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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability on the City's Response to the Novel Coronavirus

January 24, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio: We just had a meeting with the city’s leading health officials and agencies that are all working together to address the challenge that we now are facing with coronavirus. Everyone has been watching as this reality has emerged over the last few days. I want to start by saying that we in New York City take this very, very seriously. This is obviously a global health challenge. This is a situation that is emerging very quickly. There's a lot that we still don’t know but we have to prepare to keep our people safe. And we are now in a very vigilant active stance to protect the health of the people of New York City.

I am happy to say there is one piece of good news – that so far there are no known cases in New York City. With that said, we have seen a spread that is so rapid now in seven countries including the United States with cases in Washington State and Chicago that we have to act on the assumption that there will unfortunately be cases sooner rather than later in New York City. There are many reasons for this including a number of New Yorkers who travel to that area of China or have been in proximity to folks who did, and obviously the fact that we have the largest Chinese population of any city in the world outside of Asia. There is a deep connection with China including the area of Wuhan. And I want to remind everyone that is a city larger than New York City. So a huge number of people in that city who travel, who have family, including people here in this city and this country.

So we are preparing on the assumption that it’s not a question of if but a question of when we start to have cases of coronavirus here in New York City. And we are working on that assumption so that we can help people make sure they get the care they need, make sure this challenge doesn’t spread. I want to thank all of the participants in the drill we just went through, going through the strategies and approaches that we would take as we start to find cases. We particularly looked at the situation of travelers coming into the city who may have been infected.

I want to thank our Deputy Mayor for Operations Laura Anglin, our Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Raul Perea-Henze, our Commissioner for Emergency Management Deanne Criswell, our Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro, our Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Bitta Mostofi, and all the other members of our team who gathered to work on our preparations to address this challenge. I also want to thank Council Member Peter Koo who is working closely with us to make sure people in his community are safe.

Now, as I mentioned we do not yet know enough about this virus. We know it is in the same family as some very dangerous viruses like SARS and also some mild viruses. But what we do know for sure is there are 26 people dead all over the world right now and that’s cause enough to be deeply concerned about where this may be taking us. So, we are working from the assumption that it’s a profound challenge. There’s no one here who is minimizing it. We do know so far – and I want to emphasize health experts are trying to get a better handle on this and it’s one of the challenges that we face. We are acting on partial information because nowhere in the world is there a full answer yet. But what we do know to date is that only through prolonged exposure can someone contract this virus. It is not a situation as with some other diseases where a single contact would be enough.

So, it’s really important for New Yorkers to understand that based on what we know right now, it's important to just go about your lives, continue living as you have because there is no indication that casual contact with some who is infected could lead to others contracting this disease. But we do want people to take the same basic precautions we often urge – to be mindful of just basic hygiene steps like washing your hands frequently and obviously to be mindful if there is any scenario where you might have had prolonged contact with someone who has this disease.

If you are a New Yorker or a visitor who has been Wuhan or any of the other affected areas and you have symptoms – Dr. Barbot will go over what those symptoms are – but if you have travelled to one of those areas or been in regular contact with someone who is from one of those areas or has been there and you have symptoms, get to a doctor immediately. The best chance of making sure that you yourself will be healthy and protecting everyone else is to seek medical treatment immediately. Go to your personal doctor, go to an emergency room, but do not hesitate. If you meet those criteria, we need you to get health care right away and we’ll help you to do it if you need help.

So, we’re taking every precaution we can to get ready to deal with this. We are obviously in close touch with state and federal agencies as well. We, as New York City, have experienced challenges like this and in some ways even greater before and most notably the Ebola crisis which many of you will remember and I want to just say our public health team, places like the Health Department and Health + Hospitals, did an extraordinary job during the Ebola challenge and showed just how much ability this city has to address a crisis. We are getting ready not because we predict a certain level of challenge but because we have to be vigilant and we have to be ready.

So, go on with your lives but be vigilant for any situation that might indicate that either you have been exposed to this virus or someone else in your life has been. In which case the answer is the same – get to a doctor. Get help immediately. A few words in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that I want to introduce our Health Commissioner who will go into more detail about what we know and what we do not yet know about this disease and what we’re doing to prepare. Our Commissioner of Health, Dr. Oxiris Barbot –

Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Good afternoon. It’s important that we share the facts about this novel coronavirus both so that New Yorkers know the facts and what their current potential risk might be as well as how they can protect themselves. As the Mayor said, this is an evolving situation and we are learning more every day. And I want to acknowledge upfront that this evolving situation of this new virus may be cause for concern in the community. And this is not a situation where it is a concern for alarm but it is one of vigilance as the Mayor said. As the city’s doctor, I take this situation seriously. We are monitoring events that are occurring worldwide on a daily basis. We have, as a city, measures in place that are designed to protect New Yorkers and they are ready to be adapted depending on how this situation continues to evolve.

