New York State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to discuss the spike in coronavirus cases across the U.S., as he calls on Pfizer to include immigrants and refugees in it's vaccine distribution.
KRISTIN MYERS: Coronavirus cases are surging in the United States, and that is especially true here in New York, especially in New York City, as Mayor Bill de Blasio has been raising a lot of alarms about what can be expected in the city moving forward. So let's talk now with New York State Senate Deputy Majority leader Mike Gianaris.
Senator Gianaris, I want to start on the news from Pfizer about their vaccine. You had actually sent a letter because Pfizer said that they would be making that vaccine free to all American citizens-- you, of course, calling them to make that available not just to American citizens but also to refugees and immigrants. I wanted to ask you this because, as I was reading your letter, I was a little bit struck by the fact that Pfizer is going to be receiving money from the federal government for that vaccine distribution. I'm wondering if there's also calls, or should there be calls, on the federal government to also make sure that funds are available to these pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines available, not just to American citizens but-- to your point-- to all Americans and-- rather, all residents in the United States?
MICHAEL GIANARIS: Yeah, it's a good point. First of all, let's just state the obvious. It's great news that a vaccine is making progress and that we might have one serum that could be used. But I'm hoping that the interview that was given was just an inartful answer and that he didn't mean strictly citizens but other people as well. But I think it's important to clarify that.
What we saw in the first wave of the pandemic here in New York, which, as everybody knows, was pretty horrible, was that the hardest-hit communities were the immigrant communities, and many of them are undocumented immigrants. Those are the delivery people. Those are the people that were out there continuing to work, making sure that everybody else could stay home. And so to deny the the vaccine for free and only provide it to citizens would, first of all, be a gross unfairness to those communities that have already suffered so much, but also really stupid for the rest of us, because we are all human beings in the same physical space.
So to distinguish and give it to certain people and not others does not help achieve the herd immunity that's necessary, which is how vaccines work. So I'm hopeful that he did not strictly mean citizens when he said that.
The second part of the question is a very good one. My understanding is that it's the federal government that will be setting the parameters of how these vaccines will be distributed. So, really, it's some kind of request to Pfizer but also the federal government to ensure that this goes to the right people. This existing federal government for the next month and a half I don't have a lot of high hopes for, but I'm certain that President-elect Biden will have a more receptive ear to this kind of thing when he takes office in January.
KRISTIN MYERS: I want to ask now about what we're seeing here in New York. As I was mentioning just a couple of moments ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio saying that the city right now is on the edge of a second wave of coronavirus and may face lockdowns, Governor Cuomo saying that the next two months might be the worst yet. As you're seeing it, as you guys are all talking in this, you know, the state legislature, are lockdowns inevitable here in New York to really stem the tide?
MICHAEL GIANARIS: We don't know yet. The data will drive the decisions, as it should. But everything we know tells us that a second wave is coming. It is the history of these types of viruses. That is exactly what happened in 1918. The second wave was much worse than the first.
So nobody wants a lockdown. I would hope we could avoid it if at all possible. But the important thing is, if we need to save lives, we have to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. So hopefully the strategy of aggressively attacking these clusters as they pop up will continue to be effective. If not, then we have to consider every option available to keep us all safe.
KRISTIN MYERS: So I know that some of your constituents are in Queens. And I don't think-- and while New York has been very stringent when it comes to lockdowns, when it comes to fighting this virus, I think most folks in the United States right now have virus fatigue, and they're tired of being inside. They want to go out. They want to go to restaurants.
We've heard repeatedly from businesses, you know, here in the city, talking about how difficult it has been for them over the last couple of months. What are you hearing from constituents about their economic concerns, about their concerns about their businesses, and how they're going to be able to survive going forward?
MICHAEL GIANARIS: Exactly that. First of all, I'm talking to you from my kitchen, as you can tell. So we're all trying as much as possible not to be out in public. But yes, there's a lot of fatigue. There's a lot of anxiety about wanting to get back to normal. And you see every chance people get, they try to run out to the parks.
I happen to represent a community that is younger than most. And so there's also a misplaced sense of bravado or a sense that they can't get as sick as others. But if they are ca-- first of all, it's not true in and of itself. But if they become carriers, their families could get sick, and it's really something we need to take very, very seriously.
And small businesses have suffered a tremendous amount. And I've worked very hard to try and assist some of our small businesses to get through this. We have not gotten enough assistance from the federal government. Hopefully, that will change now with the changes that are coming in Washington. But there's a great amount of suffering.
There's a couple of silver linings. In New York here, we've adopted this open streets program where restaurants are taking over the streets and had their dining outside, which has been a great success. Some restaurants are thriving under that. If you walk around my neighborhood on a weekend, you'll see it looks like a street fair somewhere in Europe.
It's actually great to see that we've done what we can to help those businesses succeed. But for too many, it's been a death knell. We've already lost a number of great businesses that define our communities. And hopefully, we keep that from happening as much as possible.
KRISTIN MYERS: So Senator, speaking about stimulus, stimulus negotiations in Congress are essentially dead, and no one is really expecting any kind of aid package until next year. I had read it back in August that New York was estimating that the budget shortfall was roughly $60 billion. What happens to New York if they don't get economic aid from Congress? How badly-- not just the city, but the state-- how badly does the state need stimulus from Congress right now?
MICHAEL GIANARIS: And it's not just New York. The answer is very badly. We need it. And I think all of the municipalities around the country are in a similar position. When you shut down the economy the way we did, revenues dry up. And when revenues dry up, that means very difficult decisions.
Either we're gonna get some influx of resources from Washington or we're gonna have to do some combination of awful things. Cuts, which will impact services in ways we don't want; borrowing, which is not ideal to cover operating expenses; and raising revenues, which I think should be the first order of business. From those who continue to do well even during the pandemic, we've seen that the wealthiest among us are even wealthier over the last six months while others are suffering. So I think it's entirely fair appropriate to ask them to help foot the bill to get us through this.
First and most preferable option would be get a federal aid package going that'll help close the gap substantially. Probably won't do the whole thing, and we'll need to do some of those other steps, unfortunately.