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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on WBLS’s Open Line

March 15, 2020

Fatiyn Muhammad: Our next guest is on the live line right now and that is the Mayor of the City of New York. And I'm talking about Mayor Bill de Blasio. Good morning, Mr. Mayor, how are you this morning?

Mayor Bill de Blasio: I'm doing well. How are you doing today?

Muhammad: We are doing the best that we can Mr. Mayor. You have in the studio with me, a good friend of yours, Jennifer Jones Austin. And we also have a preparedness expert Aton Edwards on the live line. The first question to you, Mr. Mayor, last week you called the state of – declared a state of emergency here in the City of New York. Let's update the folks on that and before we go to that there was something that I want to say real quick and that's dealing with two Assembly members here in New York. And we're talking about Assembly Member Charles Barron and Helene Weinstein. They both have test positive for the coronavirus, COVID-19, and we want to send our prayers out to them. I believe Assemblyman Charles Barron was hospitalized. I'm not sure if he's still in the hospital. I don't know if you may have an update on that, Mr. Mayor. But I definitely want to start off with them, and being in our prayers.

Mayor: Thank you. And look, both people I've known a long, long time, Charles and Helene, we are – been praying for them. I don't have updates on the specifics of their treatment, but you know, we're all feeling the fact that, you know, people we know well are going through this and our prayers are with them and their families right now.

Muhammad: Thank you.

Jennifer Jones Austin: Thank you. So tell us what is the latest here in New York City?

Mayor: Well, Jennifer, we have an ever-changing situation and we – every single – literally it's been day by day, hour by hour, getting new information. What I see is New Yorkers really working, you know, to address this in every way they can, pitching in helping out people folks who – we’re telling everyone, you know, really follow some basic rules about how to protect yourself, how do you protect your family. And I see a lot of folks doing – you know, the social distancing, the hand sanitizer, covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze. All these really, really basic things. I think people are doing their best, obviously, in the most densely populated place in the country. And we've made already a lot of tough decisions to cut things back and there'll certainly be more as we go forward.

But I think the bottom line is people are being, you know, very aware of the situation and making adjustments, employers are making a lot of adjustments. We asked employers to go to maximum telecommuting and staggered work hours. We see that obviously people are avoiding rush hour you know, crowded trains on the subway, a lot fewer people are on the subway. So I see a lot of things where New Yorkers are making serious adjustments. But, Jennifer, something I want to ask New Yorkers to do that I know you will agree with, given the incredible work you do to help people in need, you know, we're going to go through now weeks and months where everything that we have, the things we supply on – excuse me, we rely on for everyday life, the basic supplies and all there's always going to be challenges. People want to stock up on things, that's normal. But look out for the people in your life – the senior citizens, folks who may be less mobile, folks who may not be able to get out of their apartment, on your block, your neighbors in your building, you know, obviously family. If someone, you know, can't get out and get those basic supplies, you know, remember to share with them, people are going to have to think a little communally here and try and look out for your neighbors.

Austin: Absolutely.

Muhammad: One of the things that has been mentioned is the whole situation with, you know, preparing yourself, trying not to get this. Washing your hands, using sanitary, using –

Austin: Hand sanitizer.

Muhammad: Hand sanitizer, you know, using Lysol spray. But a nurse put out some information last night I thought was so interesting and I wanted to just briefly mention this before we go 0nto the next question with Mr. Mayor is that you – what happens if you do get it and you need Kleenex, you need acetaminophen which is Tylenol, ibuprofen, Advil, you may need Mucinex, Robitussin, if you have a humidifier to help you with your breathing. So also prepare for those things just in case you get it because – and you can speak on this, Mr. Mayor – the hospitals are overwhelmed and when do you want folks to contact their doctors or the emergency room undergoing? When do you want folks to do that?

