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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

December 16, 2021

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Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good afternoon, everyone. I just had an event here in Prospect Park, and I wanted to gather folks to give you an update because we have seen a very substantial increase in COVID cases in the last few days. And it is clear that the Omicron variant is here in New York City in full force. And we are announcing a series of measures to address this situation. Obviously, we knew Omicron was here and we knew it was going to be more of a presence in our city. It's now quite clear that it is. And we need to be very aggressive. What has worked for us as New Yorkers in the entire fight against COVID is being aggressive, being assertive, taking bold measures. We have been doing that, and we're going to do that a lot more because we need to stop this variant. This variant moves fast. We need to move faster.  

And so today on top of all, all the other vaccine mandates that we have put in place and the other actions we've taken to maximize vaccination, we're going to talk about other steps that we're implementing immediately. Now, I want to emphasize at the beginning and you'll hear from our health care leaders. The key is vaccination. It has always been, it will always be. We need to work every day to get more New Yorkers vaccinated, especially our youngest New Yorkers. We need to work every day to get people, to make sure to get those booster shots as quickly as possible. I've talked to some people lately who talked about, well, they're waiting to go get their booster shot, even though they qualify. Don't wait, get your booster shot right now. I mean, right now. Ahead of the holiday gatherings, while Omicron has just begun to assert itself, get the booster now. It's one of the best ways to fight back.

But let me go over the plans that we are putting in place now to magnify our efforts and to keep the city moving forward. We are the safest place in America when comes to COVID. We got to stay that way. We got to continue our recovery. We can do it. We will do it. So, I'm going to talk about now, a six-pronged approach. First, the Commissioner will issue a health advisory and the Commissioner will speak to that in a moment. He's going to provide very clear guidance on how to keep yourself safe and loved ones safe, particularly as we go into the holiday season. And it's crucial for everyone to stay updated about the latest information and make whatever adjustments necessary. We are going to follow the data, follow the science as we go into these next days. We want keep people very, very informed. But following these Health Commissioner advisories will be crucial to making sure we keep everyone safe.

Second, we're going to be increasing testing capacity. And that means the mobile sites we've talked about. You'll see more of those in all the five boroughs. But we will also be doubling down on our brick-and-mortar sites. We are creating new sites, new fixed sites for testing. And we will be expanding hours and capacity at many of our existing sites. Dr. Ted Long, head of Test and Trace will talk about that. And we'll also be getting out a lot more information in the hours and days ahead on that. Getting tested is absolutely crucial. When you get tested, you know what's going on. When you get tested, if God forbid, you have a case of COVID, you quarantine, it helps keep everyone else safe. The Test and Trace Corps is doing absolutely amazing work to support people in quarantine. And Dr. Long when he speaks – I want you to amplify that. The number to call and the kind of support you can provide. If you need to be in quarantine, you will have a real helping hand from the Test and Trace Corps to make it go well. But it is one of the ways of course, to stop the spread of COVID.

Third, we will be distributing for free, one million KN95 masks immediately through the Test and Trace Corps, community-based organizations, and community-based clinics. Fourth, and working with, again, our community-based organizations, we will be distributing rapid at-home tests. Half a million rapid at-home tests will be distributed for free through community organizations directly to the grassroots. We want to use at home testing a lot more. We want to make it more and more available to New Yorkers. We'll do it through the folks that New Yorkers know and trust at the community level. Fifth, we're going to double down on boosters. The good news is 1.5 million New Yorkers have already gotten a booster shot. We want to see a lot more people get it. Starting today we will begin an aggressive paid media campaign to encourage all New Yorkers who qualify to go out and get that booster now.

Finally, we will be doubling down on inspections. Here's the bottom line. We got to stop this variant. We got to stop COVID. We got to continue our recovery. I've talked to a lot of people in the business community and they say something very clear, very simple. COVID is bad for business. Shutdowns are bad for business. Restrictions are bad for business. We can't let that happen again. And so, the mandates that we put in place are the way forward. We're going to double down on those and make sure they're being followed. We will be out to businesses all over the city, obviously those that are part of the Key To NYC, indoor dining, entertainment, fitness making sure they're applying our new instruction to ensure five to 11-year-olds are vaccinated. We will be following up with businesses on our private sector vaccine mandate that's taking effect on the 27th. We will be following up with businesses to make sure they're honoring the State's mask mandates. So, we'll have inspectors going out full force starting as early as tomorrow to make sure there's a high level of compliance with each of those mandates. So, we've been through a lot.

