Governor Calls on Virgin Atlantic to Join British Airways and Delta Airlines in Voluntarily Testing Passengers Before Boarding Flights to New York

6,331 Patient Hospitalizations Statewide

1,095 Patients in the ICU; 613 Intubated

Statewide Positivity Rate is 5.75%

109 COVID-19 Deaths in New York State Yesterday

Governor Cuomo: British Airways, I have spoken to myself and they have voluntarily agreed to add New York to the 120 countries that will do pre-boarding testing. They will start that tomorrow. There are two other airlines, Delta and Virgin, I requested for them to voluntarily agree. If they do not agree voluntarily, then New York State will pursue other options. I would not be doing my job as Governor of New York if I sat here and let the federal incompetence create another emergency and disaster that cost the lives of New Yorkers.”

Cuomo:  “We have been victimized by federal incompetence and federal negligence. That is a fact. We’re not going to be victimized again.”

Cuomo: “We have already distributed more vaccines and our hospitals have vaccinated more people than any state in the nation.”

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that in the wake of a new, highly contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus found in the United Kingdom, British Airways and Delta Airlines have voluntarily agreed to require a COVID-19 test before allowing passengers to board planes traveling from the United Kingdom to New York. News of Delta’s agreement to require testing broke just after the Governor’s briefing concluded. With this move, New York joins the list of 120 countries with a similar requirement on flights from the U.K. The Governor has asked Virgin Atlantic, the other airline that runs flights from the U.K. to New York, to do the same. The Governor is also continuing to call on the federal government to impose enhanced travel restrictions, as 120 other countries have done, to avoid the same grave mistakes of the spring where the virus entered New York from Europe with no warning.

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:

Good morning, happy Monday. From my far right, Gareth Rhodes, Chancellor Malatras, Director of Operations Kelly Cummings, Health Commissioner Dr. Zucker. To my left, Secretary to the Governor Melissa De Rosa, to her left Budget Director Robert Mujica. Today is day 296, but who’s counting? I am. Here are the numbers for today: statewide positivity without micro-clusters: 5.28. Statewide positivity with micro-clusters 5.75. Micro-clusters 7.1.156,000 tests, 109 deaths. I can’t tell you the pain it causes to read that number every day for 296 days.

Statewide hospitalizations are up 146, but, I say often these are weekend numbers, be careful about weekend numbers. Within statewide hospitalizations there are always two numbers – there’s the number of people who get discharged, and the number of people who get admitted. The admissions were actually down, 700 admissions compared to 822 the day before, but the discharges are down, only 472 discharges as opposed to 728. That’s because hospitals have a reduced staff on the weekend, they tend not to discharge as many people. So, again, I take the weekend numbers with a grain of salt. I take the weekend numbers with two grains of salt, I take all these numbers with one grain of salt, more the direction than anything else. The ICUs are up 50, intubations up 13.

Across the state, percentage of that population hospitalized, Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes, Finger Lakes, .06. They have done a reversal with Western New York. Western New York was a real problem, and now Finger Lakes are a worse problem, and Western New York, not Formica, has flattened for the time being, and that’s good news.

Finger Lakes is a problem because they are part of Western New York, there’s a lot of travel between Western New York, between Buffalo, Eerie County, Monroe County, etc., and you can’t have two contiguous areas where one has a low infection rate and one has a high infection rate, because the high infection rate winds up infecting the lower infection rate. So the Finger Lakes are a problem in and of themselves, they’re also a problem for Western New York.

Central New York .05, Southern Tier .03, Mohawk Valley is also a problem. .04, North Country’s good, Capitol Region .03, Long Island .04, New York City .03.

When you look at the positivity it’s Finger Lakes and it’s Mohawk Valley, and those are the problem areas that we’re focusing on now. This is the ongoing COVID whack-a-mole: you bring it down in one region it pops up in another, and that’s what we’ve been dealing with.

When you look at New York City, Staten Island, and there is no reason for Staten Island. If you said to me Manhattan I would say well, that’s more dense, more people taking public transportation, people on the sidewalks. If you said Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, those of you now familiar with New York City, Staten Island is more of a residential community, more single family homes than many of the other boroughs, et cetera, so this is just pure peoples’ behavior and peoples’ attitude, and the community’s attitude.

