December 27, 2021
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. Well, first of all, I hope everyone had great Christmas, great holidays, had a chance to be with loved ones and friends and just have some time to reflect and enjoy. I hope everyone had a great time. And another holiday upon us, Kwanzaa started yesterday. Yesterday's principle was Umoja, unity, something we need so much of at this moment in our city, and our country, and everyone can be a part of creating. Today, we honor the principle of Kujichagulia, which means self-determination. And this is very pertinent to everything we're trying is we build the future of this city in terms of the importance of not just coming back after COVID, but coming back better, fairer, more just, more inclusive. That's why we create our Task Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity. Leaders of color in the city government who brought forward powerful ideas that have been put into action to create more equity. And that's going to continue. Our Racial Justice Commission about to put out its report powerful changes that will make an impact for this city for years to come. We honor this principle in action, and I wish everyone a very, very happy Kwanzaa and happy holidays to all. And get ready for a very, very happy new year.
Now, to get to a happy new year, obviously we’ve got to keep fighting COVID. We talk about every day. We've seen a huge uptick. We all see it, the Omicron variant as advertised and more, the speed and intensity of it. Now, thank God, so far, we're seeing cases are generally speaking mild, but we are not letting down our guard one bit. And the key is always vaccination. We want to keep promoting vaccination, deepening, vaccination, every way We announced the booster incentive, back on Tuesday, I'm very happy to say New Yorkers are responding almost 180,000 New Yorkers have gotten that booster just since Tuesday – 180,000 more. And you've got till the end of this week, Friday to get that hundred-dollar incentive. It is a wonderful thing. It's working. Go take advantage of it. We're almost up to 2 million New Yorkers who've got the booster, want to see a lot more today. Also, we make history in New York City and we lead the nation with the strongest vaccine mandate anywhere. Private Sector vaccine mandate, reaching hundreds of thousands of businesses. And we put this mandate into action as Omicron was coming, but we had no idea it would be quite this intense. But we knew with Omicron coming, with cold weather, it was time to do more. Well, thank God we did, because these mandates have been absolutely necessary to keep the city going. The reason the city keeps going, the reason we are open when some of their places are shut down is because of our focus on vaccination, because we use mandates and incentives. We have got to double down because one thing we can all agree, and I've talked to a lot of business leaders about this, COVID is bad for humans. It's bad for our health, but it's also bad for business. And if we want to avoid shutdowns and I believe we must, we need more and more people vaccinated.
So, today, the mandate goes in effect for the entire private sector of New York City, all employers. This is how we get people vaccinated and we've engaging business leaders, a lot of questions and concerns, which we're working with them on, but also a lot of recognition that this works and it's better that it's something universal for all. And we need to keep doubling down on vaccination to get out of the COVID era once and for all. I want you to hear from someone who has been an extraordinary voice during this crisis. He has been an advisor to me in my administration helping us navigate COVID and many challenges before. He's a national a leader runs the, the founding director, in fact, a National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Director of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative. He advises President Biden and has advised leaders over the decades in this country. And I want you to hear from now my pleasure, introduce Dr. Irwin Redlener.
Mayor: Thank you, Irwin. And Irwin, you have been extraordinarily helpful in guiding our policies and approaches over the last few years, and I know your voice is heard all over the nation. So, I, I know you will sound the message far and wide that these mandates work, and we can use them to end this COVID era we've been living through and just thank you for being so committed to the people in New York City and giving of yourself to help us through this crisis. Thank you, brother.
Dr. Redlener: Of course.
Mayor: And everyone, a reminder, in addition to the private sector of vaccine mandate taking effect today, also today with the Key to NYC, our extraordinarily effective initiative to make sure that everyone is vaccinated in indoor dining entertainment, fitness we're now going to a two-dose requirement, as of today, for everyone 12 years old and up so you know that people are well protected when you go to the movie theater, when you go out to dine, whatever it is. Everyone’s well protected, everyone keeps each other's safe.
Okay, now we're going to do something very special. We have a very special guest with us joining us from a very, very far away. Joining us across the ocean, but we share a deep bond, and we share values and have, have been on a journey together. We're going to hear in a moment from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and we're going talk about a couple different issues. But I want to start by saying, I have such respect for what Mayor Khan has done in one of the world's great cities. And for a New Yorker to acknowledge the greatness of another city, well, that takes a little something in us. But it's true – London, one of the great global cities. And what Mayor Khan has done is create a more equitable, more inclusive London. He has been a positive symbol to the whole world, but he's also a friend to me and a colleague who I've value you dearly. And Chirlane and I have gotten to know Mayor Sadiq Khan over these last few years, and we've shared together vision and approaches and ideas and commiserated sometimes, what's going work, how do we do this? And it's been a special bond. And I just want to say to him, I honor you, my brother, you have, you have done amazing things. And it's a real special pleasure to have you with us today. We're going to talk about Thrive and Mental Health. We're going to talk about congestion pricing, two things that near and dear to Mayor Khan and London has done so well. And it's my great pleasure to bring to all New Yorkers from across the pond, Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Mayor: Sadiq, I can't thank you enough for what you're creating there for everyone. And it's going to spread around the world. And I want you to hear from Chirlane. You and I will come back in a moment to talk about another important issue, but I want you to hear from Chirlane, because I remember that vividly and I remember the passion that she expressed about the change we needed to make. And she's made it here and it's reaching all over the world. My pleasure, everyone now to bring into this conversation, our First Lady Chirlane McCray.
