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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

September 29, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. Big announcements today on the issue we're all focused on, our health, our wellbeing, fighting back COVID, building a healthier future. We've learned a lot from the COVID crisis, it's been a tough, painful time, but we've also learned a lot about what we have to do differently, what we have to do to prepare for the future. And if one thing this pandemic has taught us is the profound value of public health, of a strategy that reaches to the grassroots, that gives people access to health care in ways we have just not done enough of in the past, as a city or a nation. This is a moment to do things very, very differently, and there is no place better to innovate than New York City. There's no place better to create a new paradigm than New York City. There's no place that has more experience dealing with this crisis, but also innovating approaches to engaging people, reaching them, protecting them, no place has done more than New York City. My goal is to make New York City the public health capital of the world, and I don't say that lightly, and I don't just say that because we're New Yorkers and we're proud and we believe we're special. We are special, and we went through hell with this pandemic. We were the epicenter for a long time in this nation. We learned the lessons to know how to fight back in the future, but we've also done amazing things historically in New York City when it comes to public health. A lot of the greatest approaches, a lot of the greatest leadership in the whole country's history on public health came from New York City.

So, we are ready to do new and different things. Two major new pieces today, two major new thrusts that are going to change the future of New York City, make us healthier, help make the whole world healthier. First, our Public Health Corps, taking the incredible lessons we've learned from the Test and Trace Corps, making them permanent, having a permanent ability to reach people at the grassroots, encourage health, support people, educate people, get them to the health care they need, and the Pandemic Response Institute. The Pandemic Response Institute takes everything we've learned, helps us make sure there will never be the next pandemic, creating the solutions, creating the approaches to stop pandemics from ever happening to begin with, or if, God forbid, there is one of being able to deal with them in new and better ways. Okay, the Public Health Corps first, look, we understood after the first weeks of the COVID crisis, that so much of what we were dealing with was a question of public education, reaching people, answering their concerns and questions, getting them to the help they needed. And that only works when you're connecting directly with the people at the grassroots and ideally with community members leading the way with people from that same community, talking to their neighbors, that takes something that requires a permanent feature, something allows us to reach people constantly, not just when the crisis has already begun. Look, we had to create the Test and Trace Corps – out of thin air, out of scratch. We had to create something it's become the biggest and most effective in the country. I want to thank everyone at Health + Hospitals that led the way on this effort, working with the Department of Health. Thousands of lives saved by the Test and Trace Corps, and amazingly Test and Trace just hit its millionth – one million – tracing contacts. Well, we learned a lot from Test and Trace Corps, we learned a lot from our Vaccine For All Corps, the amazing work the vaccinators did again, that was put together from scratch, look at what they've done. You're going to see the vaccination numbers today. There are outstanding. They're unbelievable.   

We're going to take the people who worked on Tests and Trace, the people worked on Vaccine for All, we're going to create a new permanent New York City public health corps. This is truly revolutionary, but it's something you're going to be seeing more and more of and love this logo. You'll be seeing people wearing these shirts are part of this Public Health Corps, going out in the neighborhoods, going door to door, going to community meetings, educating people, preparing them for the world after COVID because we need to do everything, we can get out of the COVID era. It's coming soon. We have the chance to get out of the COVID era, but then we have a lot of other public health challenges that we need to address. So Public Health Corps, particularly in connection with the amazing work we've done with NYC Care. Again, thanks to everyone at health and hospitals, NYC Care, guaranteed health care for all New Yorkers. This is something there's still a lot more ability to reach people with to get people health insurance, who don't have it, to get people connected to primary care medicine who don't have it. We guaranteed all New Yorkers health care, the Public Health Corps is going to be leading the way to get people connected who haven't been before. And that's going to make us resilient, one of the things we learned in this crisis is folks who had not had access to health care were very vulnerable. People who went years or decades without the health care they deserved were often the folks who were the victims of COVID the most. Getting people health care, getting it to them regularly, making sure everyone has it when they need it, that's how you turn things around. We're going to be employing thousands of New Yorkers with this effort from the communities most effected by the challenges of COVID, and it's going to say something very clearly, in New York City we believe health care is a human right. It's as simple as that. Health care is a human, right, but we're not just talking about it, we're doing it, guaranteed health care for all, a Public Health Corps leading the way with the ability to reach people like never before.   

I want you to hear from two of the visionaries who have created this idea and are helping it come to life, and both of them have spent their life in protecting New Yorkers, keeping people healthy, but this is the kind of thing they dream of doing, getting health care proactively to the people. First, of course, I want you to hear from the city's doctor and he has the great distinction of being the Commissioner of the Department of Health, he also worked at Health + Hospitals before that. So, he sees how we can bring all these strands together. He has helped to lead us, and he is helping to lead us out of the COVID era once and for all, Dr. Dave Chokshi.  

Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you so much, sir. And you have said many times that we can't just bring things back to normal. Ours must be a just recovery and bringing New York City back better means bringing our city back healthier. We have a once in a generation opportunity to re-imagine what public health can look like in New York City. The Public Health Corps will seize upon this moment, building on the hard work already being done in our communities to fight this pandemic and preparing against future emergencies as well. As COVID continues to shed light on health inequity, particularly inequity linked to structural racism, it is clear that the solution lies in the strength of our communities. We have seen this time and again during the pandemic, from Soundview to Sunset Park and from Port Richmond to Richmond Hill. The future of public health in our city must be led by the people who are most effected and who know the communities that they serve, often because they are from them. These community health workers numbering over 500 by December will be the backbone of the Public Health Corps, linking residents to clinical and social services. They will help more people get vaccinated, counsel neighbors about diabetes and depression, and address hunger and food insecurity. Also, under the Public Health Corp umbrella will be about 100 community-based organizations, many of whom the city has worked with during COVID response, who will serve as the connective tissue for the core within neighborhoods. Additional work will happen at multiple levels, which can be summarized as care, confidence, and capacity. With respect to care, Corps resources will go to funding culturally and linguistically responsive care at federally qualified health centers, as well as H + H as Dr. Long will outline. Building confidence starts by listening and acknowledging historically rooted distrust. It is also where one-on-one conversations can be the most meaningful as we have seen in our vaccination campaign. The Corps will extend this work to other issues like flu health screenings and chronic diseases.  

