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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears on the Brian Lehrer Show

July 23, 2021

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning again, everyone. Time now for our Friday Ask the Mayor call-in, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio at 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, or tweet a question, just use the hashtag #AskTheMayor. And good morning, Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, Brian. And I have some breaking news for you. 

Lehrer: All ears. 

Mayor: Very excellent. And the topic is COVID and our young people, and we are right now starting the first wave of the blitz leading up to the beginning of school. We want to reach as many young people as possible. So, we are going to have pop-up sites at Summer Rising schools, and there's going to 25 of them over the next few weeks. We are starting on Monday and we're going to be in all five boroughs. And we think this is going to really help us reach young people, particularly in that 12 to 17 range. Another piece of breaking news. We now, in that 12 to 17 range among kids here in New York City, we have reached 226,000 who have gotten at least one dose. It's about 43 percent of that part of our community, those young people, and that's for a group of people that have only been eligible for about nine or ten weeks. And we're already at 43 percent of 12 to 17 year olds who have gotten at least one dose. And again, reminder to all your listeners, when people get one dose, overwhelmingly, they come back and get a second dose. So, we're going to go really intensely into a focus on our young people. And you'll see more and more in the lead up to school starting in September. 

Lehrer: Gosh, I think that means that there's a higher percentage of 12 to 17 year olds vaccinated than workers in the public hospitals. 

Mayor: I think that's not accurate. I think the number of folks in the public hospitals has been increasing over time, but we need to do better. The last number I heard from Mitch Katz, the CEO of Health + Hospitals, I believe was pushing 60 percent, but that still means there's a lot more to do. And that's why we announced this week that we are mandating that everyone who works in our public hospitals either has to get vaccinated one time – you know, when you're fully vaccinated, you're done – or has to be tested every week for COVID. And I truly believe what's going to happen here, Brian, is this is going to be the moment that's going to convince a lot of our public health workers who are not yet vaccinated that now it's really time, especially because they're seeing the Delta variant and the challenges it poses. And I think for a lot of people – look, some people say, ‘no, I'd rather be tested,’ but I think over time it will become tiresome, honestly, and folks will say, ‘I just want to get it over with and I'll get vaccinated, you know, it’s the right thing to do now.’ Really important to remember, we need to get serious, more than ever, about vaccination. We're going to really respect our workforce, but we're also saying very clearly, you have to get – if you're a public health care worker, you have to get vaccinated or get tested once a week. If you don't agree to one of those things, we'll give you every chance, but if you don't agree to one of those things, then you're suspended without pay. 

Lehrer: And I stand corrected on that stat. I got it reversed. It’s 40 percent of public hospital workers unvaccinated, not 40 percent vaccinated. So, 60 percent-ish vaccinated. And many workers don't like the mandate obviously. But most of the questions that I've been getting about it this week, Mr. Mayor, are more like, why so timid? For example, San Francisco, always seemingly a step ahead of us on COVID, is requiring it for all city workers. So, why just this? 

Mayor: Well, I think the world of what's been done in San Francisco and I really want to particularly show my appreciation for Mayor London Breed, who I think has been one of the great national leaders on COVID. They're going to do it in September. We're doing this in August, and this is – I’ve been very explicit – this is a first step. We are looking to do more, and we'll have more to say on that soon. Our goal is to be very aggressive. We've obviously got a lot more people to deal with and some complexities that are different here, but this is the shape of things to come. And not only here, I believe with what we're doing, with what San Francisco is doing, I think you're going to see more and more mandates of different kinds because the key is vaccination. We have talked about any and all other tactics and they're important and strategies that are important, but vaccination is the difference maker. If everyone was vaccinated right now, we would not be having a conversation about the Delta variant. The problem is, as the President has said, the CDC director said, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And we've got to reach people. So, you're going to see more of these kinds of mandates. And I think the private sector is going to follow suit. I think private hospital systems, I think private employers are going to follow suit. And this is the thing that I think could actually save us. 

