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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

November 17, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. We are live again from Brooklyn Borough Hall, and we are having a great City Hall in Your Borough Week. Here in Brooklyn, we had a really wonderful announcement in East Flatbush yesterday. A beautiful new community recreation center being created for a community that really deserves more investment. Great moment there. Great gathering in Fort Greene. Yesterday evening, people coming from all around the borough, raising their concerns, getting help from different City agencies. I was joined there by Borough President Adams, soon to be Mayor Adams. And we had a great experience talking to Brooklynites about the things that they need from their City government. And we were able to get people help right away. It was really, it was wonderful. It's one of the things I love most about City Hall in Your Borough.

So, now, we're going to focus on what we talk about every single day, bringing the City back strong, our recovery. And our recovery, of course, is based on vaccinations and New Yorkers are doing great. And New Yorkers are hearing our clear message about boosters. New Yorkers are answering the call and coming out and getting those boosters. It's time to get boosted everybody. So, to get out there and make that happen for yourself, for your family, it is such an important way to protect your health. Let me tell you, Dr. Chokshi and I talked about boosters on Monday morning and the people of the city heard and responded. By the end of the day, Monday, almost 20,000 New Yorkers had gotten a booster shot on Monday alone. Then, on Tuesday, over 22,000 New Yorkers got a booster shot. So, let's keep going. Let's make today a great day for booster shots. Go out there and do it. Whoever you are get a booster shot, it'll keep you safe. It'll keep your family safe. New Yorkers are hearing the message. As of today, almost 674,000 New Yorkers have gotten a booster shot.

Let's get that number up a lot more, particularly as we're getting ready for the colder months. Remember, that's a challenge with COVID, the colder months. The answer is vaccination, either new vaccinations, first and foremost, most important, but also boosters, really important. That's how we fight back COVID in the colder months and that's how we get ready for something wonderful. The holidays people want to be together. We all want to gather with our family. We haven't seen a lot of our loved ones in a long time. The way to be safe and gathered together is to get the booster.

Okay, everyone. Now, let's talk about new vaccinations for the youngest New Yorkers. We really want to keep them safe so far. We're seeing great, great progress. Almost 75,000 five- to 11-year-olds have now been vaccinated in New York City. That number is going up constantly. That's a great start. We're now just coming up on the, almost a two-week mark tomorrow on that effort. We want to see those numbers continue to grow rapidly, but 75,000 very strong start.  But let's talk about the group right before that, that 12- to 17-year-olds. We're now at 414,000 12- to 17-year-olds. That's an amazing, amazing step forward. That group again, 80 percent now vaccinated. That's fantastic. And we want to see them continue. So, we're having a lot of demand and school sites. We brought back school sites. Again, we're going to have more coming up, but I want to remind everyone out there. Kids also qualify for the hundred-dollar incentive. It's so important. We want to get every child vaccinated, but for that child, for that family, another a $100 per child is a really good thing. And how much do New Yorkers love the hundred-dollar incentive? So much so that 400,000 New Yorkers have gotten that hundred-dollar incentive already. And I think a lot more are going to take advantage of it before the holidays. Amongst those 400,000, 87,000 have been kids under 18. So, it's really benefiting families and it's making families safe. Everyone, get vaccinated. That's the main message. But also, don't leave that money on the table. Go get it. You deserve it ahead of the holidays. If anyone in the family is not yet vaccinated, whether a child or an adult, go get vaccinated, get that incentive.

Okay. Now, we're going to keep fighting COVID in every way. That, of course, means new vaccinations. It means boosters, but also means testing. We want to emphasize testing is very, very important to this next phase. So, we try and put the COVID era behind us. So, we've had from the beginning the strongest testing infrastructure in the country, Test & Trace Corps, amazing job. They've done making testing available, going out there, following up on cases. We've had sites all over the City and that's been great, but we also found it was really, really important to go out to communities. So, the mobile units and the community-based events made a huge impact, and we focus so much of that outreach effort on the communities that were hardest hit by COVID. We're going to go farther and farther. Now, right now, our mobile vaccination sites and our mobile testing sites have been all over the City. With mobile testing there's been 9,000 events put together, pop-ups and events put together almost a third of those with public housing attendant groups. So, that's how important to reach people in public housing. We've done a lot with houses of worship. 15,000 events with houses of worship going where the people are bringing them in. It's really exciting.

So, here's some important news. We are doubling the size of our mobile testing fleet. We're going to 70 vans. Now, that's going to allow us to get all over the City all the time, getting people tested. It's absolutely crucial and want to give people some really good guidance for this holiday season. Obviously, this is a time when people gather often gather in large numbers, people travel. So, here's new guidance for the holiday season and about testing. How important is getting tested? Testing is one of the ways we win this battle. So, two main messages – one, get tested before you attend major gatherings or family gatherings. Get tested, because you'll know you're safe. You'll know what's going on. Or, God forbid, if you get a positive test, you know what to do about it. Getting tested ahead of events makes a lot of sense this time of year, whether it's a Thanksgiving event, a Friendsgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, you name it. It's a smart step. Now, two, get tested before you travel. This is really smart. We see a lot more travel coming back, that's great. Being vaccinated is the number one thing, but also getting a test and knowing you're negative for COVID before your travel is such a smart thing to do. It's smart for you. It's smart for the people you're going to visit. Consider it. One of the basics when you travel, keep everyone safe. Everyone wins in that equation. I want you to hear more about why this is so important from one of the, one of the real heroes of this effort fighting back COVID in this City. He led the Test & Trace Corps from the beginning and created the strongest Test & Trace Corps in America. My pleasure to introduce Dr. Ted Long.

