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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Press Conference : March 16, 2020

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Press Conference at City Hall

Videographer/Reporter: Luis Diaz

At NYC’s City Hall on March 16, 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio held another Covid-19 Emergency Response Press Conference (something which has now become a daily event).

The main takeaways on the subjects covered by the Mayor’s opening statements:

  • Mayor’s talk with Dr. Anthony Fauci
  • Suspension of City Council Meetings; suspending visits to inmates at Department of Corrections facilities; canceling the special election for borough president in Queens
  • Signing of the Executive Order dictating the closure of certain businesses
    • Reiteration of what that entails
  • Reviewing the two newest deaths due to Coronavirus in New York City as well as the numbers behind the total infections per borough
  • Review of the Hospital system and the demands placed upon the need for beds in anticipation of worsening conditions
  • FEMA and its involvement now in the fight against Coronavirus
  • Price Gouging and the penalization of those breaking those laws

Following the video posted below is the corresponding transcript.

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Okay. As everyone understands, we are in an ever-changing situation. I have no example I can offer you of another situation where, for such a long period of time, we have seen just constant, constant changes. It seems to me we’re in the middle of meetings and discussions and, you know, the world is different even in the middle of one meeting than where it started, on a regular basis. And this is going to be going on for quite a while. So, this is really uncharted territory.

What we’re trying to do, of course, is constantly consult with people, have the best information and perspective and coordinate across a very, very broad spectrum of agencies while simultaneously working with folks at the national level, state level, regional level, etcetera. Yesterday – I said this this morning – I had the opportunity to speak directly to Dr. Anthony Fauci who I think everyone would agree has been one of the truly coherent voices on the national stage in this crisis, and obviously someone we honor for decades of serving this country effectively. So, I consider him one of the ultimate voices of truth. I also have to say as a New Yorker and a Brooklynite, I’m very, very proud of him and what he has done for this country and what he’s doing right now. And we talked about the decision to close schools and then we talked about the things that have to happen next. And he strongly advised the actions related to the bars and restaurants. And then we took those actions later last evening. But also, we got into a conversation about how to guide people in their day to day lives in the crisis that will be with us for weeks and months. And I said to Dr. Fauci, we all agree that those over 50, with serious pre-existing conditions are the people overwhelmingly in danger here. These are the folks that, God forbid we might lose.

I said, what else would you say to guide people beyond that extraordinary danger that those individuals face, how do we create an understanding of people of who is in danger, and who has to take even more precautions? And he said that it’s not over 50, healthy, but the area where he starts to get concerned just on an age level is over 70. So, I hope this is a helpful additional piece of information in terms of people trying to make sense of how to live and approach a crisis like this. And we’ll certainly talk more about the details in the Q-and-A and my health colleagues will jump in when they come over, but over 50, pre-existing serious conditions – diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, cancer, compromised immune system. Those individuals are in the greatest danger by far. The people in your life, your family, your friends, your coworkers, the people you worship with in, those categories, your neighbors, those are the people we have to go – all of us – out of our way to protect, not let anyone sick near them, make sure they are staying in to the maximum extent possible. If they need food, and the only way they can get it is to go out themselves, let’s see if one of us can get it for them. Someone in their life can get them food or get their prescriptions.

We’re going to work as a City to try and figure out some bigger systems to make sure people get what they need. But everyone understands that this is an extraordinarily fast-moving crisis and we don’t have that capacity today. But we do have New Yorkers, we have New Yorkers’ heart and soul and conscience. We have New Yorkers’ resilience and strength. You can help your fellow New Yorker. So please, for folks in that category, over 50, pre-existing major conditions, help them not have to go outside, help them get the things that they most need in any way you can. But again, the further guidance from Dr. Fauci, if you’re over 70, even if you’re healthy, even if you don’t have one of those pre-existing conditions, exercise additional caution, don’t go out unless you need to. Keep it to the essentials, limit your contact with other people. Everyone’s going to have to interpret that for themselves. Obviously, it’s a free country, but we are asking people to really be cautious and conservative in the way you interpret this reality if you’re in one of those categories that’s particularly endangered.

