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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

September 14, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. We talk about it all the time, a recovery for all of us. And the reason that we can achieve a recovery for all of us in New York City is because of the amazing vaccination effort. You're going to see in the indicators, these numbers just keep growing all the time. It's making a huge difference. It is the reason why so much of the life of New York City is coming back. And those vaccination numbers are going to go up a lot more because of the mandates and incentives we put in place that are really going to be fully felt in these coming weeks. So, September, crucial turnaround time for New York City, crucial comeback time. And we keep seeing the signs of New York City’s comeback loud and clear, and tonight is going to be a very important night because, look, when you think of New York City, there's so many great things about this place, but one of the things that the world feels about New York City is it's the capital of arts and culture and people love, in particular, Broadway. 

When Broadway is up and running, it says so much about New York City. And tonight, a lot of Broadway is coming back. Some of the very biggest shows in Broadway are coming back tonight, shows including Hamilton and Wicked and Lion King and Chicago all coming back tonight. You can feel the life of the city coming back all the time. You know this is happening because of vaccination, because of really smart health and safety measures that are making it work for everyone, the folks who work there and the folks who come to see these amazing shows. A lot of jobs coming back, too, in the process. So, this is really, really exciting. This is about who we are as New Yorkers. We are the arts and culture capital. Broadway, and all of the arts and culture of the city, express the life, the energy, the diversity, the spirit of New York City. It's in our heart and soul. It's also so much of what people do to make a living in this town. And that makes us great. So, this is a big night for New York City's comeback, and I want you to hear from someone very special. I know she loves this city, and she has done amazing work and also given back to the city, which I appreciate deeply. And she has the distinction of being the star of one of the first shows to come back that was already up and running. And I really want to thank her for that because every artist, performer, everyone, the musicians, everyone who works behind the curtain, everyone who brought back each show did something great for New York City. So, she's the star of Waitress, the Musical. She wrote all the music for it, and she's making her grand return to Broadway, Grammy winner and Tony and Emmy nominated. We welcome Sara Bareilles. 


Sara, I love what you said. And I really appreciate your point that the folks wearing masks are doing something for everyone else. That's a powerful point about we're all in this together and it is an act of generosity, but I also want to say what you're doing is an act of generosity because by being in the first wave of performers to come back, you proved it could be done. And that was seen all over the world. So, I want to thank you for that. And I have a question for you because you've mentioned the kind of more than electric moment. So, which moment in the show, which song, when you sang it, was like the most special moment to you that first night? 

Sara Bareilles: It's interesting because normally I would probably say there's a song in the show called,” She Used to be Mine,” which is a favorite of a lot of our audience members. It comes sort of later in the show, but I mean our very first audience, I dropped a prop full of – it's orange juice, but it's meant to be butter. I dropped a prop all over the stage. My hands were shaking. I was so moved and overwhelmed. My voice was shaking. It was the very first song in the show. And then our very first opening number that includes the entire cast is a song called, “Opening Up.” So, it had this kind of secondary meaning and the – I mean the audience just went absolutely wild. It was incredible. 

Mayor: I kind of think that's amazing you were the first show back and you had a song called, “Opening Up” in the beginning of this year. Okay. This is like – this is almost cosmic. Don't you think? 


Sara, thank you. Thank you. I can feel the love you have for New York City, and we love you and appreciate you. What you're doing is helping us all move forward. So, thank you so much, Sara. 

Bareilles: Thank you so much. 

Mayor: So, you heard it from a great performer. Now, I want you to hear from someone who, every day, looks out for this city's comeback, and he and his family have contributed for three generations to – this family, to the good of everyone. But he is focused particularly on our economic comeback, and Broadway means so much to us. It's also a crucial part of bringing back the jobs, bringing back the economy. I want you to hear from the Chair of the Economic Development Committee in the City Council, Council Member Paul Vallone. 


Well, thank you so much, Council Member. Thank you for everything you've done, and that legislation was so important. Thank you for being one of the people who made that happen. Times Square has been coming alive more and more each week. I was just there a few days back with the Ferris wheel, which is wonderful, but we all were saying that day, that this was the day we were looking forward to when the big shows started to come back and folks really thronged to the area, that's going to be great for the energy and life of the city, great for the jobs. So, thank you so much for your support. And I got to tell you, I am excited because what I'm hearing from a lot of folks in the business community is they're very pleasantly surprised by the number of tourists already, obviously overwhelmingly domestic, but we're going to see a huge surge when international travel intensifies. Folks have been yearning to get back to New York City. And we have a massive advertising campaign all over the country, all over the world that's going to help encourage them to come back. But one of the things people want to see the most is Broadway. So, Broadway is back, coming back more every single week.  

And if you want another example of New York City – yeah, we're the center of the universe. It's true. Everyone wants to be here. This is the place to be. And last night that was quite clear at the Met Gala. Amazing, amazing group of performers and leaders gathered together who love New York City, who were really doing this in large measure to send the message that the city is coming back strong. There was a great sense of energy and also a focus on the whole of this city. The diversity of the incredible talent, the designers, the folks who are up and coming in this city. I really want to thank the Met, and everyone involved because they focused on the next generation coming up and they focused on encouraging new young talent and diverse talent that will be the future of the fashion industry in the city, and part of what makes this city great going forward. I want to make a personal thank you to three designers, Dreu Beckemberg, who created the clothes that Dante and I wore, and Fe Noel, who created the beautiful dress for Chirlane, and Pamela Love, who did Chirlane’s jewelry. All Brooklynites, three independent designers from Brooklyn. There you see them, amazing stories, up-and-comers. Folks who lived, in the case of Dreu and Fe, the immigrant story from the Caribbean, came here with little, made something amazing happen. And last night was an affirmation of New York City and everything great. And that we have a very bright future. 