Executive Director Ted Long, NYC Test & Trace Corps: Thank you, sir. This has been a long and hard year for everybody in New York City. What keeps me going is that I'm proud to be a New Yorker. I'm proud because every step with COVID we've had the courage and they've been willing to make the sacrifices needed to keep our city safe. Right now, one of the keyways that we've been doing that throughout is by getting tested. today, we're doing as much testing day by day, as we were at the peak of our second wave in New York City. On many days, we're doing more than 100,000 tests in a given day. Now, going into the holidays, we want you to see your families and your friends and your loved ones. It's been a long year and you deserve that, but we need you to get tested before you see your families and friends. So, that you don't risk getting a family member sick that could get very sick from COVID this year for the holidays.

Give your family the gift of protecting them, like getting tested and knowing if you have COVID before you see them. So, for this holiday season, I want to tell you three things today. First, before you gathered together with friends and family members get tested, especially if you're going to see family members that could get very sick from COVID. Second, before you travel, get tested. And then before you come back home, get tested again because you wouldn't want to bring COVID back to your family from wherever you are visiting better. If you're feeling sick and you have your scheduled to go to a gathering, get tested first. That's the way to know if you have COVID because you wouldn't want to go to a gathering to see friends and family members that you might not have seen for a long time If you have COVID and you could risk getting them sick.

So, to help you to do all of this, Test & Trace Corps has been there with you by your side at every step of the fight against COVID. And now, we're going to be able to help you by doing more testing than ever before. Our mobile fleet, which where I'm announcing today, we are doubling the size of. Started back in August of 2020, we had two mobile units at that time, and I remember they were so popular and successful, because, at that time, being able to move testing around guided by you, our communities, was, far and away, the most effective way to do it, you know, where we need to bring testing. And we've always delivered on the promise of bringing testing to where you tell us where needed the most. By February of 2021, we had 40 mobile units.

Today, I'm announcing that we are doubling the size of our mobile fleet. We've already been able to be at more than 1,400 locations across New York City guided by you, by your communities, and your community leaders who know your communities the best and are able to tell us where we're needed the most. And that's where we are. By working together, we've been able to, with our mobile fleet alone, do nearly 1 million COVID tests in New York City since August of 2020. So, finally moving forward, Test and Trace will be there with you throughout COVID. We'll be there with you to help you, if you could track to COVID, we'll be there with you to help you if you've been exposed to COVID. Now we're making testing faster, easier, more accessible, and it is always free with Test and Trace Corps than ever before. As long as COVID is a threat to our city, you can count on Test and Trace Corps being there with you by your side, helping you until we're through this safely together. And we will do it together as we have throughout. Thank you, sir.

Mayor: Thank you so much, Ted. Great job to you and all the wonderful folks at Test and Trace core. Thank you. Excellent work. And what a clear, strong message from Dr. Ted Long about the importance of getting tested as another way to defend ourselves against COVID and move forward. Now, I want you to hear from a great community leader, because one of the great stories of the fight against COVID has been what community organizations have done to reach people. In this case, Hatzalah, which is an amazing ambulance corps out there saving lives all the time. The work they have done year in and year out is amazing. But during COVID the good people who serve in Hatzalah have been out encouraging people to get tested, encouraging people to get vaccinated, helping to make it happen. They’ve played a crucial role in the community level. I want to thank everyone at Hatzalah. And I want to introduce to you all the CEO of this great organization, Rabbi Yehiel Kalish.


Mayor: Thank you so much, Rabbi. And Rabbi, what a great testimony on a very human family level about why it's so important to get vaccinated, why it's so important to get the booster. And I want to thank you. You've really helped to reach people in the community and keep people safe. Thank you to you and all the good people who you lead in Hatzalah.

Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, Chevra Hatzalah: Thank you, sir.