First Lady Chirlane McCray: Good morning.
Mayor: Good morning.
First Lady: Thank you for your time. It is so wonderful to see you and congratulations for all you've been able to do to change the approach to mental health in London and to help. And the stigma. As you know, Thrive came about after we had listened to what New Yorkers told us about their own personal and family experiences at town halls all over the city. And we looked at other cities and other countries to see what had worked well and learned from others. Thrive was always meant to be shared. The lessons that we learned were always meant to be, you know, shared freely with anyone who wanted to figure out how to give more support to people in their communities, in their families, make sure people have easier access to care from people who know them, but especially more education. And we know that education goes a long way to help people under understand how to prevent crisis and more serious illness. And we're still encouraging people to look at mental fitness, the same way you look at physical fitness. Beginning at a young age with programs like social, emotional learning. I'm so proud of what we've accomplished in our city in these past eight years and so grateful for our partnership Mayor Khan. I wish I had been able to come and do the conference with you this past summer and to see what work that Thrive London has done, especially during this pandemic. But, most importantly, I'm just thrilled that Thrive will continue to inspire others. Thrive here has grown. It's now the Office of Community Mental Health and a permanent part of City government. And so, it will continue to inspire people everywhere, I hope, and thanks to you and so many other mental champions. As Bill said, if two of the biggest cities in the world can be partners and innovate together, what other problems can we tackle together? Maybe we'll find out in 2022. I hope so. Thank you, mate. Best wishes to you in the new year.
Mayor: A nice British twist there, Chirlane. Thank you so much, Chirlane. And Sadiq, I want to just say to you, we have been fighting through this pandemic both of us and our teams and our cities, but we also know when we do put the COVID era behind us we're going to be dealing with the great existential threat of our time, climate change. And you've been a leader globally on this. I want to thank you for that. The leadership you provide among mayors and leaders around the world has been profound. I just want to talk to you now about something that you have. And now I'm going to give you the greatest moniker, because you have something that we should have, which is congest pricing to reduce emissions, to create a healthier city, to reduce congestion. We need it here in New York City. We don't have it yet. We're fighting for it. I think it'd be great for New Yorkers to hear from you what congestion pricing has meant for London, how and why it works. We need your voice now, because we're still not there yet.
Mayor: Thank you so much, Sadiq. I love very much your – you always have an energy and a hope about you. I remember when I first met you in Manchester years ago, I could see it. And this is what people need, especially after everything we've been through the last few years. So, I just want to thank you personally for your friendship. You've been a brother during this whole storm we've been through, but you just set an example to the world in so many ways. I really feel – I hope, even in the midst of the day-to-day struggles, you know, that people watch what you do around the world and we take a lot of energy and inspiration from it. So, God bless you, brother.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan: God bless. Stay safe –
Mayor: Thank you, brother. So, everyone, look, Mayor Khan, what a powerful voice. And he's telling us something that I think hits home, it's time for congestion pricing in New York City. And this just keeps dragging on and it shouldn't. He's right, we’ve got to be bold. And, of course, there will be concerns. And, of course, there'll be things we have to do to address the concerns. But we can't just sit still when we're dealing with a climate crisis. We're dealing with a congestion price crisis too, greater than ever because of COVID, because everyone's back in their cars. We can't keep going like this. And we’ve got to improve our subways. I mean, today, you know, people are reporting all sorts of delays on the subways. We need to invest in our subways, make them better. Our buses, make them better so people choose mass transit. Congestion pricing will lead to a $15 billion investment in mass transit, a staggering figure that's going to have a profound impact. Congestion pricing will reduce congestion in the city greatly and will make it a healthier, greener city, help us address asthma and so many other health challenges. It's time, so what are we waiting for?
So, I’ve got to tell you, New York City's not waiting. There was one thing we had to do, we did it back in July. We needed to name a member to the body that would make the rules, has a very elegant name – the Transit Mobility Review Board. I named our Finance Commissioner Sherif Solomon who's an expert on these issues. I named him in July. The State, the MTA have not named anyone. They haven't done anything yet. We are running out of time, 2021 is almost over. So, I am appealing, again, as I've done before to this State of New York, to the MTA – name the members of the board, let's get going, let's start to make decisions. And I agree with Mayor Khan, what they call black cabs in London, we yellow cabs here. We should exempt yellow cabs from congestion pricing. Yellow cabs are needed. They are part of our larger concept of mass transit in the city. They've been through a lot. We just had a major effort earlier this year to help cab drivers, taxi drivers who have been through much with all of the challenges of the last few years. We got them some real relief. We have to make sure that the taxi drivers of New York City, iconic part of the life of the city, are protected. So, let's exempt yellow cabs from congestion pricing, keep that part of our city strong, keep that part of our mass transit strong and focus on saying to folks it's no longer time to bring that single individual vehicle with one person in it. That should be something that happens less and less and less. We don't want people coming in from all over the metropolitan area, one person in the car, driving into the city, in particular, Manhattan, creating a problem for everyone else. Let's get back to mass transit. Let's get back to cabs. And if folks do choose to come in in their private vehicle, then let them pay a little bit more so that we can keep improving mass transit, keep reducing congestion. This works. And look, we know it, because we example. One of the other greatest cities in the world, London, they've proven it works. But we got to feel urgency now.
