After ‘productive’ meeting with President, Gov. Cuomo reports new testing, tracing program

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s White House meeting with President Donald Trump was a “productive” one, the governor reported at his media briefing Wednesday.

The governor said he reiterated the need for federal aid directed to state governments and municipalities during his meeting with the president. He said all 50 states are “basically in a deficit situation,” and need federal assistance to fund essential services, such as police, fire, teachers and schools.

“We spoke truth, we spoke facts, we made decisions and we have a plan going forward,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding that past political barbs the men have traded are irrelevant.

“We’re not setting up a possible marriage here,” the governor said. “We both have a job to do, let’s do the job. That was the spirit of the meeting yesterday.”

Earlier this week, the governor said school aid could be cut 20% unless New York receives more federal aid.

Gov. Cuomo said that while the president “gets it,” it’s Congress that must act on the next piece of legislation.

“This isn’t the time for baby steps,” he said. “This is the time you should be taking bold action.”

President Trump also agreed to waive a stipulation that requires states receive Federal Emergency Management Agency resources to match funding. Gov. Cuomo said it would have been “cruel irony” to make New York, which has the most cases of COVID-19 in the country at 251,690 pay for FEMA aid, which has come in the form of masks, ambulances and ventilators.

“That’s a big deal,” Mr. Cuomo said. “That’s hundreds of millions of dollars for the State of New York.”

As the curve continues to flatten, Gov. Cuomo said more testing, tracing and isolating people who have come into contact with infected patients, will play a crucial role in containing the virus and ultimately reopening the economy.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will help develop a strategy for a testing and a tracing program that will be implemented throughout the tri-state area, he said.

“Michael Bloomberg will design the program, design the training, he’s going to make a financial contribution,” Gov. Cuomo said at Wednesday’s press conference, adding that he has “tremendous insight” from both a government and private sector perspective.

Gov. Cuomo’s secretary, Melissa DeRosa, estimated Mr. Bloomberg’s financial contribution to be over $10 million.

Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies, a nonprofit health organization, will assist in the effort.

Gov. Cuomo said the president committed to helping New York increase testing from 20,000 to 40,000 each day. “This entire operation has never been done before so it’s intimidating,” he said, adding that the state would need thousands of ‘tracers’ to do the work. The state will draw from a pool of 35,000 SUNY and CUNY medical students who can serve as tracers, Mr. Cuomo said.

Here’s what else we learned during the governor’s press conference:

• It’s been 53 days since the state’s economy has effectively been shut down, which is “disorienting,” Mr. Cuomo said. New infections, hospitalizations and intubations are all on the decline, even as an additional 474 deaths were reported Tuesday. That’s down from 481 on April 20. “Relatively, we’re in a good place,” the governor said, adding that though the number of deaths is still “breathtakingly painful,” it seems to be on a gentle decline. “At least it’s not going up anymore … if we get reckless today, you’ll see the hospitalization rate go up three, four, five days from now. We’re not home yet.”

• The governor declined to speculate when, or if, schools will reopen. He said he wouldn’t reopen schools unless he was sure they were disinfected and had social distancing protocols in place, which he acknowledged is a “very big undertaking.” He said school openings may be part of a calibrated, regional reopening effort and schools, businesses and transportation are key. “You need those three gears to turn at the same time,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor said he knows local officials are feeling political pressure to reopen and said decisions will be made on a regional basis. Parts of the state, for example, that have been less impacted by COVID-19, could reopen sooner. “The wrong move could set us back,” Mr. Cuomo said, comparing the pandemic to standing in the ocean and not letting a wave take you down. “Don’t be cocky,” he said. “There can be a second wave, and if you’re not ready for the second wave, that’s the wave that will knock you down,” he said.