A lot of political statements are made in Staten Island. Fine, and now reconcile that with the infection rate and the number of deaths. COVID does not respond to political rhetoric, Democratic rhetoric, Republican rhetoric. You can’t defy death on political terms.

Statewide, compared to the rest of the nation, New Yorkers are doing very well. This is a bit of a mixed message, I run into this all the time. “Well New York State is doing so well compared to the nation, what are we worried about?” Yeah, I understand that we are doing much better than the rest of the nation, but it’s not really about the rest of the nation. If a person dies in the state of New York, a person dies in the state of New York.

If a higher percentage of people die somewhere else, that hurts our soul as Americans, but all we can do is protect the people in the state of New York. The only states slower than us are Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont, which are obviously great states, but they are different demographics, different geography.

This is very concerning, this new strain that they have found in the UK. The strain, according to Boris Johnson, is 70 percent more transmittable than the old strain. They don’t know if there’s any higher rate of death, they don’t know if the vaccine is as effective with the new strain. The quote from the UK medical officer was our “working assumption,” quote unquote, is that the vaccine works.

The strain is so serious that the UK has closed down again. IF the UK believes the strain is so serious that Boris Johnson, who said the week before we’re not going to cancel Christmas, we’re not going to close, did a 180-degree turn, and then closed parts of the UK, it’s serious, my friends, and we are on notice about it.

Why don’t we act intelligently for a change? Why don’t we mandate testing before people get on the flight, or halt the flights from the UK now? Many other countries have done this. This is not a case of first impression. You have many countries that have just restricted flights from the UK. Many European countries have done it.

Why are we doing nothing? 120 countries require the UK travelers to receive a negative test before they get on the plane in the UK. 120 countries and the United States has done nothing. 

People in government often believe doing nothing is safe. Well, if I do nothing, I won’t be criticized. I don’t believe that. I believe that’s exactly wrong. There are situations where doing nothing is actually doing something; where doing nothing is actually an affirmative action. When you do not require the UK flights to be tested, you are allowing thousands of UK passengers to arrive here every day. The authorities say they haven’t found the strain here yet. They are science based until they find the strain, they will say there is no strain. 

I believe, intuitively, it’s already here. I believe that because if it’s been flying around the world, it will be here. I say that intuitively because I have an educated intuition because I lived this and you lived this. This was the spring. This is how we had that New York ambush in the first place. This was “don’t worry, the coronavirus is in China.” No, it wasn’t. The coronavirus got on a plane in China and went to Europe and it came here from Europe. Nobody said anything for 2 months in the federal government. It had been coming for so long that it was too late.

If this is more transmittable than COVID, 70 times more says Boris Johnson, this is a major problem. For us, to once again be incompetent as a federal government and take more action, is just not a viable option for us in New York. We learned this lesson the hard way and we’re not going to go through it again. We have been victimized by federal incompetence and federal negligence. That is a fact. We’re not going to be victimized again. 

There are 3 airlines that come from the UK and fly in to our airports. Our airports are run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The 3 airlines are British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. They daily are bringing several thousand passengers per day. I am asking those airlines to add New York State to the list of the 120 countries that require tests before the flights leave the UK for New York. 120 countries do it, my request is simple: Please add New York to the list of 120 countries. Well, you’re not a country. I know that but as Governor of New York State, I have asked them to do that. We do have a public health emergency in existence in New York State. 

The British Airways, I have spoken to myself and they have voluntarily agreed to add New York to the 120 countries that will do pre-boarding testing. They will start that tomorrow. That’s the same type of testing that many of the 120 countries on the list have agreed to. I want to thank British Airways. This was a very rapid decision by them. They were considerate and I truly appreciate it. Obviously, British Airways could have taken a different path, but they agreed to be cooperative and they said they will not send flights to JFK unless those people have been tested pre-boarding. Thank you very much. 

There are two other airlines, Delta and Virgin, I requested for them to voluntarily agree. If they do not agree voluntarily, then New York State will pursue other options. I would not be doing my job as Governor of New York if I sat here and let the federal incompetence create another emergency and disaster that cost the lives of New Yorkers. I am only a Governor, but I will do anything I can and whatever I can to protect the people of the State of New York. That is my job and I know and I believe my intuition is correct that this is another disaster waiting to happen. If the UK closed down; if 120 countries require testing if Canada left the plane on the tarmac because they wouldn’t allow it to de-board; if the other European countries have said that they’re banning travel – why are we doing nothing? Why are we doing nothing? 