Last thing I'll say on this – I mentioned it, but I want to put a point on it. We're fighting COVID now. We have to end the COVID era. But once we end the COVID era, right in front of our faces, we're going to be focusing on the climate crisis. This will be the issue. The existential crisis. Obviously, it is going to be the thing we are all going to urgently be working on. And to get it right in this city, we need congestion pricing. We're going to fight the climate crisis. We need congestion pricing and we need it quickly.
All right. What a great joy to have Sadiq Khan join us, even if remotely. But now, we have someone joining us live. And this is an extraordinary pleasure and honor for me, because for any of us who came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, there were many, many voices out there, many artists out there, many musicians out there, but there was only one Patti Smith. And I don't mean that as like an easy truism. I mean that as something deeper. To me, Patti Smith had an authenticity and has an authenticity that you just didn't find, in my view, that many other places – an ability to cut through all the swirl around us and speak some more profound truths. The punk movement in general, to me, was a bastion of truth telling and something that helped address the hypocrisy in our society. And, therefore, by calling out that hypocrisy, gave us hope. Some have called Patti Smith, the godmother of punk. I think it's a fair phrase, because she inspired so many people, helped shape a whole movement – a whole artistic movement – and, in many ways, a political movement as well. Her work as a musician, as a singer, as a lyricist, as an activist – so many elements influenced so many people and showed people a way.
And I think this is – you know, when we honor people, I particularly think about the pathfinders, the people who showed the way to so many others. There's a lot of artists out there who realized what they could do and what they could say, because they heard the works of Patti Smith. She got together with Lenny Kaye, almost 50 years ago, and they created something amazing. And the Horses album in particular, 1975, considered one of the great and most important rock albums of the entire history of rock and roll. Many wonderful songs, and I love many of them, but Ghost Dance is one that I am, to this hour, moved by. The first time I heard it gripped me and every time I hear it again, it grips me. From – that was from her album in 1978. Unbelievably powerful to me and among so many others. So, she has done so much to light the way, and she has done it here in New York City, and was a quintessential member of that musical blossoming that happened in the 70s, in this city and beyond. So, talk about someone who has enriched us, and given us hope, and brought along a whole generation of incredible and talented people. When we give the key to New York City, I always like to think of the people who – just their impact just keeps growing and growing and growing. And that is the truth about Patti Smith. So, it is my pleasure to present to you the Key to New York City.
Mayor: I love it. And you have lived that – you have lived that. You have lived it for all and we've all felt it. And in addition to the Key to the City, we have a special salute, because on Thursday, it's your 75th birthday. And, today, Lenny – today is Lenny's 75th birthday. So, we have the incredibly elaborate presentation here. Come on, bring it on up.
Mayor: Happy birthday. And if you and Lenny would like to send a little musical message to the world, we would welcome it.
[Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye perform]
Mayor: Undoubtedly, one of the coolest things that has ever happened at New York City Hall. God bless you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, brother. Unbelievable.
Patti Smith: Well, I came here with nothing, just like when I first came to New York, and I'm leaving with a cupcake and the key.
Mayor: I love that. Oh my God, it just reminds me that that's what people used to do. They used to just play music in a room together. That, like, takes you back through the ages. Amazing. Patti, Lenny, thank you so much. Thank you.
Well, we shall live. I like the way Patti left it just as clear as that in the last verse. And I think – that, again, that song's moved me to the core for decades and decades. I can remember when I first heard it, just being blown away. But what a message for this moment, that we have to live, and we shall live, and we’ve got to stay by each other, and we’ve got to take care of each other. And we can do it – and this is what [inaudible] all these last two years, whatever we are talking about, the specifics, the message is we shall live and we can do this together. And I loved – I loved hearing just the faith and the hope you heard from Patti, her own journey here in New York City, but also just faith in what this place can do for people. And it's still true. It's been true for generations. So, that is our mission together, my friends, and we continue it.
Well, back to a little bit more mundane matters, but very much in the same spirit. We talk about indicators. I always start with the first one, the doses administered to-date. And I always remind people, talk about the way Patti just described about those small achievements, those acts of hope, the way they ripple outward. Well, over 13 million times a New Yorker has come forward to get vaccinated and someone was there to give them that vaccination, and someone who cared, someone who helped them. Talk about those ripples of hope. It's happening every hour, every day here in the city, and what an impact. So, to-date, 13,101,389 doses – staggering figure and the reason this city keeps going. But now, for the challenge – number-two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19 – today's report, 296 patients. So, it's just gone up intensely. Confirmed positivity level, this one's 7.69, which I think is either a typo or [inaudible] but we'll get an update there. Hospitalization rate per 100,000 New Yorkers, 3.70. Now, that said, our hospitals are doing remarkably well. We have real challenges, but what's striking is how different – thank God, how different the Omicron experience is than even last winter, let alone the spring of 2020. So, definitely some pressure on our hospitals, definitely a challenge, but much different than what we experienced in the past in terms of the impact it's having on people. Our hospitals are holding it together here in the city, and God bless everyone, all our health care heroes, who are doing that work. And then, the new reported cases, staggering to figure. And again, we believe this is going to peak very soon, but today's report's, 17,334 cases. So, once again, a powerful, powerful reminder of how important it's to get everyone vaccinated, everyone boosted as quickly as possible.
