October 26, 2021
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. Rainy, rainy morning here in New York City, and want to give you an update. We've been watching this storm very, very carefully and acting accordingly. What we've seen now, depending on the part of the city, between two and three inches of rain since the storm began last night. And we've had some wind, some substantial wind – wind gusts up to 29 miles per hour in Central Park, 37 miles per hour at LaGuardia. But thankfully, it seems like in the next hour or two we're going to see the rain calm down. We'll see more later on. There'll still certainly be effects tomorrow that we're going to keep watching, keep acting on. But I want to thank New Yorkers who listened to the warnings, made some real adjustments. People have heard the warning, especially. And continue, please, to hear the warnings. Let's be careful. Wherever there is a lot of standing water – be careful if you're driving through that, to make sure it's something you can get through. If not, turn back, take another route. If you're out there walking around, don't go into situations where there's a lot of water that could end up being overwhelming.
People have been great about keeping updated and acting on the information. Also want to thank some folks who went the extra mile in the last 24 hours. Custodial staff at schools – we had about 250 schools around the city where there was some particular potential for flooding. About 250 schools, our custodial staff stayed overnight to make sure there were no problems. Thankfully, all those schools open fully without any difficulty today. We had teams out, dropping sandbags around key areas, particularly in Queens. We have 4,500 catch basins cleaned by DEP. Sanitation has been out there. Everyone has been doing a great job dealing with this challenge. Hopefully now we've seen the worst of it and, over the next couple of hours, again, the worst of the rain will pass. But we are going to remain vigilant throughout. Again, expect some impact even into tomorrow. To give you an update, our acting Emergency Management Commissioner Andy D’Amora. Andy, are you there?
Acting Commissioner Andrew D’Amora, Emergency Management: Yes, sir. Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. Just a quick update. So, the National Weather Service – we still have a flash flood watch in effect till 6:00 PM this evening. As the Mayor had mentioned, we had approximately three inches of rain that has fallen already and we could see totals of three to four inches with local higher amounts through tomorrow. And we are experiencing those winds, gusts up to 40 miles an hour. And we will continue to monitor, of course, the weather in close contact with the National Weather Service and our third-party forecasting service.
A couple of impacts – there haven't been many significant at this point, but we are staying vigilant. Our Emergency Operations Center is open since last night and it will stay open through the remainder of the storm. We activated our flash flood emergency plan on Sunday. And with those winds, we want to make sure that we're staying vigilant with that. We have our Downed Tree Task Force on alert and as well as our Tow Truck Task Force. We continue to host daily inter-agency conference calls with agency partners to coordinate the City's response to the storm. And some of those impacts, we had some roads that had some flooding, but all our passable. Some of those were on the FDR, Cross Bronx, BQE, and Grand Central, but we have crews on the scene to address those conditions.
The MTA’s reporting Staten Island rail service is suspended between Huguenot and Tottenville in both directions because of flooding, but no other disruptions on subways with the MTA. There are moderate delays [inaudible] area in the [inaudible] please check your local carrier before leaving home. PD, FD, and Emergency Management responders are monitoring roadway and neighborhood conditions. And we encourage everybody, please, sign up for NotifyNYC, the City's official emergency communications program, by going to nyc.gov/NotifyNYC or calling 3-1-1 to get the latest information and the alerts from Emergency Management.
And lastly, I want to thank all of our agency partners, including DEP, DOT, Sanitation, FD, PD, and all the hardworking staff at Emergency Management who have been working around the clock to prepare and respond to this event. Thank you, sir.
Mayor: Thank you so much, Andy. I want to thank you and everyone at Emergency Management, and also all the good men and women who serve New York City who were out there yesterday evening, overnight. Even like I said, those custodians, the folks cleaning the catch basins, a lot of people did a lot of hard work in the last 24 hours to make sure we came through this smoothly. Thank you to all of our City employees who just, once again, have shown incredible devotion. Again, we're going to keep watching this storm very carefully. Please, everyone, keep informed. We've also seen times where we get real surprises from other nature. So, keep informed. We'll keep you updated and we'll keep taking the appropriate actions to keep all New Yorkers safe.
Okay. Now, let's go back where we go constantly, and that's the big challenge, the recovery, how we move the city forward, how we come back from COVID. It has to be a recovery for all of us. We're making great strides, we really are. You can see the life of the city coming back. You can see people doing so much to bring the city back. You can see the investments. We have to make sure, as we bring the city back – you know, the President has the phrase build back better. I love that phrase. It also has to be built back fairer. We have to make sure that the city is fair, that everyone is included, and that means realizing how important the things that people depend on in their neighborhoods are. Look, in the pandemic, people turn to their parks more than ever. Literally, I can't tell you how many times I talked to people that said they had never seen some parts of their local parks before the pandemic, because there was no place else to go. They turned to the parks, they discovered new things. They found out how much they love their parks, how great they were. And our Parks team did an amazing job. They had demands put on them like never before and they made it work. One of the key things was to make sure that we invest in parks and communities that did not get their fair share over the years. And that's why we created the Community Parks initiative in 2014, at the beginning of the administration. The idea was, yeah, we love our big famous parks – the sort of big, bold name parks that have lots and lots of support from the surrounding community, from the philanthropic world, business world – that's great. That's really great for all New Yorkers. But what about our community parks? What about the parks that aren't so famous that didn't get the attention, and love, and investment they deserved? A lot of them are in places that many, many people depend on those parks. A lot of them are in communities where folks don't make a lot of money and need those parks. We say it and it's true – for some people, their local park is where they go on their summer vacation, because they can't afford to go anyplace else.