Why did we do nothing in the spring? I’m not going to allow it to happen or I will try my best to do everything within my power. I asked the other two airlines to follow the lead of British Airways. I asked them not to disrespect the people of New York State who are very gracious and good neighbors with the UK, but please don’t abuse or disrespect the people of New York. Please don’t underestimate the people of New York. We protect one another. I promise you that. Please consider joining voluntarily and we await your answer. 

On vaccinations – here’s my hero, nurse Sandra Lindsay. Look at that face. That needle goes in, not a muscle on her face moves. That is a pro. When my time comes I hope I’m as good as Nurse Sandra Lindsay.

I’ve had a lot of questions. I want to make something clear. Politicians are now talking about who is getting a vaccination. There is no politics in the vaccination process. There is no politician in the State of New York who is in control of the vaccination process, we went through this with COVID testing. Big shots get to the front of the line, celebrities get to the front of the line, affluent people get to the front of the line.

This preferential treatment and COVID testing, it undermines the entire essence of democracy and equality and a just government that works for all people and in this time of COVID where we’ve seen gross injustices politics has nothing to do with it. There is no governor – there is only one governor in this state – there is no governor, no county executive or no mayor who controls the process. Anyone who says differently is either not telling the truth or violating the law so let me know if either of those two happen. This is entirely done by medical professionals.

We get the vaccine. We distribute the vaccine to a regional hub hospital. That hospital does the vaccinations for that region. We define the categories of people who are eligible, Phase 1-A, Phase 1-B, etcetera. Basically we follow federal advice on that but we tell the hospital this is the eligible category, you administer the vaccine. It has nothing to do with politics and it has nothing to do with government. Our only job, only the state government is involved, and our only job is to distribute the vaccine to the regional hub, get it there, and to make sure they have the guidelines and they’re following the guidelines.

We have already distributed more vaccines and our hospitals have vaccinated more people than any state in the nation. We did this despite the stock snowstorm that we had over the past few days which made it actually a little more interesting and a little more difficult, but welcome to 2020. 38,000 New Yorkers have already received a vaccine dose. This is where the vaccines went. There’s no politics in this allocation. This is all proportionate to the number of people eligible in that class. So if we’re talking about essential health care workers this is where they are by percentage. New York City hospitals get more, yes, because New York City is a larger population. Long Island Hospital got more, yes, because they’re a larger percentage of the population and so forth and so on, but that’s the only a differential in the allocations.

New York State so far is the number one state and I want to thank our hospitals who are doing a great job and I want to thank our State Department of Health and OGS who’s actually distributing it to the hospitals. More vaccines are coming every day, 346,000 Moderna coming this week, 120,000 more Pfizer doses coming this week. We expect to have a total of 630,000 doses by this week. This week we increase the priority populations that the hospitals will be allowed to administer – federally qualified health center workers, EMTs, coroners, medical examiners, funeral home workers, other congregate care workers and residents.

This week we also start to the federal program to vaccinate nursing homes residents and staff -residents and staff – in nursing homes. It is estimated that it will take six weeks, three days at each facility. Day one, everybody receives one shot. That should take two weeks. Day two, second shot, day three, the remaining staff.  So three days, they basically break up the residents and staff in three groups and they do it over three days. Total program is supposed to be six weeks. We have worked with the pharmacies and the federal government. CVS is going to do 271, Walgreens 253, other pharmacies 94. These are the 618 nursing homes that are enrolled in the program. Again it is basically proportionate to where the nursing homes are. This morning we started in the nursing homes and these are pictures from this morning. There we are in the Bronx, in Rochester, in Queens, everyone receiving the vaccine, PPE on the nurses and doctors.

Key for me in this vaccination program is to make sure the vulnerable communities and underserved communities are not left behind. They were left behind during COVID, highest death rate, highest infection rate, lowest testing rate, Black communities, Latino communities, poor communities. Left to the market’s forces you will see once again Black, Latino and poor communities left behind. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen and I want this state to be a model for the nation of equitable outreach when it comes to a vaccine.