Okay, a few words in Spanish. And is about the historic moment today, when we implement the vaccine mandate for the private sector to keep everyone safe.
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]
Mayor: The booster incentive, until the end of this week, Friday. Okay. With that, let's turn to our colleagues in the media and please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.
Moderator: We'll now begin our Q-and-A. As a reminder, we're joined today by Dr. Chokshi, by Dr. Katz, by Dr. Long, and by Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana,. First question today goes to Steve Burns from WCBSs 880.
Question: Hey, good morning, Mr. Mayor, how are you?
Mayor: Good, Steve, how are you doing?
Question: I'm good. That was a very neat way to start the Monday morning with Patti Smith. That was fantastic.
Mayor: That – see that - it gave me a real charge. I hope you felt it too.
Question: Yes, absolutely. Wanted to start with the private sector mandate going into effect today. I'm sure you've seen what Mayor-elect Adams has had to say about it. He's basically gone out of his way to say he will be making changes to this. He wants to make sure small businesses are able to survive through this. He says small businesses face a very different reality than large corporations. So, given that these are your final few days in office, do you see any merit to changing the approach here based on the size of the business and if not, why not?
Mayor: I appreciate the question, Steve, and obviously the Mayor-elect and I have talked constantly. We spoke at length yesterday. We’ve been keeping up to date on a whole host of issues and we're having a very, very good transition. I obviously care deeply about the small businesses, they've been through a lot, but I'm also convinced that the most important thing to do for a small business is to end the COVID era, get us out of this, and obviously protect everyone, protect the people who work in the small businesses, own them, the customers, and my job is to protect people. So, I am 110 percent convinced this was the right thing to do, remains the right thing to do, particularly with the ferocity of Omicron, and I don't know if there's going to be another variant behind it, but I do know our best defense is to get everyone vaccinated and mandates have worked. So, I'm very comfortable what we're doing. I totally respect whatever the Mayor-elect wants to do when he takes office, but this is the right thing to do now to protect all New Yorkers. Go ahead, Steve.
Question: And just to follow up on that, and maybe your council wants to weigh in as well. Does it make it all at all more legally complicated to specify the size of businesses on a mandate like this? Does it have to be basically all encompassing, one size fits all because it makes it more legally challenging to carve out different sizes of businesses here?
Mayor: You are a perceptive person. I'm going to let Georgia Pestana who is deeply involved in shaping this mandate. I’ll let her speak to the legal thinking, the strategy that went into it. But I think the simple answer is yes, I think the more universal the better, not just legally, but it also then creates parity among all the different industries, all different size businesses. So, it encourages people get vaccinated and not think if they're hesitant, well, maybe I'll go and work at a different company or a different field. A lot of business people said that to us early on, that if we’re going to do something, make it as universal as possible so people would know it's time to get that vaccine. Georgia, why don't you talk about the legal strategy there?
Corporate Counsel Georgia Pestana: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. The – as always we've been guided by the health professionals and there is no difference in employees who work for a large employer as an employee that works for a small employer. They're all at risk and there is no public health reason to distinguish the two. The stronger the public health reasoning, the stronger we are able in defending any challenges, we have not gotten any challenges thus far. [Inaudible] I think that we would – will prevail should those challenges come because the mandate is grounded in solid public health advice and reasoning, and that reasoning goes across all sizes of businesses. I will also add that we have through Small Business Services, had a number of conversations with groups of small business owners to help them understand and get compliant. And they have been appreciative and we will continue to help people and businesses come into compliance with the mandate because it's important for the health of the city. Thank you.
Mayor: Thank you very, very much. Go ahead.
Moderator: The next is Dana from in the New York Times.
Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. If you –
Mayor: Hey –
Question: Hey, I'm not sure if you'll answer this, I think you're kind of dancing around this particular question a little bit, but if you had to put odds on how likely you think Eric Adams is to continue the mandate, what would those odds be?
Mayor: I, well - I admire both the question and the fact that you gave me the space, I wouldn't call it dancing. I would call it this simply, I'm not going to predict, and he will obviously make his own decisions and speak for himself, but I believe, Dana, truly that the universality is a strength in every sense. So, I – again, I feel as he does a sympathy that small businesses have been through a lot of challenges, but I also believe ultimately it benefits a small business, not only on a health level, but again, if everyone's under the same approach, then for a small business it does not leave that possibility of someone say, oh, I'm going to leave here and go to this other place because I don't feel yet ready to get vaccinated. No, everyone has to get vaccinated. And what we found is, except for an extremely small number of people who are just, you know, ideologically, absolutely set in their opinions, the vast, vast majority of people are moved by both the science, but also the practicality of something like a mandate. That's why we have 91 percent of adults in this city have had at least one dose, 94 percent of the city workforce. I mean, if that isn't a recommender for mandates, I don't know what is. Go ahead, Dana.
Question: Thank you. And then on a related note, can you just walk us through what enforcement will look like?