We have been through a lot. We have been through a lot, but New Yorkers keep rising to the occasion. And that is why we are the safest place to be in this country when it comes to COVID. Right at this moment, the life of the city continues because so many people got vaccinated. So, many people are doing the right thing to keep each other safe. We got to keep doing it. And I have a lot of faith in the people of this city. I also have a lot of faith in our health care leadership. They've made the right calls throughout this whole pandemic. And they right now are putting together these plans I've talked about to aggressively take new steps to fight back. And we are going to keep people updated with each new development. Because by staying in a strong, aggressive stance, that’s what's kept this city going. That's what we're going to keep doing. So, now I want you to hear from these two leaders. First to speak about his new advisory to the people of New York City, our Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi.

Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. We've said since the beginning of the COVID pandemic that data is the lifeblood of our response whether for testing, tracing, treating or vaccinating. We watch where the virus moves and then we respond to curb its spread. Now, the data that we monitor so closely is showing an alarming trend. Omicron is here in New York City, and it is spreading quickly. We're seeing a surge ahead of the holidays. The seven-day average for new cases has tripled in the last month. And all boroughs remain in high transmission. I do expect cases will continue to increase in the coming days. And this is based on the trajectories that we're following from other countries like South Africa, the United Kingdom, and Denmark, as well as other places.

But, and I want to send a very clear message to my fellow New Yorkers. We have ways to protect ourselves, particularly from the serious illness that's associated with COVID-19. The emerging science indicates that vaccination will remain fundamentally important in our response to the Omicron variant. And it's important to break down infection from more serious disease. The early studies do suggest that vaccines remain effective in reducing your chances of severe disease. This means needing oxygen or needing a hospital bed. And that's despite the fact that vaccine effectiveness in preventing infection may be reduced. We have seen this pattern before with Delta. And it's likely to be a somewhat similar story with Omicron. But early data also show promising signals about the effectiveness of booster doses. So, I want to underline what the Mayor said. I encourage all adult New Yorkers to get a booster as soon as it's your time. And right now, if you're already eligible.

So, in response to the increase in COVID cases, I'm updating my November Commissioner's Advisory to call on New Yorkers to take additional steps to protect yourself and each other. First, all eligible New Yorkers should get vaccinated as soon as possible. And those 16 and older who are fully vaccinated should receive a booster shot as I mentioned. Second, New Yorkers are still advised to wear face masks in all indoor public settings. And higher quality masks, that means KN95s, KF94s, or N95s offer better protection than cloth face masks. Third, COVID-19 testing remains important. It can detect infection due to Omicron. Everyone should get tested for COVID-19 immediately if they have symptoms, three to five days after they've been exposed or traveled, and before and after attending a gathering. Dr. Long will share more about our plans to expand testing. Older adults and people who have a health condition that increases their risk of COVID-19 should avoid crowded settings, particularly indoors. This is especially true for gatherings with people who may not be vaccinated or consistently wear masks or where ventilation is poor. And this holiday season in particular outdoor gathering should be considered where possible.

Finally let me acknowledge the pandemic fatigue that is being experienced by so many. I get it. But unfortunately, this virus is not yet tired of us. Like the Mayor said, I have faith in my fellow New Yorkers. We can shape our destiny and keep our city as protected as possible by taking these steps that I've outlined. Thank you so much. And I believe I'm turning it over to Dr. Long.

Executive Director Ted Long, NYC Test & Trace Corps: One of the things I love most about New York City, it's one of the diverse cities in the world. But what was seeing during the pandemic make is the New Yorkers, no matter where we come from, no matter what borough we're from, we stand in solidarity like no other city I've seen in the country or the world. Right now, we're doing that and with New Yorkers are making the small sacrifice that we've made throughout to get tested. We're taking the time to get tested. We're bringing our families to get tested. And now every day we're doing more testing than we've ever done before or in the pandemic. Your New York City Test & Trace Corps, we exist to support you. You're voting with your feet to get tested now because you want to make that small sacrifice to keep your family and your community safe and we will be there by your side. And I want to tell you today, the changes that we're going to make to do everything in our power to continue to support you.