Now yesterday, everyone knows I was very, very troubled to have to close our schools. Our goal again is to reopen April 20 but I’ve been very honest that that is a goal that will be very difficult to achieve. What I want to clarify, because in some of the covers today, there still seemed to be some gray on this point – remote learning begins Monday, March 23rd. Distance learning, definite, starting Monday. I want to thank all of our leadership at the DOE who’s making this happen with lightning speed. I want to thank our educators who are stepping up to meet this challenge. I especially want to thank four groups of workers who are the unsung heroes today, who today are at the front-line helping kids in those schools that are providing the breakfast and lunches on a to-go basis.

Want to thank our school custodians including those from Local 891, our school cleaners including those from Local 32BJ, our school food workers including those from DC37, and the firemen who keep – and this is meaning the folks who run these systems in the building, the fireman who keep the boilers and systems running, including those from Local 94. All of you, I want to thank you all for what you’re doing, for your commitment to your city, to your fellow New Yorkers, and to the children of our city. Thank you. Because you’re allowing all of them to have food they need today.

So there’s a number of actions we’re taking today, some of which were announced last night, others of which are new, all contained in an executive order. I’m going to summarize very broadly. Obviously, it will be made public immediately. But the business closures related to restaurants, bars, cafes – now adding other businesses consistent with the State’s actions and we are obviously staying in close contact with the State and agree with the actions that the state has taken. The postponing of elective surgeries. And again, that is both in our public hospitals and in our voluntary hospitals. And we’ve set a 96-hour window for all of those to be shut down, obviously with the allowable exception of something that is life and death or something that it goes from optional to mandatory because of the nature of the health condition of the individual.

Because we need to avoid public gatherings to the maximum extent possible, we’re suspending for the time being City Council hearings. We’re suspending ULURP rules in terms of the land use process. That means that anything that was going to go through the land use process will simply be frozen in place. It does not mean there’ll be an alternative decision making. It means that that application will just have to hold until we are able to get back to normal.

We are suspending visits to inmates at Department of Corrections facilities. And that starts Wednesday officially. But my understanding is there are no visits scheduled for today or tomorrow. So that effectively means there will be no visits from this point on. Obviously we’re going to encourage alternatives, more phone calls, potentially video conferencing, etcetera.

We are suspending procurement rules to allow for faster procurement.

And as I noted yesterday, we are officially canceling the special election for borough president in Queens. So, all of this is included in the executive order, which I will now sign.

[Mayor de Blasio signs Executive Order]

This executive order takes effect immediately. As you heard – and again, we’re in agreement with the State on all these actions – speeding up the closing on the restaurants, bars, cafes to 8:00 pm tonight. And again, they will be able to be open going forward for takeout and delivery under certain hours, conditions. Other businesses that will be closed – movie theaters, other types of theaters, museums, and cultural centers, concert venues, nightclubs, and commercial gyms. Obviously, we continue to say to all private business that it is crucial to allow telecommuting wherever humanly possible. So that is something we want to continue to emphasize. We’ve gotten a lot of cooperation from the business community. We want that to be as deep as possible. Anybody who can telecommute, should.

I also want to note there are a host of public recreation centers, youth programs, afterschool programs. These are all going to be shut down for inside activities. We are trying right now to determine if we can re-engineer some of those programs for outdoor activities with appropriate social distancing. Very, very concerned about our young people and what’s going to happen to them over weeks and months, potentially. I think they have to have some kind of outlet, some kind of recreation. We’re trying to see if we can figure out a model for doing that outdoors with proper supervision and proper social distancing, but we do not have that locked down now.

