, that’ll mean we’ve really come out of this. So major, major progress here. I just want everybody to see that hospitalizations are down, not just statewide, but across all regions. You saw a little while ago, we saw a decrease in the major areas, like in downstate, but upstate was still trending upwards when it came to hospitalizations and now, every part of our state, all 10 regions, are finally going down. And new COVID admissions are down as well.
So, making great progress, you can see what we’re doing here, Western New York, down 21%, North Country down 27%. Our hospitalizations are declining. Also, we had a number of hospitals who are on our Executive Order list. These are people, entities who had a suspend their elective surgeries, because they didn’t have enough capacity. Remember, we talked about any hospital that falls below 10%, we need to make sure that they are ready to be able to take any influx of patients. And we did see a huge influx of patients just in the short time, from the end of November to the end of December. And part of our preparation was to say, “Suspend elective surgery. Make sure you have the capacity to handle it.” And that’s exactly what happened. So now, we went from 23% recently, down to having only five, and they’re all concentrated in the Finger Lakes. We’re working closely with those hospital systems.
Vaccinations, we’re making progress. Our five to 11 year olds have gone up dramatically. We can do better. But look at that, that, that is a great trend. Nice trend line. And, we are number one again, I love looking at New York State being number one, among large states in several metrics. One is with the total population with at least one dose. We are number one among large states, with the 18 and up fully vaccinated, as well as 12 to 17 fully vaccinated. So, so we’re excited about this. These are good numbers. We’re heading into the mid-winter break for students, and we’re already, we’ve already sent out over 5 million test kits for the students. Parents know that when their kids come home for that break, they have a test kit, test them, the Monday before they head back to school, make sure they’re negative, test again in a couple of days. And that is, I’ve mentioned, we’d be having to take a look at that Friday, March 4th, on what the numbers are, looking at all the variables I’ve already outlined, real excited about that.
We’re also continuing to focus on vaccinations for kids with 29 new pop-up sites. Adding up to over 222 pop-up vaccination sites. So, also making sure that we have treatments available to us. I was just on a White House call a couple hours ago, and talking about how we were going to be very aggressive in the distribution of this at the federal level. But certainly, when the federal supply is allocated, that we’re very early in line in terms of getting these doses of antiviral and monoclonal antibody treatments, making sure that if someone does get sick, that they, you know, they contact their healthcare provider. If they’re over 65, that they are a little more vulnerable. I want to make sure they are safe.
So that is the good news, New Yorkers. You have a dynamic, incredible cabinet, which we just heard from. We also have some very, very promising numbers on COVID. So, we are in a good place today.