Mayor: Now, everyone, as we fight our way through, and I'm really happy to say we are winning this battle, New York City coming back stronger all the way. But we know a lot of New Yorkers have struggled during this pandemic. And one of the biggest issues for people has been just trying to keep their lives together with all these challenges. And that starts with keeping a roof over their heads, making sure that their families knew they would have housing, despite all the disruptions, all the challenges we've gone through. Well, this is something thank God, we were working on before the pandemic. Well, before the pandemic. Great work done, I want to thank the City Council for the wonderful role they played. And a labor of love for so many people in my administration to help make sure that no one is ever illegally evicted in this city.
No one ever loses their home when there's any way to keep them in it appropriately and protect what a family has. And we decided a long time ago to provide legal counsel to New Yorkers in need to make sure that their rights were protected, to make sure tenants were not unfairly treated particularly when they went to court. Someone unrepresented in court is in a very vulnerable situation. We wanted people to be represented, wanted people to be safe. We wanted people to stay in their homes if there was the right way to do that. We were doing that for years and years and then we passed the Right to Counsel law and really supercharged the effort. And now we know that we've seen really amazing positive outcomes. When you give someone counsel and you give someone a lawyer who wouldn't have it otherwise to defend their rights, good things happen.

So, here's what we now know from the research that's been done. Providing those free legal services has made a huge difference. 84 percent of the time, the New Yorkers who are represented by lawyers under the Right to Counsel program were able to stay in their homes. 84 percent of the time. That meant so many families that have the safety and security of knowing they could go home at night. Now the scale has been huge. We've now provided legal services to over 100,000 New Yorkers in need over these last years. And particularly in the context of the pandemic, it's been life-changing. I want to give you context. The year before I took office, only one percent, only one percent of tenants in housing court had full representation. Think about it, greatest city in the world and we are, but think about the thousands and thousands of New Yorkers who were threatened with eviction, many times unfairly, would go to housing court alone. Only one percent had representation. We changed that. We added a lot of free legal services to stop evictions. We built up the Right to Counsel initiative. Before the pandemic we had reached 38 percent of tenants represented when they went to court. Now, as the program has grown and expanded, 71 percent of tenants who go to court now have legal representation. We've got more work to do, but it's been a huge step forward.

A lot of people to thank because this has become a model really being emulated all over the country, making sure there's fairness and justice for all, regardless of means to pay. I want to now bring forward someone who's really been not only a leader of this effort and one of the architects of this effort, but long before was showing the city how important it was to stop the evictions that were plaguing families, give people the legal support they deserve. He's done amazing work before he came into government, amazing work in our administration, our Commissioner of Social Services, Steve Banks.

Commissioner Steven Banks, Department of Social Services: Thank you very much, Mayor for your kind words. But more, we thank you very much for your support for this work in this program. I can remember when you were a Council member talking to you about the importance of having there be a Right to Counsel. When you became mayor you at the beginning of the administration gave us the funding and the direction to pilot providing more legal representation. And then that culminated in the 2017, first in the nation Right to Counsel law. I see that Council Member Gibson, soon to be Borough President Gibson is about – is joining us. And I know that she, along with Council Member Levine and soon to be Borough President Levine were incredibly important partners along with the whole Council in making this happen. But in a sort of really a basic level, Mayor, I can remember being a Legal Aid lawyer and you'd walk into the courtroom. And everybody was represented who was a landlord. And we were representing very few people. And when you say one out of 100, one percent of before the administration imagine what that would be like to be a tenant coming into a courtroom in that situation. And what this Right To Counsel law has really done is level the playing field, essentially giving David an opportunity to be on an equal terms with Goliath in terms of keeping a roof over your head.

And the numbers are the numbers. Before the pandemic evictions were down in New York City by City Marshals, 41 percent from the beginning of the administration while evictions were up all across the country. Even during the pandemic with the eviction moratorium, there have been gaps in coverage. There have been cases filed. And that is I think the story of the pandemic, that legal services lawyers through and legal services workers through the Right To Counsel law have been representing people, helping them file the hardship declarations, keeping people in their homes. You're so right to point to the 100,000 tenants that got help during the pandemic. That is part of an overall half a million people who have gotten help since the beginning of the administration.

I want to also highlight how important it is as you have said, when the eviction moratorium expired at the beginning of January, this is a program that will be in place to help people keep a roof over their heads and to continue that track record of making a real difference in people's lives. Again, I want to thank you for your support. I want to thank our whole agency for the work that we have done. Council Member Gibson, Council Member Levine, but most importantly, the providers, the legal services providers on the front lines every day making a difference in people's lives.

Mayor: Thank you so much, Steve. And this is something you should be very proud of and everyone who fought for this, it really is making a difference. So, congratulations to you. And your right to give a lot of credit to both the Council members you mentioned, obviously want to thank Council Member Mark Levine for his great efforts. But I want to focus now on the great efforts of Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who was one of the passionate leaders of this effort. She has an incredible ability to hear the needs of the people and turn it into action. She's been doing that in her Council district in the Bronx. But now she will be doing it for all of the Bronx as the next borough president of that great borough. My pleasure to introduce Council Member Vanessa Gibson.


All right, let's see if we can – can we do anything? We're having a little technical difficulty. Let's see if we can get her back in just a second. What I'll do is I'm going to go to our indicators in the meantime and see if we can get her back and confirmed. But again, you got the gist of the most important part. Council Member Vanessa Gibson and her colleagues working with this administration, did something absolutely historic. It has been working and it has become a model for the nation. So, we are really, really proud of that.

