NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — During his final scheduled daily coronavirus briefing, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the green light for New York City to enter Phase 2 of its reopening on Monday.
After 111 consecutive days, Cuomo sat alone at the desk in his executive office to deliver his last daily update Friday, without his staff or media. There were also no PowerPoint slides that previously accompanied each presentation.
"I know this period has been incredibly hard on all of us, I thought about it every day as climbing a mountain,. The Mount Everest of social challenges. 42 days up the mountain, and 69 days down the other side. Every step, every day, hurt and was hard. It was frightening and sad but I really believe we will be the better for it, I believe we are," Cuomo said.
He started the briefing by delivering the latest numbers: hospitalizations were at 1,284 — the lowest number since the pandemic started — a record 79,000 tests were conducted Thursday and New York saw the lowest weekly infection rate, less than 1 percent. Cuomo also said New York saw the lowest weekly average of lives lost at 25 deaths each day.
After going over the data, Cuomo said New York City will be allowed to being Phase 2 on Monday. An estimated 150,000 to 300,000 workers will return to work in New York City under Phase 2, which includes offices; in-store retail; outdoor dining; hair salons and barbershops; real estate; vehicle sales, leases and rentals; commercial building management; and retail rental, repair and cleaning.
Cuomo said COVID-19 isn't over and there's work to do, including monitoring local infection rates, local governments ensuring compliance and performing contact tracing, preparing for a potential second wave and possible infections coming from other states, and helping New Yorkers get back on their feet.
"It's clear that over the past three months we have done the impossible," Cuomo said. "In the beginning this virus hit us hard. When this started we had more cases per capita than any state in the country or any nation on the globe. But today we have done a full 180, from worst to first."
Cuomo thanked essential workers, the legislature, colleagues in New Jersey and Connecticut, local governments, the Army Corps of Engineers, his staff, his family and the people of New York.
"Thank you to all the people who sent me letters and tweets and waved on the street or gave a thumbs up. I can't express how much it means to me. Your energy keeps me going and your smiles lighten my soul," Cuomo said. "To the 59 million viewers who shared in these daily briefings, thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt, thank you for believing in me and giving me support, and don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."
The governor said he will hold briefings as necessary.
"I will still do what I do, we just don't have to do it every day, and that's a good thing," Cuomo said. "And let's hope it stays that way."
Cuomo ended on a hopeful note saying, "We showed that in the end love does win, love does conquer all. That matter how dark the day, love brings the light. That is what I will take from the past 111 days."
"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. And we will be better and we will be stronger for what we have gone through and it shows us how capable we are when we are at our best, it shows us that we have great potential to do even more, and we will," he added, saying New York must now lead the way on police reform and building back the economy.
Unlike the previous 110 briefings, Cuomo did not take questions. He closed with a three minute campaign-style video.
At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, the third-term governor's daily briefings were must-see TV for many, not just in New York, but across the country, as he provided vital information and connected with people stuck in their homes during an uncertain time. At times, even the White House’s own coronavirus briefing was delayed until Cuomo wrapped up his own update.
His empathy and candor made Cuomo a nationwide star of the coronavirus crisis and one of the key faces responding to the pandemic, drawing praise early on from Rudy Giuliani and attracting a large online fan club.
His handling of the situation raised his approval rating at one point to 87% and the hashtag “Cuomo for President” even started trending.
Every day, without fail, the governor updated the public on the spread of the virus and what measures the state was taking to flatten the curve.
Some memorable moments from his briefings include a powerful speech to the National Guard, the governor getting a coronavirus test, and Cuomo sharing a touching moment with his brother after Chris Cuomo tested positive for the virus.