Mayor: Yeah, very much like we have had with Key to NYC, and I want remind people when we made this decision to do a more universal mandate, it was based on actual experience with the private sector in the Key to NYC indoor dining, entertainment, fitness. There's a lot of prediction in the beginning, oh, this is going to be such a, you know, a disruption and businesses wouldn't be able to deal with it. And you know, I hope people have experienced that businesses have adapted very, very smoothly to it. We did a lot of education. We did a policy of an inspector shows up, there's a problem, talk to the business, say, hey, here's the problem. Let's correct this, please confirm you can do that, and overwhelmingly the businesses have done that. So, in fact, the Key to NYC now over months, we had very few times we had to give a penalty. We will give a penalty if someone flatly refuses, but that's very rare. So, our inspectors will be out there, energetically, but with the goal, you know, educate and correct, ideally avoid penalties.
Moderator: The next is Courtney from NY1.
Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. I hope you had a good holiday.
Mayor: And you as well, Courtney.
Question: Thank you. So, given the number of cases over the last couple of weeks, I wanted to check in to see if you're experiencing staff shortages at any first responder agencies or really any agencies. I know there's been some reporting on a shortage potentially of EMS personnel over the Christmas holiday. Can we get an update on those first responder agencies, NYPD, EMS and FDNY, et cetera?
Mayor: Courtney, thank you for the question, and I'll tell you first of all, of course we know in every part of the city that we've seen people out with COVID thankfully again, more mild cases and therefore for 10 days, but it has not affected the operations of the city, that's the bottom line. Our agencies are very, very agile and very good at what they do and they have tremendous resources, but they also went through, you know, the crucible of the spring of 2020 when you were talking about massive numbers of people out simultaneously, and they kept serving New Yorkers to their great credit. So, nothing we've experienced in the last few days has fundamentally affected the ability of our agencies to get the job done. Go ahead, Courtney.
Question: And also, to piggyback on Dana's question on the enforcement element of this, what agency exactly is responsible for making sure all of these businesses are complying and are there random spot checks, is that what employers should be prepared for? Should inspectors show up at small businesses and say, show me your paperwork, et cetera?
Mayor: Yeah. I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi, because obviously Department of Health plays a particularly crucial role, but a lot of sister agencies have gotten involved in this effort as we've done previously during COVID. But yes, of course businesses should expect inspections as per usual for so many reasons. But again, with an attitude of let's make sure things are working for everyone's health and safety. Not – we're not trying to do gotcha. We're trying to just make sure we keep moving forward. So, in terms of Health Department, how they're approaching it, and obviously leading other agencies in the effort, Dr. Chokshi, why don't you jump in?
Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you, sir. And yes, as you say, it is a multi-agency inspection force which is very similar to the way that we conducted engagement then enforcement related to Key to NYC as well. It's a combination of dedicated inspections specific to the private sector mandate as well as incorporating checks related to the rules under the mandate in other routine inspections as well. But the most important point is the one that the Mayor's already made, which is that we seek to work with businesses and business owners so that everyone can come into compliance, for the simple reason that vaccination is good for business, it helps us to keep our economy open and running and it helps to keep employees and All new Yorkers healthy and out of the hospital. Thank you, sir.
Moderator: Thank you. The next is Julia from The Post.
Question: Hey, good morning, Mr. Mayor.
Mayor: Julia, how was your Christmas?
Question: Oh, my daughter was very sick, so there was not a lot of sleep and a lot –
Mayor: I'm sorry to hear that.
Question: You know, that’s how it goes.
Mayor: It will get better as they get older.
Question: Yeah, I hope you and your family had a good holiday as well.
Mayor: Thank you. Yes.
Question: So, continuing with the same theme here, do you expect the city to issue fines before you leave office in the next few days here? And if not, are you really leaving the difficult part of this mandate, the enforcement part, to Eric Adams?
Mayor: No, I don't see it that way at all. Appreciate the question, but I'll tell you why I don't see it that way, because we, again, we have a body of evidence. When you think of all indoor dining, fitness, entertainment in New York City, that's a huge number of businesses. We've done this work already and found that we did not need to fine. Now if we ever do, and again, a few cases we did and we will, and if that – if a business today, if the inspectors go and the business says, I absolutely, positively refuse, of course they're going to get a fine, but that's not what we typically find. Overwhelmingly we find businesses that are ready to comply, sometimes they're not sure about some of the details, sometimes they need some help correcting a situation, but no, if someone refuses, of course there's penalties, but very, very few people do is our experience with the really substantial body of work we already have. Go ahead, Julia.
Question: At the top, you said that you've gotten a lot of questions and concerns from private businesses about the mandate. What are those?
Mayor: I think that first of all they have wanted to know how inspections would work, exactly what we're talking about here, and we've reassured that the goal is to, you know, get to a positive outcome. There's been concern about making sure that they understood what was required, how to go about it. Obviously, that if there was going to be, if they wanted to provide a reasonable combination process, how it worked. So, it's been a good dialogue and we've reached out to, you know, many different business organizations, and what we're finding is broadly an understanding that the universality helps everyone, that the city government leading the way takes a burden off business, and especially that COVID is bad for business. That the one thing that would be most devastating is shutdowns. And so an aggressive action to make sure we do not go back to shutdowns and restrictions actually is very friendly to the needs of business and keeping people employed.
