ALBANY — New Yorkers and Americans must remain united throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an emotional address late Friday morning.
Friday marked the governor’s last daily COVID-19 briefing. More than 59 million viewers tuned into the governor’s 111 days of consistent coronavirus briefings since March 1. New York’s population is roughly 19.5 million people.
“By reducing the infection rate, we saved over 100,000 people from being hospitalized and possibly dying,” Cuomo said Friday from his executive office in the state Capitol. “I am so incredibly proud of what we all did together. We reopened the economy and we saved lives. It was never a choice between one or the other. It was always right to do both.”
Cuomo will continue to have coronavirus briefings as needed, he said, but they no longer require daily updates as New York’s virus metrics have continued to decline while gradually restarting the economy.
“I will still do what I do, we just don’t have to do it every day and let’s hope it stays that way,” he said.
Local officials must remain vigilant in enforcing the state’s mandated social distancing and mask orders, as well as business restrictions and guidelines to maintain the state’s lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the country at 0.77% and prevent a second wave, Cuomo said.
“We have to watch for possible infections coming from other states,” he added. “We are controlling the virus better than any state in the country.”
As of Friday, out-of-state travelers who fly to New York airports are not required to self-quarantine for 14 days. The governor has said over the past several days the state may impose a mandatory quarantine restriction on travelers as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge in 20 states and Puerto Rico.
Cuomo reminisced about the past 111 days in New York as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the state, especially New York City and downstate counties, as an era the governor called “hell.” The deadly respiratory virus, which has killed more than 24,000 New Yorkers and 120,000 Americans to date, originated in Wuhan, China, last December, but arrived in New York from 3 million European travelers who landed in state airports in January and February.
“We had more cases per capita than any state in the country,” Cuomo said. “Today, we have done a full 180 from worst to first.”
New Yorkers “flattened the curve” of the virus — a steep trajectory the governor often called a “mountain” — by complying with the state’s strict mask-wearing and social-distancing measures. Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths increased across New York for 42 days. It took 69 days to come down the other side.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected Monday about 75,000 more Americans will die from COVID-19 by August as outbreaks bloom across the Southeast and Southwest.
“More people will die and it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said. “Forget the politics. Be smart. Open the economy intelligently and save lives at the same time. That’s what we showed works in New York.”
Global experts cleared New York City to enter phase II Monday of the state’s four-phase reopening plan for nonessential businesses.
Officials continue to monitor the number of daily, new positive COVID-19 cases across New York. The state had 796 new positive virus cases Thursday, or about 1% of the 79,308 conducted tests, bringing the statewide total to 386,556 cases.
Each of the state’s 10 regions had positive COVID-19 diagnostic tests of 1.5% and lower Thursday.
“COVID isn’t over,” Cuomo said. “We still have much more to do.”
The state saw 25 virus-related deaths Thursday, including 22 in hospitals and three in nursing homes. The state’s daily death toll has remained flat at about two dozen for several weeks.
Statewide coronavirus hospitalizations declined to 1,284 patients Wednesday, down 74, according to the governor’s office.
In April, state lawmakers voted to add the Latin phrase “e pluribus unum,” meaning “out of many one” to the New York state seal. The new seal was unveiled in the state Capitol this week.
“We thought the country needed to remember at this time of division, that Americans are one, that we are united and to remember our nation’s founding premise,” Cuomo said. “We didn’t just put the words on our state seal — we made the words come true. In this crisis, we were united. We were there one for another. We did act as one. It was extraordinary. I’ve never seen or felt anything like it.”
The governor urged New Yorkers and Americans to look to government and politics as positive motivators for change, citing the state’s recent progressive police reform in a new civil rights era following weeks of Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a generation, Cuomo said, and that the only way forward is working together.
“We are members of the same community, the same family and we all benefit when we work together,” he said. “I wear a mask for you and you wear a mask for me. That you care for me and I care for you. We showed in the end, love does win. Love does conquer all. No matter how dark the day, love brings the light. That is what I will take from the past 111 days.”
Cuomo thanked the frontline and essential workers, state lawmakers, local governments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for building additional medical facilities for downstate overflow COVID patients.
At the end of his speech, Cuomo played a video of photos of New York throughout the past three-and-a-half months, including frontline and essential workers, officials and state Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker studying data, Albany’s Corning Tower at the Empire State Plaza illuminated in the state’s pandemic slogan “NY Tough” and several other emotional images.
Voiceover quotes about unity from the governor’s daily briefings accompanied the images.
“If we could accomplish together what we did here, this impossible task of beating back this deadly virus, then there is nothing that we can’t do,” the governor said. “We learned our better angels are stronger than our demons and, sometimes, we just need to listen for them. Over the past 111 days, it was beautiful. Let’s keep listening together. Thank you for everything.”