Cuomo addresses News10NBC questions about COVID closures

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: November 25, 2020 05:11 PM
Created: November 25, 2020 04:58 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Orange Zone restrictions began in parts of Monroe County on Friday.

Gyms, barbershops and hair salons within the zone must remain closed at the direction of New York State. That, despite the Monroe County Health Commissioner saying there hasn’t been a single case of COVID-19 transmission linked to those types of businesses during the pandemic.  

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke asked Gov. Cuomo about this last week. On Friday, the Governor gave his COVID-19 press briefing in Rochester so, she followed-up again.

Lewke: "Governor, the Health Commissioner here in Monroe County has said that they have not contact traced a single case of COVID spread back to a gym, hair salon or barbershop yet today, as we go into the orange zone here, those are the people most impacted. I asked you about this on a phone call last week and you pointed to national statistics. But I guess my understanding of the microcluster zones is that they drill down locally into what's causing the spread here, if that is not causing the spread, why are these people the most impacted?"

Gov. Cuomo: "Where do they say, the spread of coming from?"

Lewke: "What you've said, living room spread, small gatherings in private homes."

Gov. Cuomo: "Yea, well every expert says the same thing, every state, democratic states, republican states, most states, big states. Democratic experts, republican experts… the highest rates of spread are restaurants, bars, gyms and home gathering. The situation where you have the least control is home gatherings… bars, restaurants, gyms, you can enforce those are the four major spreaders. So, you do what you can with those four main spreaders."

The governor then deferred to his top aide.

Melissa DeRosa (Secretary to the Governor): "You are closing businesses where there is a greater chance of spread by virtue of the closeness of the people that are working with one another that are doing in-person services or again like in gyms, where your breathing more heavily your closer in contact with one another."

Lewke: "But they’re following your restrictions that you put in place for them to re-open which would have alleviated some of what you’re talking about."

DeRosa: "The restrictions are great and we saw at moments through this, through months and months and months that the restrictions have worked but what you’re seeing in these areas with the spikes is there is a greater prevalence of community spread."

Gov. Cuomo then moved on to another reporter’s question before circling back to Lewke’s.

Gov. Cuomo: "If that is true what the Monroe Health Department says, that is a national anomaly I can tell you that. Because look, (referenced hospitalization rates) one of the highest increases in the state of New York, what happened? If they knew what was causing it, why didn't they stop it?"

Lewke: "Well, like you said, it's difficult to enforce the 10 person gathering limit."

Gov. Cuomo: "So, you're saying a 257% increase all came from small gatherings?"

Lewke: "I'm just telling you, the health commissioner said he has not contact traced one case back to a gym, hair salon or barber shop."

Gov. Cuomo: "Well, then I would say to the health commissioner. You have a 257% increase, obviously, you haven't figured out what's causing it and if you have, you haven't stopped it and if this continues you will overwhelm the hospital system in a matter of weeks."

In a statement to News10NBC following the Governor’s press conference, Dr. Michael Mendoza said, “The Monroe County Department of Public Health has said for weeks that the majority of community spread of COVID-19 has come from small gatherings of people not wearing masks, physically distancing or following other proper guidelines. MCDPH regularly reports instances of possible transmission in bars and restaurants, but has not had to issue such reports for many other businesses to date.”

The governor also addressed the difficulty many people who own or work at an impacted business may have through the holidays.  

Lewke: "More cluster zones will lead to more unemployment and many of these folks might only be eligible for $200 a week, how do they make ends meet?"

Gov. Cuomo:  "The federal government has to pass a federal stimulus plan. You can’t say to New Yorkers or Virginians or Texans your choices are go to work and earn a check or die… you can’t see your choices as the economy or public health."

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