And so before I go into the details I want to also just reiterate something that the Mayor said in Spanish but I’m not sure was also said in English. The risk to New Yorkers currently is low and our preparedness as a city is high. And so I want to start off talking about what we know. So, it’s a new strain of a known family of viruses. There is a diversity of respiratory symptoms that this family of viruses causes. Currently we have over 800 individuals who are diagnosed principally in China in the area of Wuhan but we know that there are other countries where individuals have been diagnosed with the illness. And tragically there have been at least 25 people who have died. And so as the Mayor said that gives us pause and we take this very seriously because we are still very early in this process and we are paying very close attention to how it is that this situation is evolving.

Currently in the United States there are two confirmed individuals to have had coronavirus, one in Washington State, the other in Chicago. And so primarily the reason why, you know, this is very concerning is because there’s – while we do know certain things there are still many that we don’t know. For example, we know that it can be transmitted from individual to individual but we don’t yet know how easy that transmission can be or if someone can transmit – or at what point in the illness someone can transmit the virus. What we also know is that there is no vaccination for this illness and that there is no definitive treatment. And so, that’s why it’s important for us to make sure New Yorkers know the facts and make sure they know how to protect themselves.

So, what we are asking New Yorkers to do is that is if they have travelled to Wuhan in the last 14 days and they find themselves with symptoms of fever and a cough or shortness of breath, that they contact their provider and share this information. There are some very simple tests that providers can do in the office to rule out common viruses that are circulating currently. The most – the one that comes to top of mind is the influenza virus. And so we have protocols in place for when individuals may be arriving through JFK. We have – these are protocols that we drill on an ongoing basis with our partners ranging from EMS, H+H, Greater New York, the State Health Department, as well as CDC. So there is a mechanism in place to ensure that anyone who screens positive for that constellation of symptoms, we get alerted, the patient gets transported to the nearest hospital, and that testing scheme that I just outlined in terms of ruling out the most common viruses and then determining if someone is needing additional testing to rule out the coronavirus, all of those systems are in place.

And so the other thing that’s especially important is getting the message out to providers because individuals may come through the airport but what’s actually the more likely scenario is that an individual will present to their local emergency department or to their local physician. And so we are working closely with the provider community to ensure that they are aware of the symptoms that they need to be looking for, the importance of a travel history, the tests that they should be running as a first indication of whether this is a common virus or not, and then in the event that a patient meets the travel history and the symptom requirements then they are to communicate with us to ensure that we have done all of the necessary investigation to ensure who else this person has come in contact with, where in their illness trajectory are they, and making sure that they receive the appropriate level of care based on their symptoms.

And so, the advice to New Yorkers – actually I’m going to say one more thing. In terms of the evolving nature of this event, just this morning the CDC updated its travel advisory and now it is at the highest level of advisory meaning that individuals should avoid unnecessary travel to the Wuhan area. So, that just came out this morning. So, our advice to New Yorkers during this time is to go about their daily lives but to practice every day precautions during flu season. That includes covering their mouth and their nose when they cough or they sneeze, to wash their hands often and to stay home if they are not feeling well. Additionally it is not too late to get the influenza vaccine, not too late to get the flu vaccine.

Additionally if they have travelled or have been in contact with some who has travelled to the Wuhan area in the last 14 days, we want them to get medical attention quickly. The best way to protect against his virus is getting medical attention quickly, testing, and ensuring that we are taking the proper clinical precautions to make sure that there is no ongoing transmission of that. And so, I want to end by reiterating that we are monitoring the situation on a daily basis. We are in close contact with our City partners, with our community-based partners, as well as our provider community to ensure that whichever way a patient presents we are notified quickly and we activate the measures that we have been putting in place.

Right now there is no indication for New Yorkers to avoid public places. We want to take this opportunity to wish our community a Happy Lunar New Year and we encourage people to go about their daily lives. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you very much, Commissioner. Okay, we’re going to take questions on the coronavirus situation and then we’ll take questions on other topics after.

Questions: There’s no cases in New York as of now, is there any case being tested that you know of?

Commissioner Barbot: Currently there are no cases in New York City and we are in constant contact with our clinical partners, again, in the event that someone meets the criteria and needs to be tested.

Mayor: You stay there, just because I think most questions are going to be for you, and we’ll see where we go? Back there?