Moderator: The next is Maya Kaufman from Crain’s.
Question: Hi, Mayor, I want to revisit the question of a remote work policy for city employees. I especially since I've been told that at an internal health department town hall, Health Commissioner Dr. Chokshi had told employees that he and other agency leaders have raised the issue of a teleworking policy with you and City Hall. So, why do you continue to resist allowing telework for those workers who wish to do so?
Mayor: Well, I think – thank you for the question – I think that what is most important to begin the conversation with is we have a highly vaccinated workforce and we all know there's a profound difference when you're in an environment where people are overwhelmingly, if not totally vaccinated, everyone. There's a huge difference there. Second, we have workplaces that have been meticulously supported in terms of health and safety measures. So, when you're in a public sector workplace, it is to me from those facts is a much safer environment than many others, but it's also because the work people do is crucial to keeping the city moving, and that work has being done best if people are in their workplaces. So, that's what I believe. That's what we've been doing. It has been working. The city government has been performing at a very high level and helping this city to move through COVID and recover. And that's what I think makes sense. Obviously new administration will evaluate, but I think we've proven time and again, that this is what works best here and now. Go ahead, Maya.
Question: Yeah, I want to follow up on that and ask, what is the downside of allowing more flexibility for municipal workers, especially given that a lot of workers have children at home who are too young to be vaccinated, who might be around vulnerable people, might be immunocompromised and really, well told me, they want have that option?
Mayor: Maya there's – first of all, as has always been true. If there's an exceptional situation anyone can raise that to a supervisor and supervisors obviously have some latitude to deal with situations. But on the bigger point it's because we need the very best work done right now. I mean, people who, again – I have a very strong feeling about public service and people who are in public service take on a particular set of responsibilities. And, right now, we're still very much in a crisis. We've got to fight our way out of this. We've got to put the COVID era behind us. Our public workers. I've seen this many times over, the best work happens in the workplace, the most collaboration, the most productivity, the most ability for there to be communication. We need that now. So if there's exceptional situations, of course supervisors entertain it, but for what's good for the people - and we're public servants, our obligations to the people – what we're doing now I believe is what's best for the people.
Moderator: The next is [inaudible] from News 12 Brooklyn.
Question: Hi, can you hear me?
Mayor: Yeah. How are you doing today?
Question: Good. How are you?
Mayor: Good, but pronounce your first name so I get it right.
Question: Oh, it's pronounced [inaudible].
Mayor: [Inaudible]. Okay.
Question: Yes. Thank you so much. So, I'm sure you know about the, you know, really long lines at city testing sites across the city. Some people are telling us that it's taking them as long as, you know, maybe four days to get their testing results, and we're also hearing that some of the city websites systems to make appointments are crashing because the volumes are just so high. So, my question is, you know, are you aware of this issue? And if so, what are you guys doing to expedite the process of people getting the results in just a faster time?
Mayor: Yeah, thank you for the question, Zhané. I will turn to Dr. Katz and Dr. Chokshi. I think we've got a couple different things going on. First of all, I don't blame anyone if they don't, if they look at a site and they look at a line, doesn't matter to New Yorkers, whether it's a City-sponsored site or a private site, they just see, you know, testing wheel line. We've had a very different experience at the City sponsored sites in terms of the turnaround time test results. I'll let Dr. Katz speak to that. And obviously the goal here is to make sure the information we put out there is accurate and people can get appointments. I know there's been a huge you know, huge, intense demand. So first on the test result time, Dr. Katz and then Dr. Katz and Dr. Chokshi on what's going on with the websites and keep them up to date and whether they are performing even with this high demand. Dr. Katz.
President Katz: Okay. Thank you so much, sir. And it has been a challenge to keep up with New Yorkers who are going for testing, and we applaud them for that. They want to keep themselves and others safe. Happy to say that any test done now at a City sponsored Health + Hospital site is having a 24-hour turnaround. I just reviewed the data this morning. We are aware that many of the private sites are running longer turnaround times. So, we are very proud that we've been able because the City built its own lab. We are able to get 24-hour turnaround times. In terms of testing resources, we have redeployed workers to our testing sites to keep lines as short as possible. We recommend people check out the website to look at length of the line before choosing one because we do note variability, depending upon we can't always control how many people go to a particular site at a particular moment. So New Yorkers on our website can always find a, a shorter time. Thank you, sir.
Mayor: Thank you. And Dr. Chokshi on certainly update people on the website situation as you're seeing as well.
Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir. I'll provide three brief updates. First, on the websites as Dr. Katz mentioned, we are seeing unprecedented demand but for the City websites, we are able to keep up with the appointments that are being made. So, I encourage anyone who's looking for a testing site, go to nyc.gov/covid test, or you can also call 212-COVID19 or text 8554. If you text COVID Test to that number, you'll find a site that is close to you in the zip code of your choice. The second thing that I wanted to mention is as Dr. Katz has said for City sites turnaround time for test results is within 24 hours for the city as a whole. The majority the significant majority of tests are coming back within 48 hours. But if you do need that accelerated turnaround again, the City sites are your best option. And the third thing that I'll say is that thanks to Dr. Long and his team, additional capacity is coming up online every day, this week there are seven new brick and mortar sites that the Test & Trace Corps has stood up for this week. And so, for both PCR tests, as well as the at home rapid test kits that capacity will ramp up through this week and into the New Year. Thank you.