So, first off, at our New York City Health + Hospital, hospital sites and Gotham Community Health Centers, we're now going to be open seven days a week. At all of our Test & Trace Corps sites we're going to be open seven days a week. If you come to one of our Test & Trace Corps brick and mortar sites, and there's a line we're going to arm that site with home tests. So, you can have the option of taking the test at home, if that's more convenient for you, or if you need to get at going. We want to remove all barriers so that every New Yorker that's made that sacrifice to come out to one of our sites, does not leave empty handed and gets tested in a way that makes sense for them. There’s no wrong door.

I also want to talk today about something that we're doing that's new and exciting working with our community-based organizations. So, I believe in New York City, we've done more or per capita testing than almost any other country in the world. I believe the backbone of how we've been able to do that is by working with our communities and being led by our community-based organizations. So, today we take a step forward to continue to strengthen that relationship and actually give our community-based organizations at home test kits and masks that they can distribute to the people in their communities  that they know better than anybody in this world. We're gone distribute half a million through our community-based organizations at home tests, 1 million masks. Orientation started today and distribution will start Monday. So, we don't want to miss a beat and we want to make sure that we can do this in time for the holidays, so that we can make sure that every community in New York City is supported. We're going to be working with 150 community-based organizations and every single task force on racial inclusion in equity neighborhood in New York city We're going to be in all five boroughs.

Finally, a couple of other things, people voting with their feet have prioritized as the Mayor said, our brick and mortar testing sites. So, next week we're going to open up five more brick and mortar testing sites in New York City to again, make it as easy as possible to get tested. As reminder too, in New York City, we do something already that no other city does. If you're a close contact, if you're an international traveler, if you're 65 years or above, or if you're immunocompromised, I'll send a team into your home so that you can get tested for free from the comfort of your home. I want to do everything I can to help you to get tested if you're ready to make the decision to keep your community safe today.

Finally, I want to conclude by saying with the Mayor I shared our 212-COVID-19 phone number, and this is really important. So if you use one of our home tests, or if you are somebody with COVID or you've been exposed, you can always call 212-COVID19 24/7 and it's your one stop shop for how we can help you. In New York City, we've identified more than 1.3 million close contacts or people that have had a direct and known exposure and are at the highest risk contracting COVID themselves. Those 1.3 million people, we don't just say you've been exposed and we wanted to tell you, we say you've been exposed and this is hard and we want to do everything in our power to help. We will deliver food to you for free. I'll pick you up in a free taxi, bring you to our free hotel program. You can stay there for free. We'll deliver meals to your room for free. We even, and this is not a joke, we'll walk your dog for free. And if there's more that we could do to support you, let us know, we will literally do it. So again, we're expanding testing to make it as accessible as possible for all New Yorkers moving forward, but I am encouraged and inspired to see my fellow New Yorkers coming out to get tested now. They don't have to they're doing it because they want to keep their communities safe and Test & Trace will be there by your side the whole time through. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you. All right. Hold on a second. Okay. Let's go to some questions. Yes?

Question: Given what we know right now about Omicron, will you be require requiring boosters for municipal workers and particularly teachers?

Mayor: We are looking at that right now. You know, I've talked about climbing the ladder and I obviously we have continued to climb the ladder. So, I won't make a declaration today. I'm saying that's something we are looking at on the front burner, and we'll have more to say on that soon. You want to follow up?

Question: Thank you. And then we're hearing from lots of educators and parents that the situation room is overwhelmed. Given this increase that we're experiencing, how will you be staffing up to meet that need?

