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Friday, December 9, 2022

Governor Hochul Updates New Yorkers on Winter Health Preparedness Efforts

On Wednesday December 7, Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on winter health preparedness efforts in New York City.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks are available below:

Good morning, everyone. I thank the hardy souls who came in person, appreciate that. Today, we're going to give our winter public health update. And I'm joined by members of our dream team, Kathryn Garcia, the Director of State Operations, Dr. Mary Bassett the Commissioner of New York State Department of Health, and a special guest who's going to help us dissect an illness that is very concerning, particularly to parents with young children, Dr. Sallie Permar, the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics from New York Presbyterian. And I will look forward to hearing from her. She's a preeminent physician as well as a scientist, and she focuses primarily on the treatment and prevention of neonatal viral infections.

So, later in the program, you'll be hearing from both of them, but the last time I gave a public health update was October 26th. It was also the day I received my flu shot. Really glad I did. As we continued to encourage all New Yorkers to get the flu shot, we'll be talking about how there's been a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who have succumbed to the flu. Dealing with that right now. Many people we know, friends, family, coworkers are dealing with it, but it's a bad situation. Oh, and we said that back then that things could get worse with the holidays, especially as we were talking about more families gathering over Thanksgiving. And unfortunately, that prediction came true. And as I mentioned back then, and even over the summer, we saw this trifecta coming. You have this situation where COVID cases go up in the winter, flu cases go up in the winter, and now we have layered on that, the dreaded RSV that you'll have explained by a real expert here, so all parents know.

We are going to be talking about the fact that flu cases are spiking. They'll have an update on that in a minute, but it's not just New York. I mean, this is nationwide. You can see this is - you watch the news in the morning and the numbers, the states are filling in with that bright red and I don't see anything that tells us this is going to abate anytime soon. So, we have a lot more flu cases than last year. They started earlier, which is deeply concerning to us, but it's anticipated, but still alarming when you see it. So, as the Governor, I'm taking these trends very, very seriously, and maybe that's because I'm seared in the knowledge of what we went through last year.

Many of you gathered with us or we did it remotely at a time when we had just gotten through Delta, we were so happy to be done with Delta. And on November 26th, right around Thanksgiving, the World Health Organization named Omicron as a new variant. And we were slammed with it. I mean, it was a variant of concern. Boy, was that an understatement. And so, that led to record numbers of cases and hospitalizations and, you know, we had to work around the clock at that time and under really intense circumstances because our priority was during those winter holidays, is to make sure that our children were back to school in January. And we succeeded, but, and I also know that that was the time, Dr. Bassett joined us. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for getting us through that really difficult time. But, you know, so we know from that experience that winter is our most vulnerable time. And so, we've been talking to our team since last summer - preparing, anticipating, making sure that we are never in a reactive position, but a proactive position. So, we are prepared for this triple threat.

As I mentioned, RSV, for mostly children, the flu and COVID. So right now, parents, it's what you're thinking about. You have children, you're worried and you're seeing the national news stories every day that talk about the overflowing hospitals. Is there enough room? So, you know, some are even in other states, turning away children because of a lack of capacity. That's a big fear. You're a parent, your baby needs help, you want to know that that help is right there and it's a stressful time for our families. And so, in a frightening scenario would be if your child was sick and you were turned away. We are working day and night to make sure that that does not happen here in the State of New York. And I want to take a minute to assure all New Yorkers, not just the intensity on which we're focusing on this, but our Department of Health, Dr. Bassett is in constant communication with our hospitals, checking on pediatric admissions, checking on bed capacity, monitoring our regional bed capacity, so we have opportunities to shift people from one hospital to another.

We know how to do this because one of the lessons we learned from the past is you cannot wait until the hospitals are overwhelmed before you take aggressive steps. So, hospital capacity is always under pressure, and we know that part of it was because we lost a lot of health care workers during the pandemic. Some of them lost their lives because they were exposed. Others just, you know, the stress was, you know, untenable, they went on to other positions. And so, we lost a number of people. So, we still don't have the number of health care workers we had before the pandemic in our ranks, and we're focusing on that. We talked about last year in our State of the State how we're working to rebuild that workforce, but it does take time.

