SAVANNAH — Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged Georgians to stand united and wear face masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he said during a visit to the state Monday, as New York health experts ramp up testing and sending pandemic supplies to other states in need.
New York partnered with the city of Savannah, Georgia, officials said Monday, to work together to curb the coronavirus as it continues to spike in 40 states and Puerto Rico, and especially in neighboring Florida.
Cuomo and members of the state’s COVID-19 task force departed John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens on Monday to participate in a roundtable discussion with Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson and city health experts to discuss the best practices to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting was closed to the public and held at Savannah’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Johnson and Cuomo held a joint press briefing immediately afterward.
“The purpose of being here today is first to share what we’ve done,” Cuomo said. “It is hard. We made a lot of mistakes, but if we learn from half of the mistakes we made in doing it, we’re the wiser for it.”
New York health care workers set up two sites at the Temple of Glory Community Church and Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship to test up to 500 people per day to prioritize ramping up Savannah’s diagnostic COVID-19 testing in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. New York established two similar church testing sites in COVID-19 hotspots in Houston, Texas, on Thursday. Savannah residents can schedule tests by calling 833-693-6742.
“If they can do it, we can do it, too,” Johnson said Monday of Cuomo and his aides. “Just your presence gives us hope. We want to be able to talk about COVID-19 in our rearview mirror.”
New York supplied Savannah with 124,000 surgical masks, 1,250 gallons of hand sanitizer, 7,500 gowns, N95 masks and face shields, 7,500 testing kits and 2.5 pallets of styrofoam coolers.
The state sent testing and contract tracing teams to Atlanta on July 13 and sent the COVID-19 medication Remdesivir to Florida on July 10 as the state struggles with a resurgence of virus cases.
Officials discussed COVID-19 diagnostic testing, how to hire and train thousands of contact tracers, increase hospital capacity and staffing, regional coordination with neighboring states and a phased, data-driven reopening.
“You follow the winners, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Johnson said. “The importance of today’s discussion is to be able to dissect the minds — a postmortem of the people who have done it, learn from their lessons and be able to apply their lessons practically in what we are doing in Savannah.”
People with underlying conditions or weakened immune systems and senior citizens are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. The European strain of COVID-19 infected the Eastern Seaboard after landing in New York and New Jersey airports late last winter, and is likely the same strain to impact the Deep South.
Americans must stand united in their efforts against the coronavirus, Cuomo said, adding the body of America is in a weakened, vulnerable state.
“We all must work together in a unified way to defeat the virus,” he said. “The virus by its very nature defies resolution by any one person. We all have to come together. If the virus is thriving anywhere, it will thrive everywhere.”
Americans must be united in wearing masks or facial coverings to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus and reduce the spread, Cuomo said.
“This is essential, effective and easy and it says we’re all in this together, and together, we can defeat anything,” Cuomo said holding up a blue medical face mask. “This nation is always strongest when it is the most unified — that is the strong body and the strong immune system,” he said. “A divided nation is a vulnerable nation. That virus is just pointing out the body was weak and we have to strengthen that today.”
New York was the first of 28 states to require the public to wear masks or facial coverings April 15. Georgia Gov. Bryan Kemp filed a lawsuit last week to invalidate a mask mandate instituted by the city of Atlanta. Other city governments have enacted similar measures, including Phoenix, Arizona, and Jacksonville, Florida.
“I think it’s one of the smartest things that I did,” Cuomo said of New York’s mask mandate. “It’s proven by the data that masks work. Somehow, the mask became a political statement. The mask is not a political statement. The mask says I understand science and medicine and I listen to doctors and professionals. That’s all the mask says. The mask will save lives.”
Johnson said visitors continue to flock to Savannah — a city known for its beauty, rich history and tourist attractions. The mayor said the city must slow its COVID-19 numbers and maintain a strong relationship with tourism.
“Tourism for us really never stopped,” he said “Our focus is that they do it in a safe way. We know masks are the way to go. We have to keep our foot on the gas as it comes to wearing masks and social distancing.”
Each of the 50 states has had a different response to the coronavirus. Several states immediately reopened in late April and May to jump-start the economy after virus numbers were low following a nationwide shutdown. New York reopened gradually in four phases by region. New York City — at one time the world’s COVID-19 epicenter — entered phase 4 of reopening Monday with indoor dining prohibited. Gyms and movie theaters remain closed statewide.
“If the goal was to reopen the economy quickly, our plan actually did that better than the plans that said ‘flip the switch,’” Cuomo said. “Those rapid reopenings were wishful thinkings and wound up hurting the economy. If you want the economy running, you have to do it intelligently. That’s why following the science is the right thing to do.”
Cuomo, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, state Budget Director Robert Mujica, SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras and COVID-19 task force members Gareth Rhodes, state Department of Financial Services deputy superintendent; Larry Schwartz, former secretary to the governor; Lisa Pino, state Department of Health executive deputy commissioner; and Edgar Santana, director of Downstate Regional Affairs traveled to Savannah on Monday.
The group was to return to Albany on Monday evening and does not have to quarantine for two weeks, as it does not apply to essential workers or travelers who stop in an affected state for fewer than 24 hours, according to the governor’s office.
“We have a lot of work to do together, but we will do it and we will be there with you arm-in-arm.” Cuomo said to Johnson. “It’s the beginning of a productive relationship.”