So, we, from the beginning, said, we're going to reach those parks in all five boroughs. And 67 parks from the beginning have been improved, invested in, re-imagined. $425 million in new funding from the beginning to help make sure that we are helping these parks. And we're going to now put more and more in – 10 new parks that we are investing in that we're going to be continuing this investment for years to come, because it's so important to get it right. It's so important to help our communities. And these are the parks – and you're seeing some of these images – that people turn to, families turn to, kids turn to. It is a corridor [inaudible] life. I've heard people talk about their neighborhood park, that the most important part of their growing up was the wonderful experiences they had in the park. We've got to be there for every community. I want you to hear from someone who really believes in this initiative and is now continuing to deepen it with her efforts. And I really appreciate her and her team. This is a labor of love for them. Our Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff.
Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff, Department of Parks and Recreation: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. It is so exciting to join you today and share this good news with New Yorkers all across this city. As the Mayor noted, during the pandemic, we have all learned that our parks are not a luxury, but a necessity. The community parks initiative is built on this principle. CPI has already touched the lives of over 500,000 New Yorkers by transforming their relationships with their neighborhood parks. Since it was first launched in 2014, we've successfully revamped 62 neighborhood playgrounds with another five currently in process, putting over $300 million to work. Now, we add 100 more parks.
CPI essential to this administration's legacy in parks and open space. It has changed the way we approach neighborhood parks in three ways. First, CPI is about equity. We focus on community parks that have been overlooked by previous administrations, parks that have gone untouched for more than two decades. Second, CPI is about engagement. In fact, it changed the way we now build every park. Now, thanks to CPI, all Parks projects begin with gathering the community together to learn what they want to see in their park. Third, CPI is built on partnership. We work with local groups to program and volunteer in these parks, extending and expanding the power of the investments we make. We're not only building parks, we're building communities. After today's announcement, our next step will be to hold community sessions for the next [inaudible] of 10 parks. We will be reaching out to New Yorkers in each targeted to communities to learn what they want to see in their brand-new parks. 167 vital community parks renovated and re-envisioned for the next generation, this is the legacy of the de Blasio administration. Thank you so much.
Mayor: Thank you so much, Commissioner. And thank you again, you and your team have really embraced this initiative over these last eight years. And now, with your leadership, making it go farther and farther. Really, really appreciate the great effort and it's going to leave a positive impact for decades to come on this city. As someone who believes in this, someone who has been championing it, helping us get it done in the City Council, and he understands how important it is to invest in the parks that aren't so famous, but serve hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. He's an energetic voice for parks investment. He's the chair of the Council Committee on Parks and Recreation, Council Member Peter Koo.
Mayor: Thank you so much, Council Member. Thank you for your intense support for this initiative. And I want to emphasize, in the capital plan we just announced, $425 million over the next 10 years to keep building out this Community Parks Initiative, a huge investment in the parks at the grassroots. So, today, we're making a commitment to the future – $425 million in new funding for community parks in all five boroughs. This is the kind of impact that will last and last and last. As you heard from Commissioner Fialkoff, some of these parks have not gotten invested in decades. Now, we get it right. We bring them to a beautiful, modern state-of-the-art place so communities can enjoy them. And then, that will last for decades to come. So, a good day all around. Thank you very much, Council Member.
Everybody, as we think about the investments we have to make, we think about our recovery, we’ve got to think about resiliency too. We’re getting another reminder today from mother nature, but this is also a time when we think about one of the toughest moments, arguably the number-one natural disaster in the history of New York City, and we're just about the anniversary nine years ago, when Hurricane Sandy hit – a hurricane and nor'easter together, a superstorm. And what a horrible impact, how many thousands of lives harmed, people affected for the rest of their lives, families who lost loved ones. That is a moment any of us who experienced it, we will never, ever forget. And I went all over the city in the aftermath of Sandy. I saw so much devastation. And it was a reminder, we have to keep making investments in resiliency, because this is the world we're living in because of climate change. We talked last week about fighting back against climate change, doing the really foundational things we have to do to stop the climate crisis. That's job-one for all of us, but the resiliency investments are necessary. We've been continuing to build upon the original $20 billion resiliency plan that came out of the Hurricane Sandy-era. We're doing more and more, and we need to do more and more.
