Multibillionaire, former presidential candidate and three-term New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be organizing and partially funding an effort aimed at tracing contacts that carriers of COVID-19 have had with other people, it was announced today by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Cuomo told an Albany news conference that in addition to leading the effort, Bloomberg would be contributing about $10 million toward its cost. The plan would involve building what Cuomo terms “a tracing army.” A program Bloomberg funds at Johns Hopkins University will participate along with Vital Strategies, an organization that helps governments strengthen public health systems. The tracing program will interface with expanded virus testing programs in New York.
“He has tremendous insight both governmentally and from a private-sector business perspective,” Cuomo said of Bloomberg. “It is going to require a lot of attention, a lot of insight, a lot of experience and a lot of resources.”
Cuomo said that tracing to figure out who may have been exposed to the virus cannot be left to individual communities or cities. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that his city would begin its own tracing program.
“I have a house in Westchester. I work in New York City,” Cuomo hypothesized. “Who’s supposed to trace me? Westchester or New York City? If I turn up positive, yeah, my residence in is Westchester but I work in New York City and I would have contacted many more people in New York City.”
Cuomo said that while some tracing is already underway in New York state, the plan is to vastly expand the effort to coincide with expanded testing for the virus as a part of the process of reopening the economy. He estimated that full-scale testing likely would find that about 10% of the downstate population had been infected with COVID-19 and the infection rate upstate would turn out to be in the single digits.
Cuomo reported that yesterday there were 474 additional deaths in New York due to the virus. Statistics from the Department of Health this afternoon revealed that statewide there have been 15,302 deaths. There were 932 deaths recorded in Westchester with 838 of the fatalities being Westchester residents. There were 334 residents of Rockland who died from the virus. In Putnam, 39 people died, all but one being county residents. Orange County saw 185 residents die from the virus while Dutchess recorded 57 deaths.
New York state had 257,216 people test positive for the virus. In Westchester, there were 25,276 positive test results, while Rockland had 9,699 positives. Putnam County had 611 cases detected through testing and the number detected in Orange County was 6,690. Dutchess County had 2,391 cases reported.
Cuomo was asked by a reporter for his reaction to demonstrators who were circling the state capital building in Albany today and blowing the horns of their cars while yelling for the state’s economy to be reopened. Some demonstrators were repeating a Trump administration and conservative media talking point about not making the cure worse than the illness itself.
“The illness is death. What is worse than death?” Cuomo asked. “How can the cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death? Economic hardship, yes, very bad. Not death. Emotional stress from being locked in a house. Very bad. Not death. Domestic violence on the increase. Very bad. Not death. And, not death of someone else. See, that’s what we have to factor in this equation. It’s your life, do whatever you want. But you’re now responsible for my life. You have a responsibility to me. It’s not just about you. You have a responsibility to me.” Cuomo said the demonstrators need to think about the situation as if it was their family that will get infected.
“I understand the economic hardship. We all feel it,” Cuomo said. “The question is what do you do about it and do you put public health at risk and do you drive up the number of deaths for it because you have no idea how to reopen now. You want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker.”
Cuomo pointed out that it’s been 53 days since New York was closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that it may seem like a long time but compared with some other crises it is not. He said World War I lasted four years, World War II was six years, the Vietnam War was eight years, a Cholera outbreak in 1910 lasted one year and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic lasted two years.
Cuomo said that his meeting yesterday afternoon at the White House with President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and staff members was productive.
“To me a productive visit means we spoke truth, we spoke facts, we made decisions and we have a plan going forward,” Cuomo said. “These are people in the White House who politically don’t like me. That’s the fact. You can see the president’s Tweets. He’s often Tweeted very unkind things about me and my brother. Politically…we’ve had conflicts back and forth. But we sat with him, we sat with his team and that was put aside because who really cares how I feel or how he feels. Who cares. Get the job done. We’re not setting up a possible marriage here.”
Cuomo said that there was agreement for the federal government to handle the procurement of supplies for the states to do their testing, but there was no agreement on funding to help states such as New York that have seen expenses soar while revenues collapse.
Cuomo said there was agreement for the federal government to eliminate a requirement that states match 25% of the Federal Emergency Management Agency costs on COVID-19 related projects.