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Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Updates New Yorkers on State’s Progress Combating Covid-19

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Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the State’s progress combating COVID-19.

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

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AUDIO of the event is available here.   

PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor’s Flickr page.   

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

Governor Hochul: Good afternoon, everyone. Another COVID briefing, we’re back at it again. And I want to also thank Dr. Mary Bassett for the incredible work she has done. And you’ll be hearing from her in a couple moments as well as Dr. Kirsten St. George, who’s the Chief of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases here at the Wadsworth Center.

And I wanted to take a few moments today to talk about where we are with respect to COVID, our response, and also what we’re starting to see emerge in other parts of the world, particularly in China, Hong Kong, as well as in the United Kingdom. So I’ve said along, we are going to keep track of the numbers.

We’re monitoring the numbers very intensely. And also I said, I’ll be very open with the public as we start to see any shifts or any trends that I want to make sure they’re aware of. And so, we’re here to give you an update on this and also this, you know, this BA.2 sub-variant. And I just want everyone to know that we’ve never taken our foot off the gas when it comes to our preparedness for dealing with this pandemic.

We never had a high-five moment and said it’s over. We’re in a new phase, we’ve been adapting to the circumstances and reopening in a way that I still believe should continue. That’s an important point to make. But we just want to highlight a couple of observations of what we’re seeing here, but also just to talk about where we are today. This Wadsworth Center is truly the location where the people who work here are the unsung heroes of the pandemic. We toured last summer, I was here again in the fall, and it was Wadsworth that allowed us to identify and test COVID patients here in the state of New York, long before testing was readily available.

And so they’ve really done a tremendous amount of work here. But also, this building, this facility, in my opinion, here in the state of New York should be a world-class facility. You know, the work they do is critically important.

The rest of the nation looks to what we do here in the state of New York. And that is why I wanted to come to this place. And to mention that this is part of our initiative to really build back our healthcare system, which had been knocked down so hard before the pandemic. And so my budget actually proposes $750 million to rebuild this center, as well as $1.6 billion for upgrades in healthcare overall as part of our $10 billion plan. So we know what we have to help. We have to help financially distressed hospitals. We have to make sure we do more to recruit more healthcare workers.

This was a crisis in the making even before the pandemic, but we’ve seen how vulnerable our populations are, even in nursing homes, hospitals, and home care aides, when it comes to protecting people, independent of a pandemic, but certainly when there’s a pandemic underway and we have to make sure that we’re continuing to invest in that. And that’s why I’m committed to continue to grow our healthcare workforce by 20 percent, as well as support them with higher wages and bonuses as well.

So, like I said, I want to make sure you know what we know when we find out about what’s happening here. This sub-variant is going to be, you know, something we’re watching closely. We’re not being alarmist about it. We’re just transmitting the information as we get it. But the number one basic way to deal with this right now is if anyone feels symptoms at all, just get tested immediately.

That’s how we can stop it from spreading. You know what the symptoms are and Dr. Bassett can talk about them as well as Dr. St. George. But if you feel them at all, this is when you’re smart. And that is why we’ve been so aggressive about getting testing kits out there. They’re readily available, there’s no excuses, every household should have them. So you can protect yourselves, your children, you know, your older parents and people that you know are vulnerable, people who are immunocompromised. And so we want to make sure that we’re continuing to provide this information to people, as well as making sure that we get information about treatments.

Now, this is important. We have not focused as a nation as much on the treatment capabilities. You should, first sign of symptoms, let your doctor know so you can start getting the treatments that can stop the circumstances from getting worse. And right now we’re not seeing any spikes in hospitalizations or cases. I’ll get into the numbers in a couple minutes, but I’ll first let Dr. Bassett give us an update and then Dr. St. George will give us an update as well. I want you to hear from the experts, they’ll be available for questions afterward, but I just want New Yorkers to know in real time what we’ve learned about what’s happening with Omicron BA.2. Dr. Bassett.

Dr. Bassett: Thank you, Governor, and thank you for your words about this Wadsworth Center. These labs are the second largest public health labs outside of the Centers for Disease Control and they are a true jewel in the crown of public health in New York. I want to begin by saying that it’s no surprise to us that we are seeing COVID cases tick up.

We are seeing this as society opens up more and as this virus continues to adapt to human beings and to our vaccines. Yesterday’s data showed that New York City, which has been the COVID gateway for our state, has gone up relative to the past seven days. The seven-day average a week ago was eight per hundred thousand. It’s now up to 11.