And speaking of our bright future, yesterday morning one of the most important things that's going to happen in all of 2021, our kids coming back to school. This – you cannot overstate how important it is that our kids are back, that the opening day of school went beautifully. I want to thank all the educators, the staff, the parents, the kids, everyone – a beautiful, wonderful opening day of school, which is a big deal when you think about the fact that most kids haven't been in a classroom for a year-and-a-half, and yet the entire engine went on instantly. I was at P. S. 25 in the Bronx, great energy, just excitement. Everyone was ready. Chirlane was up at P.S. 121 in the Bronx. There was just a palpable sense of something historic and crucial happening, bringing our kids back. Now, getting our kids back is the first step, but we've said we're going to do things this school year that we've never done before. We're going to focus not only on the academic needs of our kids, but the emotional needs as well. So, you'll be seeing the mental health screening to make sure we help all the kids who have been through so much. But also, the academic screening, never done before. This has never been done before on this level, all our kids will get an academic screening. And now, this fits into something we'll be talking about a lot more in the coming weeks, Literacy for All. We have a major new effort to build upon the success of 3-K and pre-K, and continue it on through kindergarten, first grade, second grade. A massive push to improve literacy, get our kids reading on third-grade level by third grade. The Chancellor, already out there this morning at the Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School, working with kids on writing exercises. We're going to have a focus like never before on that most essential measure, getting kids able to read early in their lives, which opens up all the other doors. You're going to be hearing a lot about this. It's very, very exciting. And the reason we're able to do it is because our schools are safe. The reason we're able to do it is because of all the work that went into that gold standard of health and safety measures, incredible commitment of everyone who works in the school community.

We have in place – obviously, coming up in the next couple of weeks – a vaccine mandate for all the adults who work in our traditional public schools. We're climbing the ladder again today. And, as of today, we will be mandating for that same date, September 27th, for the kids – excuse me, for the adults – let me get it right, for the adults – the adults who work in our charter schools that are not in public school buildings. The ones that are already in public school buildings were covered by the previous vaccination mandate. And that's about 191 charter schools are in DOE buildings. For the adults in those schools, the teachers, the staff, they have the vaccine mandate already active on September 27th. Now, we're going to reach the 203 charter schools that are not in Department of Education buildings. So, for all staff and teachers in those 203 charter schools not in the DOE buildings will have the full vaccination mandate in place for September 27th. Just, the exact same approaches were taken with the DOE staff and teachers. We know that when all the adults in the building are vaccinated, it keeps everyone safe and it helps move us forward and allows us to do the amazing things that we're going to be doing to reach our kids this year in a whole different way.

We went through a lot, but, in the process, we also learned a lot. We're going to be doing these screenings, that as a result of coming out of this crisis and realizing we could universally screen our kids in a new way. We have digital learning in ways we never had before. A lot of innovation has occurred, even in the midst of crisis, that now is going to allow us to do new things, particularly the area of literacy. So, we'll be talking a lot about this in the weeks ahead. We're going to turn this into something very big for the kids in New York City.

Now, obviously, our recovery depends on so many things. We've talked about our cultural community. We've talked about our schools. Now, let's talk about getting New Yorkers around. The ability to get around this city is crucial to our comeback. Creating a cleaner, greener city, crucial to our comeback. Big announcement later on today – it’s going to be the good shape of things to come as we do more and more to get people to use bicycles in this city and experience all the alternative forms of transportation to help people get out of their cars, help our roads to be less congested, to help our environment to be cleaner. In the State of the City remarks earlier this year, the video we did, we talked about our Bridges for the People plan, and the idea is to make it easier and easier for people to get around in ways other than the car. Today, we'll be cutting the ribbon on the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane. This is very, very exciting. We have banned cars from that lane. It will be all for bike riders. A lot of people worked a long time for this day, and everyone knows that the bike lanes that existed in the Brooklyn Bridge really were working. As it got more and more crowded, we had to do something different. Here it is. Someone who's very excited about it, who represents communities on both sides of the bridge, and he's also the Chair of the Housing, Construction, and Community Development Committee in the State Senate. My pleasure to introduce State Senator Brian Kavanagh.


Mayor: Senator, I really want to thank you. You have been dogged on this issue. Dogged is good, in this case. You have been persistent on the notion that we could do things better and that we could find an alternative. And, you know, I really want to thank you. We've had many conversations over the years about the ways that government could be more creative, more responsive. And here's an example of something that some said couldn't be done, but it actually is being done. And I think it's going to make people's lives better. So, thank you for always pushing us to find the next good thing.

All right. Now, we've talked about a lot of things are crucial to the comeback of New York City, but we also have some real challenges to discuss that we have much more work to do on. And we understand when we look at the last year-and-a-half, COVID disrupted life in this city profoundly, created massive consequences – not just a horrible loss of life, the illness create disruption and major challenges in many other parts of life in the city. And we have been, piece by piece, putting things back together, engineering a recovery, moving things forward. But we still have a lot of work to do. I am particularly concerned today and I want to talk about the situation on Rikers Island. We have a situation that is just not acceptable and has to change fundamentally. Our new Commissioner for Correction, Vinnie Schiraldi, has been doing a lot of work to quickly make changes. We're going to use emergency orders to make some very intense changes in the situation. We're going to be bringing in additional help from a crucial sister agency, the NYPD, to help with certain discrete functions that will take pressure off the Department of Corrections, so Correction officers can go and take care of other tasks. We need to do some things very, very differently. A lot of work has been happening over the last few months, trying to address each individual problem. And Commissioner Schiraldi has been very blunt, to his credit, about the challenges we face, some of which are historic, some of which are from COVID, some of which are areas where we just need to find new and different solutions that we haven't had before, but we’ve got to find them. Everything goes back to the problem of Rikers Island itself. We need to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, but, in the meantime, we have immense challenges.

So, we're going to use executive powers to address some of these, the NYPD to address some of these, but let me go over the points. We have a five-point plan we’re announcing today, the Emergency Rikers Relief plan, and it's going to allow us to do a number of things quickly and differently. First of all, I mentioned the NYPD – we're going to bring in the NYPD to provide the staffing support in the courts as many places as we can. It'll start at one level, but we hope to ramp up from there quickly so that in our court buildings, rather than Correction officers having to be there, NYPD officers can cover that role, Correction officers can be back at Rikers where we need them. The NYPD has operated in the courts, obviously, for a long time and handled these kind of roles. That's going to be a crucial piece of the equation.