Lehrer: Sounds like you're setting the public up and setting up your City workforce for more of these mandates though you're not announcing them now. Would that be fair? 

Mayor: Draw your own conclusions, Brian.  

Lehrer: Might you go agency by agency? I see that less than half the NYPD is vaccinated, but they routinely, of course, have to get up close to people in their work. Would you require it for the NYPD and some other agencies like that before others? 

Mayor: Your question is thoughtful and intelligent, but obviously what I'm saying in my previous response is, we're going to say things when we're ready to say them. But I've been very explicit about the fact, this is a beginning, and we are going to climb up the ladder of measures to address this situation. We're going to obviously be watching how each step works. So, some of this is wanting to see the impact of each step we take, different workforces have different realities. That is a very true statement. Obviously, nothing was more important than getting our public health workers covered. And I hope again, private hospitals will do the same immediately. We're going to be making announcements piece by piece. 

Lehrer: One other thing about the public hospital worker mandate that you did announce I'm also getting asked, why require only a weekly PCR test as an alternative. Why not a daily rapid test? Because we know people don't just get exposed once a week. 

Mayor: Our health care leadership believes weekly testing is very rigorous, tells us a lot about what's going on. Obviously, allows us to act in any individual case. You know, there are obviously also logistical realities of trying to reach lots and lots of people constantly. So, this is the right step now. I'm not ruling out going even farther, obviously, but this is the right step now. But one of the other things, and Mitch Katz spoke about this the other day, is, look, it's a message to our health care workers who we love, they are our heroes, they've done amazing work, but now it's time to get vaccinated. And I do think if people want to go through the particular steps to get tested every week, you know, okay, but that comes with its own, you know, responsibility. And I think, honestly believe, just a human reality, a lot of people are going to say, because I think a lot of people have kind of been on the fence or open to testing, they just haven't gotten there. I think for a lot of people, it will be okay, this is the time to get this done just to make it simple. 

Lehrer: So, on what you're considering or what you're urging others to do that might not even be a mandate, San Francisco, besides requiring city workers to get vaccinated or tested, is also urging private employers to require vaccines for their workers too. It's a big debate right now in the big Silicon Valley tech companies, should the companies require the workers to be vaccinated or show proof of test to come to work. We’re the second biggest tech sector in the country here in New York, are you encouraging anything similar for the private employers? 

Mayor: Oh, absolutely. Private employers have often told me that when the City acts, it's an important signal to the private sector as well. So, let me make the signal explicit. I'm calling upon all New York City employers, including our private hospitals, move immediately to some form of mandate whatever the maximum you feel you can do. Any form of mandate, including the type we're doing, you know, the either/or approach, any type of mandate helps. It will move the ball. It will get more people vaccinated. It will change consciousness, but we tried purely voluntary for, you know, over half a year. We tried every form of incentive. We really, really – this city went farther, I think, than any place in terms of grassroots outreach. I know we literally announced a week ago we would bring vaccine to your door, not just for homebound folks. We did that originally, but then we said any New Yorker could get vaccinated in their home. We've gone the extra mile. We're going to keep doing it. It still matters – all those pieces matter, but let's get real. We've tried purely voluntary. It got us almost, you know, 5 million now, New Yorkers, almost – 4.9 million have received at least one dose. That's fantastic. That's huge. That's the reason why hospitalizations are so low. That's the reason why you can walk out on the street and there's life going on in the city. But now we got to go farther. So, we have reached the limits of a purely voluntary system. It's time for more mandates, different kinds, different places, different approaches. Great. But it's time for more mandates.  

Lehrer: This is the first time I've heard you say – maybe you've said it elsewhere and I haven't heard it – that you're encouraging all employers to impose vaccine mandates in the private sector. Do you mean that in the sweeping way that it sounds – big employers, small employers, stores, restaurants, everything?