Finally, in terms of capacity, the work that has been done through this pandemic offers us a veteran workforce with experience that should not be lost. We will build on this experience by working with CUNY, the Department of Small Business Services, and multiple community organizations to train community members, many already serving New Yorkers through the Vaccine for all Corps, to become community health workers. And the Health Department was recently awarded a $35 million grant from the CDC for such capacity building through the Public Health Corps. To conclude, Mr. Mayor, for most of the patients or community members that I've had the honor of knowing, they don't care so much about the distinction between epidemiology and care delivery, what they care about is staying healthy. Working across public health and health care. It is our job to make that happen. And its why New York City with the Health Department and H + H working side-by-side is well equipped to integrate this important workforce. We're so excited to collaborate and create the foundation for a stronger, healthier, and more equitable city. Thank you, sir.  

Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner Choskhi. And now I want you to hear from someone who, with his amazing team, thank you to everyone at Test and Trace. You've done an absolutely outstanding job. And remember everyone has had to be created from scratch, what an amazing effort, but they've had a dynamic leader, always energetic, and I know he is pumped up at the notion of taking what we learned and making it something permanent in this city. My great pleasure to introduce the director of the Test + Trace Corps, Dr. Ted long.  

Executive Director Ted Long, NYC Test and Trace Corps.: Thank you, sir. Since June of 2020, our contact tracers have been fighting to keep our city safe against COVID. Our contact tracers are all New Yorkers that saw what COVID did to their communities, they heard the call to help, and they responded. Our contact tracers have been able to reach nearly 90 percent of all new COVID cases across New York City. Since they started in June of 2020. Furthermore, they've been able to identify more than one million close contacts or New Yorkers with a known direct exposure to somebody with COVID, and they've been able to engage 72 percent of those New Yorkers that have been exposed. Now identifying one million close contacts, is one million opportunities that they have had, they've created and used to connect New Yorkers to critical resources like our free hotel program, where you can come to definitively isolate or quarantine to keep your family or your community safe. Like our direct cash assistance program, which is unique to New York City, to support families that don't qualify for paid sick leave, but the right thing to do is to stay home, to keep their communities safe. Our tracers have also been able to connect New Yorkers to life-saving therapies like monoclonal antibodies and to at-home testing and at home vaccinations. Our tracers have succeeded and keeping our cities safe because they understand our communities because they're from our communities. I'm excited to be here today to help to launch the new Public Health Corps, which will be an incredible way that we can leverage all of the skills and experiences that our contact tracers have built over the last year to become effective community health workers. Now, I'm a primary care doctor myself. I've seen my patients in the Bronx throughout COVID. What I want is to be able to care for my patients beyond the four walls of my office ,with the new Public Health Corps, I will have community health workers on my primary care team by my side, that can go to my patients' homes, to help them to get food, to help them to get their medications, to help them navigate our health care system, and to help them to live a healthier life. Launching the Public Health Corps today truly makes New York City the public health capital in the country, if not the world. The Public Health Corps will build on everything that we've created through Test and Trace with our community health workers being a backbone of this new program that will make New York City stronger and healthier than ever before. Thank you, sir.   

Mayor: Thank you so much, Ted. And your enthusiasm is infectious. Thank you. Now I want to – you heard from the folks who are the architects here of this new Public Health Corps and what is going to be, I want you to get some perspective, and this is truly global perspective, that next person has joined us has done amazing work. So, first of all her academic work alone speaks for itself. She's an Associate Professor in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, but even more importantly she's taken these ideas and put them into action, working with the organization, Partners in Health, literally taking the concept of going out into communities to some of the toughest places in the world. She was one of the lead strategists in an effort to fight Ebola and strengthen health care systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia. So, talk about a tough proving ground for these ideas. She's seen it. She's done it. It's my great pleasure to introduce the Chief Medical Officer of Partners in Health. Dr. Joia Mukherjee.  

[...]

Mayor: Thank you so much, doctor. I appreciate your energy too. You've done amazing work all over the world and the examples you gave really bring home the point, this can be a strategy that works everywhere and anywhere, but we’ve got to focus on and we’ve got to invest in it. So, thank you for helping to lead the way. And New York City is going to, I hope, provide an example to the whole nation that this is the future of health care. Thank you very much.

Now, everyone, I want you to hear from the grassroots. You've heard, like, one of the great global experts give you the big picture. Now, let's take it right down to the neighborhood level. I want to hear from someone who worked with Test and Trace, did that work at the community level, engaging community folks, getting them to do what they needed to do to be safe. She's now working at Health + Hospitals, at Elmhurst Hospital, obviously, someplace that was the center of the center of the epicenter, and someplace where the work continues every day to reach people on a variety of health care needs. Here from the frontline, I want you to hear from Maisa Alam.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you. Thank you, Maisa. Thank you for the great work you've been doing. It is literally lifesaving and it's people like you that are helping to get us out of the COVID era and get to a better and healthier place. Thank you so much.

All right, everyone. Now, I mentioned at the top another major new announcement today, and it's really exciting, because, again, this is about the future. We never want to see another pandemic, but it's going to take a lot of work to protect New York City and protect the whole earth in the future. So, today, we're announcing something wonderful. Our Pandemic Response Institute we've been talking about for a long time, I'm happy to announce that we have selected Columbia University to operate the Pandemic Response Institute. This is a big step forward and we've got the right people for this big responsibility. The City's going to invest initially $20 million in the Pandemic Response Institute to supercharge this effort. Columbia University, renowned all over the globe, is exactly the right place for it to be housed. And this will prepare us, protect us against the potential pandemics in the future, help us to stop the pandemic of the future, or, worst-case scenario, handle them in a way we've never been able to before, while, at the same time, recognizing the real issues of inequity that have come up during COVID that need to be addressed. Columbia Mailman School of Public Health is renowned as one of the great public health schools in the entire country, a place that really focuses on the issues of equity and effectiveness simultaneously. They're going to be partnering with another great institution of this city, CUNY – the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy will be right there with them as this institute is built into something powerful.

