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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio appears live on CNN Newsroom

March 9, 2020

Jim Sciutto: We are joined now by Mayor Bill de Blasio, of course, the Mayor of New York City. New York has a spread of this. It has what's known as community spread. So in other words, people here are spreading it amongst themselves. Biggest question, what do you need now to help respond to this and are you getting that help from the CDC, from the federal government?

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Jim, what we've been asking for, for weeks, is the right kind of testing, the right kind of support from the federal government to make sure we could do more tests more quickly. We still don't have it. FDA could approve right this minute the automation of these tests that would allow us to go from where we are now, where we're doing dozens or hundreds a day to where we could be doing thousands and getting very fast results and staying ahead of this situation. That's where we need to be because with community spread, you know there will be more but, but we don't have to be afraid of that. We can handle that. Really we can, if we get the kind of testing that allows us to know in real time exactly what's going on. The vast majority of people we've tested in New York City come back negative. That's the good news.

Poppy Harlow: Mayor de Blasio, thank you for being here. We appreciate it very much. Talk to us about the concern over a city like New York where we all live in close quarters. We all take the subway, et cetera, right? That's where things can spread more. And I was struck hearing Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the NIH this weekend. Yesterday on Fox News Sunday when Chris Wallace pressed him, could we in in the U.S. see cities quarantined like in Italy? And he said anything is possible. Not probable but possible. How is your administration preparing for something like that? Is that even a possibility for New York City?

Mayor: Poppy, it's a possibility, but I do think people are getting a little ahead of ourselves and we should be careful. Right now we have a disease that transmits – there's two crucial facts. It transmits very directly.

Harlow: Yes.

Mayor: You know, some diseases hang in the air or you go into a room, even an hour after someone's been there. This is not that. This is a very direct transmission. You have to be close to someone – cough, sneeze, spit that comes from conversation to be very graphic.

Harlow: Yes.
Mayor: But it has to get right into your eyes, nose or mouth. So it does not transmit that easily in the scheme of things. The second fact is that the most profound impact is on people who have preexisting serious medical conditions and are over 50. The vast majority of people in this city, for example, under 50, no preexisting major health condition. If they even get it, they're going to feel like they had the cold or a mild flu and they're going to be fine. So what I would say is we should not want to do, with all due respect to Italy, we try not to get to that level. We try and be more pinpoint in our response. Our subway is unusual because you are talking about a huge number of people packed in close. We're trying to get folks to spread that out. So we're saying to employers, if you can stagger work hours, that'd be helpful. If some people can telecommute and it does not disrupt business, that's helpful. But mainly the point is go about your business. Take those basic precautions, washing your hands regularly covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. And what we are seeing is that those measures really count and then God forbid someone has symptoms, stay home. If they get serious, we need you to get to a doctor right away.

Sciutto: This speaks to the issue of why you test and why you test more broadly, does it not? Because what you want to do is you want to identify who's sick so that they can self-separate and not get more people sick. That's an important point, is it not? Because there are a lot of allegations flying back and forth about stoking panic, et cetera. But, but there's a reason that you want to know who has this.

Mayor: You do and Jim, it cuts both ways. One, for the positive tests, it confirms why someone needs to be isolated. So if someone's sick, anyone sick, stay home, point one. Don't send your kid to school if they're sick. Stay home. Let's then get the facts. When you have a negative, you know what you're dealing with. When you have a positive, you know what you're dealing with. In fact, what we're finding is the negatives are reassuring the people and clarifying. The positives tell us if someone's going to need extra attention, particularly if they're older or they have those preexisting conditions. Most people even who get it, vast majority come through okay in the end, except for that small percent who are really vulnerable.

Harlow: Finally New York City public schools – I know it's a last resort to close them. But it's not – I mean there are parents who have the means to get childcare, et cetera or stay home from work, but most people don't. You have over 100,000 kids in this public school system that as you well know, are homeless. They rely on school for food, for meals. What is the determining factor for you when you finally make the call, we're going to close schools or we're not?

Mayor: So it's first of all those kids, some are homeless, some are doubled up, tripled up in departments just for clarity. But yeah, it's a crucial point. Vast majority of parents I've spoken to over the years, in any crisis, don't want to see the schools closed. Of course safety first, but they depend on the schools, they are a safe place for their kids and by the way, they want their kids to keep getting educated. So to me it's a high bar for a closure. One thing I think makes sense is if you have a situation in a school, a temporary closure –

Harlow: Of one school, two schools, not all of them?

Mayor: A specific, targeted closure for limited periods of time. Because here's the conundrum. You know, if you're closing, waiting to hear on a test and the tests come back negative, well of course then you will keep that school open. Even in the case of a positive, we have what we call disease detectives, our Department of Health is renowned for this, who tracks specific contacts. If a child really only had close contact with a handful of adults or kids in the school, like really close contact, that's where your concern is. It's not the kids on the other grades – they had no, they didn't in any way, shape or form interact with. It doesn't – again, it doesn't hang in air. In fact our doctors made clear here in New York City, only minutes. On a surface, this virus only lives for a few minutes. So we are clear about the fact that we need to be pinpoint. I don't want to see mass closures. I want a pinpoint response.

Sciutto: There you go. Well, it's so good to have you on. We know that you're dealing with this every day and we're going to continue to share the best information we have about this because we know this is what folks back home are interested in.

Harlow: Thank you Mayor de Blasio. Appreciate your time and good luck.

Mayor: Thank you very much.

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