Mayor: I talked about this when we announced the new policy for our health care workers. I believe that every employer, and every employer is different, they all have to decide what they think works for them in their workforce – I want to respect the individuality, but if anyone's asking my advice, particularly the larger employers, move to mandates now. I certainly – a couple of the big hospital systems in the city, the private ones are doing that. I commend them. The more the better. I think every hospital system in America – listen to this staggering fact: New York City alone, 600,000 health care workers, New York State, 1.2 million. Here's the real kicker. The United States of America, 22 million health care workers, approximately half are vaccinated. If every health care system in America, public and private, put a vaccine mandate in place of any kind, millions more people will get vaccinated. So, it's time to evolve. It's time to change. And the Delta variant has to be taken really, really seriously. I think it’s a combination of – the Delta variant is like a freight train coming on. We got to take it real seriously, but also, we have tried everything else. We got results, but we need more. So yes, I urge every employer go to whatever form of mandate you are comfortable with because it will help us fight COVID. And if we do that, we could actually live again fully. This is where I can call the ideological debate and everything else needs to be thrown aside. If people want freedom, if want jobs, if people want to live again, we have got to get more people vaccinated and obviously it's time for whatever mandates we can achieve.

Lehrer: And last question from me in this sequence, as we think, sort of, going up the ladder on different kinds of potential requirements, what do you think of what Macron is doing in France as a possible model for New York – vaccine proof to even enter a restaurant or most other public indoor spaces mandated by the government?

Mayor: I'm not always the biggest Marcon fan, but in this case, I think that's a direction we need to seriously consider. I think there's a lot to be said for that. Again, we're watching the situation daily and we are being led by the data and the science and the Delta variant is changing this game rapidly. The good news is it is not last year. I mean this profoundly, I really want your listeners to get this – right now, hospitalization rate in New York City, 0.49 percent as of today. That is well, well below the range of where we would have a serious concern. Something is profoundly different this time, because 4.9 million New Yorkers have at least one dose because 70 percent of adults in New York City have at least one dose. And that is particularly among the most senior New Yorkers who are the most vulnerable. So, we're seeing the outcomes are profoundly different, much less hospitalizations, thank God, much less serious illness and death.

We're in a good position because we laid down that heavy foundation of vaccination and we can make it through and we can continue to recover if we, you know, rapidly address this situation, and that's where I want to see more aggressive and more creative approaches. And it's all about vaccination. We can talk about anything else I'm happy to, but the ball game is vaccination. So, I think we have to look at making it more appealing to get vaccinated because there are only things you can do when you're vaccinated.

Lehrer: What would trigger you to go full Macron?

Mayor: That's a new – it's like full Monte with a French twist. That's an ongoing conversation with our health care leadership of which steps to take. We think this is the right first step. You start down the road of the right kind of mandate right now. It means an either-or, we're going to look at all options. We're going to ways that the data comes in daily. We're looking at it every day and we're going to decide – one thing I know we will do is we will climb that ladder. Then it will be more calming, but how much, what it looks like exactly. That's what we're working on right now.

Lehrer: Sarah, in Washington Heights. You're on WNYC with the mayor. Hello Sarah.

Question: Hi. Good morning, Brian. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: Hi, Sarah.

Question: I am a working parent of – oh hi – I'm a working parent of two New York City public school students who last year had only 68 days of pre-K and 83 days of first grade. In response to a question on this program last week about the plan for schools this fall, you responded, “we're going to follow whatever the CDC guidance is at that time.” Current CDC guidance says that masked contacts in indoor K to 12 settings are not considered close contacts and do not need to quarantine. If this is the CDC guidance, why are 153 classroom closures currently in effect? Why aren't you following this guidance? And will you in September?

Second, if I may, under the current quarantine policy, if rapid tests are accepted in many places around the U.S., such as entry into the U.S., and the rapid tests are available and freely provided by the City, why would you keep kids out of school for 10 days rather than use the city's own rapid test to bring them back to the classroom?