We had a pandemic response lab, we put it together also from scratch to have the test results we needed to – that’s one of many, many things we did in response to COVID. We created PPE, we created ventilators, we did things we never had to do before in New York City. But the initiative in the private sector, academic sector, hospitals, government, everyone got together and here is the next big step, leading the global fight against pandemics that threaten us all. This is really powerful and it's going to have national and global ramifications. And I want to hear from someone who has been one of the great voices in this nation in how we fight infectious disease. Her career has spanned, literally, the nation, from her work in the University of California system, to her leadership as the Chief of Infectious Diseases department at the University of Kentucky. She is now the President of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, one of the leading national voices on how we work together to address these challenges. My pleasure to introduce, Dr. Claire Pomeroy.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you so much, doctor. I really appreciate the way you're bringing all the strands together and why this matters so much. And thank you for your leadership. It's people like you that have helped us to be able to create this model and very, very much appreciate it. And since you referenced your colleague, it's time for us to hear from her. She is the university professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University, Director of ICAP at Columbia as well, and the Columbia World Projects. And, really, has been one of the great national voices throughout the COVID epidemic on how we – the pandemic, I should say – on how we challenge this disease, how we do things differently, how we address this ever-changing situation. We've been so proud to hear her voice so often and learn from her and now she will be leading the way by leading the Pandemic Response Institute. My pleasure to introduce Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you so much, doctor. I appreciate deeply that commitment is coming through and your leadership is going to make this come to life, and that means so much for the city and beyond. Thank you so much.

I want to hear from one more person, everyone. He’s been, really, one of the voices of conscience in this city throughout the pandemic. He has been someone who's looked at the next innovations and where we need to go, always looking ahead, and we appreciate that. He is the Chair of the Health Committee in the City Council, Council Member Mark Levine.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you very much, Council Member. And thank you for your leadership. And I'm going to segue off of that to something else important. And Mark Levine has been one of the great voices out there also supporting something that's working right now, the Key to NYC, our mandate for indoor dining, and fitness, and entertainment. And entertainment, of course, includes sports. So, I was on CNN this morning, I was asked about Kyrie Irving. I want to talk about this, because it's really important for everyone to understand. Our home teams here that'll be playing, the Knicks, the Nets – obviously, they do fall under the Key to NYC requirement. And, obviously, the vast majority of players are going out and getting vaccinated. We want all players vaccinated. So, I'm a Brooklynite. I'm a Nets fan. I really want to see Kyrie get vaccinated. I want to see the whole team stay healthy and safe the whole season. We have a chance to win the championship for Brooklyn. It's staring us in the face. Let's go get it. It’s an amazing, amazing team – want everyone safe and healthy. It'll be a great moment for Brooklyn when they do win that championship. But let me just offer inspiration to any players who are still wondering, because some of the greatest players in the game today and in the history of the game are speaking up. So, first of all, the MVP himself, Giannis, he said, and this is a quote, “I did what was best for me and my family to stay protected.” That's why he got vaccinated. Amazing player, clutch player Damian Lillard said, “I've had people in my family actually die and people actually lose their lives to it. And if there's a way for me to protect myself and the people I love, I'm going to do it.” That's why he got vaccinated. And, literally, one of the greatest of all time, New York City’s own and a graduate of Power Memorial, went onto one of the most amazing NBA careers in history, and an incredible voice of social conscience as well, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is what he said, “this is a war that we're involved in. And masks and vaccines, they are the weapons that we use to fight this war.” As always, Kareem pulls it all together. He's right. It is a war. It's a war we're going to win. We're going to win it, because of vaccination.

I also wanted to say, we have a little breaking news related to this. And this is not about the NBA, but it's about the work to make sure everyone gets vaccinated. We just heard that YouTube is banning all vaccine misinformation videos, and I really want to thank them for that. We've seen horrible, cynical efforts at misinformation often for people's own personal or political gain. Youtube is doing something really important here to make sure that they are not inadvertently agents of spreading misinformation and making people less healthy. That's the kind of gutsy move we need. We need people to step up, say the truth about vaccination, and help us move it forward.

Also, on the vaccination front – this is exciting. One of the things I'm most excited about, one of the things I'm most hopeful about is the vaccine for the five- to 11-year-olds. So, now, Pfizer has formally submitted its data and the FDA now has the opportunity to act. President Biden's been abundantly clear, whatever the FDA needs, they will have every resource at their demand. I want to keep saying, we need them to move quickly. We've said this a few days back, the goal should be have the vaccine ready by Halloween so we can start getting into kids in the month of November. This can be done. We have so much evidence now. I know there has to be a thorough review, but we're pleading with the FDA, expedite this review so we can reach our youngest kids, keep them safe, have the whole school system able to get the vaccine for the safety of our kids and our families. Also, great news, that we're seeing the FDA's reviewing now the Moderna booster. So, hopefully that Moderna booster will be here very, very soon. And a reminder that, right now, folks who can get the booster are those who received Pfizer shots originally. So, if you got Pfizer shots and you are one of the eligible folks, you can go and get that booster, go to vax4nyc.nyc.gov.