So, today, we're announcing new investments as part of our capital plan, major new investments, $110 million in climate investments for resiliency actions. And we're focusing on the very vulnerable areas of Lower Manhattan. We know – we know that Lower Manhattan is one of the places where you have a combination of the most people living and working, that's also lowest in terms of sea level, and that we have a vulnerability there that must be addressed. So, the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project will include the Brooklyn Bridge area, the Montgomery Coastal Resilience area, Battery coastal resiliency area – a series of projects around the seaport, all going around Lower Manhattan to address sea level rise and the flooding that we see from coastal storms. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of people between the folks who live in Lower Manhattan and the folks who work there who are affected. We're talking about one of the greatest concentrations of subway lines anywhere in the city. This is an area that really needs to be protected. So, this week, City Hall in Your Borough focused on Manhattan. Yesterday, we were focusing on great initiatives like Open Streets, and shared streets, and open spaces. Today, we're focusing on resiliency for Manhattan. And someone who has been sounding the alarm for a long time and fighting for these kinds of investments, and she loves her borough deeply – the Borough President of Manhattan, Gale Brewer.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer: Thank you very much and welcome to Manhattan Week, Mr. Mayor. I'm also glad that you were at the museum this morning. That was really special to be at Studio Museum in Harlem, that's really Manhattan. So, thank you very much. And I do want to thank you for all of your investments, I think, particularly on resiliency. You and I know that Catherine McVay Hughes was chair of Community Board 1, and it's still active, was the sounder of the alarm of this area. And I also want to thank you, because it's not only Lower Manhattan, but your administration has been phenomenal supporting the East River Park. I would say that's another place where we we’re putting in a lot of effort to make sure that there's no flooding or storm surge there in the future. It's a $2 billion project. It’s controversial, but what isn't controversial. And I'm supportive of that, very supportive. I also want to say, just so you know, in terms of Lower Manhattan, there's something called Brooklyn Bridge Beach, which I had to convince EDC not to put a – you know, like a high-up viewing stand. But more we're going to be able to go down into the water. And Margaret Chin and I were able to pull that off.
So, in many cases, administration has been very helpful, but this investment is the first meaningful and concrete step to come out of sort of the FiDi, Seaport Climate Master Plan. And I know that that's something that your staff has been working on tremendously. It is the birthplace and a place that you and I know is the location of the South Street Seaport Museum, a museum that you, too, love. And I certainly do. It's 290,000 workers, 62,000 residents and growing, and that have a million commuters who come to work, as you said, on all those amazing subways, that's got historic and cultural gems. And so, really appreciate this down payment. It's going to take billions to get it right. And I know that by 2050, over a third of the buildings in Lower Manhattan will be at risk of storm surge. We know exactly what happened with Sandy, and it was always very revealing when you go to the South Street Seaport Museum on the Pier and you see how high up Sandy went, you can't ever forget it.
So, the commitment today will unlock additional funding and pave the way for future investments from all levels of government, we don't ever forget the federal and the state and the city. That's what's going to be needed. And I'm certainly committed to working with the local community through the design process to ensure this project reflects its priorities. And I know that it will do the same. So, thank you for being, leading Manhattan week. You know, I do love this borough. I'm not so good about the other boroughs, but I love our borough. And I look forward to continuing -- Parks are part of the same effort. It's open space. They're often the place where resiliency takes place in addition. So, thank you very much. And I look forward to the rest of the week, and all of the opportunities.
Mayor: Thank you. Equally, Borough President, I look forward to doing some great things together this week and celebrating some great new actions and initiatives for Manhattan. I want to thank you personally. You and I have so many times talked about South Street Seaport and the Seaport Museum. You know, we go back for decades together, and this is one of the things that we just both feel in our hearts how important it is to protect that heritage. And, you know, we got to be a great city because we were a coastal city. Now we're experiencing some of the challenges of a coastal city, but we've got to preserve that history and that heritage. And you've really led the way on that. I want to thank you so much for that.
Everybody, now I want you to hear from a couple of the leaders in this administration who have done outstanding work with their teams on resiliency. And they're going to give you a flavor of some of the other things we're going to be doing, because it's so important to focus on how we stay ahead of a changing world and protect these precious parts of our city. First of all, I want you to hear from the President of our Economic Development Corporation, Rachel Loeb.
President Rachel Loeb, Economic Development Corporation: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. And I also want to thank Borough President Brewer for her continued partnership. Today's investment sends a signal that there is no time to waste. Climate change is creating stronger and more devastating storms. And at EDC, we take our coastal resiliency work very seriously. Throughout the city, we are working to ensure that our coastline is protected to lessen the impact of storm surges and severe weather. This project particularly will safeguard one of the most low-lying vulnerable areas, the Seaport District, and it is a first step in making sure that we're protecting residents, business owners, and infrastructure from flooding. As you know, I like to say that there's no economic health without climate health, and resiliency is a key part of that.