Mayor: Sarah, thank you for the questions and thoughtful questions. We are constantly evolving. The classrooms you mentioned – yes, there are some classrooms that are down, but that's against the base of 12,000 classrooms just to put it in perspective. So, overwhelmingly we're not seeing a problem, thankfully, and that was obviously true in the public schools throughout the year, especially in the latter part of the school year, we saw very, very little COVID in our schools. So, we liked the approach we're using. Your point about mask guidance. We'll – I'll have that conversation when I helped our team, but I do think we felt this approach worked really well in terms of the ultimate goal of protecting folks, keeping COVID levels down very, very low in schools, but I hear your point loud and clear. We want to keep kids in school as many days as possible, and we're not going to have, I truly believe in my heart. We're never going back to where we were because we're in an entirely different environment where almost 10 million vaccination doses have been given. And we're going to focus intensely on the 12 to 17-year-olds between now and the start of school. So, I hear your question to be even with kids masked, uniformly, even if there's exposure, shouldn't they stay in the classroom. I'll go back and have that conversation. But I would really say the answer for now, is the approach that worked previously was successful. We see very few classrooms closing now. I think we're in the right place, but I think it's absolutely fair to ask again and have a conversation again.

As to the question of rapid tests – rapid tests have value for sure. PCR tests are more pertinent in the bigger scheme of things. Again, I think a brief quarantine – it's a week – we have believed that as a smart approach to date, but that's – Summer Rising is a transitional moment. what we're going to do in the fall is a whole different reality, and it will be based on the overall situation and the data and the science. Right now, I feel very confident about bringing schools back fully, and we can have a very strong health and safety regime because we prove it, but we'll have a great advantage this time, a huge percentage of educators and staff are vaccinated and I really think a lot of parents are going to choose to get their 12 to 17-year-olds vaccinated. And then I think, before the year is out, unless the authorization for much younger kids as well. And I'm sure it will have hundreds of thousands of them who will, at that point, get vaccinated. And you know, I think the situation evolves, but we're going to keep changing with it is the bottom line.

Lehrer: Are you still planning that Central Park concert for next month for 60,000 people to celebrate the city's reopening under the Delta circumstances?

Mayor: Absolutely. Again, we've got to – Brian, it's a very fair question, a lot of members of media asking it, but we got to have a kind of a deeper discussion here in this city than we're having right now. Hospitalization rates today, 0.49 percent – excuse me, 0.49 per 100,000, 0.49 per 100,000 people. This is the number, our health care leaders and professionals care about the most. They said to me “there's three things that matter: hospitalization rate, vaccination levels and case numbers.” Hospitalization rate is well within the range we want it to be. And we're seeing very few truly dangerous cases of COVID. Vaccination, almost 10 million doses, growing every day, 10 to 20,000 doses per day and more to come, and I do think we're going to see an upsurge now. The case numbers we don't like, of course, and we're concerned, but we have got to keep our recovery going. We’ve got to show people that vaccination is the way and, very powerfully, outdoor activities – we proved it a thousand times over outdoor activities, in the scheme of things, very safe. And so, this is a crucial moment – we need to recover as a city. It's not just about COVID, it's about people's jobs and livelihoods. It's about getting people back on track and everything else in their life. And we think this is going to be a real special moment now, that Homecoming Week.

Lehrer: I saw a story that seemed to suggest you were considering a vaccine mandate for those concert goers. Is that right? And when, and how are you deciding? 

Mayor: We're going to have more information next week, because next week we intend to put out a lot of details around the concerts, and we'll talk about those rules. I'm not going to jump the gun here, but we're going to talk about those rules. I'd certainly say the commonsense approach, whatever rules we publish, the commonsense approaches is getting vaccinated is smart in general, and it's smart if you want to attend big events, it’s just smart. So, I'd say to everyone, if you want to keep going to these great things, go get vaccinated. 

