Coronavirus News: Port Authority executive director talks COVID-19 diagnosis, agency work

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- In his first interview after returning to work, Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton tells Eyewitness News that he has fully recovered from COVID-19 and says he still has no idea how he became infected.

"I've wracked my brain," he said. "I can't figure out how I got it. What is the biggest challenge is the anxiety, which is, 'What is the course of the disease going to be?'"

Cotton arranged our interview in the middle of the George Washington Bridge, where Port Authority Police closed a lane of traffic, to dramatize the fact that the bridge is still open and that truck traffic continues and the crucial supply lines remain open.

"What you can see going across the bridge are not only autos but in fact there's a very large percentage of the normal truck traffic that has been sustained," he said. "The supply lines are up and operating. As we weather this crisis, it is critical that these supply lines remain healthy."

Still, there are challenges.

"These are enormously difficult times in which they operate, but every single one of the Port Authority's facilities, the airports to the bridges and tunnels to the PATH train to the seaport are up and operating," he said. "The bridge, in particular, is a critical element in the cargo supply line. The seaport is a critical element in the supply line, and both of those are operating. And they have actually seen the least reduction in terms of use."

On revenue:

"We've seen dramatic declines in the use of our facilities, the airports are down 90%, in terms of passenger volume. PATH ridership was about 90%. So that is having an impact on our revenues, and we're looking at that, We're examining and we're trying to project what the rest of the year looks like. But I think what's most important is that there are two of our operating divisions, the bridges and tunnels and the seaport, that have held up remarkably well. And it is all about the supply lines to keep the region's supply, even at the height of the crisis.

On the potential of closing airports, bridges and tunnels:

"Absolutely not. Our primary commitment, in terms of our responsibility, it is to keep these facilities open. We are looking at every way that we can in terms of how to operate efficiently during these times. People are working remotely. Those frontline people that are on duty right now with the grid staggered shifts, we've worked out ways to keep operating even during the height of the crisis."

On Port Authority employees getting sick:

"I have to say I myself got sick. But what we've done is we've worked out ways to people keep their social distance. They come in at different at different times, but these are 24/7 facilities, as people go into quarantine. Happy to say that those who have gotten sick, by and large, mild to moderate symptoms. Everybody rotates back on, but our top priority is keeping the facilities open, but also absolutely at the top of the priority is to keep our employees safe."

On his own personal health:

"Well I've been back for about a week now. I was on a 14 day quarantine. I feel fine. I've tested negative. I've come through it. And clearly, that is the situation that most people who get this terrible virus experience, and I'm happy to say that I'm back at it...Because of the unknown, you have no idea what the course of this disease is going to be. So in addition to getting through it, your anxiety level in terms of 'Well, is it going to get worse? What is the course of the disease?' I was lucky. My symptoms were either mild or asymptomatic I think back on it. But obviously, we stay in touch, in terms of people at the agency who have come down and tested positive. What is, what is the biggest challenge is the anxiety, which is what is the course of the disease going to be? Without being anxious about the unknown, which is what is your course going to be."

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