Question: Yeah, any testing going on in the state? Any investigation – sorry – in state?

Commissioner Barbot: So I can only speak to what’s happening in New York City where I would have to direct you to the State Health Department to see who else might be tested.

Question: Is there a protocol or specific hospital that if there are cases you’ve kind of designated as a place where people will go or to kind of spread to all the city’s hospitals?

Commissioner Barbot: So that’s a great question and I’m going to answer it in two ways. One is on an ongoing basis part of our Emergency Preparedness Procedures that we do in collaboration with our office, New York City Emergency Management, and Greater New York, is we drill all of our hospitals on what we call “mystery patients” that may come in with respiratory illnesses to make sure that there all at the same level of readiness because, especially in a situation like this, we can’t predict exactly where a patient will show up. So that’s one thing in terms of our baseline preparedness.

In a situation such as this where there might be another likelihood of it, is decrease and given the travel restrictions, where someone comes in through JFK, we will send them to the nearest hospital who is also equipped to do the type of testing that we need to have done. And so those four hospitals are Jamaica, LIJ, Queens Presby, and Downstate.

Question: So based on the drill you just had, which would be the red line for you to decide whether or not it’s necessary to change the level of threat not to low, but to intermediate or severe? Which would be the conditions for you to decide that it’s necessary to change the level of [inaudible]?

Commissioner Barbot: You know there would be a lot of factors that would change our assessment in terms of the threat to New Yorkers. I think right now, what we’re focused on is, there is no ongoing transmission in countries that have confirmed cases of coronavirus outside the Wuhan area. And so the likelihood of us getting to that point, at least this point in time, is unlikely. But like I said, we are monitoring the situation on a daily basis and when and if we see those parameters changing, we’ll make that determination.

Mayor: Let me just jump in on that. I think – just really want people to understand that there is a certain amount of information we do not have. And you know, we have some of the best public health experts in the country working for New York City, but acknowledging that this is something new and medical science still doesn’t fully understand. So I think one of the answers to your question is we’re going to find out by trying to address as best we can if it’s something that requires a much bigger effort. Let us hope that the restrictions that have been put in place in China were just in time to stop the spread more globally, but, you know, so far we don’t have assurance that it was in time, so we have to ready for something much bigger. Yes, Gloria?

Question: Mr. Mayor, is there anything the city is doing in terms of outreach to these specific communities that might have traveled to the area or will travel? Anything specific to target them?

Mayor: Starting today, we’re making sure that all across the city people get the word to take this seriously and get to a medical professional immediately. But of course we’re going to focus on communities where there is a greater likelihood, there’s been some of that travel. Again, I want to thank Councilman Koo for being a part of that effort. We’re going to work with elected officials, we’re going to work with community organizations. The Department of Health does a lot of public outreach already and we’re going to focus certainly on communities that need to get this message right away. Yes?

Commissioner Barbot: We have met with health care providers who provide medical care to the Chinese-American community. Additionally we have provided educational materials to community-based organizations that are situated in communities with high density of the Chinese-American community. So in addition to all the things that the Mayor laid out, those are the additional layers that we have so far. I would also encourage folks to, you know, visit our website. We’ve got lots of information there and that will be, you know, just the beginning. As the situation evolves and we determine that we need to widen that net or intensify that net, I think that’s the importance of this system that we have in place that we’re able to surge to meet those needs.

Mayor: Just following up on the previous points, so again, we have a number of communities all over the city, where we are going to do that special outreach. Peter represents a very, very substantial community in Queens. I also want to welcome and thank Louie Liu who is someone I’ve known a longtime from the Brooklyn Community Improvement Association. Thank you. And again, a lot of strong organizations that are going to help us with that outreach. Please.

Question: Could [inaudible] in Spanish just what you want New Yorkers to be aware of, what’s some of the symptoms they should be watching out for and the fact that there are no known cases here in New York yet but you are watching for that possibility?

Commissioner Barbot: [Speaks in Spanish].

Mayor: Thank you. Okay, who has not gotten a chance, back there?

Question: I wanted to understand a little bit more about the procedures in place with the airlines, when there is, you know, there is traveling going on from China to New York, specifically JFK. Is there some sort of questionnaire that the passengers have to answer? What happens once they get into New York?

Mayor: Commissioner will go into some detail, but again, Center for Disease Control, federal agency, handles that frontline screening. I do want us to emphasize that I think it’s a really rapidly changing situation and I want to urge the CDC to keep updating their approach as things are changing so quickly. So, Commissioner will tell you what they have been doing but that may change in a day or two depending on how this evolves.

