Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged Monday to prepare New York to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic through short-term health and economic measures while also strategizing to make long-term change by investing in the state’s future.
In his annual State of the State address, Cuomo laid out steps his administration will pursue, including vaccine distribution and tackling a projected $15 billion deficit in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
“First, we must defeat COVID and beat back the assault as the virus rages in the next few months,” Cuomo said. “It will not be easy. A high-performing hospital system and the diligence of New Yorkers are the keys to stop the spread.”
The speech will be followed by supplemental addresses in the coming days that zero in on more specific details of a post-COVID-19 economy with emphasis on making major improvements to infrastructure and technology and transforming New York into the “green energy capital of the world.” He also vowed that New York would lead in racial and economic justice.
“If that wasn’t ambitious enough, all of those plans most move forward simultaneously,” Cuomo said. “It will be hard. It will be the greatest test for government since we mobilized to fight World War II. It will be the greatest opportunity for advancement since post-World War II.”
For most of Monday’s 43-minute live-streamed talk, Cuomo focused on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and nursing the state back to fiscal strength.
He urged all New Yorkers to guard against COVID-19 fatigue and stop the spread of the virus to avoid overrunning the state’s hospital system. Cuomo warned that if any of the 10 regions’ hospitals become overwhelmed, his administration will be forced to shut down the economy in that region.
On Monday, the first day of sign-up for the second group of eligible vaccine recipients, he announced the distribution system is being expanded to include more sites for the currently eligible four million New Yorkers to be inoculated. The list of eligible workers and the form to register is available at https://am-i-eligible.covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/Public/prescreener.
While appointments for vaccines will likely stretch several weeks into the future, Cuomo said it is better to have people waiting for the vaccine rather than having the product and too few people signed up.
Cuomo was adamant that the vaccines will be administered fairly across the state by supplementing private health care systems to reach underserved communities, predominately communities of color.
“We will not allow politics or wealth to dictate the distribution of this life-saving vaccine,” he said.
Other health-related measures include a proposed comprehensive telehealth bill to ensure availability to all state residents; significantly increase the number of rapid testing sites across the state; create a public health corps in partnership with Cornell University and the Northwell hospital system to hire 1,000 fellows to be trained and serve for one year to help coordinate the statewide vaccination effort; and develop a citizen’s public health training program through Cornell to train up to 100,000 residents to protect themselves, their families, friends and co-workers in a public health emergency. The online training will be free.
For part of his address Cuomo reprised a familiar theme, assailing the federal government for failing to act quickly enough before New York and the Northeast was ravaged by COVID-19 in the spring. That has been followed by the current Senate and administration’s refusal to assist state and local governments.
“New York is suffering and New Yorkers are tired of being abused and demand Washington stops causing damage and starts resolving the damage they caused,” Cuomo said.
In addition to aid for state and local governments, he called on New York’s congressional delegation to repeal the cap on the state and local tax deductions. Even if the state reneges on its contractual obligations to public employees, cuts education spending by 20 percent across the board, increases taxes on the wealthy and other belt-tightening measures, it won’t come anywhere near closing the $15 billion budget gap, he said.
Meanwhile, Cuomo mentioned an ambitious reinvestment plan. He hopes to improve roads, rail and airports; use empty office and commercial space to increase affordable housing and having New York become a green energy hub, bringing thousands of jobs to the state.
Expanding access to affordable broadband and invest in worker retraining is also essential.
While many people may expect returning to a pre-pandemic world, Cuomo said there are changes already underway that have changed the world and New York needs to be prepared.
“This is a moment that is made for New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “This will be a moment to re-energize, reinvent and re-create.”