We've been primarily focusing, of course, on health today – on public health, on the future of public health in this city. But I also want to always say, public health and public safety go together. Next week, we're going to go over the latest on the situation in public safety in the city, the way we're fighting back against crime and violence, the amazing work of the NYPD and our community partners. But I want to show you just a quick slide that tells you something we're seeing more and more, that New York City's efforts to get guns off the streets, to engage communities, to fight violence are having a big impact. A lot of other places are struggling. We're very sorry about that. We want everyone to move forward together, but New York City has now proven that our efforts are working. Our murder rate, lower than the next five biggest cities, lower than the national average, and we're going to be doing a lot more. Every day, we get a little bit more closer – a little closer to that recovery. Every day, the recovery moves forward and helps make us safer, but the public safety efforts also fuel the recovery. So, we'll be talking about – a lot about that in the next few days.

And also, related to public safety, obviously, the ongoing work to improve the situation on Rikers Island for both our inmates and our officers. And the key is to reduce population now. That effort continues every day, we're seeing reductions – that's really, really important. But, again, the ultimate goal is close Rikers Island once and for all. That's what we've done in this administration. We got the vote for the City Council. We put the money in the budget for the new community-based jails. We’ve got to keep going. But what is good is, the State has been working with us to make sure that we could get as many folks out of the Rikers as possible, the safe and appropriate way now. We continue to work on that.

There's also a category that had been asked about several times, it's called 6A releases. These are folks with City sentences that I'm able to act on. We've done a review. And, so far, as I've predicted, there are some people that we can release safely, appropriately with the larger public safety in mind. We've done a careful review with the NYPD and District Attorneys. But, as I've said, it's a small number of people to begin with. And we're going to be careful and thoughtful about these releases. There are seven individuals who will be released in the next 24 to 48 hours. We'll keep that process going. The much bigger piece is the hundreds and hundreds of individuals who are either going to be going to State facilities or being appropriately released via State action. That's how we're going to drive down the population and we'll give regular updates on that.

Okay, let's go to our indicators. And the first one, again, shows the power of vaccination and the amazing work of our vaccine for all corps. Number one, doses administered to-date – 11,455,785 doses – climbing, climbing climbing. That is incredibly helpful. Number two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19 – today's report, 123 patients. Confirmed positivity level, 24.06 percent. Hospitalization rate, this is the one, again, that's the most crucial statistic. We like what we see today – that number is 1.05 per 100,000. And then, new reported cases on a seven-day average – today’s report, 1,221 cases. We’d like that number to continue to go down. The key is vaccination.

A few words in Spanish, and this is about our Public Health Corps. and what it's going to mean for the future in New York City.

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, let's turn to our colleagues in the media. Please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.

Moderator: Good morning. We will now begin our Q-and-A. As a reminder, we are joined today by Dr. Mitch Katz, Dr. Dave Chokshi, First Deputy Health Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer Dr. Torian Easterling, Director of MOCJ Marcos Soler, EDC President and CEO Rachel Loeb. Our first question today goes to Juliet from 1010 WINS.

Question: Hi, everyone. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. How are you doing?

Mayor: Good, Juliet. How have you been?

Question: I’m okay. Thank you. So, since you were just talking about Rikers, I was wondering what you thought of the directive from the Manhattan DA who tells assistance not to request bail in non-violent cases, but acknowledges that this might translate into additional low level crime. What does that say to the law-abiding public that they aren't being protected?

Mayor: Yeah. Juliet, I think I haven't seen the exact directive from the DA. I think this is always about striking a balance. I share your concern that it has to be very, very carefully approached. There are some low-level offenses where, again, I've said this for a long time, you know, people do not belong in a jail setting. We can use supervised release. We can use a lot of other tools. And, obviously, if we're having a particular challenge at Rikers, it's not the time to send someone there if there's not a reason. But when it particularly comes to anything involving violent crime or more serious crime, I would be very, very careful, because we've come a long way, improving the public safety situation in the course of this year, but we’ve got more work to do. Go ahead, Juliet.

Question: Okay. Thank you. And regarding the new public health programs, to what extent are they working on preventive medicine, such as educating to prevent diabetes, or heart disease, or people eating better, and, in general, taking better care of themselves?

Mayor: Well, you hit the nail on the head. I'm going to turn to Dr. Long and Dr. Chokshi, because the power of this kind of model, Juliet, is exactly that, educating people, moving them proactively. You know, so much of the American health care system is, you know, you only get seen when it's almost too late or, tragically, the first time someone sees a doctor is the emergency room. We're trying to change that. That's why you have guaranteed health care for all in this city. We want everyone to have insurance or have a primary doctor that they can afford through Health + Hospitals, NYC Care. But the Public Health Corps. goes to the people and demystifies and gets people to understand the things that really help them. So, that's my intro. Quick illustrations from Dr. Long then Dr. Chokshi.

Executive Director Long: Yeah. Thanks for the question. I really appreciate that again, as a primary care doctor myself, preventive care is the backbone of primary care. The way it'll work is, there'll be community health workers on my team and we'll take care of my patients together. I might make a plan with my patients about how to change their eating or to take certain medications to prevent them from developing diabetes. The community health worker will then go into their home, help them to execute on that plan to eat healthier, take their medications, and see what other barriers they have that the community health worker can help them with  that they would only know by spending time with them in their home, because they're going to also be with somebody from their community that understands them, because they live where they do as well. So, we're excited about this, but I just want to underline the point, preventive care is really the reason we are doing this.

Mayor: Amen. Dr. Chokshi?

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. And I agree with Dr. Long, prevention is at the heart of all of our public health programs and it's the common thread between the announcements that we've made today. You heard about the Public Health Corps. and the ways in which prevention will be baked into that from Dr. Long. I'll just connect it to a core concept that underlies the Pandemic Response Institute as well, which is we can do so much in taking the learning from our response to COVID and help to prevent and mitigate suffering for future health disasters as well, whether it's another pandemic caused by a respiratory virus or any of the slower moving health disasters related to chronic diseases, or mental illness, and substance use. So, it's at the heart of what we're trying to do.

Mayor: Amen. Go ahead.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Jeff Mays from the New York Times.

Question: Hey. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: Good morning, Jeff. How you been?