Commissioner Barbot: So currently what happens is the CDC screens individuals who are arriving from direct or indirect flights. Clearly with the shutdown in Wuhan, there are no direct flights and so the volume is going to be decreasing significantly. But they do the temperature checks, they do the symptom checks to determine whether the individual has fever, cough, where in Wuhan they have traveled, and then if there is any indication that an individual meets the criteria of being a person under investigation, so to speak, they then will contact us, contact EMS, so that they are transported expediently to the nearest hospital. When they arrive at the hospital, we would have already called the hospital to let them know that the patient is in transport, again to make sure that all the drills we’ve gone through, they are putting into play in terms of appropriate levels of precaution. The screening test to rule out common, everyday viruses such as the flu virus will have been done. We expect to then have those results within a matter of hours. If those tests don’t indicate that the individual actually has a more common virus then the additional samples would be sent to the CDC for confirmatory testing to determine whether or not it’s the coronavirus.

Question: How long does that take?

Commissioner Barbot: You know, based on the experience of what happened in Washington State, we anticipate it would be anywhere between 24 to 36 hours.

Mayor: And just clarifying for everyone’s sake. That someone in that situation in a hospital will stay while that confirmation was brought from CDC.

Commissioner Barbot: They would get a treatment appropriate to their level of symptoms. Yes.

Mayor: Go ahead.

Question: [Inaudible] JFK airport will be looking for symptoms other than fever and dry cough, because the medical authorities in Wuhan published a report saying in the process of treating patients they found many cases where they are not showing fever or breathing problems but things as simple as chest distress, diarrhea, or other things that are not related to respiratory problems?

Commissioner Barbot: So that is something that is part of the evolving nature of this outbreak, and we are working closely with CDC to stay abreast of how they are changing their questionnaire.

Mayor: Yeah.

Question: When someone – let’s say you confirm a case, they’re in the hospital. I mean, what happens then? You said it’s not treatable. Does it just go away on its own? Is it fatal? What are the degrees there?

Commissioner Barbot: So I think those are sort of the two book-ends of what can happen and what we have seen in Wuhan. All indications right now is that for the majority of people it’s a self-limiting illness, meaning that if they’ve got fever they can take medication to bring the fever down. If they’ve got sort of the cough and the malaise that typically what we do for the flu are the same types of things that someone could do at home. There are situations where, if individuals have chronic underlying illnesses such as heart disease, such as asthma. If they’re immunocompromised, then they would be at much higher risk for more severe illness. And again they would have the types of measures that you would get in a hospital to treat the symptoms but not necessarily the actual disease because there’s no definitive treatment yet. My understanding is that CDC has some experimental medications but again there isn’t anything specifically designated for treating this illness.

Mayor: But just the two common sense points, there’s no question that the faster you get treatment, the better your chances, and when someone is getting treatment, if they need to be isolated, the very act of isolating them stops the spread in their case. They are not in the position to spread it to someone else. So, even though we all wish there was more information and there was a defined cure, there still is a very, very important difference between someone who gets care quickly and someone who doesn’t. Who has not gone yet, anyone?

Question: Mayor you said that it doesn’t appear this is transmitted person to person through casual contact, but the commissioner said it’s unclear exactly how it’s transmitted person to person so can you just clarify a little bit?

Mayor: I’ll start and the Commissioner will give you a lot more expertise, but again, we know there are diseases that can be contracted with one brief interaction. This does not appear to be that based on what we know so far. It seems to take more prolonged exposure – person to person. That’s different from animal to person. But person to person seem to take more exposure. That’s what we know so far. But again we’re getting new information daily since it’s literally something new to the world medical community.

Commissioner Barbot: Yes and so what I said – it’s unknown how easily it can be transmitted from person to person. And the only folks that can really answer that question for us are in China because they are the ones who are seeing the vast majority of this. But given all indications right now, and again, we can’t stress enough that this situation is changing on a daily basis, it really does appear that it’s prolonged household contact that is the main driver of transmission, but we want to be prepared in the event that this continues to evolve.

Question: I think you mentioned this a little bit earlier but can you just sort of clarify. You’re not telling anyone to not go out in public? There’s going to be Lunar New Year celebrations to go ahead with all that stuff?

Commissioner Barbot: Yeah, that’s what I said was we want New Yorkers to go about their daily lives, you know, we want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy Lunar New Year and to practice everyday precautions of washing their hands frequently, covering their mouths or their nose when they cough or sneeze, and if they have travelled and are symptomatic, to reach out for medical care quickly.