And with this $110 million funding, we will raise up the existing bulkhead from the Brooklyn Bridge to Pier 17. This is critical, immediate, and expeditious protection. We're also going to be making critical storm drainage improvements, and most importantly, improve our waterfront access at the same time. These efforts will protect infrastructure, residents, and jobs and not to mention offer the area protection in the present day 50-year storm surge. With this design, this project is a long-term plan and we know more must be done to safeguard the city. And it's going to take the full support of our federal partners and federal funding.
True coastal resiliency will take more than two decades to achieve, and we need to make sure that we create a resilient waterfront. In this case in Lower Manhattan, all the way from the Battery to the East Coast Resiliency area, this project will fill a critical gap to protect Lower Manhattan. It's one of our largest business districts. 75 percent of our city subways pass through this area, and they connect to critical ferry connections, and they connect all New Yorkers to all the boroughs and to all of their jobs. So, we need to work together to ensure that we are protecting New Yorkers and their livelihoods. Thank you so much for this investment and partnership.
Mayor: Thank you so much. And now I want to turn to another one of our colleagues and she has been leading the way on resiliency for years now in our team. She and her colleagues had done great work, keeping major projects moving. A lot of parts of the city are safer now and more resilient because of her efforts and more to come. Director of the Mayor's Office of Climate Resiliency, Jainey Bavishi.
Director Jainey Bavishi, Mayor's Office of Recovery & Resiliency: Thank you, Mayor. Nine years ago, Sandy devastated our city from the Rockaways to Staten Island to Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan. The power went out, plunging us into darkness. Water poured into homes, businesses, and tunnels. The destruction was unprecedented. Sandy was a turning point. Across the city, we began advancing bold solutions to prepare for not only more coastal storms, but other hazards facing our city, including extreme heat, intense precipitation, and chronic tidal flooding made worse by rising sea levels. There is no silver bullet to the risks posed by climate change. That's why we are implementing a multi-layered strategy in all five boroughs. We're developing ambitious solutions to meet unparalleled challenges. And we are spending tens of billions of dollars to make New Yorkers safer. This investment is a critical step in our efforts to protect our residents, protect our city, and reimagine our waterfront in the face of climate change. We have the chance now to ensure New York City is more resilient to climate threats for generations to come. One thing that is certain is there was no time to waste.
Mayor: Amen. That is the truest message. There is no time to waste, and we keep at it every day. And Jainey, thank you to you and your colleagues for feeling that urgency and acting on it. And someone else, one more person I want to hear from, who has been a leading advocate, a leading voice for the right kind of investments to stop the climate crisis and to address resiliency, she fought hard for State legislation to address climate change, including the $3 billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, absolutely crucial. My pleasure to introduce the President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, Julie Tighe.
Mayor: Thank you so much, Julie. Thank you to everyone at the League of Conservation Voters. You guys have been amazing continuing to advocate very effectively for these changes and we're right there with you. Thank you so much.
Okay. It's time for our indicators. And our first indicator today, reaching close to another milestone. We're going to get there very soon. We're almost at 12 million doses of the vaccine administered to date. As of today, 11,964,753. Number two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19, today's report is 93 patients, confirmed positivity level of 19.79 percent. Hospitalization rate continuing, we're seeing great success here, 0.49 per 100,000 New Yorkers. And then number three, new reported cases on a seven-day average, today's report, 759 cases. Let me say a few words in Spanish. I want to go back to the weather we're experiencing today and what we're doing to address it.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
With that let's turn to our colleagues in the media, and please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.
Moderator: Good morning. We will now begin our Q-and-A. As a reminder, we are joined by Dr. Mitch Katz, Dr. Dave Chokshi, Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff, Acting Emergency Management Commissioner Andy D’Amora, Director of the Mayor's Office of Climate Resiliency Jainey Bavishi, and President of the Economic Development Corporation Rachel Loeb. Our first question today goes to Andrew Siff from WNBC.
Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor, and everyone on the call. Mayor, with regard to the weather, can you talk about how you made the determination yesterday and last night, not to have an OEM storm briefing, not to present sort of a more urgent message to New Yorkers, what was it that let you believe that this could be handled differently?
Mayor: Andrew, it's been just the constant updates. What we've done now is to bring in additional forecasting services, beyond the National Weather Service, to constantly monitor. And what we saw yesterday morning has held throughout. We didn't see a major change in the storm, thank God. And the warnings that were being provided during the day yesterday proved to be consistent with what we saw as we went into the late night, last night and again this morning. So, it's all about the facts and the ability to confirm the facts. We did a lot more looking at what the storm was doing in the areas to the west of us, you know, several hours ahead. And we saw consistency in the reports. So, luckily – again, we like when the reports are right, and the reports tell us we're not going to have a big problem, and this time that held. Go ahead, Andrew.
