Western New York's COVID positivity rate is down to 2.4%, according to numbers from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Monday COVID briefing. He also addressed movie theater and school reopenings, pool hall guidelines, and the Seneca Nation owing New York State casino revenue.
The federal government says they have secured enough vaccines to vaccinate all Americans by the end of July.
Cuomo said he is still asking for $15 billion in aid from Congress in the next stimulus package and needs help federally to access more vaccines.
“There’s nothing the state can do. I can’t buy vaccines. I actually tried," Cuomo said. "But under the (Emergency Use Authorization), Pfizer can’t sell to a state. Moderna can’t sell to a state. We’re dependent on federal supply.”
Cuomo said the Biden administration has done their best to help increase New York’s vaccine supply. Cuomo added state revenues are currently $1.6 billion higher than anticipated.
An appeals court came to a decision Monday morning the Seneca Nation has to pay New York State what they owe for gaming rights. New York State Budget Director Robert Mujica said $435 million dollars is owed to date, a large amount of which would go to local Western New York governments.
"Over 100 million of that is for local governments, the largest counties in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Salamanca, Monroe, and Erie County," Mujica said. "But there are over a dozen local governments, counties, governments and cities that get direct payments. So it's a 435 million overall with 115 million directly to local governments. And the rest of that money goes to mostly education."
From 2002 to 2017, the Senecas paid $1.4 billion in casino revenues to New York and cut off payments with the state after saying they didn’t need to share revenue 14 years after their agreement.
After multiple appeals and court apperances, Cuomo says it's time for the Seneca's to pay what they owe.
"For those who don't remember, in 2013 New York reached a landmark agreement with the Seneca Nation recognizing exclusivity of the Seneca Casinos in Western New York," Cuomo said. "The agreement was based on trust and respect, and it was one that I was proud to make. This morning the U.S. second circuit court of appeals again affirmed the need for the Seneca Nation to fulfill their obligations and pay what they owe in exchange for those gaming rights."
Concerned parents rallied outside of the Rath building this past weekend calling on New York to aid local governments in fully reopening schools. At his Monday COVID presser, reaffirmed he wants to see schools reopen soon, calling it a bipartisan issue.
"There is damage being done to children with remote learning," Cuomo said. "First of all, I believe we don't have all the data in, you're going to find discrimination in education because of remote learning, you're going to find disparities, you're going to find families that didn't have access to broadband families that didn't have the right technology, families that didn't have people who could help their children with a technology, they will have been at a disadvantage.”
Parent advocates of Western New York Students First have cited concerns Cuomo harped on Monday, including isolated learning leading to increased mental health concerns and less opportunities for students to develop social skills.
Cuomo said they can develop a policy on reopening once they collect more data on how many teachers have been/need to be vaccinated.
Also discussed was New York movie theaters reopening March 5 at 25% capacity with assigned seating.
State officials say theaters can reopen under guidelines set up this past October. That includes mandatory face masks and a theater maximum capacity of 50.
Cuomo said it’s important theater staff monitors traffic and seating compliance.
"They need the enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards that the Department of Health has specified," he said.
State officials said there will be no testing requirements for movie theaters.
AMC reopened its first theaters in August and said it welcomed back “nearly 10 million moviegoers nationwide” without any reported cases of COVID-19 being transferred at their facilities.
Additionally, Cuomo addressed pool halls successfully suing New York State last week and their reopening guidelines. “50% capacity, masks required at all times, except when seated and eating/drinking," Cuomo said. "Mandatory social distancing, physical barriers between parties. Each party assigned to a table to avoid mingling. Cleaning and disinfecting any rented or shared equipment between use.”