Let me do our indicators for today. Number one, great number, doses administered to date, 12,268,734. Number two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19. Today's report is 107 patients. Confirmed positivity level of 20.69 percent. Hospitalization rate per 100,000 New Yorkers is 0.54. And then new reported cases on a seven-day average, today’s report, 1,020 cases. Do a few words in Spanish and want to go back to the original topic. The testing, how important testing is, urging all New Yorkers to make testing part of how we all fight back against COVID together.

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that let's see if we got the Council member. Okay. We're going to give it one more chance here. Her audio is still off? Okay.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson: Hello, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: Whoa, can you hear us?

Council Member Gibson: Yes, I can hear you.

Mayor: Okay. We lost you. We lost you after your first few paragraphs. And you had said it was a first in the nation effort and then pick it up from there.


Mayor: Thank you so much, Council Member. Job well done. You have a lot to be proud of. And I love hearing that list of other cities that have picked up this idea. Now, people getting helped all over and you're one of the reasons why. You should be very proud of this. Thank you so much.

Alright. Now, we're turning to our colleagues in the media. Please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.

Moderator: Good morning. We'll now begin the Q-and-A. As a reminder, we're joined today by Dr. Dave Chokshi, Health Commissioner; Ted Long, head of Test and Trace; and Steve Banks, HRA and DSS Commissioner. Our first question today goes to Elizabeth with Gothamist.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I was wondering if you and Dr. Chokshi could clarify the guidance on testing. Does that apply to even vaccinated individuals who are planning to be at events with other vaccinated individuals?

Mayor: Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Long will give you the clarification, Elizabeth. I think the important point to make is that testing is another powerful tool to keep people safe. And again, we're winning this battle against COVID, but we’ve got to keep at it. Vaccinations for those not yet vaccinated, boosters for those who are vaccinated, testing on a regular basis. Dr. Chokshi, then Dr. Long.

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. I'll start with the big picture and I know Dr. Long will fill in. The brief version is that when fully vaccinated people are gathering with other fully vaccinated people, that does mean that the risk is significantly lower, and that's why we've taken all of the steps that we have to encourage vaccination. And those are the safest types of gatherings that people can have over the holidays. With respect to the testing guidance that was announced today, it does apply to everyone regardless of vaccination. And the reason for that is that it's one more layer of safety, you know, one more precaution, particularly when you have groups of people coming together due to gatherings or travel. But I'll turn to Dr. Long, who's really been leading the charge on this.

Mayor: Thank you. Dr. Long?

Executive Director Long: Thank you. And Dr. Chokshi said all of the important points. I will just emphasize that what's enabled us to be successful as a city in keeping our city safe with respect to COVID has been our layered approach and our ability to do all of this together. So, yes, the guidance does apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. And, today, on several – on many days, more than 100,000 people are getting tested on a given day, that includes vaccinated and unvaccinated people. So, New Yorkers are willing to still be courageous and make these sacrifices. And going into the holidays, we just want to make sure that we're continuing to not let our guard down and keep our city safe the same way that we have throughout. It's particularly relevant for unvaccinated people, but, for everyone, we want to control this virus to keep our city safe.

Mayor: Amen. Go, ahead, Elizabeth. Elizabeth? Maybe you're muted. I don't know. Elizabeth, are you there? Well, we can go – we can go on and we'll give her a second question after.

Moderator: We can go to Juliet with 1010 WINS.

Question: Hey, Mr. Mayor. Good morning. Good morning, everybody. I don't know if you caught Mayor-elect Eric Adams on Stephen Colbert last night, but he was offering him marijuana rolling papers. Do you think that's a good idea?

Mayor: I want to check the contents of that bag, Juliet. I think it may have been simulated. But look, I think it was fun. I just think it was fun. He was playing around. Eric's got a great sense of humor. And I really just appreciate that he had a good time on that show, because that's the idea. Go ahead, Juliet.

Question: Okay. Second, different topic – what are your concerns about rising infection rates? Governor Hochul has been indicating that she would impose restrictions if the numbers spike. Are you and your health experts also considering that?

Mayor: No. We will always watch for the facts. Obviously, everything's led by the data and the science. That's why New York City has done so well. And our comeback and our recovery from COVID will always be focused on the data and science. But we just went over the data with you and, thank God, the situation is still very good here in New York City. I know there's some real challenges around the state, but it's very good here, because of the high level of vaccination and because we're continuing to expand vaccination every single day. I mean, right away, you see in, literally, about 10 days’ time a very successful youth vaccination effort that's reached almost 75,000 5- to 11-year-olds. We see constant efforts, because of our mandates, reaching more and more of our public employees, more and more New Yorkers. The incentives and, obviously, now, the heavy focus on the boosters – it's all working. So, we need to keep doing this and do the testing as well. That's how we make sure we never have to go to those kind of restrictions.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Steve with WCBS 880.

Question: Hey. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. How are you?

Mayor: Good, Steve. How you been?

Question: Doing all right. Another testing question for you. Just wanted to see – I guess Dr. Long could also weigh in on this – what the average turnaround time is right now so if we tell folks to get tested before they travel or get a large gathering, how far in advance should they be doing that?