These are very low numbers. These numbers are small, but we have seen some small relative upticks across the state. And as the governor has indicated, we’re monitoring this closely and we’re monitoring the variant which Dr. St. George will discuss in a little more detail in a moment. And we’re also, of course, watching carefully what’s happening in other parts of the world and especially in the United Kingdom.

At this point, even with the rise in cases in the BA.2, which is a sub-lineage of the Omicron variant, we don’t expect to see a steep surge in cases in New York State. At the moment, BA.2 comprises about 42 percent of all the cases here in the state. It has been rising over the past couple of months, but we have not seen the kind of rate of growth and this dominance that we’ve seen in the UK and in Europe. BA.2 is more transmissible as you know, than the original variant, but it does not appear to cause more severe illness and it doesn’t appear to have any more ability to evade the vaccination immunity.

If you’re concerned about what you should do given the news that you’re hearing, I want to just emphasize as we been throughout my time as commissioner and the governor has throughout her time as the governor, that if you’re eligible for a booster now is the time to get boosted. As of March 20th, among people who are 18 and older, we had about 45 percent of people in New York state who were eligible for the booster remain unboosted. And if your child has not gotten vaccinated or boosted, now is a time that you should really do that. We have about 35 percent of children between the ages of five and 11 who are fully vaccinated and we need that number to go up. Although 42 percent have received at least one dose.

The governor’s already emphasized that we need to use more our capacity for treatment. We are not worried in this state at this time about access to treatment. If you have COVID symptoms, you should not ignore them. They’re basically flu-like symptoms. Fever, cough, even diarrhea, go get tested. Don’t wonder about it. We want people to be able to take advantage of the treatment window, which is five days from the onset of symptoms. So if you wait and feel grody for three days, then go get a test, then call your doctor, the treatment window would already be closing. We want everyone to take advantage of treatment. This is for people who have mild to moderate disease and will reduce the risk of hospitalization.

And, of course, I want to remind everyone that though we’ve removed the mask mandate in many settings, people still have the choice to wear masks and we want people who choose to wear a mask to feel comfortable doing so. Of course, mask mandates remain in some settings – on transportation and in healthcare.

So now, to tell you a bit more about our surveillance and our variance, I’d like to turn the podium over to Dr. St. George, who heads up virology here at Wadsworth. Dr. St. George, over to you. 

Dr. St. George: Thank you, Dr. Bassett. Good morning. The scientists here at the Wadsworth Center Lab are constantly analyzing test results from across the state and these are detailed sequencing data results. Since the end of January, more than 99.5 percent of the sequences identified have been of the Omicron variant in New York State. The most recent data show, as Dr. Bassett just mentioned, that 42 percent of those Omicron sequences are the new BA.2 variant.

This increase in the proportion of BA.2 is not surprising, but it has increased more slowly in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. than in many other countries. And this information is available in more detail to all New Yorkers on our website, ny.gov/variantdata.

Wastewater surveillance is another important tool that we utilize, in addition to human clinical samples, to monitor the prevalence of COVID. This is a new program and New York State now has monitoring in more than 50 counties. This is being expanded to cover all counties and to include sequence analysis for variant distinguishing testing. It will also use high speed sequencing methods to facilitate the rapid identification of variants and their circulation throughout the state. So we will have early warning signals at an even more widespread rate.

We are very grateful to the governor for including a $5 million allocation in the Executive Budget to expand this very important and very powerful surveillance tool. 

Thank you very much. And I’ll hand the podium back to the governor. Thank you.

Governor Hochul: Thank you, Dr. St. George and Dr. Bassett. Again, just to put an exclamation point on something Dr. Bassett said, you know, there are reports that Thursday’s 30 percent increase in cases as results of the Omicron BA.2 sub variant. When you go from eight cases per hundred thousand to 11 cases per a hundred thousand, yes, it is 30 percent, but it was just a few months ago, we had over 400 cases per hundred thousand. So, I just want people to understand the context of this as well. We’re being very diligent in making sure that we monitor the numbers in case the numbers do start increasing. 

Again, you heard from the doctor as well, the booster, this is what you’re hearing in the news, this is what we’re hearing from the CDC. The booster is the best protection against this variant and we’ve had over 7 million boosters administered, but only 56 percent of the overall population has been boosted that are eligible, so we can do more. 

My concern are people who are over 65. We’ve been very aggressive about making sure that not just vaccines, but boosters are available, they’re required to be available at every single nursing home. We continue to make sure that our nursing homes have mask requirements, that there’s testing available. So we know that’s a vulnerable population, we’re focused on it. 