And so, you talk about the combined impact of these, you know, the triple threat of COVID, RSV and the flu. And also, well, one of the reasons why our Department of Health is saying to parents, you know, before you go into an emergency room, and maybe exacerbate a situation that's already under stress with a child who does not need that care, touch base with your primary provider. And I'll let the doctors talk about this, but you know, even if you can get on a Zoom call and get someone to take a look at your child, do they really need to be in the emergency room? And if the answer is yes, get there. And we're doing everything we can to make sure that they will have the attention they deserve. But let your doctor decide if that's the best course to take.

And again, last year, last summer, earlier in the summer, talking about how we are ready in case we need supplies. Do we have enough ventilators? Do we have enough test kits? Do we have enough PPE and vaccines available? And I even asked about the ventilators. You're seeing cases where people are on ventilators dealing with either the combination, or at least the RSV. We have 7,857 ventilators available today in state warehouses, ready to be deployed. A hospital calls and say it's going to be there. And I want to reassure people that unlike what we were dealing with in the past, when everybody was scrambling to get ventilators, if this is necessary, it's available. We already distributed 20 ventilators, 10 to Oishei Children's Hospital in Buffalo, five to Albany Medical Center. So, we just want to get that word out there.

Also, making sure that we have the test kits available to everybody. And this is how you can limit the spread. This is not a news flash, we've known this is available, but we also know that you get a little complacent. Complacency is our enemy. That is my biggest fear, that people are so desensitized and feeling that "Well, it is the norm." Yes, it is become our norm, but it does not have to be the norm that everybody gets sick. That's what we're trying to fight against and say, "Get tested." We have almost 17 million test kits - COVID test kits in our stockpile. We're still making them available to schools, to nursing homes, our vulnerable populations, and again, we have to keep kids in schools.

So, here's the message, and I don't know how many did it over Thanksgiving, but we're encouraging people to step up this time. Step up in December and January and get us through February, get us through the worst times. If you're going to see somebody that's in a vulnerable situation, just get tested. Just get tested, and just take these precautions and there's no reason not to. I was just tested again today. Why not? Because we are surrounded by people who have COVID because so many have been vaccinated, and even more should be getting the booster, but those who had the booster, the effect is not as dire, but it can still spread to people who are in a vulnerable situation. So, little spoiler alert to my family: Holiday stocking, look for your test kits. They'll be buried deep in there along with some other treats. So, we're making sure we have the COVID vaccines available too. And so, while we have a high vaccine rate overall in New York, I was very proud that, as I mentioned, our booster rate is still too low, and this is something Dr. Bassett will mention. Only 13 percent of the population over five has received a booster shot, 13 percent. Now parents, you can reduce that stress level that I know comes with being a mom or dad. You can reduce it if you've done everything for your child, and the guilt will be there if your child gets sick and has to be hospitalized and you could have had that, your child, your most precious person in the whole world to you, they could have had a booster shot.

Even our over-65 population, we're doing great in terms of getting people that first shot. But they do wean, they wear off. And only 32 percent of our most vulnerable population over 65 has received this booster shot. So, again, big transition from where we were a year ago, when we were scrambling just to get any doses we could find. Now there's plenty of appointments for the booster all across the State. Enough doses for everyone. Everybody can, so there's no excuse not to, unlike in the past when they had to be rationed out based on categories of vulnerability. So, we're going to continue monitoring orders, making sure it's available, coordinating with our local public health departments. They're truly the ones on the front line. Our mission has been to embrace them, not push them aside but embrace them and make them part of the solution as well. And if necessary, if we need to set up vaccination, popups, we know how to do it. We don't need a lot of lead time. We have the resources.