To working people in the city, and obviously to business owners, including small business owners. Everyone is immediately hurting very deeply. There’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of confusion. Immediately, we are seeing working people with much less money in their pockets and tremendous fear about what’s going to happen next. There should be at least a little sense of relief that the House of Representatives acted on Friday, but it is not enough. We need more. Obviously, need action on a consistent, ongoing basis from the federal government and we will be fighting for that and working closely with our federal delegation, our senators, and our Congress members to achieve a much greater stimulus and relief package that really allows people the comfort of knowing that they will have some continuity in their lives. They’ll be able to afford the basics no matter what their employment situation. They’ll be able to stay in their homes and afford food, medicine, all the basics. We have to achieve that, we can only achieve that with federal support.

This is going to be very, very tough for all of us. There’s no question about it. There’s going to be a lot of sacrifice here, a lot of pain. I hate to say it, but it’s true. Lives will continue to be lost. Our job is to try to help people in every way, reduce to the maximum extent possible, the number of lives that will be lost in this crisis. Help people get through it and help people get back on their feet, make sure people are getting the right information so they can make the right choices. And this is something that will evolve and change probably pretty much every hour of every day. And we will be constantly giving you updates. The overall numbers are sobering. As of this hour, and everyone knows that these numbers can change at any moment — as of this hour, 463 confirmed cases in New York City.

The borough breakout again lags behind — it has not yet been fully cross referenced with the newest number which is that 463 number is from 11:00 am, so we do not have an exact cross-reference. The last best information we have from earlier this morning based on a smaller number of cases was here’s the borough breakout — 118 in Queens, 111 in Manhattan, 62 in Brooklyn, 34 in the Bronx, 19 in Staten Island.

I am very, very sorry to say that we now have two additional deaths, or a total of seven people have passed away. The first is a 56-year-old man from the Bronx who worked as an investigator for the City government. This is something we are feeling all personally. One of our own, one of our colleagues in public service has been lost. Investigator for the Department of Correction. We have checked the log books for his work in recent days and to the best knowledge he did not visit the inside of a jail facility. He worked with one fellow employee closely. That individual has been – is self-quarantined. So, to our Department of Correction colleague who we’ve lost, our condolences to his family. Our hearts are with them. Our prayers are with them and we will do all we can to help them in this incredibly difficult time. We’ve also lost an 89-year-old man who returned from Italy about a week ago. And we grieve also with his family and loved ones as well.  We see consistently that have keep losing people overwhelmingly in those same categories of those who are older, particularly much older, and those who are vulnerable because of preexisting disease.

Now what we are going to do to expand our capacity. We understand that this curve is moving rapidly. We’re going to have to radically expand our health care facilities in New York City and capacity. Again, this is going to be a war basis in New York City. I do not believe the United States government is on a wartime basis right now, I think is painfully evident. If they were, we would already have immense support from federal agencies on the ground right now. I do see a beginning of federal support, but nowhere near what it should be at this point. So, we will do it ourselves to the maximum extent possible. And I’ve ordered all my colleagues to identify all spaces that can be converted immediately to medical use. We’re going to start with those that are most obvious, that already are engaged in health care and either being underutilized or not utilized, and then we’re going to go much farther. So, I think you have to think of this in a wartime worldview. You have to think of this as something where you’re going to see a massive mobilization to save lives, to help people through their suffering with this disease. A lot of people who are hospitalized, the vast majority of people who are hospitalized will survive, but they’ll go through a very difficult experience. Again, basically the numbers keep holding. About 80 percent of everyone who gets this disease does not require hospitalization, has a fairly mild experience. 20 percent have a much more serious experience. Overwhelmingly those folks need hospitalization. Ones who end up with the most serious problems in the ICU. And there is the category where we see ourselves losing people, particularly among the older folks with the preexisting conditions. What that says to us with this kind of steep increase in the number of cases is we’re going to need massive medical capacity on a scale we’ve never seen in the history of New York City before.

So, we are going to be constantly building out medical facilities and creating them where they’ve never existed before and retrofitting facilities that have nothing to do with health care. We will turn them into hospitals so long as we can get the equipment and the personnel, we will keep building our capacity to meet the demand. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally about how we’re going to achieve this. The personnel are the single most crucial element. Thank God we’re in a city with a vast amount, number of health care personnel, but still nowhere near what we might eventually need. So, we’re going to find many ways to take people who are in other appropriate parts of the health profession, help them maximize their ability to serve. Look for folks who may have retired recently who could come back. Students who could be appropriately credentialed to be brought in.