Question: Good. Good. I had a question, today Tish James joked at the Association for a Better New York about running for governor. I'm wondering, can you give us any sort of indication of what factors you're considering as you decide whether you will jump into the rates for mayor and you know –

Mayor: Wait, I'm already mayor. That one worked out.

Question: Governor, I'm sorry. And when do you think it's you know, it's appropriate. There's been a lot of talk about diversity. Does, you know, does New York need another white male governor?

Mayor: Jeff, thanks for the question. So, as you can see over the last a half hour or so, you know, what I've been talking about here is what my focus right now. Defeating COVID and building up the strength of the city and our recovery. That's what I'm focused on non-stop. At the same time, I'm quite conscious. I want to keep serving. I want to stay involved in public life. I care deeply about public health. I care deeply about education, particularly early childhood education. There's a – I care deeply about income inequality. There's a number of things I want to keep working on in this city, in this state. So, that is going to be what I focus on when this mission is over. So, I want to serve. I'm going to figure out the right way to serve and the right time to serve. That's what's running through my mind. And I think as with all things, we need people who are committed to real change, and we need people of all backgrounds to be involved in government. But the central challenge right now is we got a lot to fix in the city. We've got a lot to fix in this state. We got a lot to do. Go ahead, Jeff.

Question: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. One more question. I'm wondering, we wrote the other day about Eric Adams and the Democratic nominee for mayor and his relationship with former Mayor Bloomberg. You know, you were much more critical of Mayor Bloomberg as you came into office. I'm wondering what you think of Mr. Adams reaching out to Mr. Bloomberg and his team and working with them on issues as he prepares for the election?

Mayor: Look, Jeff, I think it's natural to talk to predecessors. And to seek, you know, input from different quarters. I think that's something Eric Adams has done conscientiously for years now. He's talked to people with different viewpoints. He really is an intent listener. He goes and seeks out information. He wants people that challenge his assumptions. I've been very impressed and, you know, dozens of dozens of conversations over the last few months that he's constantly seeking more information. He and I talk all the time, we compare notes constantly. I think it's natural to want that kind of input. I think it's healthy to want that kind of input. But I really think if there's anyone who proved a long time ago that Eric Adams has his own person, has his own view of the world. You know he is an exemplar of that going back to when he was in the NYPD and was willing to challenge the NYPD hierarchy. And I remember that was really, really tough to do, but he kept doing it. So, seek input, but, you know, stay true to who you are. And I think that's what Eric's going to do.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Michael Gartland from the Daily News.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. You guys hear me okay?

Mayor: We can hear you loud and clear, Michael. How are you doing today?

Question: I’m good. Great. So, just following up on Jeff's question about Tish before. How do you think she’d do as governor? I mean, Jumaane, for that matter, with his exploratory committee being announced yesterday. How do you think either of those guys, both of those guys would do if they were elected as governor?

Mayor: Man, you guys are hungry for elections. We haven't even gotten through the one we're in right now in five weeks and you already want a new one. Look, I know all the candidates and I respect them all. I don't think this is the time for comparisons. I think the bottom line is this. Right now, everyone should be focused on protecting the city, getting us out of the COVID era, getting us on with a recovery for all of us. That's my focus. Next year, we're going to have a chance to figure out the future of New York State. New York State needs to go in some very different directions. I think that's abundantly clear. There's tremendous problems that need to be addressed, that weren't addressed for a long time. And the debate should be about how do we go to someplace better? And who's going to do it? That's what we need to talk about, but that's not the time yet. Go ahead, Michael.

Question: Thanks, Mr. Mayor. So, on the Public Health Corps, I wanted to get a better sense and excuse me if I missed this during the presentation earlier. What is the scope of this program? How many people are we kind of talking about that this will encompass the City reaching out to, keeping in contact with? And, you know, getting better outcomes from on health care?

Mayor: I'll start and I'm going to welcome Dr. Long, Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Easterling, anyone who wants to join in after my preface. A great question, Michael. My bottom line was this. We built up this extraordinary Test and Trace apparatus. The notion we would build it up for a crisis, and then just when the crisis was over, shut it down, made no sense to me. So, I said to people last year, we're building something that needs to become permanent. And the reason it needs to be permanent is because it can help us avoid the challenges of the future preemptively. But also, because there's so much more we could do to make people healthy, if we just had this ability to reach out. So, my bottom line is all the folks who are now in Test and Trace and Vaccine For All, I want to convert that whole team to the Public Health Corps. So, that's my preface. Dr. Long. And then we'll open up to see if Dr. Chokshi or Dr. Easterling want to add anything?

Executive Director Long: Thank you, sir. And I really appreciate this question too. Look, for me as a primary care doctor again, as the Mayor said, I've always dreamed of the day where I can help my patients after they leave my office. And we're going to have, as Dr Chokshi said, 500 plus new community health workers that are going to constitute this new Public Health Corps. Many are going to be in clinic, literally working with me in the Bronx. Many will be working with our community partners in the communities to find people that we can help and to bring them into primary care. But we're going to be able to help tens of thousands of New Yorkers. Some of those that have been the most profoundly impacted by COVID, through this new Public Health Corps and we're very excited about that.

Mayor: Amen. Dr. Chokshi?

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. And Dr. Long laid out the scope of the program well. Let me be very clear. This is a city-wide program. The Public Health Corps is for all of New York City. As always, we will have the focus in certain parts of the city. You've seen that in our work on COVID both with our testing, as well as our vaccination efforts. Where we had a particular focus on certain neighborhoods identified by the Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity. And that focus on addressing health equity, using what we call a place-based approach, will continue forward with the Public Health Corps. The reason is that we know when historical patterns of injustice intersect with disease, that can generate catastrophic outcomes. The Public Health Corps gives us a chance to address that, to prevent suffering going forward, and to improve the health of the entire city.

Mayor: Amen. Dr. Easterling, you'd like to add?

