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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

September 9, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. This city – this city always moves me, because people are so strong, people fight back. No matter what we go through, New Yorkers fight back. And we have fought back throughout COVID. We're fighting back now as we overcome the impacts of the storm last week. I was in Flushing yesterday. I saw homeowners, renters who had really been put through hell, but people were helping each other. People were coming back in every way they possibly could. They needed help and we were there with the help people needed it. And we're going to stick with people until each and every household has what they need, whether it's food, whether people need to stay in the hotel, help dealing with all the debris, whatever it is. It was a tough situation – actually, one of the hardest-hit blocks in the entire city. But what I also saw was tremendous belief among the people there that they could fight back and they were going to help each other. And I want everyone to see that the City was going to be there for them for the long haul.

I want to thank all of our City agencies who have been part of this effort to help New Yorkers. We talked about Sanitation and so many other agencies doing so much to help people. And I want to thank all of our first responders, all of our public employees who are out there every day, helping people through. It's painful what a lot of folks have been through, but we're going to help them back. I also have seen folks out there helping – community organizations, faith organizations, elected officials, making sure that people get the help they need. I want to remind all New Yorkers, if there's anything you need in any language, call 3-1-1, or go to nyc.gov/Ida. We particularly want to make sure people sign up for the federal support, the FEMA aid. There's a lot of different kinds of support out there – federal, State, City. We want to get all the money into people's hands we can as part of the comeback. But if anyone needs help with any forms, with any answers, in any language, this city is there for you.

But as I said, there's been extraordinary efforts on the ground. And some of our elected officials have really gone above and beyond to help community members. When we are in East Elmhurst, we saw a block that went through so much. We saw – when President Biden visited, it was so good that he was here. I had a chance to talk to a lot of the neighbors, what they'd been through. And a lot of them said they were thankful for all the help. They were particularly thankful for their State Senator who had been there every day, dealing with whatever came up to help people through. I really want to thank her for her effort in this – in this crisis, but what she does every day in the State Senate on behalf of New York City, and particularly on behalf of working people. My pleasure to introduce State Senator Jessica Ramos.

[…]

Mayor: Amen. Thank you. Thank you very much, Senator. We're all going to be working, absolutely. And I have faith in a really powerful way that the federal government, State government, City government are actually going to be able to work together to make some of these big changes, especially with President Biden, doing so much to get us huge amounts of infrastructure money so we can bring those sewers up to a new level and all the other things we need to do. But thank you for your leadership. We're going to need your help in Albany. And thank you for everything you're doing on the ground in your community. Thank you.

So, everyone, we continue to work with communities, but we also have a lot ahead in these coming days on so many fronts in this city. It’s a very important time for New York City, very important time in our recovery from COVID, very important time as we fight back. So, Monday, of course, first day of school, a crucial moment for families, for parents, for kids, a crucial moment in New York City's come back – all our kids coming back together. Also, on Monday, the Key to NYC goes into full effect, our effort to protect people who go to indoor dining, fitness, entertainment, protect the employees, protect the patrons. Our vaccination campaign continues full-Speed. There's a lot going on.

Let's talk about vaccination first, because vaccination is the way to get so much done, to protect us, and move us forward. So, we've been talking about our VAX to School campaign all summer long, and it's pretty amazing. Over 65 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds vaccinated. We expect that number to go up a lot in the coming days. And we want to help make it as convenient as possible for families – if they have not gotten their children vaccinated yet, if you still haven't had that opportunity, of course, there are vaccination sites all over the city available for you for free. We'll even have vaccinators come to your home in these next days. But we also want to make vaccination available in our schools the first week of school. So, announcing now, every school that has kids 12 years old and up – that's over 700 school buildings – will have in-school vaccination sites next week, every single one. And there'll be open all week long. Any student who is not yet vaccinated can get their first dose if they're 12 years old or up. Any student who's ready for their second dose who's had one, but now the time has come for the second, can get their second dose. We're going to have that up all week next week, 700 buildings. And then, we're going to bring it back during the week of October 4th, to those same buildings to make sure that kids have got that first dose next week get the second dose then. Again, thankfully, almost two-thirds of kids in this age range have already had that first dose. That's great, but we want to keep it going, keep it moving, make sure kids get fully vaccinated. We're going to use every tool we can, because we believe in bringing back our kids to school, every single one.