Mayor: Excellent question. This is truly news you can use, because people need to know this as they're making their plan. So, Dr. Long, what's the real-world reality of how long it's taken people to get their results back?

Executive Director Long: Thank you, Steve. Great question. So, the median turnaround time, the last I saw, which we’ll send you later today, the absolute [inaudible] version was one day. So, that's one day median turnaround time across all of our testing in New York City. I also want to make the point, Steve, though, that we do want to encourage people to get tested in whatever format makes sense for them. So, we have rapid tests. We have antigen tests where you can get your result back within 15 minutes. All of our newly [inaudible] to be over the next month, doubled mobile fleet through Test and Trace will always offer the PCR test with the median turnaround time of one day, rapid tests with a turnaround time of 15 minutes, and also saliva tests if that's the way that you want to get tested for you and your family. We want to try to meet you where you are. I think one day is very good for turnaround time and good going to make everybody aware of that. So, I appreciate your question. But our goal is really to meet you where you are, whatever way you want to get tested.

Mayor: Amen. Go ahead, Steve.

Question: Thank you very much. Kind of a bigger picture question on where we are on COVID – what metrics should we be looking at, at this point, to see where we are? I've seen some opinions that say case numbers are getting less relevant now, because of vaccines. So, you know, among the health experts here, what should we be looking at to see if we're in good shape or deteriorating shape, getting into the colder months here?

Mayor: I'll start before the health experts and say, because I want to speak to my fellow New Yorkers. Bottom line, the number of vaccinated New Yorkers is the single most important fact. That's the number-one metric, and that includes number of folks who've gotten the booster. And then, number-two, hospitalization rate. Those are the two things we watch most intently. Dr. Chokshi, then Dr. Long.

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. And, yes, the Mayor is absolutely right. Those are the key indicators, which the Mayor goes over every day, as you know, and which we share through these conferences as well as on our website each day. We always look at everything to create the full picture. And the vaccination rate gives us the best picture about who is protected across New York City. And then, we look at cases, and hospitalizations, and deaths as well. What we are seeing is that we've had an uptick in cases in recent days. But what we're following is whether or not that translates into a significant increase in the severe outcomes, particularly hospitalizations and deaths. We're not seeing that as yet, but we have to keep a close eye on it. But the important thing is, even as we follow all of the data, we have a lot of agency. We have a lot of control over what this season will look like. We have more tools at our disposal than we did at the same time last year, particularly vaccination with the pediatric vaccination drive, as well as our boosters. But we also have tools that help us to avert the most severe outcomes. For example, access to monoclonal antibody treatment. And we have oral antivirals coming on the horizon as well. So, let me wrap it all up to say, we'll look at all of the data as we always do. We want to make sure that we prevent the most severe outcomes from COVID, and we have the tools to do that.

Mayor: Amen. Dr. Long, do you want to add?

Executive Director Long: Yeah. I'd love to add. Steve, I really appreciate that question. As Dr. Chokshi said, concretely, we look at cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and that guides how we deploy our resources and what we do across New York City. But I want you to know – and I really meant when I said this – and I am proud to be a New Yorker, because of everything New Yorkers do every day. People are wearing their masks. People are getting tested. And then, what Dr. Chokshi and I do to make sure we're providing all the protection we can for our city is make tests available, make monoclonal antibodies available, continue things like contact tracing, where we're currently reaching 89 percent of all new cases. We've identified 1.2 million close contacts, which is 1.2 million opportunities to break chains of transmission. And that's something special to New York City. We're going to continue doing all of these things, some behind the scenes, some are right out in front, which is us talking about testing today to keep our cities safe. And I think that makes a definable difference compared to other cities. But it all comes down to, I think, the courage and New Yorkers have had throughout of getting tested, getting vaccinated at higher rates than other places. And everything else – we're going to continue to do everything else to protect our city to follow that.

Mayor: Thank you so much. Go ahead.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Katie with The City.

Question: Hey. Good morning, Mayor de Blasio. How are you?

Mayor: Good, Katie? How have you been?

Question: I’m good. So, I wanted to ask – so, I wrote a story about families who were displaced from their homes because of Hurricane Ida. They were saying that in a hotel near Kennedy Airport, and they were kind of getting bounced around, I guess. HPD updated me this morning that they will stay in Queens in some way. But I'm curious, I know that after Ida happened, there was a lot of discussion on your part about, I guess, providing services and help to these families. I just don't know, you know, what is the long-term plan for some of these tenants of homes that are still uninhabitable? Maybe they have unique circumstances where it makes it difficult. But I just wanted to know if you had an update on what's going to happen to a lot of these families. HPD said that they provide housing to more than 380 people since Ida. So, I don't know what the City's plan is.

