NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. (WROC) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo returned to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City Tuesday for an announcement that, due to COVID-19 concerns, was closed to the press.
“Coming here now is a very emotional experience for me,” Gov. Cuomo said. “And I was thinking about it on the way here today. Javits was really the site in New York for COVID — from the beginning, and now as we are nearing the end. Through the full year of COVID, the winter of COVID, the spring of COVID, but when it started Javits was the main center for dealing with COVID. It was like a scene from a science fiction movie, with 2,500 emergency beds set up. Just a sea of emergency beds, as far as you can see. National Guard, Army personnel Jeeps — it looked like a military, science fiction apocalyptic movie.”
Th governor said the past year was a “year from hell.”
“Everyone was petrified. Nobody knew what COVID was, nobody knew how to deal with it, nobody really knew how it transmitted, and everybody was frightened,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We met with the heads of the hospitals, I asked the best health experts in the state ‘what do you think is going to happen?’ Nobody knew. Nobody knew. At that time the number of deaths was just climbing, the number of people going into hospitals was just climbing.
“Even the best minds didn’t know what was going to happen,” Gov. Cuomo said. “At that meeting, in this surreal circumstance, we find out as soon as we leave that one of the people in the meeting had COVID. That just brought home the fear then we had to go get tested and we were afraid and the next few days we were worrying about it. It all started here. Luckily those 2,500 beds, we didn’t need every one, but over 1,000 people came through Javits. Doctors, nurses showing up and dealing with this terrible situation, but the sun is shining and it’s a new day.”
Beginning Tuesday, all New Yorkers 16 and older became eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
“Our message today is clear: We have to get the vaccinations done,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Today, every person in the state of New York over 16 years old is eligible for the vaccine. There is no excuse not to make an appointment. Get your vaccine done, it is your duty. It’s smart, it’s right, it’s easy, it’s fast, it’s safe. Get a vaccine New York. That’s what we’re saying today: No more excuses.”
The governor announced plans for a new essential worker memorial, and a commission has been charged with finding a location for it, and designing it.
“This past year has been hell,” Gov. Cuomo said. “We’ve had to make a lot of decisions, we all have, it’s been hell on all of us on every level. It’s been hell for me personally. And you want to know the toughest decision that I had to make? The one that weighs on me the most, to this day, was when I had to say to the people of New York, ‘stay home.’ I issued the stay at home order.
“You know what the next sentence out of my mouth was?” Gov. Cuomo said. “‘Except you essential workers. We need you to go to work. Everybody else can stay home and be safe, but not you essential workers. We need you to leave your house because we need you to keep society stable. Not you National Guardsmen, you have to come out and you have to help. Not you police officer, we need you to come out, not you firefighter we need you, not you EMT worker we need you to come out. Not you construction worker, we need you to come out and fix things. Not you transit workers we need you to operate. Not you nurse, we need you to work harder than you have ever before.’
“That decision weighs on me every day and weighs on me to this day,” Gov. Cuomo said. “That you were here running this site, exposing yourself to people coming in who may be positive. What gives me the right to ask you to put yourself in harm’s way? As governor that was my responsibility — I can ask you to do it, but I couldn’t tell you to do it. You did it our of your sense of duty, your sense of obligation, you did it our of your sense of honor. Nurses did it because they believed it was their professional obligation. Doctors did it because they believed it was their obligation.
“Society gave them less than they deserved, but they showed up out of obligation, and honor, and courage, and duty,” Gov. Cuomo said. “All of those things that seem to be slipping away in modern society, and no New Yorker should forget what they did to keep us safe. We lost many: 40,000 New Yorkers died to COVID. 40,000 New Yorkers died. More than when you combine the wars we’ve been in. We’re going to honor those essential workers and the commission announced today is going to be charged with finding a location and designing a memorial and the memorial says to the essential workers ‘thank you, we honor you.’ COVID was a war and they were war heroes. They gave their lives in the midst of a war to save others.”
In a conference call with the media on Monday, the Gov. Cuomo said the New York State Department of Health would be issuing new guidance on COVID-19 restrictions and how they pertain to schools “within the next week.”
Although a few days past its due date, Gov. Cuomo said most of the state budget measures had been agreed upon, and that it should be passed and signed by the week’s end.
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.