Mayor: Thank you. And Dr. Ted Long has joined us. Dr. Long, any tips you want to give to people or trying to figure out how to navigate all this?
Executive Director Long: Yes. The simple tip has come to one of our sites. As of Friday, our turnaround time is now back down to 24 hours, median at our lab, which services all of our sites. The lines we're controlling by handing out home kits and opening seven sites near noon today and 40 sites throughout this week. So simply put our sites are walk in, come to see us. We have the fastest turnaround times in New York City.
Mayor: I like it. All right, Jene, go ahead.
Question: That's all I had for you. Thank you.
Mayor: Thank you very much.
Moderator: We have time for two more for today. The next is Gersh from Streetsblog.
Question: Well, how you doing Mr. Mayor? I hope you had a nice holiday.
Mayor: I did indeed, Gersh. And how was yours?
Question: Oh, fine. Very relaxing. And I hope this isn't the last time we talk, but if it is thanks for taking my questions all these years.
Mayor: It's my pleasure, Gersh. And we will either meet again professionally or on the softball field.
Question: No question about it. So, anyway, Mr. Mayor, driving is something you and I talk about a lot and driving is up and it remains a legacy of your eight years in office. Now some of it is obviously pandemic related. For example, just use a typical Tuesday, December 14th, about 900,000 cars across the MTA bridges and tunnels, which is about 103 percent more than a normal pre-pandemic day. So that's obviously pandemic related, but total vehicle miles traveled in this city was up almost two percent between 2013 and 2019 before the pandemic. Now that's a small percentage increase, but that translates literally to tens of millions, more miles being driven in cars. Now, you and I have spoken a lot about the need to improve mass transit and to encourage mass transit, but it is a legacy of your eight years in office. So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why you have done not enough to reduce driving and in fact it's going up.
Mayor: Yeah, of course, we always have a spirited discussion and I'm just going to challenge. I don't put that one on my legacy tote board there. I just don't-it's- that's look we have a society that over many years, I remember when, you know, I first moved to Brooklyn. There were so many fewer cars around and there's been an explosion of car ownership, in general, over the last few decades, that is a bigger societal phenomenon. The answer to it is to create a more and more and better and better mass transit and to discourage car use in the positive way with mass transit, but also in the smart way with congestion pricing. And obviously this is something I'm frustrated about because I think it should have been here already. And I believe if we put real pressure on the State and the MTA, we can get forward motion. If we don't, I think they'll just keep slow walking it. So, I am very comfortable that we did a lot of the things, foundational things, including what we did with busways and select bus service, expanding bike lanes, NYC Ferry. These are all things that are going to grow a lot more. And that's crucial to how we turn around car usage in this city. Go ahead, Gersh.
Question: Okay. Sort of a follow up, you know, I wanted to ask you about today's big public push that you are talking about congestion pricing a lot. Now you're such a convert at this point, but you know, you were very late to support congestion pricing. So how do you talk to people now who like you until recently remain opposed to it? In other words, what, you know, you had the Mayor of London on talking about the positive benefits of it, but you know, there are a lot of people who are still opposed to this and you've talked about those benefits. So what do you
Say to them?
Mayor: I appreciate that question a lot, Gersh. I think in fact, converts are often folks who can speak with most passion. I had real doubts for a long time. I really did. And it was largely because of the way the plans were constructed, that I worried that they would have an undo impact on folks in the outer boroughs. And obviously, I represented a council district in the outer boroughs and I was not satisfied of what would happen with the money. I remember vividly with all due respect to Mayor Bloomberg and to his credit, he was pushing a good, basic idea, but the plan to me was not structured as well as the current plan. And also, there was not confidence. I remember we used to talk about needing a lockbox to know that the money would actually go to the MTA and not be siphoned off to other needs. This current plan that was finally passed by the Legislature, which I strongly advocated for answered my core concerns. So, I became a convert because I said, well, this is a much better plan than anything we had seen previously. Also, the MTA crisis, the subway crisis grew and grew and grew. Even when you compare to 10 years ago, the challenge in the subways are much more profound and we have to get renewable revenue for the subways. We have to protect the subways and congestion pricing is the way to do it. So, I became a convert because the world changed, subways got worse, needed more help. And the plan got better. Now I would say to anybody we're an entirely different world than when this plan was first talked about in New York City, you know, over a decade ago, we have the climate crisis bearing down on us. We have to take much bolder action. Congestion pricing is part of that. We've got to protect our subways. If the subways don't get better, New York City doesn't get better. And this plan is fair. If you drive, you know, on the FDR, but you don't go into the Central Business District, you're not penalized. There’re elements of this plan that are very smart, very fair. And I would urge people get behind it because we need to do this now. Also, the congestion crisis, last pointers, the congestion crisis, you're-the numbers you gave are striking. We're all living it, but it's good to hear these numbers. The impact of COVID on people using their private vehicles more than ever. It's been devastating and horrible for the environment and horrible for congestion. We got to turn it around. Congestion pricing is how do we, we've got to break out of this current immediate culture. Congestion pricing is one of the best ways to do it, but it's not moving. And the state and the MTA have to move it.