Mayor: Yeah. Katie, the last information I got, the vast majority of people, thank God, we're able to go back to their homes, because most of the damage in most cases was just basements. And it was real damage, and very expensive, and very painful, let alone the horrible tragedies that some families went through when they lost people. But what I've understood is, the vast majority of families who did need our hotels were able to go back to their homes. Anyone who is unable to go back to their home, of course, we'll do everything to get them to some kind of permanent or long-term affordable housing. And we, obviously, want to keep people as close to home as possible in the process. So, we'll continue to support each family until they get to full resolution hopefully in the vast majority of cases, meaning their home is good again and some place they can be. Go ahead, Katie.

Question: So, you mentioned getting long-term affordable housing. I mean, what is – the homeowners I spoke to – or, not the homeowners, the tenants and the residents I spoke to, they said they don't have – they haven't heard anything about any, kind of, long-term affordable housing option. They want to stay in the neighborhoods because their children go to school there or grandchildren. So, do you have more details? Because I think these people would love to hear what the City's plan is to ensure that they get long-term affordable housing or whatever kind of housing they need. And then, in addition, what's the latest update on the City's work in terms of creating like a database of basement apartments for, God forbid, the next time a storm happens. What is the latest on that?

Mayor: That will be done. We said at the very beginning, when we put out the report after Hurricane Ida, that work has to be done ahead of the next hurricane season. It is moving forward. It is funded. It is going to happen on schedule. Before that, it takes a lot of work, it's never been done before in the history of the city. It will get done. I'm quite confident. And I checked in on this recently. To the families – look, Katie, we've had this situation after other tragedies. Any family that can go back to their home, that's, by far, the ideal. And any way we can support them, and there's a lot of different City tools, federal tools, State tools to help them get back to their home, stay in their home. That is by far the ideal. We've had some situations, you remember the fire some months ago in Queens, where there was no way to go back to the home. In that case, we moved to get people affordable housing as close to the home neighborhood as possible. But the truth is, there are limits on where affordable housing is and we can't always find the ideal of getting someone back right where they were and in affordable housing. Sometimes we have to say, hey, if you want the affordable housing, it's in another part of the borough, this is what we have available now, we'll do our best to make the match. But, again, I think in the case of Ida, the vast majority of families can get back to their homes. We'll support them in doing that. Anyone who – literally, the home is no longer livable, we'll work with them to find the closest location possible and as quickly as possible some affordable option. And I'll have our team follow up. And any family that hasn't heard, then we'll make sure that folks from HPD are talking to them directly.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Reuvain with Hamodia.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. How are you doing today?

Mayor: Good, Reuvain. How are you?

Question: Not liking the cold –

Mayor: I agree. We are in total unity today, Reuvain.

Question: So, my question is for you and the doctors. A State Health Department official, who was interviewed as part of the Cuomo investigation whose transcripts were released last week, expressed her unhappiness to investigators with what she described as the executive chamber controlling State DOH actions during COVID and not allowing them to work together with the City. Now, I want to specifically ask you about how a few weeks after Cuomo enacted the Cluster Action Initiative, some elected officials and red zones were calling on the city to, once again, release the seven-day COVID infection rates by ZIP code. They said that the numbers would show that the rates in their communities had gone down and the red zones are no longer justified. But the City did not release those numbers, despite many requests from the electeds and the media officials. The City said, you wanted to align with the State's approach, which was no longer ZIP code based. So, now, that presumably there's no more fear of crossing Cuomo, I'd like to ask, while at this time City officials presented the refusal to release the numbers as a spirit of collaboration with the State, did you, in fact, want to release them all along while the pressured by the executive chamber not to do so?

Mayor: Reuvain, I would say it differently, honestly, we thought the approach that we were taking was the clearest approach. I was confused and confounded by the zones the State created. They were somehow, you know, self-created geographical units when we were working from well-recognized geography and we thought it just made so much more sense to just take what we knew and work from that. And you hit the nail on the head that unfortunately at that point with that Governor, the State – if the city did something, no matter how good or how effective, the State had to do it some different way. So, a lot of good work was done down here that got ignored and the State came up with its own system and we wanted to avoid even further confusion so that's why we did what we did. But I'll let the doctors comment on the bigger situation as doctors. I would say this, we knew that people were being told not to talk to us because we couldn't get answers from them, that's how we knew, and that's just wrong. It was a global pandemic, it was wrong that the professionals were not really allowed to talk to the professionals and get the kind of answers that would protect people's health. Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Long, you want to add anything? 

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. Not much to add, you know, just on the question of why we went with ZIP codes, the brief note that I'll add is that, you know, we always use science and data, but we match it up to the human experience. You know, the guidance that we give has to be couched in the context of how people actually live their lives, and so people know their ZIP code, you know, people know the geography that they're associated with based on their ZIP code, and so that's why, you know, we put forward that approach. And as you know, Reuvain, we continue to report our test positivity by ZIP code on our website as well. The only other thing I'll say is that, you know, it's, it's been a wonderful collaboration with the State Health Department over the last few weeks and months, and we're all in this fight against the virus together, and that's how that's how we should all be doing our jobs as professionals.  

Mayor: Amen. Go ahead, Reuvain. 