Mayor: Okay, that's a – you've got several different points there. So, let's separate them out. Hospitals, not overwhelmed now. But there's no question going forward, it’s going to be tougher and tougher for hospitals. And what you're going to see is hospitals are starting to cancel elective surgery and starting to prepare to reduce all normal activities to prepare for this crisis. But they are not – I think overwhelmed is an overstatement today, but I can agree with you, I think it's getting tougher with each passing day. In terms of preparing, number one thing, get your prescriptions filled. Anybody who has outstanding prescriptions go and get them filled now so you have everything ready. To your point about, you know, those basics that you would use to get through this kind of disease – and, you know, I'm not a doctor, obviously, but what we can say the coronavirus in many ways, if you start to experience it and particularly if you're a healthier person, you're going to feel a lot of things you might feel with a cold or flu.

And the two – and this goes to your other question about what to do when you start to feel those symptoms. Look, let's separate the reality. Folks who have the most serious medical conditions, pre-existing medical conditions, that means heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, a compromised immune system, cancer, folks who have those kinds of realities, that's who we're concerned about most in terms of the impact of disease. If they are over 50, even more so. And really the group of people, and I say this with real sorrow, the group of people we see that we're losing here in this country but also around the world are folks who are really much older. And we lost an 82-year-old woman yesterday. She had emphysema as a pre-existing condition. She fought hard to survive and she did not make it. That is the kind of person we're most worried about.

But if you're healthy, of any age, your chance of getting through this as a pretty minor impact on your life is stronger. If you're under 50 and healthy, obviously, particularly for children who are healthy, what we see and what we hope and pray for is a very limited experience. So, when do you call the doctor? You, first, if you feel sick stay home. This is the – some of the most important guidance. If you feel sick, do not send – do not go to work. If your child feels sick, hold your child back from school. And then, if after several days – and the guidance we're getting now from our health professionals is three to four days – if the symptoms do not go away or of course if they're starting to get worse, that's when you engage a medical professional. They will first – when they see you, they will screen you not for coronavirus, but for the more typical diseases this time of year. Only if it’s not one of those would they ever then go on to screen you for coronavirus.

But our hope is that the vast majority of people are certainly a lot of people who have the symptoms, who stay home, are going to experience the normal seasonal symptoms, if you will. And after three or four days are going to start to feel better.

Muhammad: Right now, Mr. Mayor, we just had Governor Phil Murphy on, from New Jersey. And, of course, we know New York and New Jersey side by side, and Governor Murphy says that they are planning to shut the schools down. You have certain things in place along with our governor, Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the sense of gatherings. And parents, teachers are very, very, very concerned. Some teachers are talking about a sick-out this coming Wednesday, in a sense of the schools being closed. Yesterday morning, on AM Joy, you said that right now the schools are going to remain open. Is that still your decision or are you planning to close the schools of the City of New York?

Mayor: Look, we are trying with everything we got to keep our schools going because there's so many reasons and I'll be quick about delineating them. We're concerned. I'm concerned deeply. I'm a parent. My kids went to New York City public schools the whole way through. I know that there are millions of parents who depend on our public schools. A huge number of them don't have an alternative. So, if we are not able to sustain our schools, a lot of parents who have no choice but to stay home, they're not going to have a paycheck. If they are people we need like first responders or health care workers, that's going to now affect everything else in the city and our ability to protect people. The kids, not only do they need an education, they need a safe place to go they need a place with meals. They need adult supervision.

Look, we're going to really try to sustain this, but we understand we're in a crisis and literally every day, every hour we're getting new information and I'll reassess that constantly. If we get to a point where we can't, we're going to do our best to make adjustments. But I want to caution how imperfect that situation would be to have so many kids home and, obviously, for older kids, teenagers, I’ve been very blunt about this. They're not going to stay in their apartment for weeks or months. You know, they're going to go out and not have adult supervision. That worries me greatly.

Austin: This is a very challenging issue, it's a very, very challenging issue, Mayor.

Mayor: Yes, it is.