Moderator: Last question for today, goes to Chris from the Daily News.
Question: Good morning, Mayor. Thanks for hosting Patty Smith on today's briefing. That was a great start to the Monday like someone else said at the top of the briefing.
Mayor: Chris, I have to say I'm like-there's something mesmerizing about her work, but also, I didn't know what the effect would be here in this room, but it was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for saying it.
Question: Of course. So, back on the private sector vaccine mandate, I was wondering, do you or any of the health experts on the call have any data yet on how many reasonable accommodation requests have been received and any timeline on how long those take to process? And then lastly, if there is actually a deadline by which workers have to submit those requests?
Mayor: So, I'll let Georgia Pestana, our Corporation Counsel, speak to the process there and Dave Chokshi, as well. We look again, we had a great experience with the Key to NYC with businesses, figuring out the right way to implement things and address employee concerns. I'm-I predict the same exact thing here but we are willing to work with any business, with any concerns they have to make sure that if they want to put a process in place that it, it is a good process. It's one that can be done quickly and be fair. Let's start with Georgia Pestana.
Corporation Counsel Georgia Pestana: Thank you. Reasonable accommodation requests by private sector workers go to their employers. They do not come to the City. We're not collecting them. We're not deciding them. It's the employer of the workers that receive the requests and make determinations. As to a deadline, we had suggested that December 27th, today, would be the deadline for employees who request reasonable accommodations from their employers to get them in. And those workers can continue to work under some kind of accommodation, while the employer considers the reasonable accommodation request. But those are all going to their employer, not to the City.
Mayor: Excellent and Dave Chokshi, you want to add?
Commissioner Chokshi: Sir, there is nothing to add to that. Thank you.
Mayor: All right great. Go ahead, Chris.
Question: Thank you. And I guess this is-it's kind of on the same topic, but you know, as businesses and individuals across the city are being required to take various pro health precautions because of the pandemic. I guess I'm wondering, we haven't heard in a while, what precautions you are taking. You know, how often are you getting tested, right now? Are you taking any other precautions in addition to testing as Omicron continues to surge? Like, what are you doing to make sure you don't get the virus?
Mayor: Well, thanks for asking Chris. And I'm doing what the doctors tell us all to do. First of all, I got the booster live on TV and thank you again, Dr. Chokshi. I-the-again, Chris, I can't emphasize enough that that's, like number one, two and three thing, to do is get vaccinated to the maximum level you are eligible for right now. We still have, even though 91 percent of adults are vaccinated, at least one dose. We still have a lot of people who could get vaccinated and a lot of younger New Yorkers. So that's overwhelming thing, but it's also, you know, use a mask regularly you know, just be mindful. We-as you know, we were looking forward to gatherings, including with our colleagues from the media and we with agreement from a lot of folks in the media decided we wouldn't have some of the gatherings we might have. So, it's a lot of just basic precautions, but I'm going to let Dr. Chokshi weigh in and have the final word here because he has done a great job as the City's doctor of reminding us of the simple, smart ways to protect ourselves, particularly those who are most vulnerable. So, Dr. Chokshi, tell us again.
Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you so much, sir. And I really appreciate the ways in which you have emphasized precautions during, you know, this uncertain time with Omicron and our key message has been that there are a number of things that we can all do to protect ourselves, protect our communities and to protect our city. First and foremost, as the Mayor has mentioned is getting vaccinated and for everyone who is eligible for a booster dose, get one, when it's your time. That means any adult who is at least six months after their Pfizer and Moderna, second dose or two months after their J & J dose. You were eligible right now and you should go ahead and get your booster and take advantage of the $100 incentive before the end of the week. The second thing is the importance of masking particularly masking indoors. And we have made a recommendation to consider higher grade masks like KN95, KF94s or N95s for people who are particularly vulnerable and at higher risk. The third piece is getting tested. We recommend people to get tested. Of course, anytime they're experiencing symptoms and sooner is better, if that's the case, as well as before and after travel or gatherings. And that's why we've done all of the work that we have to ramp up testing capacity, to be able to support that. The final piece is for people who are at higher risk, if you're an older adult, if you have a weakened immune system or if it's a child, who's not yet eligible for vaccination, this is a time to take more care. Avoid some optional activities, particularly anything that is indoors and crowded and allow for the overall level of community risk to come back down as we navigate through the Omicron surge. So those are our key precautions. And if we take them, we will get through this. Thank you.
Mayor: Amen. Beautifully said as always Dr. Chokshi. So, everyone just quickly a programming note that we are going to have another press conference tomorrow. There's a lot going on a lot. We want to talk about, and then final press conference of the year will be on Thursday, the 30th. And again, just, I'm going to be expressing a lot of gratitude throughout the week. My gratitude to all New Yorkers who have been part of keeping each other safe, everyone went and got vaccinated, thank you. Makes such a difference. And please, please, please, if you haven't gotten that booster, please get it by December 31st for your sake and your family's sake and everyone's sake, but also get that incentive. Everyone could use a little more money in their pocket right now. And if you've gotten the booster, tell everyone in your life how important it is, because it really is pivotal to protecting everybody and reducing the impact of Omicron and tell them there's a $100 incentive that goes with that. And you're definitely going to get some people's attention with that. So, everyone, thank you. And we'll see you tomorrow.