Lehrer: Abigail in Elmhurst. You're on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Abigail. 

Question: Good morning to both of you. My name is Abigail, I'm calling in from Elmhurst, Queens. As you know, last year, we were the epicenter of the epicenter of the entire globe, and I'm calling on behalf of my neighbors and my community who is street vendors. Mr. Mayor, last year in June 2020, you announced the NYPD would no longer be involved in vendor enforcement, and what we are seeing this year is that the NYPD is harassing and ticketing vendors across New York City. So, what do you have to say regarding that? 

Mayor: We moved, Abigail, it's a real important issue, and I want to say, if someone says, hey vendors, so many cases immigrants, this is their beginning of building their own livelihood, and for many, it becomes the gateway to having their own business, their own restaurant, whatever it may be. I respect that, I truly do, but I also need everyone to follow the rules, and it's a big, crowded city. We've got to be clear about the challenges faced when vending isn't done the right way. We got to be clear about the community, small businesses, the mom-and-pop stores that build themselves up over years and really suffer if those rules are not followed. So, the balance we've struck, Abigail, is the responsibility for vendors is now under the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. When Department of Consumer and Worker Protection inspectors go out and address issues and the vendors comply, there's nothing involving the NYPD, everything that could be done by civilians will. Unfortunately, the world is not black and white, and so we have vendors who are acting illegally, who refuse to respond to civilian inspectors, and won't give their information, won't give their ID, won't address the thing they're doing that's illegal. If that happens, then we send in the NYPD, that has to be addressed.  

Lehrer: Last weekend, as you know, was the seventh anniversary of the death of Eric Garner and where the court case coming up related to that, WNYC is reporting that a judge is supposed to come up with a decision today on whether you will be asked to take the stand in October if it’s supposed to be, I believe that case, but the City, as I understand it has tried to appeal even to have the lawsuit thrown out in the first place. Question is why are you opposed to taking the stand to share what you know about Eric Garner’s death? 

Mayor: That's not – as I understand it –that's not what this is actually about, and I'll give you an update, but I just wanted to one quick step back in the name of being factual and clear, Brian. You had to do a little correction earlier, I’m going to do a little correction too. That when Sarah called from Washington Heights, I forgot to add a very important point, kids in a classroom who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine. So, even if they're exposed, they do not need to quarantine. So, I just want to get that across really clear.  

Lehrer: Unless they show symptoms – 

Mayor: Well different matter, of course, if they show symptoms, absolutely different – that's determined individually. Absolutely. The update first, Brian, I've just gotten this, that the court looking at that issue on the inquiry related to the horrible tragedy of Eric Garner decided that it does not make sense for people who were not present at the scene to testify. The inquiry is about what happened at the scene, and the court's going to determine who needs to be a part of that discussion, but it is not, in the eyes of the court, about people who were not there, had nothing to do with the moment, it is about what happened in that horrible, painful moment, and that's what the court decided apparently earlier this morning. 

Lehrer: But why wouldn't you want to share whatever you know? 

Mayor: Again, it's not about what happened after this tragedy. It's what happened during it. That's what the inquiries about. This is - has been looked at exhaustedly and I feel horrible for the Garner family. I know a number of the family members. I've spent time with them. What happened was wrong, but we do need to move on, there's so much to do to move things forward, and we have made huge changes, especially retraining the entire police force and de-escalation and things like implicit bias training. So, many things are changing, but from my point of view, this is the last piece of this process. It is about what happened that day on the scene. 

Lehrer: Janet in Little Italy. You're on WNYC with the Mayor. Hello, Janet. 

Question: Hello, Brian. Hello, Mr. Mayor. And I just want to thank both of you for the hometown feel at these regular Friday morning things deliver, and I hope the next mayor has the same guts to show up and face the public as Mayor de Blasio has. So now I'm going to complain. Okay? 

Mayor: That seems fair. I think that's nice. You’re giving your positive opening and then got a complaint. I can take that. That's a good deal. 