Mayor: Yeah, and I –look really want to emphasize – yes people should enjoy the Lunar New Year, I’m going to be participating myself. I want to urge everyone to be part of those celebrations, as they always are, but this is a situation of individual vigilance. If someone has these symptoms, and might have a connection back to Wuhan take it seriously, and act on it, just get to a medical professional right away. I think we are hoping and praying that’s very few people, we’d be shocked if that’s no one, honestly, we do think we’ll see some cases here, but the faster people get to a medical professional, the greater likelihood this would be contained. Yes, Gloria.

Question: I just want to get a little clarity, I know you’re talking about how this could be contracted, and we’re not – this is like what we saw during the Ebola crisis, where you have to go into a quarantine situation. So what is – if there is a case, does that hurt – is that like they have to get treated in the hospital for a couple of days and everyone around them has to come in to ensure that they haven’t been infected or what’s the level of, I don’t know what the proper medical term is but—

Commissioner Barbot: Yeah so, the level of ongoing care will depend on the symptoms that they have when they present. So if someone who’s hearing this says, you know I was in Wuhan and I had a little bit of a fever but now I’m fine I’m going to get myself checked out and they do, in fact, turn out to be positive for coronavirus, then we wouldn’t do anything, necessarily, differently of having the person come into the hospital. We would probably do, what we call, deploying our disease detectives and do and investigation of people that they may have come in contact with. Again, out of an abundance of caution and to be completely thorough, so that’s one end of the spectrum. And then if we have individuals who are more severely affected, then of course we would treat them in the hospital and provide all measures necessary.

Mayor: Yeah, and look, the obvious example that we went through in this city with Ebola. We knew a whole lot about Ebola and it was really, really bad, what we knew. We knew how devastating the disease was, how many people had died worldwide, I think it was kind of the polar opposite situation because we had the full facts and they were scary as all hell. This one is grayer, but since you see a new diseases in effect on a spectrum somewhere between the common cold and SARS, we’ve got to assume the more serious possibilities and be ready. I think it’s going to take days or weeks to get the better handle on what it really means for most people. Rich.

Question: So, given what you said about the flights being sort of grounded in the infected area, I guess no flights are coming, no non-stop flights or indirect flights are coming directly to JFK, and also are other flights that may be coming from other parts of China given that somebody may have travelled within China to try to get where they are going. Are they being screened or do you have that knowledge?

Mayor: I’ll tell you what I know and the Commissioner can speak to it. I think this is an area of real concern Rich, I’m glad you raised. I think in a funny way that the fact that the Chinese authorities did, I think the right thing, in cancelling flights out of Wuhan may in fact have caused a little too much confidence on this side of the ocean because what we know so far is if people have been exposed, it could take as much two weeks to manifest so therefore the question really is someone symptomatic? And as our colleagues said that may be more symptoms than we realize. Are they symptomatic and do they have a nexus to Wuhan? Have they been there? Have family members been there? Have they been in prolonged contact with someone who was? I think you are asking the right question. Is the screening extensive enough? Do they need to screen more travelers coming in to find out if they are showing symptoms if they have that nexus? So I don’t think it’s only a question of who is coming directly from Wuhan just in the last few days. I think there is more that needs to be looked at here.

Commissioner Barbot: So I agree with what the Mayor has said and that’s an evolving area where we continue to work with the CDC to see how they are adjusting their systems.

Mayor: Way back.

Question: Commissioner, I think you said that – just to clarify – that there is no actual test for it yet, that the test is – test for other viruses and sort of rule it out or rule it in.

Commissioner Barbot: No there is actually a two-step process for confirming whether someone does or doesn’t have coronavirus. The first step is something called BioFire which is readily available in our larger health systems and clinics can get it through commercial labs where they test for common everyday viruses such as the influenza virus, and actually for the four more common strains of the coronavirus family. In the event that those come back negative there is, and this is a test that only a CDC is currently doing to determine definitively whether or not someone has coronavirus and that test was developed using the genomic sequence that authorities in China shared with the U.S. to make sure that we were rapidly able to diagnose that. I will say that we are very anxious for the CDC to allow other jurisdictions to do the testing. We have a world class lab and so we are excited to be able to do that testing as well.

Question: My understanding is that the epicenter in Wuhan, China was some type of fish market and you just mentioned a while ago or there was some conversation regarding that it could be spread from animal to person, any concerns with the seafood that might be imported from China to our area because, you know, we have such a large, you know, Chinese community in the city?

Commissioner Barbot: So, I will start with that and then I'm going to ask for a potential lifeline from Dr. Daskalakis, who's our Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control and has been leading a lot of the day to day efforts on this and doing a lot of the communication with CDC. So at this point that particular market has been closed, and we do not see a reason for any concern of seafood coming out of China.