Mayor: Well, first of all, I'm happy to say, even though we're dealing with a real challenge now, you know, we have about 1600 schools, only one is closed right now. And we do have classroom closures, but they constitute 1.4 percent of our classrooms. So, there is more activity. But I think the situation room has handled it very well. And the fact is COVID positivity., this is as of yesterday, COVID positivity in schools is 0.87 percent. So, clearly, we're seeing a divergence, where the schools are markedly in better shape by far than the rest of the city. They're much safer than any other place in the city right now. But if the situation room needs any additional personnel, we ramped it up in the past very quickly. We have a lot of people already trained to be a part of it. So, we can definitely ramp up the personnel, the hours, whatever we need. I'll follow up on that today with the team and we'll update you, but that's something we can do quickly.

Question: Two questions. First of all, what now would you use to describe this emergency?  Crisis? Put it in your words.

Mayor: I don't think it's so much the-I appreciate the question. I don't think it's the perfect choice of word that matters as much as what people should do. People need to get vaccinated or not vaccinated right now. Get that booster right now. They're not feeling well, get tested right now. It's an urgent situation. I would say that it's an urgent situation because what we know so far is imperfect about Omicron. But it sure is clear that it spreads fast. You heard Dr. Chokshi, we are quite confident vaccines make a big impact and we're happy to say so far it does not seem to be more dangerous than a Delta, for example, based on what we know so far, but it spreads fast. It spreads fast, no question. So that creates urgency and there's something people can do about it.

Question: Next question. Is it true that the positivity rate doubled in the course of three days? And are we seeing a similar uptick in hospitalizations and deaths? Or are we seeing more positivity of what may be a milder strain?

Mayor: I'll start and I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi. We've seen a marked increase. He'll speak to the specifics. We are not seeing a major change in hospitalizations. You've been seeing my morning reports, hospitalizations gone up steadily, but not radically. And thank God, we are not seeing a major uptick in deaths. Now, we know there's a lag between cases going up and hospitalizations going up, but what we're seeing here that's different from the past – first of all, again, so far, not getting evidence that this is more dangerous than Delta. But the jury's still out. But second, the ability of how hospitals to handle the cases is improving literally all the time. The treatments are improving and becoming more available. And the level of vaccination figures deeply into this. The level of vaccination, the amount of booster shots are all helping us to have less severe outcomes. Dr. Chokshi?

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. You actually covered all the high points, so I'm just going to fill in some of the details. We always follow cases, hospitalizations, deaths, test positivity. We are seeing, as I mentioned, a significant increase in cases and test positivity. Cases have tripled over the last month and we've seen a concomitant increase in test positivity over that period as well. We are doing better from the perspective of serious illness, primarily due to vaccination. But we are seeing an increase particularly in hospitalizations in recent days. And this is where the action really comes into play, because we know what can help a us avert more severe disease is vaccination and the booster doses. So, Health Department updated our weekly data earlier today, which showed that between vaccinated New Yorkers and unvaccinated New Yorkers, the difference in terms of case rates is eight times as much, meaning unvaccinated New Yorkers are eight times more likely to have a COVID-19 infection and they're 13 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19. So, again, this is something where we have agency. If we do the things that are being recommended through the Commissioner's Advisory, and that the Mayor has said, we can avert the most serious outcomes.

Question: You mentioned that the increase in recent days is driven by Omicron. Do you have data on how many Omicron cases have been detected in the city and what type of share of infections are attributed to Omicron?

Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, certainly. We're following this very closely, although it's evolving quickly at the same time. It is less important at this point to focus on the absolute number of cases, because Omicron is moving so quickly. The estimate from earlier this week was that Omicron is responsible for about 13 percent of the cases that we're seeing in New York City. We expect that number to grow. And, again, based on the international experience with Omicron, it is likely to grow rapidly and more rapidly than we have seen with Delta in the past. So, putting it all together, what this means is that we're still contending with Delta, but Omicron is likely to outcompete Delta in the coming weeks and become the dominant strain, which is why we're taking this rapid action today.

Question: Just to follow up on the – on the advisory, am I misunderstanding it? It just sounds like you're reiterating what has already been said, right? Just the same recommendation.

Commissioner Chokshi: Some of these recommendations do certainly underline our guidance from prior weeks. But the most important thing that I can convey about the advisory is that this is a set of actions that we have to have New Yorkers take right now, banding together, because of what we're seeing with respect to the significant increase in cases. On the one hand, what we need to do is not rocket science, and that's a good thing. We have the interventions that we know have worked between the common-sense public health precautions, like masking, and testing, and distancing, and the most important tool in our toolbox, vaccination, including booster doses.