I'm also keeping in place my Executive Order Number Four, and I'll tell you why. We need to have our hospitals be able to have the flexibility on staffing. That's all it does, it's not procurement, it is simply flexibility, whilst giving hospitals and providers the ability to troubleshoot where they see shortages in staffing, so we can bring in professionals from other states. This is what the executive order allows us to do. It allows more professionals to administer vaccinations and tests. Believe it or not, you need to have authority from an executive order to do that, so it basically helps our health care workers meet the needs of New Yorkers, which is the most important goal. So, there will come a time when it won't be necessary, but I'm really glad we have this in place as we're experiencing this winter surge. And that's why it was smart to keep that, even when things were looking better a few months ago. So, we're watching for local signs, and local areas we need to deploy extra help to - looking for any spikes and surges. And, you know, we're also encouraging Congress to remember. We appreciate all the support from the past, but a lot of the programs are not providing the same level of assistance. So, if they can provide funding for our states and our health care system so we can be ready for this. So, federal funding has been a key component to our strategy to make sure that we're ready for anything. So, we'll keep working closely with our hospitals, our providers and understanding what's going on.

So, we feel good about where we are, but we're not taking anything for granted because circumstances can change rapidly as they did last year. So, New York State government will continue to do its job. I will do my job. I also need New Yorkers to do their job to help us make sure that we come out of this winter season healthy, happy, especially as we look out for our most vulnerable. So, we are going to continue working, embrace the holidays, but not let our guard down. That is the message of today.

So, we're going to continue alerting the public on what's going on. We're not out of the woods. The threat is real. And we have cases. You remember this, we were watching this intensely just last November, January. I mean, that spike was frightening how quickly that went up and it took a long time, it seemed to really level out. You can see our seven-day average is 27 cases per hundred thousand. At the time you can see how high it was before. Long Island, we have 45 cases per hundred thousand. New York City, 35, Mid-Hudson, 28, and 10 to 20 new cases per hundred thousand people. So, it doesn't look frightening, but it didn't look frightening last October either. That's what the caution is. And our hospital admissions have increased. You can see that trend line going up. Hospital admissions are going up. We have about 607 admissions. You look at the average for a region, how we're doing with that, Long Island has a higher-than-average percentage of people. 3.7 admissions per hundred thousand. Other areas about one to three, which doesn't sound like a lot, but all of a sudden it can escalate.

Since October, more than 60 percent of COVID hospital admissions have been people 65 or older. That's what we're talking about. That is a population that we all need to look out for with our personal behavior, but also those who are in congregate settings need to continue to get the help. Now, let's turn to the flu. Look at that jump. What you see is the 2022 numbers are the gold numbers. I'm sorry, 2022-2023. So, that's where we are. Historically, lighter blue 2019, the mid-blue 2020 - nowhere near, nowhere near the dramatic jump that we are seeing in a short period of time. So, that's what we're concerned about. A dramatic jump compared to previous years. A 75 percent increase in positive flu cases since the beginning. And the flu season only started eight weeks ago. That's why these numbers are spiking way too early compared to historical trends. And we have 27,000 positive cases right now. It's been widespread throughout New York. Cases are rising across the country. And again, this is not just us, it is across the country. We've had 22 lab-confirmed influenza outbreaks in long-term and acute care facilities. And we actually had one flu-associated pediatric death in state that occurred at the end of November, and others are being investigated. So, that's the first one this season. It's tragic.

We need to make sure that more people have flu shots, and I'll let our doctors talk about that as well. Finally, RSV, you usually see a rise when this is not a new phenomenon. Didn't hear about it as much in the past, but it started earlier just like the flu. And it is the combination where people can be exposed and contract this combination. And it is a lot for the human body or a child to have to deal with. And these cases are not reported to us individually like it is for COVID. So, we don't have a handle on this. We track how many cases go to the emergency. We'll know that number, but for those that, you know, parents take care of their child at home and they don't have to be hospitalized, we don't know those numbers. So, the reason we're watching this is again, the categories of vulnerable people, elderly, those who are immunocompromised and certainly our children. So, been a lot of coverage on this. I know anxiety levels are high, and that's why we're going to bring in the expert.

Your Governor is not an expert in this space, but I do know I'm an expert at bringing in experts. So, I want to let you know, we will continue to be a clearing house. New York state understands our responsibility to manage an existing crisis, be forward thinking, prepare for it, but also be a clearing house for information. So, people who are seeing news from all kinds of sources, get the story straight here. So, that's why I'm happy to be joined by Dr. Sallie Permar, and she'll talk more about RSV. And then we'll ask Dr. Bassett to give some overall thoughts on how we prepare for this winter. So, Dr. Permar.


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