And I want to talk about this and then bring in really one of the greatest experts in this whole nation. My simple point, as a parent, who had my kids go to New York City public schools the whole way through – pre-K to 12th grade – our kids need to be in school and it's unbelievable that some kids haven't seen the inside of a classroom for a year and a half. There are massive consequences to that, including health care consequences. The healthiest, best place for kids to be is in school. And we have really outstanding health and safety measures in place to make sure our kids will have a positive and safe school year. But I want you to hear from a leading expert why it's so important, and why her organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ultimate voice on the health and wellbeing of our kids, why this extraordinary organization believes that every child needs to be back in school. I want to thank her for her great leadership. It has my pleasure to introduce Dr. Lee Beers, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you so much, doctor. Thank you for your leadership. You and your colleagues have been such strong voices for getting our kids back into school and doing it the right way. And also, the pediatricians – you're right, I can tell you as a parent also, there's no one you listened to more than your pediatrician. And when our pediatricians are saying, get vaccinated, get back to school, it is so helpful, so reassuring to parents. So, thank you to you and all your colleagues for everything you're doing to help us overcome COVID.

All right, everyone. Now, we're very excited about the opening of school. It’s one of the greatest moments of the year. Each year, first day of school – amazing, positive, hopeful. And, of course, we have a powerful set of tools we're using, including a mandate for all the adults in our school buildings to be vaccinated. We're going to keep adding additional elements to our approach to vaccination, particularly when it comes to those who serve our young people. So, I've said we’ll climb the ladder. And today, we're climbing the ladder again. We're going to announce an additional vaccine requirement not just for those who work in our Department of Education buildings, but also expanding to all City contracted childcare and afterschool staff. These are folks who do incredibly important work, who families depend on, kids depend on. We need them to be safe. So, for all City contracted childcare and afterschool staff and all the organizations that are our partners in this work, we are putting a mandate in place starting today. We'll announce it and it'll be active on September 27th. By September 27th, employees must show proof of at least one dose of vaccination, same date as for a Department of Education teachers and staff. Now, this will include staff at City contractor sites. Again, there are others that are not City contracted, that's different. We're talking about City contracted pre-K, 3-K, early-learn programs, home-based childcare, afterschool programs, beacon programs, cornerstone programs – all of these are so important to supporting our young people and we want them to be very safe environments. I want you to hear from someone who's been a powerful voice in the fight against COVID throughout, but he also is a father of a young child in childcare, so he knows how important this is. My pleasure to introduce Council Member Steve Levin.

[…]

Mayor: Councilman, nothing to apologize about. We're talking about childcare and you have your child there. But let's listen, that is a bold move, bringing a two-year-old with you onto live television. I admire that. That is that shows faith. But thank you – thank you for your leadership. And I'm glad that you can attest everyone how important it is to have safe environments for our kids in childcare and afterschool. Thank you, Councilman.

I want you to hear, now, everyone, from someone who plays an absolutely crucial role in ensuring that childcare is available to the people of New York City, that we have exceptional childcare facilities, safe childcare facilities for kids and parents and the staff alike. And she does really important work, advocating for the childcare community and making sure government is always working in partnership with all the people who do this beautiful work. My pleasure introduced the Executive Director of the Day Care Council, Tara Gardner.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you so much, Tara. We are going to work together. We want to make sure that we are all working through the details. But thank you for affirming how important the goal is to keep our kids safe, give our families confidence, that's why we need everyone vaccinated. We're going to work closely with you to make it work. Thank you so much, Tara.

All right, now, all of the tools that we've used – the educational efforts, outreach efforts, the mobile vaccination, in-home vaccination, incentives, mandates – everything is having an impact. We are closing in on 11 million doses of the vaccine from the beginning, but we know we can go farther, and that means working even more closely with doctors. Nothing is more important to a new than hearing the voice of their own doctor. We've created something new and powerful, the Physician Referral Bonus incentive. This is an idea that we were hoping might come from the federal or State level, but we're doing our own version now, because we think it's so important, particularly for doctors who serve a lot of patients on Medicaid or Medicare, many of them being the patients at greatest risk. So, we're doing a $35 million investment to drive up vaccination rates, to get these doctors to systematically work through their patients, talk to them, answer their questions, recommend the vaccine, talk about why it's safe and effective, make the appointment, or get them referred to a nearby site for an appointment. This is going to make a huge impact. I want you to hear from our doctor, the City's doctor, Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi.

Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. Well, my fellow health care providers are a major part of why we've reached over 71 percent of adult New Yorkers were now fully vaccinated and why we've reached so many children via their pediatricians, as you heard from Dr. Beers earlier. Together, they were critical and administering over 462,000 first or single doses in August, which represented a 53 percent increase over our July total. About 60 percent of those first or single doses were administered to Black and Latino New Yorkers, patients for whom a conversation with a trusted clinician is often particularly important to help surmount skepticism born of historical discrimination and marginalization. But we all have more to do to get to the finish line. And so, today, as the Mayor said, we are announcing a new $35 million program for clinicians to support them in having these crucial vaccine conversations. We're working with Medicaid and Medicare advantage plans who serve some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers to identify unvaccinated patients in their networks and to reimburse their health care providers for engaging with them. To be eligible to receive the payment, in each conversation, providers must discuss the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, recommend the authorized vaccines, and arrange vaccination for that patient. The Physician Referral Program builds off of our Use Every Opportunity campaign, which embedded vaccine conversations in all types of routine clinical encounters, whether the patient is visiting for a diabetes check or for a physical exam. And for clinicians who are out there listening, we've gathered all of those resources at nyc.gov/vaccinetalks.

Today, as part of this campaign, I'm also issuing a Commissioner's Advisory to all health care providers emphasizing the urgency of these vaccine conversations. We're taking these steps because a providers strong recommendation can make all the difference when it comes to getting a COVID-19 vaccine. So, I thank my fellow health care providers for all they have already done and urge you to continue reaching out to your patients, help them understand the science behind the vaccine, and reassure them. You have all already saved lives and this program is an investment in you and your care. Thank you, sir.

Mayor: Thank you, Dr. Chokshi. I want everyone to hear from another leading health care provider and someone who was part of the leadership of SOMS. SOMOS has done amazing work getting New Yorkers vaccinated. We are so appreciative, because, also, SOMOS has led grassroots efforts, community doctors reaching out to their patients – absolutely crucial. One of the leaders of SOMOS, Board Member Dr. Francisco Rosario joins us now. Doctor, welcome.

[…]

Mayor: Thank you. Doctor, thank you so much. Thank you for everything you're doing and everyone at SOMOS is doing it. It's been tremendously helpful. And you're one of the reasons why New York City is coming back. Thank you very much. Muchisimas gracias

Okay. Everybody, vaccination unlocks our recovery – it’s as simple as that. Vaccination equals recovery, and that's why we focused on vaccination wherever it's going to make an impact. And that's why we're doing the Key to NYC – indoor dining, fitness, entertainment, etcetera. Let's talk about what this means for the big picture in New York City. Look, restaurants – restaurants are the heart and soul of New York City in so many ways. It's such a crucial part of our culture, part of what New York City's most famous for, part of what expresses all of the communities that come from the city. But they're also – restaurants are part of our lives. For so many people, it's a neighborhood restaurant or bar, or someplace that they have gone to throughout their life, generations have gone to that is just part of what gives them a bond to their neighborhood and their city. I want to use an example I think a lot of Brooklynites will appreciate. I was just there a few days ago, a Southern Brooklyn legend, an institution in Brooklyn that people love, Brennan and Carr – amazing place. Family-owned, it's been there since 1938. Generations after generations have celebrated great moments in their lives there. In that picture there with Mike Sullivan, one of the owners who's done an amazing job, keeping this beautiful institution alive. And Jackie Hunter, who has done a lot of great things for New York City. I want to thank them both. It's a beautiful story of a family restaurant that endures. And they've had to fight through COVID. They've had to deal with all the challenges. To their great credit, they went and got all of their staff vaccinated. They went the extra mile, particularly the young people on their staff to get them vaccinated. I want to thank Mike and everyone there for making that happen. But this is the kind of place that people cherish. If you love roast beef, it's an amazing place for roast beef, but even more than the food, it's some that just makes you feel good about Brooklyn and New York City, that it's still there, and those memories are strong and new memories are being made all the time.