Question: And children getting the vaccine. The best timing we've seen is that when the FDA likely offers its committee authorization today, and then the CDC authorizes a week from today, the vaccine could actually be shipped for children so that the first shots are by the end of next week. I don't know if Dr. Chokshi could maybe lay out when he anticipates potentially the very first day might be that children are getting shots. And do you anticipate having those shots available at elementary schools across New York City?
Mayor: So, Andrew, let me start. I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Katz. First of all, we're really excited about this. This is fantastic news that our youngest New Yorkers are going to be eligible for the vaccine. As you're going to hear from the doctors, we're looking at late next week or the week after, and that's fantastic. We're getting ready and excited, and I think there's going to be a whole lot of energy among parents to bring their younger kids in. We have a lot of sites ready as always, and we're certainly going to consider what we need to do in our schools as well. But we may be starting this on a weekend, depending on the details. And we're going to rely on all the sites and all the centers we've had so far that have worked so well as we begin the effort. Dr. Chokshi then Dr. Katz.
Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you, sir. I want to start by just echoing your enthusiasm. We know how much this matters to parents of a five to 11-year-olds who have been waiting for this. There are several steps to the sequence, which is particularly important when we're talking about pediatric vaccination because we want to make sure that the most rigorous process is followed to ensure that the vaccine is safe and effective as we have seen before. So today, as you mentioned, Andrew, the FDA advisory committee is meeting and deliberating on it. Assuming that that all goes well, it will go formally to the FDA for authorization. And then subsequently next week the CDC will take it up as well. So, with respect to a timeline, the very end of next week, I think is the absolute earliest. But I think it's more likely that it will be the week after that. But regardless of the precise date we have been and will continue to prepare between now and then to make sure that as the Mayor said, all of our sites will be ready. And people have the information that they need for this to be a safe and effective addition to our vaccination campaign. Thank you.
Mayor: Thank you. Dr. Katz, you want to add? Dr. Katz? May be on mute. This is something we always have to warn people of. We don't have Dr. Katz, I guess. Okay. We'll bring him back for the next one. Go ahead.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Marla from WCBS 880.
Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. We were in East Elmhurst this morning and residents are very fearful of this storm. We saw a crew installing a new pipe on Astoria Boulevard, just is a month after Hurricane Ida. I'm wondering, what's been done to improve the infrastructure in these neighborhoods and to prevent flooding from this storm and future storms?
Mayor: So, Marla, there's a variety of things. Some which have been acted on immediately and some of which are going to take longer time, obviously. Take a look at the report we did, came out a few weeks ago, on everything we learned that we have to do as a result of Ida. There are some areas we could make immediate improvements. Some of those community spaces, called community driveways, we have an initiative that's going to be doing work on them immediately. We have some of the plans that we had already invested in, in Queens, for example, the $2 billion for Southeast Queens. That's been continued and in some cases, sped up. Then the kinds of things I talked about, the immediate reactions, having the custodians do the extra work to prepare schools, the distributing the sandbags, the extra work to clean the drains. All of that was helpful in the last 24 hours. But the bigger investments to really prepare ourselves for massive storms, as we said, we're going to need an immense amount of federal and State help. And that's going to be a longer timeframe. So, we got different pieces running, but they're all running constantly to get this to be a more resilient city. Go ahead, Marla.
Question: And can you talk about the new notification system for those flood prone areas? At what point do you issue an advisory and how is that message being delivered? And do you feel that there's a need to open shelters during this storm?
Mayor: No, not during this storm so far as we're seeing Marla, thankfully. You know, right now, again, we're talking about totals in terms of rainfall that thank God, are within very reasonable levels in terms of not causing the kinds of flooding anywhere near what we saw during Ida. Remember the total amount of this storm so far has been in many areas, less than what we saw in Ida in just the course of an hour. So, I mean, it's a stark, stark contrast. What we would do -- we obviously considered using the alert systems. We considered whether we needed to even think about things like travel bans or evacuations. But none of that – we did not reach the level for any of that in this case, as we monitored through the night. None of it reached that kind of level.
But to your question going forward, we would, if we saw more serious and more dangerous weather coming, we'd tell people early, as we saw it, get ready for an alert. We would use the cell phone alert system, which is very effective. We'd have people going door to door. If it was a mandatory evacuation that would include NYPD and FDNY, telling people they have to move out. Of course, travel ban. All of these tools are available. And when we see even the possibility of needing those type of tools, the first time we see it, we would announce it and then put them into effect the moment we saw that kind of danger emerging.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Chris from the New York Daily News.
Question: Good morning, Mayor. Wanted to ask you about any updates on whether there were any other evacuations or incidents of flooding during last night's rainfall, if you have any update on actual emergency actions being taken?
Mayor: Yeah. I'll bring Andy D'Amora in, Chris, but just to say, you know, from what we have reported at the top of this press conference, thank God, we're not seeing the kinds of negative impact that we obviously were preparing to address. When we think about things like the flooding that could cause danger to people's lives first and foremost, of course trees coming down electricity out, all the things that we prepare for, thankfully we have not seen those kinds of negative impacts in any major way. Andy, why don't you give just a quick update on all of that for everyone again?