First Deputy Commissioner Torian Easterling, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you, sir. And I totally agree with Dr. Long and the Commissioner. Only thing that I would add in addition to the place-based approach, is really making sure that we're leveraging all of our community-based organizations as we have done throughout this pandemic. We know that a lot of the expertise and a lot of the trusted messages are already in the communities that we want to serve. We want to close the gap on the health outcomes that we want to address. And so, leveraging our community-based organizations and the federally qualified health centers that have really been serving New Yorkers in the way that we need them to, is also part of the scope of this work. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you. And Dr. Easterling, want to give you credit where credit is due. You've been really one of the great leaders in this crisis, connecting with communities, helping get community leaders and organizations into the forefront of the fight against COVID. And I've heard tremendous feedback from leaders all over the city, just thankful for your voice and the way you've engaged them. So, thank you so much for that.

First Deputy Commissioner Easterling: Thank you, sir.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Henry Goldman from Bloomberg.

Question: Hello, Mr. Mayor. Can you hear me?

Mayor: Yes. Good morning, Henry. How are you?

Question: I'm good. How are you doing?

Mayor: It's a beautiful sunny day in New York City, Henry.

Question: It’s a beautiful sunny day. The Red Sox are hanging in.

Mayor: By a thread, but go ahead.

Question: I want to just – there's a nuts and bolts question about the vaccination or [inaudible] the mandate, which is that even though there's a deadline for Friday, it's very possible that some people will be vaccinated on Saturday and Sunday. Will they be allowed to enter the school buildings if they show proof of vaccination?

Mayor: It's a good question. Henry. Look, the bottom line is what we're saying is, Friday five o'clock and this is not exactly like there wasn't prior notice. This is something that's been built up to for weeks and weeks and weeks after months and months and months of the voluntary efforts, then came the mandates. We've had the mandates now announced two months ago. If people are ready to get vaccinated and to continue their work, do it by Friday at 5:00 pm. After 5:00 pm Friday, anybody who's not vaccinated, we're arranging for a substitute to come over, take over that work Monday morning. And we'll be putting that person on unpaid leave, who didn't get vaccinated. You're right if you say, well, can they correct? Yeah, they can correct. And we would love to get them back. But if they haven't done it by Friday at 5:00 pm, we'll immediately go with the substitute and putting them on unpaid leave. And any day they're not vaccinated, they're not getting paid for. But hopefully if someone sees the light on Saturday or Sunday, they get vaccinated, they call in, then we'll make that adjustment right away. Go ahead, Henry.

Question: Okay, thanks. There have been taxicab drivers in front of City Hall for several days off and on, protesting and pleading with City Hall to change its planned program for aid to them. Because they say that the amount that's going to be spent just will not cover the enormous debts that they have on their medallions. And they came up with this plan years ago really, a couple of years ago. The City could spend, or at least put forward $900 million, which would then be repaid in the form of renegotiated loans that these taxicab drivers could pay, much in the way that people refinance a mortgage on their homes? And this would keep them in business and they'd be able to do this. And with all of the federal aid to the City, the City now has quite a bit of cash. And yet there seems to be this enormous disconnect between the taxi workers union, if you will, and the taxi drivers and the administration over a lifeline that can save the livelihoods of thousands of taxi drivers? And I'm just wondering whether there's still an opportunity for them to meet with you in City Hall and come up with a program that would provide a refinancing schedule for these loans that are – just won't be fixed with the $65 million or so that’s been allocated in the program that you're supporting?

Mayor: Yeah, Henry it's been discussed really intensely over many months. I really feel for the taxi drivers, they went through a horrendous situation because the world changed. And it changed very rapidly. No one saw and I don't blame them. No one saw things like Uber and Lyft coming. And it's one of many situations where people in the private sector have seen tremendous dislocation and it's horrible. We said from the beginning, we were going to do what the City could do to help. The City did not create this problem. But we were going to do everything we can to help because these are folks, these are struggling, hardworking, New Yorkers, often immigrants, people trying to make ends meet. We came up with the thing we could do that we fundamentally know will work to greatly reduce the pressure. It's going to ultimately lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of loan relief. That's the plan we have. That's the plan we believe in. We do not have $900 million to put into a different plan. We just don't and we don't believe the other plans that have been put forward would work. This is the plan that we have. This is the plan that will work. So, I respect the union. I think the union has failed to be as straightforward as it could with the drivers about the fact that this is what they should be taking advantage of right now. Many drivers are coming forward and are getting that loan relief and having a much better chance of getting them through this okay. That's what people should be doing. But that's where we are and that's where we're going.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Nolan Hicks from the New York Post.

Question: Good morning, everybody.

Mayor: Hey, Nolan. How you doing?

Question: I'm doing well, Mr. Mayor. And yourself?

Mayor: We are every day, finding a way, Nolan.

Question: Good to hear. On the federal monitor who wrote in a report that was filed on May 11th, 2021, that quote the pervasive level of disorder and chaos at the facilities, meaning Rikers, is alarming, end quote. Yet you didn't issue your emergency response plan until September 14th. Why the three and a half months between the findings of the monitor and an emergency response plan?

Mayor: Well, Nolan, the monitor, throughout years, has issued both warnings about problems and very clear praise of a lot of the reforms that have been made. We've constantly been addressing the situations in Rikers, but they are extremely challenging, made much worse by COVID. And if you just had COVID or you just had the 85-year-old Rikers Island facility that should have been closed a long time ago, you put those – either one would have been bad enough, you put them together, it's been extremely difficult. But we have constantly made changes to try to address the issue. This series of actions now, including, bluntly, having the challenge of the union that's been a big part of the problem and having to make very clear that people are going to be suspended in large numbers for doing that exact wrong thing and hurting their fellow workers and hurting everyone’s safety, these are the things that are having an effect now. We tried a number of other tools. This is what we have to do now. Go ahead, Nolan. 