Austin: You know, as someone who works with vulnerable communities, vulnerable populations, I know that it's hard for people to appreciate that young children whose parents may be, you know, work paycheck to paycheck, you know, have limited paid sick leave, they can be compromised by this. They may lose their jobs over time. They may not be able to have child care for their children for an extended period of time. It's a very, very difficult situation. And at the same time, there are families who are worried about their children being in the schools, possibly contracting the disease, carrying the disease, bringing it home to, you know, elderly family members at home. And so the real question is how do we balance all of this and how do we make sure that we're not putting children in harm's way, we're not putting teachers in harm's way, and we just – we keep things calm?

Muhammad: But let me just jump in here. Let me just jump in here real quick. The issue that I have with this is that we have limited testing. We know that the Governor and the Mayor has really pushed to get the City of New York and the State of New York to get the testing, but it's limited testing and as Aton had mentioned, a lot of folks may be asymptomatic, no symptoms. And if they bring those – if they bring this coronavirus home and it just continues to pass on, then we have a bigger crisis here. And also if you look at the attendance, it has started to decrease. And if the teachers are not there, then where are we sending the kids to?

Austin: So, I guess the real question is, you know, the question that's being – that people are asking me is when will we get to a point where we do have to look differently and maybe take a different course with respect to the schools? You know, is it a week from now? Is it because we get to a heightened state where there are more and more cases? Is it that we begin to see more breakouts in schools? What is it going to take that we get to that point and we say maybe we do have to shut them down?

Mayor: Yeah, Jennifer, there’s a lot there. I'm going to be quick about trying to piece it all apart. One – that is a day to day, hour to hour reality as we get new information. That is just – I wish I could give people a perfect timeline, but I want everyone to get used to this. We're going to be at all of this with coronavirus for not days or weeks, but months. Our estimate is at least six months dealing with this crisis. Which means there's going to be constant new information, constant new decisions to deal with reality. So, people just have to get used to, you know, all of us who are leaders are going to do our best to make decisions in real time. On the question of schools – again, and I'm a parent, I'm thinking from the perspective of kids and families and obviously people are concerned about their health and wellbeing. I think there's a couple of things we have to say to the questions you both raised.

The first one is, you know, look, we don't know enough about this disease. So far we see our health – public health folks say it appears that transmission is when people are symptomatic. We don't have perfect information about that, but that seems to be the trend from many, many cases we reviewed. But that said, the concern about protecting older relatives – and I want people to really hear this – that's going to be a concern no matter what, if schools are open or if at any point schools are not open, I don't want people to have the illusion, with community spread as it exists already, that if schools are not open, then it's just fine, your older relatives don't have anything to worry about. Unfortunately, they will either way. And what we really have to be careful about is not exposing older relatives to anyone who might be sick and being really, really careful, particularly if they have those pre-existing conditions. They have to practice real care and be sort of overly conservative about who they put themselves in presence of.

And that means bluntly, a lot of loved ones are not going to be able to see each other as much and are going to have to turn to the phone and FaceTime and all to be careful. That's going to be true either way because again, Jennifer, you know this, when those kids, if they have to be home, some of them are going to end up – there's been talk about could we do centers for the children of the first responders and health care workers. That's a fallback we'll certainly consider. But that means people are all together again. If kids are home in the neighborhood, Jennifer, you know something about teenagers, if they’re home in the neighborhood, they're not staying indoors, they're going out to find other teenagers and other people.

Austin: They think it's an extended spring break.

Mayor: Correct. Right [inaudible] dynamics. And we – obviously look in any scenario, we’re trying to engineer for the future distance learning and one thing or another if we have to go to that. But we all understand kids, they're going to be social, they're going to go out and about. So the notion that any way we'd be in perfect isolation is just not real.

Austin: Mayor, can I just quickly – I just want to quickly before – one second. Quickly say something that has not been said. I want to thank all of the workers in the City of New York who keep coming to work every day.

Mayor: Yes, amen.

Austin: These workers are out there. When many of us can work from home, they cannot, and they're there because they're serving the city. They're serving us. And so I want to thank all of you for that.