Acting Commissioner D'Amora: Thank you, sir. Yeah, we didn't see any significant impacts, any kind of roadways throughout the city that were, had some experienced some flooding, momentarily closures, crews on a scene rapidly to at least alleviate the one or two lanes while they continue to deep water. Just another update as well, the MTA has reported that the Staten Island Railway has resumed service.
Mayor: Yeah. And Andy on, just clarifying trees down, houses with, or customers without electricity, what do you have?
Acting Commissioner D'Amora: Very minimal trees down citywide. Currently we have approximately four or five trees down citywide. And 200 customers without power and ConEd is on the scene.
Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Chris.
Question: Thank you. And switching gears a bit. Yesterday there was a very large anti-vaccine mandate protest that took place on Brooklyn Bridge. I was there speaking to a lot of the workers who were there. And one thing I noticed was that, you know, you had protesters scaling the medians on the Brooklyn Bridge. You had the protestors blocking traffic, but police officers were by and large standing by, not arresting anyone. And at the same time, on the other side of City Hall, you had taxi workers being arrested for blocking traffic. So, I'm just wondering what you think of that disparity there, where at one protest you had police arresting people and at the other, it seemed like there was no enforcement whatsoever?
Mayor: Yeah. I need to get a review from the NYPD of what happened at each. I need to understand if one – if there was planned civil disobedience, obviously in a case where there's a planned civil disobedience, people intend to get arrested and want that to happen. And that's one thing. With the march, my understanding is the bridge was closed off. But I want to get the full rundown on that. I appreciate the question, Chris. So, let me get more information. I'll have my team get back to you today.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Dana from the New York Times.
Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. I first, was wondering if you could talk more about your decision making regarding the Fifth Avenue busway and what it is that business owners, including Steve Roth said that convinced you to delay it? And also, how that delay jives with your concerns about climate change? Because obviously the plan was to prioritize mass transit traffic over private vehicle traffic?
Mayor: Yeah. Dana, to me, this was a classic example of left-hand and the right-hand. A very good thing, the busway, which we will do. But when the decision was made around the timing of implementation, the folks in our team who focus on economic development and focus on recovery, really weren't looped properly with the people making the transportation decisions, because it's kind of obvious. That's an area that is profoundly important to the city in terms of our economy, in terms of tourism, in terms of retail stores, which have been hurting, really hurting in this pandemic and the notion that we might disrupt at the holiday time, obviously a pivotal time of the year in many senses, especially thank God is tourism starting to come back, including the international tourism. It just didn't make sense to time the busway implementation exactly at that moment. It made sense to let that season pass and then move forward with the busway. So/ I think the input I got helped me to realize that the left-hand and the right-hand had not been well coordinated and we had to do something better. And I like where we ended up. Go ahead, Dana.
Question: Thanks. On a completely unrelated topic. Can you speak a little bit about your plans for supervised injection sites? It looks like you're sort of accelerating those plans before you leave office?
Mayor: Dana, first of all, I'll tell you we don't have a specific announcement to make today. I can tell you I believe in overdose prevention centers. Which I think is a much better way – I'm not criticizing your, a term of art. It is one of the terms of art, what you said. But I call it overdose prevention centers, because I think it gets to the heart of what this is. It's to save lives, stop people from overdosing, who could be saved and of course, to in every way, help them towards treatment and support. So, this is an idea that has worked in Canada. It's worked in Europe. It's an idea whose time has come. But there are some real issues to work through, particularly with the State and federal government. So, we're not ready to make any specific announcements yet, but it's something we continue to work on energetically.
Moderator: Our next question goes to Amanda from Politico.
Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. How are you?
Mayor: Good, Amanda. How have you been?
Question: I'm doing well. Thanks. So, I wanted to follow up on Dana's question. So, I reported last night that you have directed your Health Department to move forward with this pilot program. And so, I wanted to know why now? Like what's the timing for doing this research now, considering the feasibility study was requested in 2016 and you waited until 2018 to release it before punting it to the State?
Mayor: Yeah. Amanda, I respect you. And I respect your question. But I don't agree with that characterization. We worked on this a lot. When I first heard the idea, there were things I found powerful and meaningful about it. And things that really raised concerns. We spent real time and energy researching what had happened around this country with nascent efforts, Canada, Europe. We sent in fact, folks to see the examples in Toronto and Vancouver. We brought the NYPD into this discussion deeply. It was a very complex and thoughtful process that led me to believe it was the right thing to do. Then we ran into the challenge at the time of the then Trump administration and the position their Justice Department took on this issue. And that was one problem. And we also knew the only way we could move forward is with the State of New York fully embracing it. That was the only possible shield to help us address the federal issues. It was the right time to turn to the State. I really am saying this from the heart. We couldn't do it without the State being willing to support. And that was the missing link. We did appeal to the State. We didn't get a response. Along came COVID and you're not going to be surprised that our focus has been on addressing COVID. But now that finally we're making profound progress on COVID. I wanted us to move. We have a new administration in Washington, a new administration in Albany. It was the right time to do something on this topic while we could finally have the kind of potential cooperation we needed. So, I'm very hopeful. Again, we don't have the final specific plan, but I'm very hopeful on this. Go ahead, Amanda.