Question: Sure. But I didn't hear any rationale for the delay. Between January and May of this year three people committed suicide on Rikers Island. Between May and now that number has grown to 11. Do you think that you or your administration bear any responsibility for the additional eight deaths? 

Mayor: Nolan, the facts, as I understand them, are different, respectfully, and every single person who passes away for any reason is a tragedy. We – it is painful, it is awful when we lose anyone. Some people, it was suicide. Some people, from everything we understand, natural causes. It's not just one thing. And, unfortunately, every year I asked for the statistics to get perspective. Every year, my administration, previous administrations, because we're talking about a community of people who often come into Rikers with profound health problems. We lose people every year, and every single time it's a tragedy. But the way I look at it is this, whenever there's been something we could do, we've tried to do it to fix the situation at Rikers Island, but it is beyond short-term fixes. This is why I've been trying to say it is a horrible situation, but it's been a horrible situation not only the last eight years, for decades before that. It has to end once and for all. That's why we are getting off Rikers Island. That's why we ended things that made the situation worse, like solitary confinement and punitive segregation. That's why we have to change the entire culture of the department, starting with insisting that the union not obstruct the work but actually support the work to keep everyone safe. There's a lot to do, but this is again a profound, long-standing problem that will only fully be solved by getting off Rikers Island once and for all. 

Moderator: Our next question goes to Erin Durkin from Politico. 

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor, we just reported the news that Mary Bassett, your former Health Commissioner, is the pick for the State Health Commissioner. Just wondering what you think of choice and, you know, given some of your criticisms of the way the State Health Department operated, you know, under Cuomo, are you – what are you hoping to see differently? 

Mayor: I'm really happy to see a new State Health Commissioner. Let's start with that, Erin. It was definitely time for a change. We did not get the support we needed. We did not get the cooperation we needed from certain elements, at least, of the State Health Department under the previous governor. That needed all to be changed. We needed new leadership for the people of New York City and for the whole state. Dr. Bassett is an excellent leader. Had her as my first Health Commissioner. She's someone who clearly knows and understands the issues in New York City and will be, I’m certain, respectful of the good work being done at the Department of Health and Health + Hospitals. So, if she is the choice, that's a fine choice. And I'm just really happy there'll be new leadership there. Go ahead, Erin. 

Question: Can you hear me?  

Mayor: Yeah, go ahead.  

Question: Okay, can you – so you announced seven people to be released from Rikers. Given that it's just seven, I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about, you know, what are their offenses, why are they chosen over anybody else, and are you still expecting, I think you said a dozen, so not a big number, but more than seven? Are you still expecting additional people to be cleared this week? 

Mayor: Yeah, Erin, well maybe not all this week, but, Erin, would say is, this a rolling basis. I do expect some more, but I think the number I gave you is accurate, ultimately will be in the dozens. This is a careful process with the NYPD, with the district attorneys to determine if we can release someone without impact on public safety, a negative impact on public safety. I'm going to keep saying it, I’m very focused on addressing the situation in Rikers, reducing population is crucial, but there's also a lot of other elements of the Riker's equation that we're working on right now, including most especially getting all the officers back and getting additional help from other agencies to relieve some of the pressure. We're only going to release someone if we think it's safe to release them. But there will be, I think, some others coming up and I don't have, you know, the profile of each person for you. We'll get you what we can, but it's only when we think it's safe to release someone. 

Moderator: We have time for two more questions today. The next question goes to Elizabeth Kim from Gothamist. 

Mayor: Elizabeth? 

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor – 

Mayor: There you go. How are you? 

Question: Good. I know this morning, you said that 92 percent of the city's public health care workers have been vaccinated, but I was wondering if you or Dr. Katz could give us a more precise number on how many H+H employees are still not vaccinated. And, you know, since it's day three, we're into the third day of the mandate, how many of those can we really expect to come back to work at this point? 

Mayor: Well, I'll preface and then turn to Dr. Katz. Elizabeth, again, I am really appreciative of the fact that Dr. Katz’s leadership, his whole team, and all the people who made the decision to do the right thing, all the folks that work at Health + Hospitals who, when it really came down to it, did the right thing and got vaccinated. This kind of level of vaccination means we will be able to run our public health system well and protect the people in New York City. And Dr. Katz is really good at making whatever adjustments he needs to. I also want to emphasize, you still have people who – it hasn't been their day to come to work yet so they still have a chance to get vaccinated. You have people who are, I think, going to think twice after they potentially are not going to have a paycheck and are going to come back. There's plenty of time to still get more people vaccinated. So, that's my preface. Forgive the long preface, Dr. Katz – over to you. 

President Katz: No, sir. That was great. So, there are about 3,000 Health + Hospital employees who are not yet vaccinated – 

Mayor: Out of how many? How many, Doctor? 

President Katz: 43,000, sir. 43,000. We’re at 92 percent of people vaccinated right now. So, a little over 3,000 are not yet vaccinated, but as you say, sir, not everybody has had a shift yet to work. We’re still having – I was at our vaccine center yesterday at Bellevue. People were still flowing in, people are getting vaccinated. And we also expect that as people realize that this is going to persist – you've had, sir, some great legal victories – I think there are some people who believed at some point something would come in, there would be a court decision, something would block it and it wouldn't be necessary. But I think as people see, no, the courts recognized the traditional role of vaccination in preventing public health illnesses dating back to smallpox. And so, I think you're going to see still more people coming in. We do have temporary staffing of about 500 nurses who are filling in for those nurses who have not yet gotten vaccinated or have chosen for retirement. We haven't discharged anyone yet. And we do not intend to. We still have an open invitation to all of the people who are not yet vaccinated to please get vaccinated and join back to the health system with the best mission in the world. Thank you, sir.  

Mayor: Amen. Go ahead, Elizabeth. 

Question: My second question is about, how is the City tracking COVID cases for municipal employees that have returned to the office? Are they – and what's the protocol for communicating that to, you know, workers in an office who might – you know, who might've been in contact with someone who was infected? 

