Cuomo: NY will pay death benefits for front-line COVID-19 victims
Pension funds will pay the benefits for any public employees who worked in the state at the local, county or state level and lost their lives to the pandemic
By Robert Gavin
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday said the state will pay for the death benefits of families of every front-line worker in the state who died from COVID-19 and asked the federal government to do the same.
In a Memorial Day news conference at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan, the governor said local or state pension funds will pay the benefits for any public employees who worked in the state at the local, county or state level and lost their lives to the pandemic.
Those covered include families of front-line public health care workers, police, fire and emergency service workers and others who "showed up" amid the crisis, Cuomo said.
"There's not a transit worker who drove a bus or conducted a train or a nurse who didn't walk into an emergency room who wasn't scared to death. They knew what we were talking about. It was enough to shut down society," Cuomo told reporters. "I have such respect and esteem for what they did and I want to make sure that we repay that."
The governor said the workers deserved not just words of thanks but action to show the appreciation. He said the federal government should dedicate money for hazard pay for the same reason.
“It’s a way of showing Americans that when there is a next time – and there is a next time – that we truly appreciate those people who show up and do their duty,” Cuomo told reporters.
Cuomo, who was joined at the event by his daughter, Michaela, honored fallen service members, as well as veterans who have died because of the coronavirus. He noted the number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations has continued to drop in New York. Deaths in recent days have gone from 112 (May 19), 105 (May 20), 109 (May 21), 84 (May 22), 109 (May 23) to the 96 deaths in the state on Sunday, which was still painfully high, Cuomo said.
“We remember those 96 families today,” the governor said.
Within the 96 deaths, 75 of the people died in hospitals. The other 21 died in nursing homes.
Cuomo said in addition to his requirements that staff at nursing homes be tested twice a week, the state is asking — although it is not required — for residents to be tested as well as nursing home staff or state personnel.
"We've known from day one that the nursing homes are the most vulnerable places for this COVID virus," he said noting state officials witnessed it the impact of the coronavirus on a nursing home in Seattle. "I want to be able to make sure that we can all say at the end of the day that we did everything we could. We still lost 96 people yesterday. God and Mother Nature has a hand in this, but did everything we could."
Cuomo spoke as he faces continued criticism over a since-reversed mandate that nursing homes accept COVID-19 patients.
The Capital Region went into Phase 1 of the reopening plan on Wednesday while other regions, such as New York City, have not reached it yet. Cuomo said there was one set of numbers — posted on the state's website — to signal the criteria for regions of the state to reach the threshold to reopen from the state's "pause" policy aimed at slowing the spread of the virus
Cuomo said he will not speculate when all areas of the state might reach a threshold because early projections, according to the governor, were "all wrong."
"I'm sort of out of the guessing business," he said. "I don't want to guess."
Asked for his reaction to people gathering and partying in New York and around the country in defiance of recommendations to socially distance and wear masks, Cuomo implored New Yorkers to wear face protection. He said front-line workers have a lower infection rate than the general population because they wear the masks.
He said opposition to wearing marks is "trivial and nonsensical relative to the risk" of becoming sick or infecting another person.
A reporter, citing a slight increase in hospitalizations in Central New York and the Finger Lakes region, asked the governor how much of that rise he attributed to Phase 1 reopening. He said the numbers can bounce and that an uptick is expected. He said it was too quick for the recent reopenings to impact statistics. He said people can increase activity without increasing infections — if they are smart about it.
Cuomo said COVID-19 numbers will rise if people do not protect themselves and socially distance. He said New York has fared better than other states that did not take the pandemic seriously and reopened too quickly without control and monitoring.