Also, we have to speed up the intake process at Rikers. This is a fundamental problem. There's a lot of reasons, very much based in COVID, why some of these pieces got slower. It's not acceptable. It has to be addressed. Everyone has to be moved through intake on a timely basis, well less than 24 hours needs to be the goal. We're going to be opening up two new clinic spaces that currently been closed. Look, the original goal, of course, was close down as much of Rikers as possible and our plan to get off Rikers. And we wanted less space, because it took fewer officers to cover less space, but we now need to open up two clinic spaces that are currently closed to add capacity, to speed up the intake. This is an example of something that we get the ever-changing dynamics we're facing, but we need to do something differently. We'll have that up by Tuesday.

Emergency contracting – there are areas in Rikers that need immediate work, broken doors, there's cleaning that needs to be done immediately. We can do that much faster with emergency contracting. That will be part of the executive order. The additional areas we need to be clear about, expanding the medical capacity in Rikers. We'll be using contract medical providers to evaluate officers to make sure every single officer is on duty who should be on duty. Anyone who's out sick for more than one day, will have to go to a doctor for evaluation or provide appropriate documentation. If they don't, there'll be suspension without pay for 30 days. And any staff member who is a wall will be held accountable with 30-day suspension without pay. We understand tremendous challenges have existed in Rikers before the pandemic and the pandemic made them worse. We understand it's tough work and a tough environment, but folks not showing up for work is unacceptable. And when any officer doesn't show up for work, they actually put every other officer in danger, and that's not acceptable.

So, we're taking these actions to relieve pressure on the situation and to help us move forward. And we'll continue to evaluate regularly what the City can do – and I mean, daily – to keep adjusting the situation. But I've said this before, and it's true, the City cannot do this alone. We are dealing with a structural problem here, a fundamental problem, and a lot of it based in COVID, and we cannot continue to have a situation where more and more people go into Rikers, but there's no place for them to go out of Rikers, which is how the system has been designed. We need to get back to a fully functioning criminal justice system. We've got 1,500 people who have been held for over a year – that can't continue. So, we need help on the State level. I've had very good conversations with Governor Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Benjamin. I want to thank them for being receptive, for being communicative, for caring, wanting to figure out what can be done. We are talking constantly to address these issues. I'm going to hasten to add that the Governor and Lieutenant Governor inherited the problems at the State level. They are now working to fix those problems. I want to thank them for that.

One of the most obvious steps, the Less is More Act passed by both houses of the Legislature. We need help. That legislation, particularly if implemented immediately, would allow us to immediately move a number of people out of Rikers in the right way. There is a powerful op-ed today by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and his soon-to-be successor Alvin Bragg, and they speak with one voice, and they make the point that there are certain technical parole violations that are holding a lot of people in incarceration who don't need to be there. It's creating a problem across the board, a quote from their op-ed, “New York State incarcerates more people for parole rule violations than anywhere else in the country.” And they've say further, New York and go from worst-in-the-nation on parole to, once again, leading our country on smart criminal justice policy. We do not want to hold people in on the technicalities. We want to make sure that the system is working. When people have done serious offenses and violent offenses, there need to be consequences. That's where our energy needs to be. On technical violations, that's not where our energy needs to be. That's what the Less is More Act clarifies. We need it signed. We need to move forward.

Further, the State – and I've had this conversation again with the Governor, appreciate her willingness to hear and think about how they can solve this problem. We're asking the State to take all of the inmates who are scheduled for transfer to State facilities, to do that in every case within five days of that transfer being arranged. Every single day matters here. Everyone who could go to another facility appropriately, and should, takes pressure off the situation at Rikers. We're asking the State's help there. And then, something you've heard from me for now over the whole last year, we've got to get the larger criminal justice system up and running. Again, with the courts not fully functioning, with people in Rikers who should have gone through a trial by now, it is one of the exacerbating factors. I want to ask the Office of Court Administration to please schedule 500 of the cases of people right now in Rikers. Again, 1,500 people held for over a year, awaiting trial. Schedule at least 500 of those cases now to start the process and help us move forward. Another thing the Office of Court Administration can do – urge judges and support judges in using supervised release for nonviolent offenders – non-violent offenders. Using supervise release instead of pretrial detention at Rikers will help relieve pressure on the situation in a safe, smarter way.

Look, for years and years, we made progress. NYPD led the way – fewer and fewer arrests while driving down crime. We ended the era of mass incarceration. We drove incarceration to the lowest level it had had been in decades and decades. We then got hit by the pandemic, which has created so many challenges. We have to recreate our progress – reduced incarceration the right way, get to that new community-based jail system, get out of Rikers. These steps still can happen. We have profound problems to address right now, but we've got to also stay focused on the bigger goal. And we can do it, the City working together and working with the State, we can actually change the situation immediately and for the big picture.

Okay. With that, let's go over today's indicators. And the first one, again, so powerful, the number of folks vaccinated. This is why everything else we've talked about earlier in today's presentation was possible. The level of vaccination in the city continues to deepen. We are, as of today, at 11,073,978 doses – absolutely wonderful. Number two, current – excuse me, number two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19 – today's report, 117 patients. Confirmed positivity level of 15 percent. Hospitalization rate per 100,000 people. Again, this is a very important indicator, we are seeing some progress here – 1.08. And, finally, number three, new reported cases on a seven-day average – today’s report, 1,433 cases.

Okay. Now, let me say a few words in Spanish, and I'm going to go back to the beginning of school and the effort today to further the vaccine mandates for the adults who work, the staff and teachers who work in the charter schools outside of DOE buildings.

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, let's turn to our colleagues in the media and please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.