So, again, when we think about restaurants, it’s a lot more than just where you go for a roast beef sandwich. It's part of our life. It’s part of our culture. And that's why we need our restaurants be open and strong. We need everyone to goes to eat in a restaurant to know they're safe. We need the employees to be safe. That's what Key to NYC is all about. Next week, after about a month of education and supporting restaurants, helping them get ready and all the others – indoor entertainment, fitness – we're going to start implementing the law more fully and enforcement will begin on Monday. But let me make clear, we want to help people succeed. We want the restaurants and all the other businesses to succeed. No one is starting this out with the intention of fining. We don't want to fine. We just want people to be safe. We want to make sure people are doing things the right way. And I think the vast, vast majority of businesses are committed to doing it the right way. We're going to have inspectors out. It will be civilian inspectors from 13 agencies. We're going to have that poster that we've put forward out to help educate people. What we're going to do, inspectors will come out, make sure the check-in procedures are going right with the ID and the vaccination proof, making sure the business has posters up or other notices up that they have a plan for how to approach it – indoor dining, entertainment, fitness – making sure it's working. And we're going to make sure everyone's safe, that's the key, because it's what will give people confidence. It'll give them confidence in each business they go to, confidence in the comeback of New York City, it's going to help us overcome COVID once and for all. I want you to hear from someone who's really done amazing work. First of all, her restaurant is just extraordinary. Chirlane and I went there months ago and can't recommend it enough. Melba’s in Harlem – amazing food. But also, she has gone the extra mile to help get people in the Harlem community vaccinated. She's opened up the doors of a restaurant to incentivize, to make it positive. She's worked with community to spread the word about how powerful vaccination is. And she's also been a voice for all restaurant owners, making sure we did things like outdoor dining, which has proven to be such an amazing success. She's one of the voices. She's one of the leaders that helped us to get to that. So, not only does she own and run a great restaurant, but she's also President of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. My pleasure to introduce Melba Wilson.

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Mayor: Thank you, Melba. Wow, beautiful, beautiful message, and thank you for your passion – your love for your community is coming through, your can-do attitude. I feel like we're in the huddle and the coach has given us, you know, when a quarterback's telling us what to do. It's great. But thank you, thank you for believing that we can all do this together and for what you're doing to keep people safe in the Harlem community. You're an example, literally an example, to all New Yorkers. Thank you so much, Melba.

[…]

Mayor: Everyone, so, you can hear the focus on vaccination in everything we do, and if you need some proof that it's working, here's today's indicators. Number one, doses administered to date: 10,932,616. We're going to be hitting 11 million doses very soon, absolutely astounding, growing all the time. Number two daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19, today's report: 121 patients. Confirmed positivity of 26.72 percent. Hospitalization rate per 100,000, 1.17. And then new reported cases on a seven-day average: 1,315 cases.

I want to say a few words in Spanish, and you guessed it, the topic is vaccination.

[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: We will now begin our Q and A. As a reminder, we are joined by Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Choksi, Dr. Jay Varma, Senior Advisor on public health, Dr. Ted Long, Executive Director of the Test and Trace Corps, Emergency Management Commissioner John Scrivani, Small Business Commissioner Jonnel Doris, Environmental Protection Commissioner Vinnie Sapienza, Sanitation Commissioner Ed Grayson, and DOITT Commissioner Jessie Tisch. Our first question for today goes to Andrew Siff from NBC.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor and everyone on the call. Mayor, with regard to vaccinations in schools, why not mandate it for kids 12 and up? Los Angeles is doing that. You've talked before about a step ladder approach and keeping options on the table, but why not mandate it right now?

Mayor: We just don't think that's the right thing to do, Andrew. We are seeing, first of all, among the kids who are eligible, we're at almost two-thirds, and we're going to be moving constantly to increase that number. But the most important thing right now is getting kids back in school. If there's a family that's not yet ready, I don't want that family kept out of school. I want them in school where we can help their kid, especially for the kids who have been out for the last year and a half. So, that's where we are today. We can always – with any option, we can keep any option on the table, but right now, no, we want every kid in school and we want to reach them the ways we're reaching them. Go ahead.

Question: [Inaudible] variations of the remote option, no remote option question, but I wanted to get clarity now that families are paying attention, and there are only days to go until Monday, there's still CDC guidance and guidance from your own Health Department, that if a child has cold like symptoms to keep them home in the age of COVID. So, the question is if your child stays home because they don't feel well, what does that family do that day? There's no way for them to log into some kind of online learning that day – they lose a day of school for doing that?