We have a task force that we’re putting together. The co-chairs of the task force are Rossana Rosado, our great Secretary of State; Letitia James, our Attorney General; not pointing a finger at anyone in particular there, this happens to be the picture; Marc Morial, former mayor who I worked with for many years, he’s a great fellow; Pat Wang, President and CEO of Health First, so I want to thank them for their service. This is the full task force and their job is to come up with an operational logistical plan. How do we get it into Black churches? How do we get it into public housing authorities? How do we get it into community centers? How do we run a public education campaign to the Black community and the Latino community and the poor community saying this is safe? There is a very real resistance to taking this vaccine, especially in the Black community. There’s a history that would give one a right to be skeptical. We need public education to combat that.

We’re also putting together vaccination kits that can be sent throughout the state that are fully contained to do vaccinations for a community. We call them community vaccination kits. But, in one shipping container, it can be everything that that community needs. You can send the shipping container right to put on the back of a truck, bring it to a public housing authority, to a church, to a community center, anywhere in the state. Everything you need. Computers, IT, medicines, wall dividers, tables, chairs, schematic for how you set up the space, space could be about 10,000 square feet, because people have to come in, they have to be greeted, they have to be registered, the vaccination itself takes about 15 minutes. The medical personnel then like the person to remain in that area, in that space, for about an additional 20 minutes, half an hour, just to make sure there’s no response. But, in this one community kit, all that will be present. We’ll have these ready to then work with community groups, churches, housing authorities, so we can just send it to those places. Again, my goal is this state should do a better job than any other state.

Rural communities, poor communities, a Black and Latino communities, public housing, other healthcare deserts. In general, what we’re doing is what most states are doing. We’re just a little bit ahead of it. It’s a footrace between increasing vaccines and slowing the spread. That’s all this is. And we’re coming, well, we’re in the midst of the holiday season. And spread, the number one spread, overwhelmingly, is small gatherings, living room spread. 75 percent of the spread is coming from that area. Everything else is relatively di minimus. And we’re in the heat of the holiday season, right. I said before Thanksgiving, you think about it as Thanksgiving. I don’t think about it as Thanksgiving. I think about it as day one of 37 days of holidays, which is a totally different socialization pattern from any other time of the year. And the socialization pattern is what determines the spread of the virus.

Thanksgiving was our first test. And what you’re seeing from the data is we did not have the spike that other places had. And interesting, it looks like there were more gatherings, more air travel in other parts of the country, and where there was more air travel and more gatherings, there was more of a spike in terms of Thanksgiving, which suggests all the admonitions about celebrate but celebrate safely, if oy don’t have to travel, don’t travel, actually had an effect here in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. So that’s good news. And the question is then what happens as you get close to Christmas? Christmas is a longer holiday season, right? Thanksgiving, a day, two days. Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah season, New Year’s Eve season, this is a long stretch. But, if we stay smart, a spike is not inevitable. We get through the holiday season, then it’s just a sprint, us versus the vaccine. We just have to make sure we don’t have a spike coming out of the holiday season, which could be a problem, especially for our hospital management. But if we stay under control in the holiday season, and we don’t have a big spike, then, mid-January, it’s just a footrace, us versus the vaccine. and we’re going to get that vaccine out. We’re already leading the nation in getting the vaccine out. We’re going to get that vaccine out if I have to drive it all across the state and come up with a temporary license from the Department of Health to administer the vaccination myself, which I’m sure I could probably get. But we have to get through the holiday season.

I also want to say again to people where everything is so political in this state, everything is so political in this country, everything is so polarized, Biden and Trump agree. They agree. How are you playing politics with COVID when even Biden and Trump aren’t playing politics with COVID? And by the way, Biden and Trump haven’t agreed on anything. This is the one thing they agree on. So stop the politics and actually save lives, save lives. You see those high infection rates, high positivity rates, high hospitalization rates? You know what they translate into? High death rates. And that is going to be inarguable. There’s going to be a time when people turn around and say, “why did 57 people die, and why did we have more people die than anywhere else?” You don’t want to have to answer that question and the answer can’t be “because we played politics.” So healthy holiday and I’m going to have a great one. Santa is going to be very good to me. I can tell. I worked hard this year. Social distance, wear a mask, be smart. Be smart. 