I predict and this, if it continues to be a situation where our area and others like Washington State are disproportionately suffering in the context of the whole nation, that we’re going to ask the federal government to send in health care workers from other places to help. Clearly, we’re going to ask for the military’s medical units to come in, which are very effective. And that’s a substantial amount of military personnel. We’re going to need all of that to get through this and we’ll have more to say on it as we go along.

Facilities that we are immediately bringing online and this is a combination of some public facilities, some private that we will in this instance, working with their owners. We will put them into public service and obviously we will compensate for it. And we’re going to work the same with the voluntary hospitals to maximize their capacity. But I can report four new facilities, being brought online immediately – the Coler facility on Roosevelt Island, an H + H facility that was empty. It is being immediately brought back online. 350 beds. It will be ready in approximately a week’s time. There is a recently built nursing home in Brooklyn that had not yet been occupied and again, we’ll get you more details as the announcements are ready and final notifications and confirmations are achieved, but this is very likely coming online in the next two weeks. 600 beds. The Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx has an available approximately 150 beds. And we believe again likely to come online in the next two weeks or so. The North Central Bronx Hospital, part of H + H, has two floors that are vacant with 120 beds. This will be activated immediately within a week’s time or so. That gives us somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200, 1,300 beds that we can immediately say will be activated.

Then when it comes to existing Health + Hospitals facilities and voluntary hospital facilities, a three prong strategy – discharging patients on an expedited basis, obviously in a manner that is still healthy and appropriate, canceling the elective surgeries as is ordered in my executive order under our state of emergency, and building additional capacity within hospital buildings. The example Dr. Katz gave, turning a cafeteria into an ICU, turning a parking lot into an ICU with a tent. Those three strategies between our existing Health + Hospitals hospitals and the voluntary hospitals we believe will net us an additional 7,000 new usable beds. Meaning new because they will be available for the cause of fighting coronavirus. So, with that estimate, 7,000 beds capacity plus the 1,300 almost that we will bring into play from the other four new locations. That will take us to 8,200-8,300 and then we’re going to keep going rapidly from there.

But this will be a race against time to create these facilities to get them up and running, to find the personnel and the equipment we need. We have no choice but to expand rapidly and be ready for anything. It would be – I think that my colleagues in health care would agree much better that the facilities are up and ready too early than too late. In terms of space for any individual who needs to isolate or quarantine and or for city workers who we need to keep in that kind of location rather than sending them home, we’re getting additional hotel space immediately. We have identified and are acquiring space in five smaller hotels that will amount to 250 hotel rooms, but we’ll be building out from that rapidly.

In terms of tents for medical use, the kinds of tents that could be used to set up a medical facility or an ICU, our Emergency Management team has already acquired 11 such temps with another 10 to 20 coming in the coming days and they’re working out the distribution of those tents between public and private facilities.

We now have as a result of the President’s state of emergency. Again, the real time here, everyone, is just staggering. We had the President’s state of emergency just a few days ago, the Congressional vote, the House vote just a few days ago. Everything is really moving fast. But when the President signed the state of emergency that put FEMA into play. And this is crucial, we need FEMA to be part of the solution. Our Commissioner for Emergency Management, Deanne Criswell, was a former senior official at FEMA, understands exactly what capacity and resources they bring. So, this is a very important dynamic to have FEMA involved and they have immediately gotten to work with us. We will be standing up five drive through testing facilities across New York City, and again thank you to FEMA for working with our Office of Emergency Management and our Health Department to do that.

Just some other items I mentioned in our correction system that we will be suspending visits. I want to emphasize this is also the kind of decision that should never be made lightly for those who are incarcerated, it’s something they will be lacking and missing greatly. We will come up with alternatives as I said, more phone calls, hopefully video conferencing, but it was absolutely necessary to protect the health of all those who are incarcerated and obviously very importantly our correction officers who we are depending on greatly at this moment. They have a very tough job, their job is crucial. We need to protect their health and wellbeing. That was a driving factor as well in making that decision.