Mayor: Again, Andrew, we – obviously, if someone's sick, we want them to stay home. Let's be really clear about that. That's the most important thing. We have for kids who are going to be in quarantine, a process to provide them with learning. If a child’s sick for one day, we'll certainly have DOE update you on how we're going to handle that. But I think that simple differentiation I'd make is if a child's going to be sick for a more substantial amount of time, we can provide the same support we provide to kids in quarantine, but it really begins with making sure if a child might be sick, keep them home, keep everyone safe.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Marla from WCBS 880.

Question: Mayor, we are hearing reports this morning that the NYPD is mandating vaccines for all employees, or they will not be able to be paid. Have you viewed the memo that NY1 obtained? And are you concerned that some of the force will just not show up to work?

Mayor: Yeah, Marla, I want to make sure there's clarity. I haven't seen what document or report you're talking about. For any new employees, brand new, showing up for the first-time new hires, NYPD or any other city agency, there is a vaccine requirement. That is true. But as you know, because you've been following the details, we have not yet applied a full requirement to all agencies. We have, as of the 13th, coming up, vaccinate or test requirement for a number of agencies. Now, if someone, again, does not follow that mandate, that's true, eventually, they're not going to be paid, obviously. That's been clear for quite a while. But we feel confident that we're going to have adherence and that we can make adjustments if there's any issues, go ahead, Marla.

Question: And then regarding the schools, children are the fastest growing group of those getting the virus, and there is concern about distancing with so many kids returning, especially in cafeterias or other common areas where students will be taking off their masks. With so many kids returning so many more for in-person learning than last year. How can you ensure there will be distancing that that kids will be safe, and that we won't have large outbreaks, especially among the kids who are not eligible for the vaccine?

Mayor: Well, Marla, we've looked at all these factors. Obviously, we care deeply about keeping our kids safe, and we proved it last school year. When we didn't even have vaccination as a tool, we kept our kids safe. Summer Rising, hundreds of thousands of kids in school, Delta variant raging, we kept our kids safe. We know how to do it, and Marla, what I'd emphasize is if you're an environment with the right ventilation, with everyone, wearing a mask with a high level of vaccination, with regular cleaning going on and on all that gold standard, we talked about health and safety measures. You're going to be a lot safer than out in the rest of the community by definition. That's what our schools have proven over and over again. We feel very good about the distancing. We're absolutely able to follow the CDC guidance. We feel very good, as you saw yesterday, about the cleaning, the ventilation, the high level of vaccination, even among the young people who do qualify. So, we're absolutely convinced we can bring our kids back, bring them back safely, limit the number of times when anyone's exposed or there's any disruption in our schools. That's what we've been working on for months and months, and we're ready.

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

Question: Hi, good morning, Mayor. So, there was another death at Rikers island and that was the ninth inmate to die this year. You said this week that you weren't considering an early release plan. What are you going to do to address the crisis at Rikers?

Mayor: Emma, we've been taking a number of steps. Clearly, there's profound problems and there have been for a long time at Rikers, the big step we have to take as to once and for all get off of Rikers, just stating the obvious, that is a place that just can't serve properly, and that's the plan the City is a hundred percent committed to. But for the here and now, we have reduced the number of buildings we're using so that we have less of a problem with staff being put into overtime situations. We put in place a new academy class to bring in more staffing. We have to do a variety of other measures to keep everyone in the facility safe, and those reforms are being acted on and worked on regularly. It's a very tough situation. COVID has created tremendous disruption in our correction system. But I know Commissioner Schiraldi is committed to just continued changes and reforms, and it's endless work. Honestly, it's very, very tough work, made much tougher by COVID, but we are confident that over time, we're going to be able to overcome this. Go ahead, Emma.

Question: Thank you. So, enforcement begins on Monday for the vaccine mandate for restaurants in gyms. How many city workers will be doing inspections? Are you targeting certain neighborhoods or boroughs? Are you starting with restaurants or other types of businesses? What is this going to look like in terms of enforcement?

Mayor: Yeah, Emma, we're going to be, as I said, using inspectors from 13 city agencies – all civilian, all boroughs, all neighborhoods. So, there's not targeting, it will be across the board with restaurants, indoor entertainment, indoor fitness, and again, our goal here is to confirm compliance and what we saw, and we have a real control model, if you will, Emma. You know, when we went through the worst last year and we asked so much of restaurants and bars and asked people to close and, and restrict their operations we saw overwhelming compliance, really overwhelming. I think in this case, there's been a lot of buy-in, not everywhere, but the vast majority, a lot of chance to get ready. We are happy to work with any restaurant, any indoor entertainment facility that has questions at this point. Happy to work them through, but I'll tell you just from my own experience, Emma – I've been out there when I've gone – I went to a movie theater, I’ve gone to different restaurants. What I see is pretty fluid right now, people are asking for you to check-in the same way they do when in a restaurant or bar they check your ID before serving a drink. I think a lot of places are handling it well, and if anyone needs help, they can just call 3-1-1, and we'll get them help, and how to prepare for Monday.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Christina from Chalkbeat.