Deputy Commissioner Demetre Daskalakis, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: So, thank you for the question. So, we actually have had a lot of conversations both with CDC as well as the State. Currently, there's no concern for seafood importation being a mechanism of transmission. Thank you.

Mayor: I do want to emphasize the point that Commissioner Barbot made, which is the CDC – and have a lot of respect for the CDC but they really need to work with localities. Getting us the ability to do our own local testing will speed up our ability to respond. And again, we have to assume this is a crisis that will grow. I mean, if you look at where we are today versus yesterday or a week ago, something very profound is happening here. So, I would call upon the federal government to help New York City and help other cities and states to address this more quickly by giving us the ability to do that direct testing. Yes?

Question: So I'm just wondering, are officials at JFK Airport only screening travelers from Shanghai? Or only travelers from Wuhan or like travelers from all the areas in China?

Mayor: Okay. Not knowing all the intricacies, but based on the briefing I received earlier, my concern is it was focused on flights from Wuhan and where a traveler had originated Wuhan transferred in Shanghai or any other airport. The fact that those flights now are ended in a sense could create a false sense of security. And that's where I keep getting back to if there was a 14-day incubation period, there well may be people who were previously infected, but it has not yet manifested or it’s just starting to manifest. I think there needs to be a bigger look at flights coming in with people who well may be have –  been affected, and it’s simply starts with if you are symptomatic, you should be asked if there's any possibility that you came in contact with people, family members, or your own travels took you to Wuhan. So, I think there's something there the CDC needs to look at in terms of being more thorough. Yes?

Question: The Governor's Office just put out their plan about what they're doing. Can you talk about the coordination? Have you've spoken with the Governor, sort of, what's the –

Mayor: Right, now we're all coordinating – our health officials who have a great history of coordination are all working together. Again, this is evolving day by day, hour by hour. So we're all going to work together as we get more information. The most important nexus here is with the federal government and specifically the CDC. Anything else on this? Go ahead.

Question: [Inaudible] part of the Governor's plan [inaudible] State Department of Health [inaudible] under investigation for the current virus –

Mayor: Well as we said, I think the expectation is that we will see cases here, not via travelers but people who are already infected here and it just hasn't manifested yet.

Question: Following up on that. You know, so there are four in New York State, I guess it doesn't say where. Are you in communication with health officials in the tri-state? So I know – you were asked earlier if there were any under investigation, but if they're [inaudible] state it could be someone in Nassau County or someone in Westchester. So it's pretty close.

Commissioner Barbot: So we are in close communication with our state health partners and we share information all the time.

Question: [Inaudible] the state being investigated because [inaudible] –

Mayor: [Inaudible]

Commissioner Barbot: It has just been announced and we're focused on city residents.

Mayor: Okay. Any other questions on this, please?

Question: [Inaudible] recommended face masks?

Commissioner Barbot: So, in New York City masks are not being recommended.

Mayor: But again, it’s a situation that could change at any point, but not at this point.

Question: Dr. Barbot wasn't here for the Ebola outbreak, but –

Commissioner Barbot: [Inaudible]

Mayor: She was in a different role, yes.

Question: Are there any sort of institutional lessons that the city has learned in terms of specific operations that will be put into effect now based on what happened during the Ebola situation?

Commissioner Barbot: You know, that's a good question. I would say that on a regular basis we are presenting ourselves with scenarios that can help improve systems in place to make our response even better. And so I draw your attention to last September where we had a flight coming in from Dubai with over a hundred people with symptoms potentially consistent with flu or potentially consistent with MERS and collaboration between CDC, our state health partners, partners that you see here behind me [inaudible] NYPD, EMS, we evaluated that entire plane and they came in, I think it was like 8:30 am in the morning and by the six o'clock news we were able to say, you know, this is what's going on. The vast majority of people went on their way. So I think that that illustrates that we learn from every episode, from every event to make the subsequent event even more efficient.

Mayor: I'll give you a sort of broader gauge response that I remember it like it was yesterday, the lead up to the Ebola crisis and all. I think the most important thing we learned is, take these things seriously. Never try and explain the problem away, get into a very aggressive stance. And, you know, I remember all the discussions, the planning, the drills, but you – there's sort of that air of unreality, like we're planning for something, of course it's not going to actually happen here. And then suddenly it was, and I, again, the Health + Hospitals, Department of Health were outstanding in the way they took all of the planning and put it into action.