Question: Great. Thank you. One of the locations I heard floated was East Harlem. And I think we spoke about this a couple of weeks back in terms of looking at certain neighborhoods and seeing which neighborhoods have their fair share of services? And how some neighborhoods say, you know, we have too many methadone clinics, we have too many services that are aimed at, you know, quote unquote, like undesirable populations. And so I was curious if you could speak a little bit more to, you know, kind of that issue more broadly of making sure that services are available in neighborhoods where people need it, but at the same time, not overwhelming these neighborhoods with services for drug users or homeless people?
Mayor: Profound issue, Amanda, really. I think we've got a couple of different pieces here. We've got the question of with overdose prevention centers, we really want buy-in and support. We want that from the appropriate district attorney. We want that from the local council member. When I put forward the plan years ago, I said those were two of the key components to me, going places where both the district attorney and the council member believed in the approach. So, that's one consideration. Second, clearly where the need is greatest. And we know the neighborhoods in the city where overdoses have been a biggest problem. And local, having it local to where people are really matters. I,100 percent appreciate, we've got to keep working on equity in all things, but when it comes to literally life-saving overdose prevention centers, they've got to be where people need them. And we know where some of those neighborhoods are and that's where the focus should be. And broadly, with fair share, you know, having facilities in proportion to the community's need is the right way to go. This is one of the things we've done with our homeless shelter sighting, making sure that people could, if it, God forbid they'd become homeless, that it could stay in the community they come from as part of their transition back to the community. So, that's how we've been trying to figure the balance, but it really comes down to first and foremost where can you serve people best?
Moderator: Our next question goes to Elizabeth from Gothamist.
Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor, a few weeks ago Eric Adams was at a community health clinic in the Bronx, and he called on the city to scale up its $100 vax incentive program to these kinds of smaller community-based providers. Can you comment on that and explain why the city can't find some way to allow these community-based clinics to offer their patients the $100 vax incentive, as opposed to, you know, redirecting them to a city clinic?
Mayor: It's a great question, Elizabeth, and I'm glad that Eric Adams has raised this because when we started this, we really wanted to move it quickly, and it had a profound impact, a $100 incentive really had a profound impact in terms of getting more people vaccinated, and the way we could do it effectively and quickly was through the central run sites. I would like to get the community-based sites into this. I think it would be ideal. So, I'm going to turn to Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Katz, I'm putting you on the spot, but in a good way, I think this would be the next logical step. Could either of you tell us if there's any work being done now to see how we do that, and if not, we will start doing that work. Dr. Chokshi.
Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir, thank you. And thanks, Elizabeth, for this important question. This is actually something that we have been actively thinking about, particularly for federally qualified health centers which are the community-based clinics that particularly serve low-income populations and, you know, have a particular focus in the neighborhoods that we most want to reach. So, I'm grateful actually, Rachel Loeb, who's also on the call this morning and EDC have been tremendous partners in this. And so, we are actively working to expand the $100 incentive, which as the Mayor said has been quite successful.
Mayor: Great. Thank you. Go ahead, Elizabeth.
Question: My other question is after Hurricane Ida you said that the city was going to start compiling a complete and accurate count of basement residents. I wanted to ask how that's going and whether that's a project you expect to get done before the end of your term?
Mayor: In the report, Elizabeth, we make clear it is absolutely moving right now. It will happen. It will happen ahead of next hurricane season, but not before I leave office in the next few weeks. The idea there is it is a big undertaking. We literally, our perfect world here, is to catalog each and every basement apartment. And so, we think that's a product that's going to take six to eight months, but it will get us done ahead of the next hurricane season. So, the resources have been put in place the order's been given and thankfully the next administration will have that tool ready.
Moderator: We have time for two more questions today. The next question goes to Bob Hennelly from The Chief Leader.
Question: Yes. Thanks for taking the call, Mr. Mayor. On NY1 you referenced that several hundred DOE employees had successfully applied for and received a medical exemption from the vaccine mandate. Can your medical experts describe what kind of conditions might merit that kind of exemption?
Mayor: Sure. I think, Dave, I believe you're pretty current on that list of the kinds of things that apply for an exemption. Give us the rundown.