Question: Hi Mayor, thanks for taking my question. Can you please talk about what changed in terms of the vaccination mandate for early childhood workers? They were initially excluded, and now obviously they'll have to go get vaccinated, and can you also say, and I know Ms. Gardner is on this call, have the details been negotiated with labor in terms of what happens to those who refuse and will there be exceptions?

Mayor: Yeah, I don't know if Ms. Gardner is still on the call or not, but I'll just say Christina always with labor we're going to instantly go and negotiate for those who are represented by labor unions. I don't think that's everyone in this group, but the why to your central question, we continue to look at the overall situation, continue to see where we think we can add to our strategy effectively, and that's the whole idea of climbing the ladder. But also, it's based on ongoing dialogue. We've talked to a lot of leaders in the childcare field. We've talked to them about what's going on in their facilities, what they need. I think what you heard from Tara Gardner about childcare is what you heard from Melba Wilson about restaurants, more and more of the people who run the facilities, recognize the mandates, are going to give confidence to everyone. To the parents of the kids making sure the kids are safe to the employees knowing they're safe among each other, and it's a single clear standard. So, we worked with them, and we got to the point of deciding it was time to move this. Go ahead, Christina. 

Question: So, it sounds like the details might still need to be negotiated if I'm hearing correctly, but also, I wanted to ask about bus drivers, are they going to be required to be vaccinated? State guidance calls for them to either be vaccinated or tested weekly, I believe, so what's going on there? 

Mayor: I have to get you an answer on that, Christina, because, again, today's announcement is about the folks who provide the direct service in the childcare facilities, but we'll get you an update on that. 

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

Question: Hi, Mayor, how are you doing? 

Mayor: I'm doing good, Chris. How are you? 

Question: I'm good. Kind of following up on the last question there with the new expansion of the DOE vaccine mandate, how many workers are we talking about that are going to be covered on under that? 

Mayor: I don't have the exact number in front of me, Chris. It's a substantial number of workers, obviously. You're talking about a variety of childcare and afterschool facilities. Now, again, my hope is a lot of folks are vaccinated already. But obviously many thousands, we’ll get you the exact number. Go ahead. 

Question: Okay. Thank you, and I saw a comment during this briefing, you are supposed to be in the Bronx in 30 minutes to deliver remarks at the YMCA ribbon cutting, are you going to get there on time? 

Mayor: Well, probably be a little bit late to that. We have a few more questions, but as soon as we finish here, I'll be going up there. Go ahead.  

Moderator:  Our next question goes to Erin from Politico. 

Mayor: Erin? Erin?  

Question: Hello?  

Mayor: Yeah, Erin, you there?  

Question: I'm not sure what's going on. I can hear you just fine. 

Mayor: Okay, Erin, can you hear me? I can hear you. 

Question: Yes, I can hear you.  

Mayor: There you go. You're good to go.  

Question: Okay, great, great. I just wanted to ask with respect to – Andrew asked something similar to what I was going to ask, but specifically in the context of Governor Hochul said yesterday that it was certainly an option to mandate vaccines for students 12 and up in schools. So, you know, you seem to –you said you don't think that's the right thing to do, are you – if the State moves towards that, you know, are you going to reconsider that position? Yeah. 

Mayor: Yeah, Erin, if the State mandates something that we're legally required to follow, of course we'll follow it. I'm saying what the city's position is and so far, the State over the last year and a half has generally deferred to the city on matters of schools. We want to make sure every kid is in school, that's our imperative, and we want to make sure every kid is vaccinated who can be, and we find the current approach is really working, again, we're almost at two-thirds of kids and school was not yet begun. We expect a real bump up in that in the coming days, but the imperative is make sure our kids in school where they can be safe and served in every way. So, that's where I believe we are in the right place. We'll always watch if things change and we'll always respect any decision that the State makes that's binding on us, but from the New York City point of view we’re where we need to be right now. Go ahead, Erin. 