Mayor: So, I'll start, I'll turn to Dr. Long in terms of Test and Trace, because obviously what you just indicated is a Test and Trace mission. And Dr. Chokshi in terms of, as Health Commissioner, what he's seeing and hearing back from different agencies. But, Elizabeth, I'd start with this. Look, we got a great example last year with our public schools. Again, we use that gold standard of health and safety measures. We saw things get safer, safer, safer by the end of school last year. Almost no cases in our school system. That was part of what inspired us to realize, you put enough of these measures in place – even before vaccination it was true, but with vaccination on a high level, with vaccination mandates in place you're going to have a safe workplace. And if there are individual cases, we'll be able to make adjustments around them. So, so far, it's been a very successful experience as we knew it would be because we've got so many layers of protection in place, much more than people would experience in other parts of life. So, with that, in terms of how we would address an individual case in a workplace, Dr. Long. And then Dr. Chokshi on what you're hearing about all of the agencies. 

Executive Director Long: Yeah. So, the way it'll work is if there is an individual, you mentioned a municipal employee, or any individual that has a positive test, we will get that result in Test and Trace. We'll make an outbound call to that person. And we know that process works because we're reaching, currently, nearly 90 percent of all new cases across New York City. And we've been doing that really since June of 2020. Then we're going to talk to that case, and we're going to ask them who they could have exposed when they were infectious at the workplace or at home or in their community. We're then going to call all of those people – we know that piece works as well, because we've done it a million times over where we've identified now more than one million close contacts or people that have been shared with us that they're New Yorkers that have been exposed to somebody when they were infectious. We will then call those close contacts, and if they're vaccinated, talking about what that means. If they're not vaccinated, talking to them about what quarantine means for them and their families. Then on the backend as well, we also collect source-of-infection data so we have a comprehensive way of knowing where infections are in the city and where infectious may be going up or down. And that includes things like the workplace, but also different types of gatherings, travelers, things like that. So, we review that data very regularly to see if there's any indication that there's an uptake in any specific setting. Beyond that, I’ll turn to Dave. 

Mayor: I just want to say, as you turn to Dave, that you just used a great phrase, ‘we've done that a million times over,’ which is kind of a popular phrase, but you actually, literally mean it. You've done it a million times over. Okay, Dr. Chokshi. 

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. I'll just add that there are specific protocols in place that all municipal agencies are aware of through communication with DCAS, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, about what to do with respect to testing, tracing, isolation, and quarantine, as Dr. Long went through. But also, the other layers of protection that we have particularly health screening that is done in many workplaces as well. As well as access to testing and vaccination. An important part of this is when a case is identified, and of course, particularly if that person is symptomatic, they have to stay home and not actually come into the workplace in order to expose others. The final thing that I'll say is that although we are monitoring in collaboration with Test and Trace for any larger outbreaks, we are not yet seeing any large clusters in our municipal workplaces. We'll stay abreast of that and, of course, take appropriate action as that – if that changes. Thank you.  

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead. 

Moderator: Our last question for today goes to Morgan Mullings from PoliticsNY. 

Mayor: Morgan? 

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor, can you hear me? 

Mayor: There you go, how you doing? 

Question: I’m going well, how are you? 

Mayor:  Good, thank you. 

Question: So, yesterday we went out to Coney Island to meet with Assembly Member Frontus to talk about a remote learning option for students. We know that you've been, you know, pretty set in your opinion on this, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of students who are missing upwards of ten days of school because someone in their class has COVID. Will you be considering any options at all for remote learning? Is it worse for them to have kind of substandard learning from being remote or missing ten days of school and being behind all of their classmates? 

Mayor: Well, that's a fair question, Morgan, but I would just disagree with the assumption that they have to be behind all their classmates. Again, if we've got – when we have a full class closure, the work continues online with the same teacher teaching remote. When you have a partial closure you have a set of materials that's – you know, kids get, they continue to get support from their teacher for ten days. But remember when you include the weekends, that's not all school days. And the number of classrooms that are closed remains very, very low. So, I think with the new standards we put in place this week in terms of how we're approaching classroom closures, and even more fundamentally as more and more of the school system is fully vaccinated, I don't think you're going to see a lot of classroom closures and you will have methodologies for making sure kids stay current. Remote just doesn't allow us to serve kids properly. So, unless a child is in those very particular medical categories that need a different type of support we're just not going to a remote option. We believe what we're seeing right now, over the first few weeks of school, is working. And we want to stick with it. Go ahead, Morgan. 

Question: Thank you. And just one last Riker's question. We know that Commissioner Shea seems to be a little bit on the opposite side of you in terms of getting people off the island. Are there any negotiations happening there? Is there any disagreement there about whether or not inmates should be released? 

Mayor: As we just said with the 6A cases, those are the City-sentenced where I have the ability to take action, every case is being reviewed with the NYPD. On the State technical parole violators, we're tracking what is now State law passed by the Legislature, signed by the Governor – reforms that I think are really smart, but also which we worked on carefully working with the NYPD to make sure the final version of the bill did strike that balance between constantly reducing mass incarceration, but at the same time protecting public safety. So, I think we're in a pretty good balance point right now. We'll always keep looking. But, right now, I think these actions taken the last few weeks by the State and the City are the right way to go.  

And everyone, as we finish up today, I just want to thank our medical leadership, our health care leadership in this city. They've done an absolutely amazing job in the fight against COVID now, more than a year-and-a-half. But these announcements today are so exciting because they're about the future. I'm going to keep saying it, we're going to end the COVID era. We're going to end the COVID era. We're going to put COVID in the background. But then we have to build something new, and we have to have a much bigger recovery and whole new approaches. It's really exciting to think that this is a place where some of the great innovations that are going to happen, and particularly our Public Health Corps, is going to be something we've needed for a long time. And out of this pain, out of this crisis, we're going to create something that is very positive and lasting for the city. Thank you, everybody. 

 

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