So 73% of our nursing home residents are actually boosted. That’s great, but that means there’s still a number of people who are not. And we hope that they’re family members and their caregivers will make sure that that happens. So, also not just seniors, but people who have underlying health conditions, people who are getting chemotherapy, cancer treatments, they’re the ones that are vulnerable, in the event that this variant starts to spread. And it does seem to be spreading faster than even Omicron, based on what we’re seeing in Europe.

So we’re not going to take our foot off the gas, we’re protecting people with PPE tests, vaccines and boosters, and making sure that the mask requirements in healthcare facilities remain in place. Also, we’re watching the issue in Washington about a fourth dose, and I’m very anxious to get that approval, if that’s determined by the CDC to be the next best defense against this variant. And as soon as it’s signed off on, we’ll be out there.

That is why I’m not standing down our testing sites or our vaccination sites, even though we’re having very few people come at this time. I want to see how we manage through this next – I don’t know if it’s going to be a wave, I don’t anticipate a surge – but we have to be ready for anything. One thing we do know about this, about COVID, Omicron, and Delta, wildly unpredictable. So that is why we’re staying very vigilant about our approach to this.

Tests issued, I mentioned we had 20 million more tests out to nursing homes, adult care centers, our NYCHA residents, senior centers, food banks, building on the 54 million. This is quite extraordinary. Now I want to thank Jackie Bray and her team, the emergency operations. In addition to battling hurricanes early on, and snowstorms, it seems like every single weekend she’s also been managing our state response in terms of getting our 54 million tests out there, as well as Katherine Garcia, our State Operations. So they have been laser focused on these issues. 

We’ve had over 54 million tests out already, and we’re going to stockpile. This is what I keep saying to the team, amass them, collect them, get them in hand, make sure that we have more than enough, so we never feel vulnerable. And we’re going make sure that we continue to keep New Yorkers safe as we move safely through this pandemic. 

So let’s just talk about some of the numbers. So again, that is still the trend we want to see. January is a bad nightmare. We think about that and those numbers kept going up and up. And we expect the numbers to fluctuate. Just be prepared for that. Again, we’re not sounding any alarms here. People continue on with your lives, you know, be careful about those that we’ve identified as being most vulnerable. I hope you’re taking good care of older parents and people who have compromised immune systems.

But we’re still way down. So far down from our peak of 90,000, which is something that New Yorkers should still be proud of. This is what they are able to do, help drive this down. We still watch the numbers in every region. Largely the same trend. Our cases per hundred thousand, our overall positivity, 2%. 23% just back in January. So these numbers are really a positive sign of how far we’ve come thus far, but always being vigilant.

Hospitalizations, again, this is always a lagging indicator behind new cases, infections, illness sets in, hospitalizations, and then deaths at the end. And we did lose six New Yorkers yesterday, and we’ve over 900 people still in hospitals, but the trends have been going way down. And so this is something that we think is a tremendous story. And again, our new admissions.

We’re still watching to see whether or not these are people who are just incidentally testing positive for COVID, which is something we started doing months ago before anybody else did. We realized that everyone who enters into a healthcare facility, they’re tested, but they may be in there for wholly different causes. So we want to make sure people know that that’s a distinction there. So to give you a more accurate idea of what the real hospitalizations are all about, hospitalizations are continuing to be down as well. So great numbers there.

Vaccination progress, we’re still number one among large states for fully vaccinated, total population. We’re number one among large states for fully vaccinated 12 to 17 year olds. Number two, among large states for 5 to 11 year olds, fully vaccinated. I want to get that up a little bit higher. And also again, parents, if you didn’t hear us last time, we’re going to say it again. Protect your children. Don’t just get them vaccinated, make sure that they have their full vaccination as well. We want to make sure everybody’s boosted who’s eligible as well, too. So we’ll be ready for this. 

This is the message to New Yorkers. We’ve learned a lot. We know how to handle this. We are not in an alarmist mode. We’re not panicking over this. We’re just watching the numbers and want to make sure everyone knows what we know at the same time. So vaccines will continue to be critical tools. Stay vigilant. We’re going to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated.

I’m not shutting down sites. Just want you to know that. I’m not shutting down the testing sites. I’ve seen some other states have. Even if there’s just a few people showing up there, we are going stay on top of this. And so that’s our overall message, because there’s a lot of concern. I’ve had a lot of questions over the last couple weeks about what this variant is about.

I brought you to the place where this is a nation leading facility. They understand more than most how to address this. And I wanted to make sure we always take advantage of our experts here today.



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