Commissioner Chokshi: Yeah, certainly. And you know, the first thing to say is that medical exemptions are quite rare because there are very few medical situations that warrant an exemption. One piece of misinformation that I'll just take the opportunity to clear up is that people with underlying health conditions are those that will benefit the most from vaccination, and so we strongly encourage anyone with a chronic condition to get vaccinated, and that is not grounds for a medical exemption. What is grounds is generally, you know, followed by what's laid out in the CDC’s guidance on this topic. If someone has a severe allergy to a vaccine or one of its components, such that they cannot receive any of the three vaccines, then that is grounds for medical exemption. We expect that circumstance to be exceedingly rare. But that is one case. And there are sometimes temporary medical exemptions as well. For example, someone who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and still in their isolation window or someone who received monoclonal antibody treatment for recent COVID-19 for up to three months after receiving that treatment. So, in sum it's a narrow set of conditions that that warrant medical exemption.
Mayor: Thank you very much. Go ahead, Bob.
Question: So, Mr. Mayor, are you concerned about the potential public health patchwork effect in a city where you have mandated all city employees be vaccinated as a term and condition of employment, but the MTA, which has tens of thousands of workers responsible for moving millions of New Yorkers still has the vaccine or submitting to weekly testing as an option?
Mayor: Look, I'm believer in vaccine mandates. I've said this for public sector, private sector. I think every mayor in America, every governor in America should adopt vaccine mandates. I think every CEO in America should adopt vaccine mandates. They work, they work, look at the huge impact since we announced the mandates, including the Key to NYC. Vaccination levels greatly increased in this city and COVID levels have gone down, period. So, I have a simple view, Bob, every place that we can put the mandate in, we should, because it works and it's going to save lives. So, that's my view. In terms of what it means that there's different standards and different places, we have to do what's right here in New York City, we have to do what's right to protect our employees and the people they serve, and I urge everyone else follow this path because it's the thing that will end the COVID era. I really want us to remind us what the ultimate goal is, is to put COVID in our past and allow us to come back to life fully, and this is what lets it – this is what really allows it to happen.
Moderator: Our last question for today goes to Abu from Bangla Patrika.
Question: Hello, Mayor, good morning.
Mayor: Good morning. How are you doing?
Question: Good. How are you?
Mayor: Good. Good.
Question: Thank you, mayor. I would like to ask you a question about the taxi drivers who are hunger striking since last about four or five days, what is the city thinking about the demand and what is the plan?
Mayor: I'll go, first of all, I really want to say, I have spent time over years, years, and years with taxi drivers, with medallion owners, I am feel the folks have been through so much and the human reality here is very painful to me and there's a lot of reasons it's happened, but what I care about is what's happened to the people in the end, and it's been very, very tough. We worked hard to find a solution. We worked with the City Council, which passed our budget, including the relief for the taxi drivers. And really, in the end, we're talking about up to half a billion dollars in debt forgiveness. Now that alone is a big deal, the overall impact, but I want to tell you where we are right now - and I have my notes – in terms of the number of drivers, because it's already been hundreds and hundreds of drivers who are starting down this path, and we've got now the potential of a thousand drivers who could benefit from this. So, right now, as of today, 155 drivers have initiated this debt forgiveness, $20 million in debt being erased right there, over a thousand more we believe will take advantage of this in the near term with the potential to erase half a billion in debt, and we want to go as far as we can go from there. So, I really feel for people, and that's why we have something right now that can help them, and I want every driver to take advantage of this. We'll continue to look at any other tools, any other ways we can help. We really want to find every way we can help, but this is here and now, and I really want to encourage every driver to take advantage of this debt relief. Go ahead, Abu.
Question: The medallion price. They're saying the medallion price, the artificially raise the price about $1.2 million, and now the prices are like $80,000. So, the people who bought it now, they are in trouble. Is there any intensive or any kind of stimulus to help them?
Mayor: This is, again, this – we made a public investment that allows us to get debt relief on a very high level. And, and this is the thing that right now, and again, many drivers are starting to recognize this because 155 already are taking advantage of it, and it's growing every day, here is a way to get real debt relief to these drivers. And then we'll keep looking for anything else we can do. But right now, I just want to encourage everyone, even while people are saying, we want other things, we want more things, take advantage of this debt relief right now. We can lighten people's burdens right now, half a billion dollars in debt relief is reachable, and that's what I want to focus everyone and get people that help.
Everyone as we conclude today, I just want to say we, as per usual, this city deals with lot of challenges, we've had the weather in the last 24 hours. Thank God it appears to be passing. We deal with the reality of COVID every day, but what is so striking as the resiliency of New Yorkers and people have fought back through every one of these challenges. We just talked about the Sandy anniversary. I saw such extraordinary acts of compassion and kindness, New Yorkers helping their fellow neighbors in the worst of Sandy. This is who we are. Let's now do that for each other with COVID, let's get vaccinated, let's finish this mission, let's help each over COVID once and for all. You heard the numbers today approaching 12 million doses and our children, were going to be to reach our youngest children soon. That's going to be extraordinary. Let's finish the job. Thank you, everybody.