Question: I know you can. My complaint is about the indefinite extension of restaurants on the sidewalks and in the streets. I know that the hospitality industry has a lot of influence, but for residents of neighborhoods, especially those with narrow streets, like in the West Village and Little Italy, this is turns into, this is a nightmare in combination with the bicyclist and the scooters and stuff. It's like being part of, you know, one of those ping pong tables where you, you go out and you've got to dodge – you've got to dodge scooters and bicycles who are now riding on the sidewalk, they don't pay any attention to the traffic laws, any of them, the cars are very obedient. The cars are the least of our problems now. The problems are the bicyclists who go the wrong way on a one-way street, who ride on the sidewalks, and in combination with the restaurants - I think, I could, I will understand giving them a year to catch up after what our wonderful restaurants experienced during the because of COVID, but to extend it forever places in a terrible burden on the small neighborhoods that many of them are operating in. And also, our streetscapes have turned into something like a shanty town. It's like living in a favela. Now they're tagged constantly there, and the rats, the noise, the smells, it's like having the San Gennaro Feast 365 days a year.  

Lehrer: Janet, I'm going to leave it there cause we're running out of time in the segment, and I want to get you an answer from the Mayor. What do you say to Janet in Little Italy? 

Mayor: Janet, I liked what you said about the hometown feel of these conversations because it is true. We're sort of a really, really overgrown small town. I will say as a proud Italian American, the San Gennaro Festival to me is a beautiful joyous moment, and I do think outdoor dining has created something beautiful and joyous. And yeah, you know, there's things we have to address unquestionably, but I want to go to the positives, they outweigh the negatives greatly. We saved a 100,000 restaurant jobs, it's not just about the restaurant owners and I appreciate them, and I appreciate all they went through in COVID and keeping the business open, but also the 100,000 employees we saved because of Open Restaurants and the bringing back of this entire industry, which is the heart and soul of the city, it's our identity in so many ways. It's the reason people come here from all over the world, which we need, we need the tourists back. They can be a pain sometimes, but they also, you know, create part of the lifeblood of the city. So, I think the Open Restaurants approach is exactly right. I think it has to continue. Now, if you say, some of the things you said were in my view were not about Open Restaurants, they do need to be enforced. Any, you know, bicycle, electric bike, or motorcycle on the sidewalk or anything like that are going the wrong way, of course, that has to be enforced, and that is something we got to do more of. What I think is going to happen, truly, and Brian, this is sort of some projection to the future. I think we're going to increasingly in 2021 returned to normal, or something like normal, hopefully make some real improvements in the process, I think we can, but then we're going to be able to put more and more of our energy back in the quality of life. As the recovery deepens, the economy comes back, I know we're going to be able to address some of the issues we're dealing with, with guns and other real serious problems out there. I know they're going to reduce as more and more effort is applied and things return to something more normal, which is going to allow all of our agencies to go deeper into addressing quality of life issues. And I also don't like – I hate when a motorcycle, a motorbike, whatever, electric bike goes wrong way, or goes on a sidewalk. We got to do more about that. We can do more about that. And I think we're going to be able to do more about that as we get through the next few months.  

Lehrer: Let me end with a follow-up question from a listener on our previous discussion about vaccines, listener tweets, “how can the Mayor asked private employers to mandate vaccines, but not mandate them for the NYPD himself?” 

Mayor: Again, we're going to have more to say in the days ahead about city agencies, but the public sector is different from the private sector. Private sector, it's America, you know, private property rights, private enterprise rights are different than for a government entity. So, I would just say to everyone, go to the maximum that you feel is appropriate at this point, and we all need to start climbing this ladder together. And the more we do, the better, and, you know, whatever gets people vaccinated, but we will have a lot more to say in the coming days. Brian. 

Lehrer: Thank you, as always, Mr. Mayor, talk to you next week.  

Mayor: Take care now. 


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