Moderator: Good morning. We will now begin our Q-and-A. As a reminder, we are joined by Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, Dr. Mitch Katz, President and CEO of New York City Health + Hospitals, Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, Marcos Soler, Director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, Department of Corrections Commissioner Vinnie Schiraldi, And MOME Commissioner Anne Del Castillo. Our first question for today goes to Andrew Siff from NBC.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor, and everyone on the call, Mayor, I wanted to ask you about school attendance. The DOE initial number is 82.4 percent, which is clearly better than some people feared or thought might happen, but not as high as the last time we had a first day of school before the pandemic, when it was about 90 percent. And if that number holds and our math is right, that would be about 80,000 kids who weren't there. And I'm wondering how you're tracking that and how concerned you are that there might be tens of thousands of kids who are staying home right now?

Mayor: Andrew, let me go over – thank you for the question. And it was an informed question, I thank you, but let me give you the facts so you can see the perspective I am taking of this. 82.4 percent is the initial information, but we know we don't have full reports from all our schools. So, there's still several hundred schools where we need to clarify the information, but a 82.4 percent is our working number right now. When you compare to the same time last year, 2020, combining in-person and remote, that first day was 80.3 percent. So, again, we understand there's a disruptive reality to all the changes we've been through. I see this as a very strong number compared – you're right, when you look at 2018, 2019 – 2019 was just about 90 percent, 2018 89.5 percent. We've got some ground to make up. I'm very confident we will. I think what you're going to see in the next few days is more and more kids coming in. So, what we now know is the vast, vast majority of kids showed up ready, enthusiastic. I think you're going to see more and more kids come in, in the next few days. Schools are going to be reaching out, having conversations, making sure parents have all the information they need. This is a really good number for the first day and it's going to grow rapidly in the coming days. Also, really important to note – and this is good news, because we have the vaccination sites up in all the schools that have kids at 12 years old and over – yesterday alone, 1,359, new vaccinations administered in the school buildings. Again, you're going to see that number continue to grow. And for our 12- to 17-year olds, we're now over 68 percent vaccinated, at least one dose, and that number keeps climbing. So, very strong start, more to do in the coming days, but very strong start. Go ahead, Andrew.

Question: You spoke about the Met Gala. I was wondering if you happen to notice Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s outfit, what your thought was on that. And she, today, is with other elected, talking about MTA funding and the need for more federal funding, which the MTA is quizzical about, because they just got the American Rescue Plan and they're fully funded through 2024. So, it's sort of a two-parter – what'd you think of what AOC was wearing and is she right to be fighting for more federal transit funding when it's already there?

Mayor: Andrew Siff, that's stretchy – that's stretchy, but I'll answer. We need congestion pricing. We need sustainable funding for the MTA. We need a lot of funding. There are profound structural issues that have to be addressed for the long-term. So, no, I don't accept the fully funded – if the MTA is fully funded, we would be seeing a lot more. But the bottom line is, yes, we welcome and need as much infrastructure funding as possible. They do not have enough money for now and for the long-term and we need congestion pricing to make it sustainable. I saw – I was walking by and I saw a dress with the message – tax the rich, I went over to inquire as to who was wearing the dress, I did not know it was AOC until she turned around. And we had a really nice talk. She – look, she is expressing her true belief that we need to make sure everyone pays their fair share and I commend her. And she's someone that I look forward to working with to make sure that actually happens. Go ahead.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Kala Rama from PIX-11.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor, and everyone on the call. Thanks for taking my question. Similar to Andrew, who was talking about the attendance rate, I want to know what's the plan for outreach for the kids who did not show up? I know that you hired new social workers. I want to know more specifics on how long you plan to wait until you do reach out and what the outreach will be like.

I'll turn to the Chancellor, Kala, but I'll say, it's immediate. This is what schools do every year. They want to make sure that every child comes in. If there's any concern or issue, reach out to the family, make sure to get the kids in. This happens not only in the first days, it happens for the first few weeks every year. So, in terms of how that happens, the Chancellor is not only Chancellor, she's a former principal, she's a former teacher, she can tell you from the ground level how it works. Chancellor, congratulations on a great day yesterday.

Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter: Yes. Thank you. And I'm excited, I'm here in Staten Island today. And, you know, like the Mayor said, this is what we do every year, this – the follow-up on students who haven't reported. Our teachers will be reaching out. Our principals will be reaching out. Our attendance team members, our counselors, our social workers – every student every day, we’ll be reaching out to get them back in school.

Mayor: Excellent. Go ahead, Kala.

Question: All right. And then, I wanted to know about teachers and their medical accommodations. How many have applied for medical accommodations and how many were approved?

Mayor: I'll turn to the Chancellor again, and just say, you know, we went through a very rigorous process and arbitration where the rules were very different this year than last year. And the dynamics were rare in the way it's structured. It will be a rarity for someone to need a medical accommodation, because what we have is vaccination, which almost everyone can receive medically. So, I'd like to do two things. I'd like the Chancellor to speak to that. And then, Dr. Chokshi just on a fact level to remind the public of how the vast, vast majority of people can be vaccinated and do not have a medical reason why they can't. So, to the numbers first, Chancellor?

Chancellor Porter: Yeah. So, we're not seeing high numbers. We don't have final numbers yet with monitoring the system. And, you know, as the Mayor says, we don't expect the numbers to be expansive because of the limited number of folks that aren't eligible for the vaccination. So, we're looking forward to continuing to review the data as it comes in and work with our teachers to resolve the escalations and the requests.

Mayor: Thank you. And Dr. Chokshi, how rare is it – give us your informed opinion – how rare is it that someone is medically unable to be vaccinated?

Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you, sir. And exactly as you said, true medical exemptions are extremely rare. The CDC lays out the specific medical contraindications to vaccination and they involve having a severe allergy to one of the vaccines or one of the components of the vaccine. But, importantly, such that someone cannot receive any of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines, and that situation, we know, is extremely rare. There's one other thing that I'll say, which is that one of the things that we do hear frequently is that people are concerned about vaccination in the context of underlying health conditions. And, as a doctor, it's very clear in terms of our guidance that people with underlying health conditions often have the greatest benefit from vaccination and they're precisely the ones that we want to get vaccinated to have the protection against COVID-19.