So I think it's a mindset question first, sort of a cultural question. Are you assuming the worst? Are you in a very active stance? That's what's most necessary. And certainly that's what I learned from Ebola. Take it real, real seriously. I mean, here's a case where, you know, if you want it to be glass half full, you could say, oh, maybe it's more like the common cold. We're not saying that we're saying we're assuming it's more like SARS. We're assuming it is something that could spread rapidly here and it could already be here. And that puts us in a very aggressive stance. Gloria.

Question: I’m sorry. I know we're just hearing about the four people but I just wanted to get clarity. You don't know about them yet and it's not clear where in the state they –

Mayor: Apparently what the state has put out is not making clear where it is. So right after this, Dr. Barbot will talk to her state counterpart and get the details. But we have no indication of a case in New York City yet, but we predict one soon. Anyway, you slice it we'll work closely with the state. Last call on this topic. Okay. We're going to go to other topics please. Anything on other topics?

Question: Yeah, Mr. Mayor, the Parks Department apparently said yesterday that as far as the policy to allow the Brooklyn Borough President's office to park in the plaza, the public plaza area there, that's going to come to an end in the beginning of 2022. I'm just curious if they agree that the policy should change, why is it going to take that long for it to be implemented?

Mayor: Look, I honestly don't think this is a particularly big deal. It's something that's been going on for decades. The best of my understanding, it makes sense. People are used to it. They're working with it. We'll phase it out over the next couple of years. Other questions? Yes.

Question: I was wondering if you could comment through [inaudible] like a sexual harassment of students at Marie Curie High School. There was like a meeting. I think they got pretty tense with the Chancellor and some people were calling him to, you know, have a more, I guess targeted response. Is that anything you're looking at?

Mayor: Yeah. That situation emerged in the last few days and I've spoken to the Chancellor about it. He takes it very seriously. The whole reality of that school is being evaluated because the cases that we've heard about are really troubling. And I'm saying this as a parent. I would be outraged too as a parent. So the Chancellor is looking at that whole school to see what has been happening, if changes are needed, and we'll have more to say on that very soon.

Question: I wanted to ask – another education story. There was a story this week in Chalkbeat about the lab – the lag in background checks. And there are schools [inaudible] City contracts out for pre-K, but for students with IEPs and other needs that these rooms are completely empty. They don't have afterschool programs. So I want to ask, you know – and you can go around and tout the pre-K program, when you ran for president [inaudible] child has an IEP or has autism or any other need, that child doesn't have universal pre-K. You have schools with empty classrooms. I want to get your reaction on this. It's a Health Department backlog and if you're going to do anything to –

Mayor: Of course if there's a backlog, we're going to fix it. I would say the way you're connecting it to the bigger reality, I would push back and say it's now six years of the pre-K program. It's obviously reached hundreds of thousands of kids very, very effectively. That being said, if there's a gap, if there's a problem, we're going to address it right away, especially kids with special needs. So no question, if there's something we have to do to fix that, we'll do it immediately and give you an update.

Question: Well, there are thousands of children who can't go to the universal pre-K in their neighborhood. They can't go. They have to go through, you know, [inaudible] schools which sometimes sends them to these schools that now have empty classrooms. So, you know –

Mayor: Again, I'm going to challenge you on the way you're putting together all the facts. The kids who need something that cannot be provided currently, we are working right now to add the capacity because pre-K is still a newer program in the scheme of things. And maximally what we're trying to do throughout our school system is accommodate kids with special needs in our public schools, but there's some special needs that cannot be accommodated in public schools and we're always working to build that capacity out. So, whatever it will be necessary, we're going to find a way, that's what we do all the time. But for the vast, vast majority of kids who need pre-K, they're getting it. For a lot of kids who have special needs, they can be accommodated in the public schools and the other pre-K sites. For anyone who can't be, we need to fix that.

Question: Considering all the problems at the MTA is facing, and there are plenty of them as we all know, why don't you think the time is now for municipal control of the city's subways and buses?

Mayor: It's a great question. And I would say, one – before last April, and I said this very comfortably publicly – I said if they did not resolve the funding issue, I think that really would have begged the question of whether there was a conceivable path forward for the State to maintain control or we had to do something very different. But once the State did actually resolve the funding issue, that gave me more confidence that the MTA not only it could be well funded, but could be reformed and made a much more effective agency. And I certainly think Andy Byford’s made major steps in that direction. The problem is, and I said this it this morning on the radio, the Medicaid example should be cautionary. If you move the MTA to city control, you are absolutely dependent on the State to pass along all the funding that's currently devoted to the MTA. And we have seen often recently the State pulling back funding in a variety of ways from the City. So, I would not be telling New Yorkers the truth if I said, well, if we took over the city operations of the MTA, we could guarantee that the State would give us the funding we're due. It's been too many cases where that hasn't happened. I think staying in the State's hands with a new funding plan and additional work to make the MTA work better is a much more reliable option than the risk that it might go over to the City and not be funded.