Question: [Inaudible]

Commissioner Chokshi: Certainly, the number for today, I believe, is 5.07 percent. We'll follow up if I'm off by a decimal or two there. And that number has grown significantly over particularly the past two weeks and has risen just in the last few days. And we believe that that is attributable primarily to the spread of Omicron.

Mayor: Let me jump in, because I want to remind people, we do – we, obviously, are paying close attention to positivity levels. But we said a long time ago when we changed our indicator reports, our central concern is hospitalization rate, and the ability of the hospitals to protect people, and the kind of outcomes we're seeing. So, the hospitals are doing a remarkable job handling cases, thank God. Again, even though there's a higher level of cases, we are not seeing the worst outcomes. We got a lot to do here, but that's what we're watching very carefully. That's what we've oriented our efforts. And that's what we're watching carefully.

Question: [Inaudible] have you been in touch with your successful to make sure this [inaudible] transition?

Mayor: I met with him last night. We're talking constantly. I'm going to be talking to him again right after this. And there's been a high level of unity. And what he has said every single time emphatically is he will follow the science and the data. He will follow the lead of the health professionals. Okay. Yes?

Question: Assuming an unvaccinated employee cannot work from home, must an employer fire him? And what's the timeline on that?

Mayor: So, first of all, there's a couple of pieces to the equation. One, is there a legitimate, reasonable accommodation request? Okay. Assuming, no – I think what an employer can do at that point is make clear to the employee that they need to come in and get vaccinated. Let's say the employee is hesitant, as we saw with many of our own employees. An employer clearly has an opportunity to say, I'm going to put you on leave without pay for a period of time and let you think about it. You saw what happened to a lot of people on leave without pay. And I don't say this with any disrespect to them. I think a lot of people when they really came down to the choice of losing a paycheck and where they were in their career versus the simple act to getting vaccinated, the vast majority got vaccinated. So, there's more than one option. There's reasonable accommodation. There's leave without pay. Employers have many options.

Question: Regarding the measures you're announcing, is there a sunset on any of this stuff? Are you doing this for years?

Mayor: No, I don't think we will. I'll let the doctors speak to it. We've had this conversation a bunch of times. Look, I'm going to say something challenging. If this country would do right now what we know how to do, we could end the COVID era in 2022, period. We are way too unvaccinated as a country. And we hold the key in our hand, especially now we have the boosters. So, I think we need to just radically focus on vaccine mandates. They have worked consistently here. I know they're not popular in a lot of places, but the more universal they become, the more they work. You know, early on, there was some legitimate concern if the vaccine mandates were only for one part of society, might people, you know, who didn't like them move to a different kind of job. Well, that is a great argument for making them as universal as possible. But if we don't do that, we will – and I'm saying as an American, if we don't move to more and more vaccine mandates, we're going to prolong the COVID era. So, right now, and the doctors will speak to it. We have had the explicit conversation over these last months, what's the first off-ramp moment where you can make COVID something like the flu? It's there, you know, it's part of life, but you can maintain it with an annual vaccination. It's not in the foreground. It's not dominating our life. We have said up until now, that could be 2022, if people do the right thing. Whether that can continue to be the case really depends on how people handle these next weeks ahead. Let me let them speak to it.

Question: [Inaudible] –

Mayor: Let the experts speak to it –

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you so much, sir. And I think you're right. Look, we all feel a great deal of humility when we're talking about COVID-19, because it has proven to be such a formidable foe. It's a wily virus. It has – it's proven itself a challenge for us. But as the Mayor has said, New York City has risen to that challenge time and again. And particularly over the course of this year with the vaccination campaign, we have made such significant strides. And that's why we were able to weather the Delta surge much better than many other places around the country. Over 70 percent of the entire population of New York City is now fully vaccinated. We've made great strides in terms of pediatric vaccination, over 80 percent of youth 12 to 17 have at least one dose. And over 90 percent of adults have at least one dose now. So, I do believe that if we use the tools that we have, we will be able to turn the corner on the pandemic. Booster doses are a near-term focus for us. And we'll continue to use every single tool in our toolbox, which grows month by month, including better treatments, which lie ahead.