Mayor: Thank you, doctor.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Juliet from 1010 WINS.

Question: Hey. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I'm actually glad to hear that we now know who you wore to the Met Gala last night, but, I'm wondering, are you planning to attend a Broadway show tonight or in the near future? And do you have any numbers on the tourists that are showing up for Broadway?

Mayor: I am very much looking forward to attending a show soon. I want to turn in a second to Anne Del Castillo, who's our Commissioner for the Mayor's Office for Media and Entertainment. She can give you a sense of what the Broadway community is seeing and what they're projecting about tourists coming back to Broadway. But, I'll tell you, it's incredibly exciting that Broadway is back. I urge all New Yorkers, if you can, get out there and be a part of it any way you can. I also want to say, Juliet, to the beginning of your question, it's a really wonderful to see the up and coming talent in this city. And just want to give a special shout out again to Dreu Beckemberg, who Dante and I worked with, but this is just a great story. This is a guy who grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, his family immigrated when he was young to Brooklyn. He started out as a barber and then he had a flair for fashion. He started to make t-shirts and that has allowed him to get to the point now where he has his own fashion house and is doing amazing work and representing all of this city in the process. So, shout out to Dreu, congratulations. And now in terms of tourists coming back on Broadway Anne del Castillo, what can you tell us? 

Commissioner Anne del Castillo, Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment: Good morning. So, you know, in terms of tourist numbers, I would actually have to confer with our colleagues at NYC & Company for the most accurate numbers. But I, you know, Broadway is certainly making a strong comeback. There're at least 30 shows opening between now and the end of the year. As the Mayor said there's four big ones opening tonight include – as well as one new work opening Lackawanna Blues, and so to see new works opening on Broadway is also very exciting. I was just in Times Square on Sunday and, you know, it's – we're definitely seeing them come back. It's very – the shows are selling tickets and it's a really strong open for Broadway. In fact, this weekend, this coming weekend, there will be a very – they'll be doing their curtain up to signal the big reopening for Broadway. So, I do hope and encourage people to come out for that and really support their shows. 

Mayor: Thank you so much. Go ahead, Juliet. 

Question: Okay, that's great news, thank you. I wanted to also ask you what happened to the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program to get serial speeders and red-light violators’ cars off the street, why wasn't that implemented? 

Mayor: Yeah, and Juliet, I want to get clearer answers on that too. This is something that I believe in fundamentally, I was proud to sign that and support that legislation. I understand there was a lot of disruption in every part of our lives and in our city government during COVID, but I want to find out why this didn't happen on a timely basis, and then give you a sharp, clear answer, because I'm a strong believer in more stringent penalties. We've managed to achieve some of them already on the state level, on the city level, with the speed cameras, I'm a believer, we need consequences, but it also depends on our city agencies following through properly. So, I will get you an update on that quickly. 

Moderator: Our next question goes to Jillian from NY1. 

Question: Hi, Mayor, thanks for taking my question. I wanted to go back to the attendance numbers, sorry to belabor the point, but you know, Andrew asked a question about how, you know, kind of extrapolating how many students weren't in class, and I guess I'm asking if we can get more information that would make sure we can be accurate about that. You know, you've given us a rate, which is generally reached by having a numerator and denominator, the numerator being the amount of kids who showed up and the denominator being the amount of kids who were expected to show up, not necessarily total enrollment, which I know isn't done yet. So, is there any way that we can have the DOE show their work and tell us how many students they expected yesterday and how many showed up? 

Mayor: Yeah, and I want to, I really appreciate the very knowledgeable question, Jillian. I know you've covered this beat for a while, and you know your stuff. The notion of what's expected in the first day or the first week versus during the month of September, and we know historically that attendance grows over the first few weeks and also families sort out which school they're going to go to in some cases, not always resolved by the first day of school. So, yes, we'll release the information we have, as you said, show our work, but Chancellor, if you could speak to that point of what your historical experience has been of the difference between what you think the first day is going to be like versus what sorts out over the next few weeks. Chancellor, can you hear me? I know she's out there.  

Chancellor Porter: Can you hear me? Can you hear me?  

Mayor: There you go. 

Chancellor Porter: Okay, perfect. Yeah, so, you know, to your point, right? Like the first day is different. We had a ton of students showing up registering at schools yesterday, and so we don't have a number because the number is rolling every single day, more students are registering, more students are showing up at schools, but as the Mayor said, as soon as we get to the point where we have full attendance taken across our system, we'll share those numbers. But, you know, folks should recognize that those numbers are going to keep changing and growing because we have students, you know, I'm in Staten Island today, there are students showing up at schools registering today. And so, it will be a rolling number for some time. 

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Jillian. 

Question: I thank you. I appreciate that. Thanks to New York City public schools for teaching me fractions, I guess. And I'd like to also ask about some busing issues that we've heard of at NY1. Yesterday my colleague, Dan Rivoli did a story about a family where the child was taken to the wrong school on the bus and the parent only found out because she had an Apple Air Tile tracking her student, hidden in the student's shoe, which showed her that she had been dropped off at the wrong school, and the parent went to go pick her up. We also heard from a family on the Upper East Side with a special needs student who's supposed to be bused. The bus didn't show up yesterday, when the parent called, the bus company said they didn't have the staff and didn't offer her any solution. Bus also didn't come today, so that parent's been driving their child to school. There're always some busing issues at the first day of school, but why are these still happening? And is there a staffing issue in regards to yellow school buses? 