Question: So, yeah, this official who was interviewed, she also said there were metrics our staff would work on, but they would only be announced that people met the metrics if they came from the executive chamber. Some areas met the metrics and will be called the zone, and others met the metrics that would not be called the zone. Did you have any discussions or try to have any discussions arguing about the different color coded zones? Or were there any other specific issues you could point to of difficulties you had with the State where they forced you or didn't allow you to do something you want it to, and in hindsight, do you feel you maybe should've stood up more forcefully and publicly against the Governor? 

Mayor: Reuvain, I feel I stood up forcefully and publicly against the Governor many times starting with the really foundational point about shelter in place, and I called for it, he attacked that very readily. I only wish he had acted quicker, we could have saved a lot more lives. There's plenty of times when I stood up to him. I stood up to him on freedom to vaccinate, that's the only reason we were able to vaccinate seniors and first responders as quickly as we did. Yeah, we fought over a lot of these things and it was sad. It shouldn't have been that way. It just shouldn't have been that way. 

Moderator: We're going to go back to Elizabeth for her second question. 

Question: Thank you so much. I wanted to ask about the Governor's comments yesterday, that if we get through the holidays without a surge, that she would direct the State Health Department to look at ways to relax measures that includes masks in schools. And I wanted you, Mr. Mayor, and also possibly Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Long to comment on that. 

Mayor: Look, I haven't seen the Governor's specific comments. I'll only say what position we're taking here in New York City, I'd say don't count your chickens before they're hatched. You know, we feel really good about where we are in the fight against COVID because we have such a high level of vaccination, and we believe people are hearing the call to get vaccinated. You know, young people getting vaccinated in high numbers, folks are coming out for the booster. We need to keep that going and now add this testing approach intensely on top of it. So, I feel very good about where we stand, but before we take away the things that have worked, we have to be really, really certain. Our schools have been an amazing example of a strategy that worked. We created a gold standard of health and safety measures. They worked, they kept the school safe, our schools are open, our kids are all in school, this is a great, great thing for the city, but we have to protect it. So, at some point we would love to take away the mask restriction, but that has to be based on the data and the science. We have to be really, really sure it's the right time to do it. Dr. Chokshi? 

Commissioner Chokshi: Sir, you said it all. I would just add by saying that we have to be more relentless than the virus. We've been at this for almost two years and, you know, time and again this virus has humbled us and so we need to bring to bear every possible intervention that we can to continue saving lives and preventing suffering, and we have to do it with a lot of humility. Thank you. 

Mayor: Dave Chokshi once again, breaks it on down, we have to be more relentless than the virus. Dave, you said it all there. That's a really great way of thinking about it and that's how we win in the end. 

Moderator: Our next question goes to Mike with the Daily News. 

Question: Hey, good morning, Mr. Mayor. Good morning to everybody on the call, how are you doing? 

Mayor: I'm doing well, except I always think of you as Michael. Your byline says Michael, but the team here from City Hall always says Mike. What do you prefer? 

Question: I – it doesn't matter. I, you know, and when I put my name in it, I put in Mike or Michael depending on how rushed I am I guess. 

Mayor: It depends on the day.  

Question: I appreciate you asking. I appreciate you asking. Thank you.  

Mayor: You're all right, man.  

Question: I wanted to ask you about the Council Speaker's race which, you know, ultimately may or may not affect you depending on what you do after your Mayor. Who do you like to become the next City Council Speaker? 

Mayor: I like a lot of people. Look, I've worked closely with most of the folks whoo are running, there's a lot of great people. I'm not going to handicap, I'm not going to tell you specific vignettes about each person. I'm going to say there are a lot of great candidates. I ran for Speaker myself once upon a time. I can tell you a lot of really capable people who are looking at that job and that's good for New York City. Go ahead, Michael. 

Question: So, I want to go back to something you said earlier in the news briefing. You said something to the effect, I'm not going to quote exactly, but that this $100 that's being offered as an incentive that, you know, we deserve this, right? And I'm taking my kids and to get their vaccinations today, I'm trying to teach them both critical thinking skills, and so when I ask about this, you know, what – why do we deserve this? And couldn't that money be better spent, you know, as opposed to, you know, each – I don't know if they're going to – my kids are going each get a $100 bill today or what – when I take them to get vaccinations, I'm not sure what to expect, but you know, why do they deserve it as opposed to, you know, one of the many public school kids in the city who are, you know, unfortunately homeless, right? I mean, can you, I guess, talk about that a bit? 

Mayor: Yeah, listen, Michael I know the question is from the heart, but let me put it in perspective. We – 400,000 New Yorkers have gotten that incentive. That means 400,000 people who got vaccinated, which is keeping the entire city safe and is why we are one of the safest places in the country, which is why jobs are coming back, tourists are coming back. This is what we need for our city. For a lot of people that incentive meant a lot, and it depends on the family, obviously some families maybe $100 doesn't mean a lot, there's a hell of a lot of families for whom $100 is a very, very big deal. When they hear the kids can each get $100, it encourages them to come forward, get over some of the concerns they have. I mean, I'm not saying they're not valid concerns or real concerns, but a lot of people just need that extra little incentive to get there and it's helped. So, we thought, of course, about what's the best use of public money. This is the best use of public money, if it gets more people vaccinated. By getting people vaccinated, we bring the city back. There's other things we have to attend to, but job one is to bring this city back. 

