Cuomo in Ga.: Stand united, wear masks

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a coronavirus briefing in Savannah, Georgia, on Monday afternoon after a pandemic roundtable discussion with city officials about how to best curb the spread of the disease. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office 

SAVANNAH — Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged Georgians to stand united and wear face masks to slow the spread of coronavirus, he said during a visit to the state Monday, as New York health experts ramp up testing and sending pandemic supplies to other states in need.

New York partnered with the city of Savannah on Monday, officials said, to work together to curb the coronavirus as it continues to spike in 40 states and Puerto Rico — especially in neighboring Florida.

Cuomo and members of the state’s COVID-19 task force departed John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens around 10 a.m. Monday to participate in a roundtable meeting with Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson and city health experts to discuss the best practices to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting was closed to the public and held at Savannah’s Hyatt Regency Hotel. Johnson and Cuomo held a joint press briefing immediately afterward at 2:15 p.m.

“The purpose of being here today is first to share what we’ve done,” Cuomo said. “It is hard. We made a lot of mistakes, but if we learn from half of the mistakes we made in doing it, we’re the wiser for it.”

New York health care workers set up two sites at the Temple of Glory Community Church and Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship to test up to 500 people per day to prioritize ramping up the southern city’s diagnostic COVID-19 testing in low-income and communities of color. New York established two similar church testing sites in COVID-19 hotspots in Houston, Texas, on Thursday. Savannah residents can schedule tests by calling 833-693-6742.

“If they can do it, we can do it, too,” Johnson said Monday afternoon of Cuomo and his aides. “Just your presence gives us hope. We want to be able to talk about COVID-19 in our rearview mirror.”

New York supplied the city of Savannah with 50 cases, or 124,000, surgical masks; 1,250 gallons of hand sanitizer; 7,500 gowns, N95 masks and face shields; 7,500 testing kits; and 2½ pallets of styrofoam coolers.

Officials discussed COVID-19 diagnostic testing, how to hire and train thousands of contact tracers, increase hospital capacity and staffing, regional coordination with neighboring states and a phased, data-driven reopening.

“You follow the winners, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Johnson said. “ The importance of today’s discussion is to be able to dissect the minds — a postmortem of the people who have done it, learn from their lessons and be able to apply their lessons practically in what we are doing in Savannah.”

Americans must stand united in their efforts against the coronavirus, Cuomo said, adding the body of America is in a weakened, vulnerable state.

“We all must work together in a unified way to defeat the virus,” he said. “The virus by its very nature defies resolution by any one person. We all have to come together. If the virus is thriving anywhere, it will thrive everywhere.”

New York was the first of 28 states to require the public to wear masks or facial coverings April 15. Georgia Gov. Bryan Kemp filed a lawsuit last week to invalidate a mask mandate instituted by the city of Atlanta.

“I think it’s one of the smartest things that I did,” Cuomo said of New York’s mask mandate. “It’s proven by the data that masks work. Somehow, the mask became a political statement. The mask is not a political statement. The mask says I understand science and medicine and I listen to doctors and professionals. That’s all the mask says. The mask will save lives.”

Cuomo, Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, state Budget Director Robert Mujica, SUNY Empire State College President Jim Malatras and COVID-19 task force members Gareth Rhodes, state Department of Financial Services deputy superintendent; Larry Schwartz, former secretary to the governor; Lisa Pino, state Department of Health executive deputy commissioner; and Edgar Santana, director of Downstate Regional Affairs; traveled to Savannah on Monday.

The group was to return to Albany on Monday evening and does not have to quarantine for two weeks, as it does not apply to essential workers or travelers who stop in an affected state for fewer than 24 hours, according to the governor’s office.

“We have a lot of work to do together, but we will do it and we will be there with you arm-in-arm.” Cuomo said to Johnson. “It’s the beginning of a productive relationship.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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