Mayor: From everything I know the answer is no, but I'm going to turn to, we have our First Deputy Mayor with us, Dean Fuleihan has worked intensely on these issues, and obviously the Chancellor as well, but let me just frame it real quick, Jillian. We put a lot of energy into improving our busing system, including creating a nonprofit, which is really important to have more independence in the way we provide bus and services for schools, more ability to ensure that the buses are working effectively. I always get worried when a parent, an anxious parent calls and someone tries to blow them off or say, you know, we don't have enough staff. That's not an acceptable answer. Anyone who says something like that, that's just unacceptable, and kids not being picked up when they're supposed to be picked up is unacceptable. That creates real fear and concern for parents, and especially if the wrong bus picks up a kid, all those things are nerve-wracking for parents. So, we've got to fix each and every one of them. I've seen some real improvement in the school bus system, but obviously each of these situations has to be resolved. So, as to do we have enough staffing for our school bus? The First Deputy Mayor, and then the Chancellor. 

First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan: Yes, we do have enough staffing and we will reach out to every single bus company to make sure that they're addressing any parental complaint, any concern. We have a hotline. We make sure that we address those. The issue with the one family did happen, we apologized to that family, and everything has been taken care of today, but we made sure that that would not happen again. We'll work through every single issue we have, the Mayor is correct, we've made great [inaudible] in our busing. There are always a few problems in the very beginning, but we're so far, we're hearing very good things in general, but we will reach out to every single bus company. Everyone has enough staff. 

Mayor: Go ahead – great, thank you. And Chancellor, anything to add? Chancellor? Chancellor? 

Chancellor Porter: Yes, I'm here. Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Jill, great math, that you have done a great job in your math work over the years. And just agreeing with the Mayor and the First Deputy Mayor, it is not okay, it is unacceptable for students to not have appropriate transportation. We do not have a staffing issue. We are continuing to work with the companies and are going to make sure that the, you know, busing situation is resolved, and we can get our families to schools where they belong. 

Mayor: Thank you, Chancellor. And I do want to say to Jillian's very good question, you know, one problem is one problem too many, but I also want to say in the overall start of school, again, turning on that whole engine after a year and a half, I was very struck by how smoothly it went. I want to thank all our educators, all our staff, thank the Chancellor and her team. It was a lot to put on – any, in the normal years, the first day of school is a massive logistical operation but coming back after the worst of COVID even more so, and really, really strong start yesterday. Go ahead. 

Moderator: Next. We have Emma from the New York Times. 

Question: Hi, good morning, Mayor. I'm wondering why haven't you visited Rikers in four years, and do you have any plans to go there? We just received a statement from Jumaane Williams calling on both you and the governor to go to Rikers immediately. 

Mayor: Yeah, I obviously I've been several times in the past and I've worked on these issues, bluntly Emma, more than any mayor I can remember because we came up with a plan to get off Rikers once and for all, we've made a huge amount of investment, we ended punitive segregation, it has been a big area of focus. At some point I'm going to go out there again, but what I want to work on right now is getting these issues fixed. I have a very clear sense of the problems, I'm hearing about regularly, I need to fix them, and the plan we laid out is the way to do that. Go ahead, Emma, 

Question: Thank you, and advocates say the solution is to decrease the Rikers jail population. Why isn't that part of the plan you announced today? 

Mayor: It is part of the plan I just announced, and there's a right way to do it, and I think there could be a wrong way to do it too. I want to do it the right way. We've got hundreds and hundreds of folks who are incarcerated, who don't need to be based on this new law that if signed could immediately relieve some of the pressure, but we need that law signed and implemented immediately. We've got hundreds who could be moved to state facilities as they are supposed to be, but that needs to happen much more quickly. Those are the two biggest immediate things that could happen. With the court system being brought back more fully, that would instantly change the situation, every additional trial would change the situation. Again, we'd like to see 500 cases taken up immediately. And obviously we can stop the flow in by having judges use a supervised release for non-violent offenses. So, these are all areas that would reduce the population the right way. 

Moderator: Next, we have Henry from Bloomberg. 

Question: Hello, Mr. Mayor, how’re you doing? Can you hear me?  

Mayor: Yes, I can, Henry, how are you today? 

Question: I am very good. I want to return to this question of school attendance and get as precise numbers as we can. As I understand it, the initial back to school attendance is 82.04 percent. My colleague, Mr. Sift, said that that's about 80,000 students, but in a school enrollment of one million, that would mean that there's almost 200,000 students who were absent by my math. Can you – I understand it's a rolling figure and it's going to change, but as of now, what do we know about the attendance yesterday, the percentage, and the number of absentees? 

Mayor: Okay. Henry very profoundly, helpful, clear question. I'm going to get to it with the First Deputy Mayor, with the Chancellor. They have, I'm sure some of this at their fingertips, I'm also going to frame this for a moment. So, if they want to pull up any more information, they'll have a moment to do that too, but Henry you and I often talk about precise definitions. I want to really be careful that you do apples to apples here. The question is not against a base of a 100 percent. That would be a misnomer. That would be an inaccurate way of thinking of things for the very reason the Chancellor described. The Chancellor spent decades in our public schools and understands the rhythms of what happens in the nation's largest public school system. Take the last three years before this one, two of which were not COVID years, 2018, first day of school, 89.5 percent. 2019 first day of school, 90.1 percent. 2020, combining in-person and remote, 80.3 and this year 82.4. We have a gap there that we have to address, but the gap has not between 82.04 and a 100 on the first day. That's something we work on more over time. The question is the gap that we've seen on the first day, how do we close that quickly? And what we see right now, and I think Chancellor spoke to it is, that is very fluid. This is a preliminary number. I'm giving you the final numbers that from those previous years, because we always had time to analyze them and lock them down. This is a preliminary number. We think that number is going to grow as it gets fully assessed. We've said there's still several hundred schools we're getting more information on, but much more importantly, I think you're going to see these next few days as the dialogue happens, principals, guidance counselors, parent coordinators, talking to families, you're going to see more and more families come in. So, we are very satisfied with this as our initial preliminary number. We think that number is going to change in the next few days and then change even more in the course of September, which is the historic pattern. With that, to your pure question of giving the best numbers we can on what base we're working from, that becomes a sort of, like Jillian's math question too, that becomes the basis for getting to the 82.4 percent. Chancellor, First Deputy Mayor, anyone got some base number there, and again, knowing that hundreds of schools are not yet fully in this calculation?