Moderator: We have time for two more questions for today. Our next question goes to Erin with Politico. 

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. I want to ask, do you have any data with regards to the booster shots on how much they are preventing breakthrough cases or how much they are boosting effectiveness? Like for instance, I think we saw there was a study out of the UK yesterday that the booster bumped it back up to 94 percent. Do we have anything from that [inaudible] the city on how effective they are? 

Mayor: Excellent, excellent question. On that, I’m going to turn to the doctors to give you the latest from their research, Dr. Chokshi then Dr. Long. 

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you so much, sir, and thanks Erin for this important question. The short answer is that no, we don't have city specific data as yet, although we are tracking this in terms of booster shot uptake, as well as effectiveness. But it will take us, you know, a bit longer to have to have any results that we're able to share. But what we do know is there is a strong scientific evidence-based not just from the clinical trials that was done on the boosters, which the FDA and the CDC reviewed, which showed both an increase in protection upwards of 90 percent, as you mentioned against symptomatic disease once one gets a booster shot. But perhaps even more importantly, for people who are particularly vulnerable, the protection against the most severe outcomes like hospitalization and death is even greater than that, and it's that evidence-based that has led us to encourage the uptake of booster shots broadly, but particularly for people who are more vulnerable, including those older than 65, people with underlying medical conditions, and particularly those who received the J & J vaccine. Thank you. 

Mayor: Thank you, Dr. Long. You want to add? 

Executive Director Long: Yeah, just Erin, on a personal note, I appreciate your question. We're looking forward to understanding its effect across New York City. I've gotten my booster because I believe in the evidence that Dr. Chokshi just said and as I tell my patients, this is what the evidence means. I believe in it enough that I've gotten the booster myself and I offered to give the booster to my patients myself, and that offers on the table for you to wear, Erin. 

Mayor: Go ahead, Erin. 

Question: You know I already got mine, but thank you for the offer. I also wanted to ask, we were talking about holiday gatherings, getting tested, but also, you know, Dr. Chokshi mentioned vaccinated – all vaccinated gatherings being the safest. Just wondering if you have any guidance for, you know, holidays can be a source of tension for families. I think there are some situations where, you know, there's an unvaccinated relative and that maybe is causing a source of conflict. How do you think people should handle that for their gatherings? Are you probably going to say encourage them to get vaccinated, but assuming that hasn't worked, you know, should you not invite unvaccinated people or uninvite them, and try to have a vaccinated only gathering, or is there some other mitigation you can take? 

Mayor: It's a great question. Erin has a tough question and look someday we'll look back at this time in our history, and I hope we'll look back at it as a time in the past that isn't repeated in terms of this conflict over something as basic as how we keep people healthy. I hope this is a passing moment. I really do. And I think in the end when we come out of COVID and it is proven that vaccination is what saved us, that people are going to reevaluate, sort of get away from the political tensions and see things differently over time. So, I'm hopeful for the future, but for the here and now it's a real concern. I think there is a strength, truly, in setting your own ground rule. You know, you think about what we've done with schools. When we said all the adults in schools had to be vaccinated, with restaurants, we said, you have to be vaccinated to go to the restaurant. What the Broadway community did, they said, you want to see the most amazing theater in the world, you have to be vaccinated. It really encouraged people, and it said, this is just a clear ground rule. And basically we saw a lot of people meet that ground rule. Even if it wasn't the original intention, they did meet the ground rule. So, I would say, for families, to encourage the many, many people out there who – it's not a dogmatic thing, it's something where they just haven't made up their mind, or they're feeling pulled in different directions. But I think if families say, look for the good – especially the oldest relatives – let's all get vaccinated. I think a lot of other family members will hear that, they'll respect it, and that's going to be encouragement for people to get vaccinated. And even a situation where you just have some unmovable people, you got to figure out if you can create a safe environment. If you can, maybe that's the compromise you make certain, you know, steps you take to keep everyone safe. Maybe it's one more set of holidays where there's a lot of zoom, which is not fun for anyone, but maybe that's necessary particularly, again, to protect older people. But I –, my advice to folks is if you believe in vaccination, set that rule for your home, not in a negative way, but in a positive way, encouraging others to get vaccinated for the good of all. 

Moderator: Our last question for today goes to Abu with Bangla Patrika. 

Mayor: Can you hear us? If you don't have him, you can go to one other, if you have? That's all we have? All right. So, I'll wrap up and I'm just going to repeat because I love this so much with what Dave Chokshi said. I’m going to do a book of Dave Chokshi sayings. We have to be more relentless than the virus that says it all everyone. New Yorkers have been more relentless than the virus. That's why we're doing as well as we're doing. Let's keep showing the world what New York City's capable of and come back strong. Thank you, everybody. 

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