Question: Mayor, you mentioned inspection – doubling down on that in the coming days is important. We have seen some high-profile venues sort of openly defying the child vaccine mandate. Radio City Music Hall told us this week they're not going to enforce that child vaccine mandate until after Christmas. Is that acceptable?

Mayor: No, it’s not. And look, I don't want to – I respect the question. I got one yesterday about it too. We'll talk directly to Radio City Music Hall, with great respect. They're an amazing New York City institution. I don't want to have a secondhand conversation. I'm saying, I believe you believe what you're saying, but we will talk to them. In fact, Dr. Chokshi will speak directly today to the head of Radio City and confirm. Everyone's got to follow this mandate. It's a serious moment. And it's a very simple mandate. If, let's say, a family is planning to go to the show tonight, and one of the members of the family, one of the kids is not vaccinated, they have hours get that kid vaccinated. Show up with a card. That's all we're asking. Let's get everyone and vaccinated. But no, it's not acceptable to ignore that mandate and that's why we will be sending inspectors out now. Look, this is an evolving situation. We've all been together these last two years. We've seen a lot of evolving situations with COVID. We're going to respond to it by being very clear, these mandates have to be followed. Do you have a follow up?

Question: The only follow up I would add is, you mentioned pandemic fatigue. And my question, as a messenger, it seems like a tricky message –


Mayor: Go ahead.

Question: It seems like a tricky message that the vaccine is less effective against Omicron, but get that booster, you need more vaccine. How do you manage that? That's a tricky message to give.

Mayor: It's a great question, but I want the doctors to nail this point. First of all, the studies so far are preliminary and few. Based on everything we've seen with every other variant, we believe vaccines are sufficiently effective. And, you know, each one has a different impact on each variant, but it's enough to make an impact and help save lives. And you get – here's the counterfactual, it's a hell of a lot better than not being vaccinated. You know, think about as simply as this. Does it make an impact? Sure, it does. Is it better to be unvaccinated? No way, that's dangerous. And with boosters now, you gain impact as you go up that ladder. So, I want to dispel this myth of, like, because there's some concern out there about level of efficacy that maybe it doesn't matter – it sure as hell does matter. Doctors, you’ve got to hit this note hard.

Commissioner Chokshi: With pleasure, sir, because the facts are very clear. Each new variant makes it more important to get vaccinated rather than less important. So, to put it another way, as simply as I can, Omicron means the stakes are even higher for each individual to get vaccinated and for us to get as many New Yorkers vaccinated as possible – that's the bottom line. And what the Mayor has said is very true. Growingly, people face a choice to get their immunity via infection or vaccination. As a doctor, I would much prefer that people get their immunity through vaccination, because it will protect them and, most important, keep people out of the hospitals, keep our fellow New Yorkers here around the table for the holidays.

Mayor: Could you also – just one second, could you speak to the – studies are out there, but I think people are seeing random studies, and draft studies, and giving it full validity. I think you have to give us some scientific perspective.

Mayor: Yes, sir. I'm happy to. So, what the Mayor said is absolutely true that we are still in a very early stage in understanding the science of Omicron. Most of the studies that have been published thus far are preliminary and, importantly, are based on laboratory findings. That means people are looking under a microscope. They're doing, you know, tests using sometimes pseudo virus, not the actual virus itself, and looking at antibody responses to them. The human immune system is a marvel and has many other components beyond antibodies, including, for example, our T-cell response, which is particularly important for prevent severe disease. So, it's all to say, we have to follow up what you're seeing reported in the headlines with more rigorous science, real-world clinical data, you know, that people are actually experiencing. And we will get that, including from places like South Africa and the U.K. that are experiencing their Omicron increases earlier than we are and we'll ha have to follow it carefully. But, again, I don't want to get lost in the details of the science. All of the emerging science indicates that vaccination remains fundamentally important to protect ourselves from Omicron.

Mayor: Ted, do you want to add?