Washington made a deal on a financial package. It provides some emergency relief. I spoke to Leader Pelosi about it a number of times. I spoke to Sen. Schumer about it a number of times. I know they were working very hard on it. I know Sen. Schumer was working very hard to get the best he could for New York. They were in an impossible situation because you have Sen. McConnell, who still takes the position that we should bankrupt the states and wouldn’t do state and local assistance.

This is not partisan. Sen. McConnell happens to be Republican. I’m Chairman of the National Governors Association. More Republican governors than Democratic governors in this country. The National Governors Association sent a letter to Congress asking for $500 billion in state and local assistance. Do you know what we got in this bill? Zero. Nada. Niente. Zero. More Republican governors than Republican governors asked for $500 billion. Got zero. “Bankrupt the states.” The states are the country. If you bankrupt the states, you bankrupt the country. It makes absolutely no sense and what they did, provided no funding for New York State, New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, the counties. We have a $15 billion deficit caused by COVID, caused by the federal government, caused by their incompetence, caused by their negligence, caused by the COVID spring ambush. I can’t make up a $15 billion deficit.

That means we will lay off people, and that means we will lay off people who we need to do the vaccines. Lay off National Guard expenses, lay off police, lay off fire people, lay off hospital people. In the middle of a pandemic — that’s what you want me to do? Dramatic tax increases when an economy is faltering, when the New York economy is faltering? It makes no sense. What they did to the Democrats, is they gave them a Sophie’s Choice: which life do you want to save? We don’t choose in this country between who lives and who dies. Everybody should live. We should be fair to everyone. When you don’t fund states and cities that means cities lay off police officers and they lay off fireman, firefighters, and they lay off teachers. That’s what happens: you hurt people. When you don’t fund the state, it means I can’t help people with rent relief and mortgage relief. I can’t fund schools. You hurt people. 


This emergency short-term, whatever you want to call it, it was a Sophie’s Choice. Well, do you want to help some people while other people struggle and are in pain, or help no one? It was an impossible, unfair, un-American choice. I just hope Joe Biden gets in quickly and sanity restores to the nation. 


Another point, a little different, but this was a personal effort for me for many, many years starting back when I was the Attorney General — I worked on this issue and my DEC and Basil Seggos and the whole team here. There was a plume, a pollution plume left by Grumman, of toxic chemicals that was in the aquifer on Long Island and this plume of toxic chemicals was in the aquifer, and that’s the aquifer where people get their drinking water and it was left from the manufacturing era by Grumman. And the plume was just continuing to grow with the aquifer and move through more and more communities. This was the plume in 1997; this was the plume in 2017. You can see it just growing and it was heading south toward the ocean. And the question of what do you do and how do you do it — first of all, from an engineering point, it was a truly challenging situation because how do you get the toxic chemicals out of this underground aquifer, but on the other hand, if you do nothing, people’s wells and drinking water are going to be poisoned. We fought it for 10 years. Northrop Grumman will pay $100 million to do an aquifer protection clean-up project, which is a very elaborate engineering device but it’s highly-effective. It’s the largest NRD settlement in the state history. It was a long fight, but it will protect the drinking water for the people on Long Island and it was a really good thing and a big win. 


Last point, we had a request for a waiver of quarantine. We normally do not do waivers of quarantine. It’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but people from other states that have a higher infection rate, what we’re dealing with the U.K. now. As I said, no state is an island, so you have to protect yourself and that’s what the quarantine rules did. But we have an unusual request, but DOH has been considering it for the past few days and they have actually granted the request. Santa Claus asked for an exception for the 14-day quarantine requirement because it would be impractical for him to be in the state and then quarantine and still get all his gifts delivered on time. DOH was flexible. They have granted the quarantine waiver, but Santa is required to wear a mask this year. I think you will still be able to recognize him even though he’ll be wearing a mask because he does have a fairly distinct outfit that he wears, plus his body style is fairly distinct. So I don’t think there will be any issue in identifying Santa this year. He’ll be able to do his job, but do it safely because he’ll be wearing a mask. So, thank you, Dr. Zucker, for — I think that was a creative outcome to that waiver request. 


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