Muhammad: Thank you. Yeah, definitely.

Mayor: Amen. Thank you for that. Jennifer.

Muhammad: Aton, you have a quick question.

Aton Edwards: Yes, sir. Yeah, I have a quick question for Mr. Mayor. Mayor de Blasio, my question is, you know, I’m very concerned about the homeless population of the city. And I wanted to know if there was going to be anything set in place for the thousands of, rough, sleepers who do not have the ability to wash or wash their clothes or clean themselves up because it is true that novel coronavirus, it is this viral shedding from stool, and the fact of the matter is, is that because they don't have access to bathrooms and they don't have access to clean, that there's going to be transported – they're going to be able to transmit the virus on surfaces [inaudible] they're all over the city, escalator railing, buttons, everywhere that they sleep. And, you know, I can remember being near Bryant Park and it was like a large amount of folks that were in that area and then were using the streets as bathrooms. So one of the things that I wanted to know was, are there going to be porta-potties set up? Is the City going to be providing sanitation packages for the folk so that they can clean themselves up. You know, I know about the new hand sanitizer and things like that. So – because this is going to be another way that this can be spread around the city where the people who don't have those facilities. I just wanted to see what the City was going to be doing about that.

Mayor: No, I appreciate the question. So [inaudible] different points. We're going to look to do obviously everything possible to provide sanitary facilities for homeless folks. We have some of this already in the sense of we have this massive homeless outreach initiative called HomeStat where we're engaging – you know, there's 3,000 or 4,000 folks on the streets in New York City. There's a constant engagement with them, literally, cycling through, connecting with people daily. We know a lot of those folks, our outreach workers know a lot of these folks very personally, very individually, try and get them to come in and accept a shelter of one kind or another. In general, we do this. We've been doing this for years, but it becomes even more pertinent now to get people off the streets to a safe, sanitary place where they can get care. And we have seen homeless people accepting those opportunities now. So, that's one piece of the equation.

I think your bigger point is right. We’re going to look to do some other things that will provide more sanitation now. What our public health folks are saying is, overwhelmingly, our concern is direct transmission – people coughing, sneezing, etcetera, in close proximity to each other. Obviously, it's not an airborne disease. And even though there is a real issue around surfaces from at least what our public health team is seeing, the surfaces are not the central problem, it’s the direct transmission. But we take all of it seriously. So, yeah, we're going to look to do – I don't have all the details yet but we’ll look to do everything we can to support homeless New Yorkers.

Muhammad: Let me just say this, Mr. Mayor, you went past your time. We thank you for coming on. We worked closely some years back dealing with the whole situation surrounding Long Island College Hospital. Fortunately that situation, you know, that hospital did go away, but now you know, I'm seeing your daily updates, but it's so important to make an appearance on our program because you talk to so many of the black and brown and other folks of the City of New York when you come on here. So, let's keep this communication.

Austin: We do appreciate giving us more time than you were able to give us, we thank you so much.

Mayor: Well, you’re very, very welcome. Two points to conclude – thank you all for helping to inform people. I do want to say, thank God even though we didn't get what we wanted with Long Island College Hospital there was a health care facility on that site for the community and that's still important to note after that long struggle. But the most important time I want to leave you with is that point – and Jennifer, I know you will amplify this in everything you do so much for this city – this point about we're going to go into a difficult period for a long time here, months, and people do need to look out for each other and share with each other, particularly those in greatest need. That's what New Yorkers do. New Yorkers are absolutely amazing in a crisis. We've seen it time and again, but really thinking about who are those people in your life? Family of course, but neighbors, friends who may have special needs, who we may have to help get them what they need. Everyone's going to have to look out for each other as we go through this.

Austin: Absolutely, we’re right there with you. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Muhammad: Yes, sir.

Mayor: Thank you.

Muhammad: Mayor Bill de Blasio, folks, thank you again and we'll stay in touch. Thank you.

Mayor: Thanks, everyone.  

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