We are announcing a new emergency rule from our Department of Consumer Worker Protection. I mentioned a few days ago specific actions that were being taken to delineate products that were becoming scarce and to institute anti-price gouging measures. We are taking a much deeper step now, an emergency rule banning price gouging on supplies needed to treat or prevent coronavirus. I’m going to list them for you. And so for all the folks out there who sell these items, we are deadly serious. You need to not only not price gouge, you need to understand you have an obligation to your fellow New Yorkers to make sure that people can get these crucial supplies. It is not time for profiteering. It is time to be a good citizen and help your fellow New Yorker. The items are thermometers, sanitizing wipes and or baby wipes, paper towels, latex gloves, face masks, fever reducers, cough suppressants, zinc oxide supplements, facial tissue, toilet paper, rubbing alcohol and Aloe Vera. And apparently, I did not know this, rubbing alcohol and Aloe Vera can be mixed together to create a version of hand sanitizer. So those two make the list. Retailers cannot increase the price of these items by more than 10 percent. That is the rule. And every time there was a violation, there’ll be a $350 fine per instance. And that means it can add up very, very quickly if someone is violating that rule.

Turns to the supply chain. We have been studying carefully. I’ve asked our Emergency Management Commissioner to constantly reassess the supply chain and update me at this moment. The good news is on food and basic household goods that you would find in a supermarket, there has been actually a very intensive resupply in recent days. That’s the good news. The bad news is stuff is being snapped up really, really quickly. I remind people we are going to work to ensure that the supply chain remains strong. We need our federal government to do that in a way that’s far beyond what we can do. But while this is all proceeding, we need our fellow New Yorkers to look out for each other. If you’re someone who’s bought a lot of everything, God bless you. But if there’s someone in your life, someone older, someone with one of those preexisting conditions, someone who has a disability that keeps them from getting out and getting supplies they need, either help them by getting what they need for them or share your supply enough to help them out. I know we are in a society where people have been taught too much just to look out for themselves. We’re going to enter an entirely different human reality and societal reality. We’re going into something that people in this generation have not experienced before, but in previous generations they knew way too well and everyone’s going to have to figure out how to work together and share. So, if you have an overabundance and you see someone who doesn’t have anything, please help them out.

A few other points. One related to that, we’re very concerned about isolated New Yorkers, for the folks who have to stay home because they’re vulnerable, for the folks who are in isolation for medical reasons, we want to help them out and communicate constantly with them. And this is whether it’s someone who is a confirmed patient with coronavirus or just experiencing sickness but not yet confirmed, and certainly for folks who have to be very, very careful and stay in to the maximum extent. We are going to create what is being called an isolation app. Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has put this together. It will be up quickly. We’ll provide guidance and nine languages. It will ask if individuals need anything and they’ll get real time responses and also will give us good information on what challenges people are facing, where we’re having particular problems across the city, etcetera.  Finishing up obviously now with the action on the restaurants, bars, cafes that serve food. A crucial issue will be food deliveries. I got the question out of the day whether we would suspend enforcement on e-Bikes in terms of deliveries. The answer is yes. We are suspending that enforcement for the duration of this crisis.

Okay. Few more things and then we will start to take your questions. We’re going to all of us up here, especially the health professionals, we’re going to repeat ourselves a lot over the next weeks and probably months, so let’s begin with the most important point, which is stay home as much as you can. That guidance might get a lot sharper at any point. I have been asked repeatedly, are we considering travel restrictions? Are we considering curfews? We are considering everything is the answer. Every option, every tool is on the table. We will decide in turn when we want to employ each, but right now the answer is simple. Stay home to the maximum extent possible. Protect yourself, protect your family. In general, the simple rule is when in doubt, stay home. If you’re not sure you should do something, stay home. We’re going to talk about some things that if you’re healthy are still appropriate to do like getting food and medicine, but again, the simple guidance to all New Yorkers is if you’re not sure you need to do it, stay home. If you have any option, then you don’t have to go out, stay home. Limit your time outside your home or your apartment. When you go out, be mindful of social distancing and try and distance as best you can. Those are some very simple rules.

