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INTERVIEW: Lt. Governor Hochul Discusses Impact Of COVID-19 On Upstate

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) - New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul discusses how COVID-19 is impacting upstate New York, specifically the Southern Tier.

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GABE ALTIERI: This is WSKG News. I'm Gabe Altieri.

This morning New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said there will likely be a gradual reopening of the state that may go region-by-region and county-by-county.

We're joined now by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. You were at the governor's briefing this morning. How does the administration plan to inform regions or counties when they can reopen?

LT. GOVERNOR KATHY HOCHUL: Well, what was important to announce to people in upstate was that there won't be a one-size-fits-all for the entire state of New York approach.

What we're going to do is look at geographic regions and, for example, the Southern Tier has its own unique characteristics. It's much more rural. We don't see a big spike in the numbers. So, we think that there's certain areas that lend themselves to reopening sooner.

So, I think that was an important development. A lot of people had thought everything upstate would be hinging on the success and the downward trends in New York City and downstate where the numbers have been extremely high and that's not the case.

It also allows us to look at the unique characteristics of each region and find out which industries are important to reopen, how we can do it safely, but always what will guide us are the number of positive cases and the number of hospitalizations and people in ICU's. And we'll be tracking very carefully to see the downward trend of those arrows and when they continue downwards, it'll give us more of the the confidence that public health will not be jeopardized when we start reopening.

And we will be reopening slowly. That's just no way of getting around that because we do not want to have a setback that puts us back to having to start all over again. I don't think any of us want to revisit this nightmare.

GA: The state began testing for antibodies this week to get an idea of the scope of the virus 3,000 people will be tested when it's all said and done. Are there people from every region of the state being tested? Or is it aimed at only certain parts of the state?

KH: No, we're trying to get a broad-base sampling from every corner of the state and make sure it's representative, basically just people that are in grocery store lines. We're trying to be very random about it. Not someone who presents themselves as possibly having symptoms. That's not a baseline we want to look at.

We want to see whether or not the general public has been exposed to this virus in ways that we weren't even aware of. Because what we learn is that there's a lot of people who may have been exposed, contracted the virus, but never developed any symptoms. But as long as they had the virus and developed the antibodies to it, and we can test that, those people would be the ones most likely to go back to to their jobs, which is really what we're looking to do is restart the economy and get people back to work.

So, those people will be safest in terms of - we would know that they're not going to get sick, and they're not going to be able to spread this to someone else to get them sick.

GA: When you say randomly tested are you talking people who might be working in certain important areas - like grocery stores, healthcare, things like that? Or are you talking about geographically random?

KH: Right now, we are randomly, geographically, trying to get a broad sampling of New York State to find out if we can draw conclusions whether or not there's been a mass scale infection rate that we're just not even aware of. And, in a strange way, that would actually be a positive development because it would tell us that many more New Yorkers have developed antibodies to protect them from this, then we're aware of in terms of the number of positive cases.

We have done more testing, diagnostically, to see if someone currently has the virus, than any state in the nation. We've conducted over 650,000 tests, as of today. But when you have a population of over 19 million, you can't draw conclusions that that's really just the percentage of people who are going to be sick.

It's important to find out who's developed the antibodies to see whether or not many people have already had this and didn't know it. So, it will be geographically done to give us this initial snapshot to know where we are today and what conclusions we can draw from that.

GA: Several communities in our region have won $10 million as part of the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative. I know it's something that you've been a part of, as well.

These are places like Elmira, Watkins Glen, Cortland, Oneonta, but with New York's massive budget deficit that's only ballooned with this current pandemic. Are programs like that in jeopardy?

KH: We certainly hope not. These were commitments that were made to those communities and they've already started, many of the times, construction projects and efforts based on that money flowing there.

But it's impossible to predict the future because, as you can imagine, we have no money flowing into the State of New York. And our governor right now is heading to the White House to talk about getting federal assistance for more testing to help us reopen the economy, but also talking about the need to help states, like New York, get federal assistance, so we can not have to make tough decisions and cut back local governments and school programs and social programs that we've always been proud to fund in New York State.

When you lose $15 billion almost overnight, in terms of revenues coming in, we are in a very dire financial place. The governor has been candid about that. And the last thing we want to do during a pandemic when people are out of work is to raise taxes. So, then you have to look at where you're going to scale back. But no decisions have been made whatsoever on - to what degree those cutbacks would have to occur or whether that would affect any of the downtown revitalization communities that we fought so hard to help bring back.

GA: That was New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Thanks so much for joining us.

KH: Thank you.