Executive Director Long: If I may, because I appreciate your question. It's also important to note that – Dr. Chokshi covered all the high points for Omicron, but Delta still is here and still is the dominant variant. JAMA Internal Medicine, November 30th of this year, data from Israel, 86 percent reduction in getting COVID after you got the booster. In medicine, we never seen 86 percent reduction of anything. That's historic in of itself. My mom came to visit for Thanksgiving. I asked if she got the booster. My dad's coming for Christmas. I'm not going to let him through the door unless he's been boosted himself and it's for his safety as much as my children. So, I really believe in the booster and an 86 percent reduction of the dominant variant right now. That's pretty much, I think, as good as you can possibly get. And I want our city to have that.

Question: Mr. Mayor, given everything today, are you at all reconsidering having a full-fledged New Year’s Eve party in Times Square? I know Dr. Katz has said, it's not your typical outdoor event. People are packed very closely together.

Mayor: We're looking at it. But look – and Julia, we're going to make that decision based on the data and the science. At the time we declared it, absolutely, the information said it was the right thing to do. We're going to keep looking at it as it gets closer. The great advantage is, outdoors and fully vaccinated. That is a game-changer right there. The minute you have anything that is all outdoors and all fully vaccinated people, you're having an entirely different and better discussion. But we're going to watch very carefully. It's still, you know, more than two weeks away. And if at any point we need to alter the plan, we will.

Question: Is there a threshold? A case threshold?

Mayor: There's not a specific case threshold, but it's just – we'll take all the data we have and the health leadership's going to make the decision, in the end. If we have to alter it, we will. I'm very comfortable that if the data and the science tell us to do something different, we can do that, and we should do that. But I'm also comfortable at this hour of this day that, because it is an event where people are fully vaccinated and all outdoors, right now, that's something we're going forward with.

Question: I have a science numbers question, which, of course, you could answer, but I'd love to hear from the Commissioner as well. You know, you said we're the safest place to be. When I look at the number, cases, hospitalizations, death at major American cities, we're more actually in the middle. So, what's the numbers to prove that? And then Dr. Chokshi, Mayor-elect Adams said today that you are being considered at the next Health Commissioner. You guys are going to sit down and talk. Would you very much like to stay on?

Mayor: Okay. That's – different question with all due respect. And I'm going to let the doctor decide if he even wants to speak to that or not. But let's stay on the first question. Why do I say we're the safest place to be? Well, again, right now, I gave you another fact, because when you look at – you can pull out any one number, but I want to look at the whole picture. I just mentioned our schools, 0.87 percent positivity as of yesterday. Put that up against any schools in America, and we have the largest school system. I would also say how our health care community is handling this is the strongest response anywhere in America. How our Test and Trace Corps. is handling this is the strongest response in America. We have the most comprehensive plan in America, unquestionably, the most robust free testing, by far. We do not require insurance to get tested. We do not require documentation. You are not required to be a citizen to get tested. In fact, we don't even require identification of any kind. If someone doesn't have any identification, you still can get tested. You still can get vaccinated. And everything is open now seven days a week for free. So, I believe we're the safest place in America, not just because of the numbers we've achieved, but because of the offense we're putting on the field to fight COVID, including, by far, the strongest vaccine mandates in America. Dr. Chokshi, you can speak to that topic. If you want to speak to others, it's up to you.

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. And I really agree with you in terms of the question of safety. I'll just provide a little bit more evidence to back up the points that you made. First of all, we have to recognize that New York City and, you know, the greater New York region is likely earlier in experiencing what Omicron will do around the rest of the country. That’s why we're taking this swift action that we have over the last few weeks, but particularly the steps that we announced today. And I can also tell you, I get phone calls every day from my fellow health commissioners around the country who are asking about our vaccine requirements and the other policies that we've put in place as they contend with their Delta surges to try to mitigate the effects of that. So, I'm proud that New York City has been a leader, and particularly grateful to the Mayor's leadership in making that the case. With respect to the other part of your question, I'll just say, you know, I'm a public servant. I'm committed to our city's COVID response as I have for the past two years. And New York City can count on me for the here and now and to get us through the next few weeks in this wave. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you, everybody. Appreciate it.



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