For folks who are sick, it’s a stronger of stay home, stay home, don’t even think about going out.

Try as best you can to get the people in your life to get that food for you, get those medicines for you, obviously there’ll be deliveries. Do not accidentally put someone else in harm’s way. If you must go out, if you’re someone who is sick and there is literally no other way to get food or medicine, you can’t find anyone else who will do it for you. You must go out. You should be out for as little time as possible. You should keep your distance. You should help people around you to know to keep their distance.

If you are sick with the symptoms, again, I keep using simple layman’s terms. The doctors will always feel free to improve upon them but cold and flu like symptoms. Our guidance has changed the last few days. We are saying stay home for three to four days. If you’re getting better after that time, that’s fantastic. Stay home until you’re well. If you’re not getting better, call your doctor and act accordingly. Crucial piece of information. Do not go – now that this crisis has advanced, do not go to the emergency room unless it is actually an emergency. If you are in a absolute dangerous situation health wise right now, that’s what the emergency room is still for. Otherwise, if you’re just worried that you might be getting sick, I want to tell you more and more what you’re going to see in emergency rooms. You’re seeing it now all over the country as you will see officials of that healthcare facility outside screening and turning away people who do not need emergency care. So, the better way to do this is to not go in unless you absolutely have to. We cannot overwhelm our healthcare facilities. We have to make sure the folks who need help the most are getting the care.

Finally, just try and give some examples for the many, many New Yorkers who are not in those particularly vulnerable categories. You’re not over 50 with the serious preexisting conditions. You’re not over 70 and you’re a healthy New Yorker and you’re trying to figure out what to do. So, when in doubt you still stay home. But we understand that people need to stay healthy. We understand that people under any circumstance, if they have the ability to get a little fresh air and exercise, that’s actually quite important to their health. We understand that people need groceries, they need medicines. In these instances, it’s okay to take a walk, but practice social distancing. It’s okay to go jogging, but practice social distancing. It’s okay to walk your dog, but practice social distancing. If you don’t need to go get groceries because someone else can get them for you, that’s great. If you can get a delivery instead of going out, that’s great, but I understand that there’s so many people who are healthy who are trying to figure out what to do – some basic simple things like getting some exercise or getting some fresh air. I’ve spoken with all of our key health officials on this, everyone agrees that’s acceptable if you keep it limited and you practice social distancing. That’s where we are today. That could change tonight. That could change tomorrow, but that’s where we are right now.

So, everyone understands this is going be a very difficult few months. It will definitely get worse. It will get a lot worse before it gets better. I don’t take any joy in saying that, but people expect our leaders to talk straight with them. It will get a lot worse before it gets better. We understand that so many people are going to be affected by this. But again, the answer is not fear. The answer is not panic. The answer is not, I’m going to sit around and hope that someone else will save me or the government will take care of everything. The answer is for all of us to work together and support each other. The answer is for us to believe in each other, support each other, look out for each other and understand that everyone has a role to play. Everyone has a chance to do something really important for their fellow New Yorker and for someone in need.

Everyone has a chance to exercise personal responsibility, listen to the guidance and abide by it. But also, listen to the idea that even your city government, your federal government doesn’t reach into every nook and cranny of our lives, but people do – our family does, our neighbors do, the people on our block do. And we saw this after Sandy, the people were helping each other before any government agency could arrive. And I was very moved by it when I went through neighborhoods and Brooklyn and Staten Island and saw the amazing things people were doing to support each other. We’re going to need that again now and we’re going to do everything we can as your city government, everything we could possibly imagine to do, we will expend every youth resource. We’ll do things that have never been seen before in the history of New York City. But in the end, New Yorkers will play a crucial role in helping us get through this crisis and in helping us overcome this crisis. And I have absolute faith in my fellow New Yorkers that you are more than up to the challenge.

A few words in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

 

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