Question: Okay, thanks. And then, you know, I've asked this question before, but I'm wondering if there's any more clarity at this point, you know, you're doing all these additional measures on vaccine requirements and the vaccine rate is in fact going up, at what point do you think we see that actually translate into, you know, the cases going down substantially and, you know, this latest wave kind of really receding. 

Mayor: Erin, I would say I've talked to our doctors about this quite a bit. I'm just going to summarize, I think we all are duly noting and are pleased to see that a high level of vaccination is making a big impact, over 5.5 million New Yorkers have had at least one dose, clearly helping us push back the Delta variant, but the ball game is not over by any stretch of the imagination. And, you know, once upon a time there wasn't a Delta variant or aware that there's always the potential of others. We've got to finish the mission. So, progress, we're definitely making progress. We know there's a lot more people who are ready and willing and able to be vaccinated. Some will be moved by mandates, some by incentives, but we can reach many hundreds of thousands more people, so we're going to go do that, but I – it's too early to say what a timeline would be. I think what we can say with assurance is heavy levels of vaccination are working, that this vaccination effort is working or starting to turn the corner, but let's come back in a few more weeks and see if we have a stronger conclusion than that. 

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

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. 

Mayor: Good morning, Elizabeth, how you been? 

Question: I'm good. We were looking at the vaccination rates across the city's workforce, and since you have some of these Commissioners on with you today, I just wanted to maybe just read out some of them. DEP we see a 54 percent vaccination rate, EMS 54 percent, and Sanitation came in at the lowest at 44 percent. I'd be interested to know from you and these Commissioners why it's so low at these particular agencies? What are the conversations that they're having with their staff who are reluctant to get the vaccine? 

Mayor: Okay, I'll say this – it’s a great question, Elizabeth – we're all dealing with the fact that unfortunately in a crisis, in an era where we should be all pulling together, a lot of our employees are being treated to a lot of misinformation. I know that's a big part of the problem, and our job is to keep working through that meticulously and using a variety of tools to move people. I think you're going to see the incentives and the mandates having more and more impact. I'll turn to Commissioner Sapienza, Commissioner Grayson, I want you just to really be brief, because it's true, I'm supposed to be leaving for the Bronx right now. But just in terms of how you're trying to break through to your employees who are not yet vaccinated, Commissioners Sapienza and then Commissioner Grayson. 

Commissioner Vincent Sapienza, Department of Environmental Protection: Thanks, Mayor. I'll just start briefly by saying that, you know, we do have some issues with how the numbers calculated. The number that's being reported are the number of employees who received the vaccine in the city through the vaccine Command Center divided by the number of total employees in the agency. For DEP that doesn't account for, you know, the thousand employees that we have who work in our upstate reservoirs and who probably got vaccinated in the seven counties upstate that they work in. So, we think we're actually at a little over 60 percent. 

Mayor: Okay, good. Commissioner Grayson – 

Commissioner Edward Grayson, Department of Sanitation: Yes, sir. We are messaging, we are doing all we can to provide opportunity and information to our employees. We encourage vaccination heavily and we are moving ahead with the implementations to try to keep all workforce safe as directed, but our main goal is to make sure our workforce is informed, has every opportunity to know what benefits there are to the vaccine, and keep moving towards getting more and more of our employees vaccinated. 

Mayor: Thank you, go ahead Elizabeth. 

Question: My second question is about schools. When you first outlined some of the precautions and testing protocol, you said that there might be an at home testing option for families. I'm wondering if, if you or the Health Commissioner can provide the public with more details on that particular option. 

Mayor: Dr. Chokshi will speak to it, Elizabeth, and it's supplementary, it's not, obviously, the same thing as our regular testing in every school, but it's an additional tool. Go ahead, Dr. Chokshi. 

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. I'll start briefly and Dr. Long may have more to add, but the Test and Trace Corp does use at home testing, particularly with respect to close contacts, ensuring that people have the at-home test kits to be able to take with them. We are also looking at other use cases for at-home testing, and those, you know, depend a little bit on the operations as well as the scientific basis for using them in specific situations. 

Mayor: Dr. Long, you have 30 seconds if you have anything to add. 

Executive Director Ted Long, NYC Test and Trace Corps: Yes, so I want to make the important point, we want to do testing with the same methods, same test in every school so that we can detect the same signal across the board. We do offer at home testing for close contacts because these are students, teachers, parents, that we don't want to leave their homes, but in schools, we want to do the same method so that we can detect any signal at any school. So, in school testing is our main method.  