Chancellor Porter: We don't have a base number because the number that we gave is based on preliminary attendance data based on a total number of the register for yesterday. In addition, we have 350 of the 1,600 schools who haven't reported attendance rates to date yet. We expect to have that by the end of the day and be able to give a more precise number.

Mayor: Okay. First Deputy Mayor want to add anything?

First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan:  No, I think that that accurately covers exactly where we are today.

Mayor: Great. Go ahead, Henry.

Question: Okay. I under, I understand that there are still 350 schools yet to report, but what can you tell us, with good hard numbers of how many students showed up yesterday?

Mayor: Well, it's a little bit of a circular question respectfully because until we get those last schools, we can't tell you fully. What we can tell you, and I'm going to turn to the Chancellor again. I think there's nothing more powerful than an educated estimate when we don't have final information, and this is part of what we deal with all the time. I'm almost feeling like we're talking about election results, which we know take much, much longer to come in than this school attendance data. Chancellor, you were around the city yesterday. You've been talking to superintendents – you've been talking to principals. I think giving us your impression of where attendance is versus what you thought you were going to see is very valuable. And then soon, to Henry's fair point, we'll be able to give very hard numbers when all schools are reporting in and we have a final accounting, but what did you see, Chancellor?

Chancellor Porter: So, we saw our students excited about being in school. We also saw, on Staten Island, a number of students returning from private schools, registering into the public school system. And so again, you know, we are looking forward to getting the number, but I think it's just important to note we, one, expect that day one number to increase based on the schools that haven't reported, and two, will also increase based on the rolling registration that was happening, not only yesterday, but continues to happen throughout the week.

Mayor: And several more weeks to come, bluntly.

Chancellor Porter: Yeah.

Mayor: Okay. Go ahead.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Alex from Chalkbeat.

Question: Hey, Mr. Mayor, how are you?

Mayor: Good, Alex, how’ve you been?

Question: I've been doing all right. Thanks for asking. So, I wanted to ask a question about the classroom closures that we've seen so far. The DOE reported yesterday that 50 or so have, you know, initiated the process of closing after positive cases have come up. Obviously, that for now is a fairly small number of the overall number of classrooms that the city operates. But we do know that in the charter sector, there have been, you know, hundreds of classroom closures, so far. Success Academy, which is the city's largest charter network, has already shut down about 22 percent of its classrooms, at least temporarily. And so, it doesn't seem like a pure hypothetical to say that, you know, we're likely to see, you know, a fair number of classroom closures in the coming weeks and months. And part of that is because the City's rules right now for closing classrooms are fairly conservative, especially for our elementary school classrooms where one case can shut down the classroom. So, I'm wondering how the City is preparing for those likely closures and whether you know, there's a possibility that you'll reconsider that one-case closure trigger.

Mayor: Excellent question. I want to – this is a complex and important question and I'll get the First Deputy Mayor in to talk about this, but I want to start at the end of your question. We are constantly assessing the situation. You're right. The standard we're holding right now is conservative. It's something that we have said explicitly we would reconsider depending on how things go over the first few weeks. So, most important answer to that: yes, that is going to be reassessed, but we're starting with it.

Second, I think the numbers are getting kind of mushed together here a little bit. And I think that the number put up regarding the DOE classrooms was not clear. It combined situations where there was a potential classroom closure with situations where there was something different than a classroom closure and called it all classroom closure. That's not helpful. That is being fixed right now. You're going to have new data very shortly. I believe, and Dean or the Chancellor could help me, I believe the base to work from is 48,000 classrooms. I think that's our system-wide number. Someone confirm – Dean, Chancellor is that right?

First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan:  Correct.

Mayor: 48,000 classrooms. So, as we look at the situation, we'll judge accordingly. Alex, I want to go back and check on the charter experience. I had heard numbers somewhat different than what you reported. I want to respect your report, but I want to assess that closely. I want to go by what we know. What we saw, as recently as June, in our public schools – normal school year, and then what we saw in July and August in Summer Rising. All of Summer Rising, 200,000 plus kids. We had two school closures and relatively few classroom closures and Delta was stronger then than it is now. And we obviously have much more vaccination now. So I, again, believe this will be a limited reality but we're going to assess it closely and we're going to certainly assess the policy as we see things play out. First Deputy Mayor in terms of the numbers, or of course Chancellor, in terms of the true numbers of what's going on in the DOE and the comparison to what we've seen from the charter so far. Do you want to comment on that?

First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan:  Yes, you're absolutely correct. We are redoing the numbers today. The numbers add actually to the number of classroom closures. So, we're going back over them, both at the charter sector and at DOE—

Mayor: Stop you – I'm jumping in on you for a second, when you say the numbers add – I'm clarifying for Alex's sake, the numbers add artificially is what I would say, it doesn't present you a clean picture. What we're going to do, Alex, and for everyone is breakout actual class from closures where a child has to go home, if not vaccinated, versus things that were other realities in school that didn't involve a classroom closure. Go ahead, Dean.

First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan:  In addition, we will also be listing partial classroom closures because as you know, in middle school and high school it won't be necessarily full classroom closure. In most cases it will not. So, we are separating that data as we speak today. And later in the day, we’ll give you a more accurate reflection of exactly what's happening at our schools and at the charter schools. And the numbers will be lower.

Mayor: Very good. Go ahead, Alex.

Question: So, I just also wanted to flag the DOE said yesterday, there are about 65,000 classrooms. So, if someone could just clarify whether it's 65,000 or 48,000, that would be really helpful.

Mayor: That would be really helpful. Go ahead.

Question: And just following up on the Situation Room you know, last year the Situation Room was typically open until about 7:30 in the evening. This year, it appears to be closing around 3:30. Just wondering why the hours for the Situation Room, which are coordinating positive cases in schools are more limited this year. Especially given there are just way more kids in school buildings.