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead. 

Moderator: Our last question for today goes to Yehudit from Borough Park 24.  

Question: Hi, good morning, Mr. Mayor.  

Mayor: Shana Tova, Yehudit. 

Question: Shana Tova, everyone. I want to wish you and everyone on the call a sweet, happy and healthy new year.  

Mayor: Absolutely. How are you doing today? 

Question: Great. Excellent. So, I want to thank you for the increase police presence at Borough Park this week as our month-long holiday season just got started, and especially in light of the FBI's recent report that Jews received the highest number of hate crimes perpetrated against any other religious group. Because of this reality is most people were busy cooking and otherwise preparing, I thought that one of our community leaders had to go and brief the police officers at roll call, the 66th Precinct in Borough Park to prepare them for the increased amount of activity on the streets in the coming weeks a day. So, I'm wondering what impact do you think the many anti-Semitic ideas and mischaracterizations and flat out lies about Jews that currently air on television have on the number of hate crimes that are launched against Jews? And also, can we expect to see that extra police presence continue until the end of September as our holidays continue? 

Mayor: Yes, absolutely, Yehudit. We want that focused presence to protect Jewish communities. This is a very crucial time of year for the Jewish community, but also a sensitive time of year where we have to provide that protection. We will be doing that in communities all over the city. But to your bigger question, this is something I've been talking about for years and years, and I had the occasion in Israel after a visit to Yad Vashem to talk about how the cancer of anti-Semitism and the violence that comes from it was never eradicated after World War II despite a lot of, you know, nice words telling us that we had turned a corner in Western nations. It wasn't true. The remnants of fascism and Nazism reasserted themselves in many ways, and the nativism we're seeing in this country now in combination with other malevolent forces. So, I think the bottom line is there's a lot of anti-Semitism in this world. There's a lot of anti-Semitism in Western nations where it should have been eradicated. It is a threat to Jewish communities. We have to be vigilant at all times. That said, we can't give up hope of overcoming it. We have to overcome it and I do think with each new generation, we have more opportunity to create a world without prejudice and bias, and that's the work we're doing every day to educate our young people and I'm hopeful about that. Go ahead, Yehudit. 

Question: Okay, thanks. And then after 18 months of landlords having been barred from evicting tenants who could not or would not pay their rent, on the night on which the Supreme Court said that the CDC did not have the legal authority to continue the ban, you severely criticized the Supreme Court majority who made the ruling which Governor HOCAL and the New York Legislature just extended to January 15th. So, I'm wondering as the country's unemployment rate currently stands at 5.4 percent and it has been reported that there are more jobs available now than people who are applying, and unemployment claims have really dropped by 35,000, I'm wondering whether you are worried about the livings and properties – the wellbeing of property owners who have not received rent from some tenants now in a year and a half? And I'm also wondering what motivation they have to continue making repairs and safety upkeep in buildings for which they are receiving no rents?  

Mayor: Yehudit, I’m very worried and we have to strike a balance. I think the power and the common sense of the eviction moratorium is that we've got a huge number of people who are not back on their feet, who do not have work. Yeah, there are some jobs out there, that's true, but there's a huge number of people who can't get those jobs or who have lost jobs that paid them a lot more than the jobs that might be available now. There's a lot of people who are still suffering the effects of COVID. There are so many reasons why the danger of putting people out on the street en masse, horrendous, morally in every way. So, it was right to say, especially since Delta came back into our lives, we needed to continue the moratorium, but I am very worried for building owners too. I know the vast majority of building owners try and do the right thing. They try and keep up their buildings properly. They often have thin margins. That's why the rent relief has to be achieved by the state of New York. That's a huge amount of money that could then reach tenants and ultimately the building owners as well. There's thankfully a lot of support out there, but we have to actually get it to the building owners. And I understand the building owners have a lot of tough choices now. My hope and my dream is we get people vaccinated, we end the COVID era, we restore our community and our economy, and then people have the money again to pay the rent, and we go back to a much stronger situation. But again, for every building owner out there who is dealing with a very tough time, I do feel for them, but the answer to all of this is get people vaccinated so we can turn the bigger corner, and I have absolute confidence we're going to do that. Again, 78 percent plus of all adults in New York City have had at least one dose, that's what's going to move us forward. Thank you, everybody. 

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