Mayor: Yeah, I'll start, and I'll turn again to the First Deputy Mayor. We had very good experience with the Situation Room. Again, this is something this City did that most other places didn't do. And it was absolutely crucial to have a central location where all pertinent agencies gathered together to assess each and every case and the actions that needed to be taken. A tremendous credit to Commissioner Melanie La Rocca and her team at Department of Buildings who coordinated the whole thing, of course the Test and Trace Corps, DOE, SCA, so many different folks were a part of making it work. It's back, it's up and running, full strength. My first answer, then to Dean, is we found that we could achieve the same work in a more concentrated schedule because now people are very, very familiar with how to go about this work. We have a lot more tools than we had when we started it from scratch. So, we can get it done in this schedule effectively. First Deputy Mayor, you want to add?

First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan:  Yes, correct. Correct. We are fully staffed, and the Situation Room is handling it and we have no complaints. And by the way, while the complaints received are they end at 3:30, they continue to work with schools throughout the remainder of the day. So, we're saying no and no issues. And we're prepared if we need to expand the hours or expand staff, we're prepared to do that. And clarification on the number of classrooms. Mayor, you're correct are 48,000 full classrooms. There are 65,000 spaces that can be other spaces that are the total number of spaces that can be used for instruction.

Mayor: Okay. That's a, that's an interesting split decision. And obviously we need to figure out given that we've made modifications this year, how many spaces we're using so that we are constantly counting against the true universe. Okay, go ahead.

Moderator: Last question for today goes to Erin Durkin from Politico.

Question: Mr. Mayor, in regards to the Rikers situation I wanted to ask – I mean, it seems like there's sort of a cycle here with the correction officers are calling it and therefore the ones who are coming in are working these triple shifts and, you know, they get burnt out and they decide, why should I bother with this? And they don't come in. I remember earlier in the pandemic, when this issue of triple shifts first came up, you said, absolutely not. We're never going to do that. It was a huge mistake that will never happen again. Obviously, it has continued to occur. So, I'm just wondering, it is addressing that part of your plan here, and is that – you know, how are you going to kind of convince people that they need to show up and do their jobs, which obviously they do when they end up in these kinds of conditions?

Mayor: I'm going to start Erin, very important question, thank you. And I appreciate you putting it in perspective of everything that has happened over the course of the year. I'll start and I'll turn to the First Deputy Mayor and to Commissioner Schiraldi. Bottom line is this: no one should be working a triple shift if there's any way on earth to avoid it. When I first heard about it, I said what I believe, we have to stop that practice, but what's happened, and you know, I'm going to be broad in the way I describe this, but a real perfect storm here of the impact of COVID, which really caused huge problems with staffing to begin with. And obviously, you know, horrible impact for some of the people who worked at Rikers, and then vaccination levels that are still not where we need them to be. Decisions, and, you know, I think there's been some messages put out that are not the right messages to the workers, not from the City, from other quarters, discouraging people from working, and folks deciding not to work when they were supposed to work, which is really unfair to their colleagues. And all of that made a bad situation, worse.

Not so long ago, Erin, we found as we kept shrinking our jail system too, we wanted to end mass incarceration, rightfully. We made the jail system smaller and smaller fewer, fewer inmates. We had a lot of staff, we had plenty of staff, and then the COVID dynamic threw that entirely in reverse. And so we've moved now to, we have another academy class coming and we're trying to do everything we can to support the folks who are doing good work and that so many of our officers do really tough work and do it well. But anyone who is faking sickness is hurting their fellow officer and it needs to stop. And we're going to be very aggressive about that. First Deputy Mayor and Commissioner, do you want to speak to that?

First Deputy Mayor Fuleihan:  You’ve said it. It’s the reason for the five points you laid out. We don't want triples, the Commissioner and I talk about this every single day, and we're finding ways to reduce that, but we need to do it immediately. That's the reason for the emergency order. That's the reason for these actions on both the operational side and then working with the state to reduce the population immediately.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Commissioner.

Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, Department of Correction: Yeah, I guess I would just say there really is no one thing you can do to fix this problem. That's why the Mayor's got five points, not one point to his plan. Got to get the population down in a safe and effective way by working with the courts, working with the state, but encourage people come to work, you also have to discipline them when they take, as the Mayor said. So, it's a whole bunch of things it's both-and, not either-or – that's why I'm part of the Mayor's announcement today.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Erin.

Question: Okay, thanks. And then a different topic, but do you have any data on how many fines or violations were given out yesterday under the vaccine mandate for the businesses?

Mayor: I'm going to see if Commissioner Chokshi has any of those details available? I will say to you, Erin, that we're seeing a lot of compliance. This is a general feedback I'm getting. A lot of compliance. I heard from a lot of people in the last few days from the restaurant community that they believe in this approach. We also, again, particularly in the beginning of the enforcement period, our goal is not to fine, our goal is just fix a problem. If one of our inspectors finds a problem and the owner of the business says, or the manager, like, oh, let me go fix that right now, and they fix it. We don't want to fine them. So, hopefully fines will remain a rarity, but let me just see if Commissioner Chokshi has any specific information from what happened yesterday.

Commissioner Chokshi: Sir, I don't have that specific information, but we can certainly follow up with a multi-agency group that is doing those inspections. I would just reinforce the points that you made, which is first we're seeing, and even before yesterday, we had seen a great compliance across the range of businesses and settings under Key to NYC. And then second as we have begun enforcement the first step is providing warnings before we then escalate into fines and violations. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you and look the bottom line here and I really want to commend our restaurant community, I want to commend Broadway, everyone involved in the Broadway community. Everything we're talking about today is about businesses, it's about nonprofits, government, everyone working together to bring New York City back and to do it safely. And, you know, you can see in the indicators that it's really, really having an impact. We're getting more and more recovery and less and less COVID and that's the way forward. So, I want to thank everyone who's a part of it. Yesterday really important day, first day of school today, really important day Broadway coming back a lot more ahead. Thank you, everyone.



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