Question: [Inaudible] remained if it was in municipal control right now?

Mayor: I don't know. You'd have to ask him. I think as, I said this morning, we should not be talking about him in the past tense. I think we should get them back. And it's, you know, two days into this, I have certainly seen people reconsider and come back. I think that's the way forward here, figure out what's going to help him to come back.

Question: [Inaudible]

Mayor: I have not spoken to him, but I'd be happy to.

Question: Mr. Mayor, I just want to follow up on the takeover question. We've seen it with the control of municipal control of the schools. Other major cities have a local control of their transportation [inaudible]. Something that affects so many New Yorkers daily lives – and I know that we have a convoluted system that includes the Long Island Railroad – but why not take this moment to have a conversation about what to do to change it so that the funding mechanism is reworked so that the City can be guaranteed to get its funding when it's time? I guess my question being, sometimes in moments of crisis you have an opportunity to restructure an agency, so why not pick up that –

Mayor: It’s an excellent question. Look, I think everyone deserves like a really serious, honest conversation on this question. I will be the first to say it's appealing on its face to think why don't we just control it? But it's a very different reality than the schools. The local control levels on the schools were very, very substantial all along – it was a board of education – and the funding streams were consistent. They weren't always enough, but they were consistent. So, going from that to mayoral control education was not a huge jump in the scheme of things. Going from a system that's run by the State, has been for decades and decades, and absolutely dependent on funding that only the State can provide, and then believing that the State will consistently provide it no matter what's going on at the State level – I'm not falling for that one. We have seen the State – a big issue came up in the last couple of years – the State took about half-a-billion dollars that was MTA earmarked revenue and transferred it to the State budget. They did that while they're controlling the thing, they took it away from the MTA. Imagine what they would do if the City who was controlling it. You know, right now, again, we're having this Medicaid discussion. We don't control the Medicaid program, the State does, and yet the State is talking about potentially putting hundreds of millions of dollars of costs on New York City. We've seen this movie over and over again, and it really is directly related to the fact that the City for decades was struggling and now is finally stronger and the State looks at the City's resources and tries to figure out how they can take more of them. That's not a good scenario to move for a City takeover the MTA. It's a setup. Now, if the State wasn't taking responsibility for the MTA and hadn't come up with a funding plan, including congestion pricing, I think we would then be in an absolute total crisis. I think the crisis got diverted last April, thankfully.

Question: [Inaudible] ask you about the parts that you do have control over, like appointing the chairs to the MTA board. Have you made any progress on that? And there was some people suggesting today that maybe it's Andy Byford who should be a City appointee to the board. Would you consider that? Or –

Mayor: Again, I think Andy Byford should go right back to the position he's been holding and I'm going to hold out hope that that can be negotiated and achieved. We have two seats that I – we're going to present names and I just hope that the Governor and Legislature will act quickly on those names – will be forwarded the next few days.

Question: What are the plans for the BQE? When will they be released and will you be coordinating at all with the City Council on there?

Mayor: I don't have the exact date, but the formal report will come out soon, I certainly know that, and then we're going to figure out from there what we have to do. I think – the good news, I'm an optimist by nature or I would not have this job, I assure you – so the good news is, we have surfaced the BQE issue. It's now out in the open that there's a real danger to this city if we don't address this soon. And I talked about some very, you know, intense solutions that I understood people had concerns about, but the good news is we're going to have a real discussion over these next few months about which option to choose and then I hope we can get to one and move forward quickly, because it's a real challenge.

Question: I think you spoke about the Medicaid issue with the State budget earlier today [inaudible] –

Mayor: Yes.

Question: Are there other elements of the State budget that are also sort of hitting the City and can you talk about how you're handling it?

Mayor: Look, the last few years, every single year we have lost several million dollars in State aid each time. And that's a cut one year, and then on top of that – you know, so that money's then gone forever and then you take another cut. And we're talking to annualized cuts, so they keep hitting you over and over. That's been happening regularly. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the entire revenue sharing program, the aid to municipalities was taken away from New York City – I believe it was $300 million that year. There's been a trend now that's almost a decade old of the State constantly undercutting the financial reality in New York City. But all of that pales in comparison to the potential Medicaid cuts. I think the important point here though is, I believe that all over the state you're going to see people rise up against these cuts that means taking away healthcare from people. And I have talked to – in fact, even at the Conference of Mayors, I talked to both Democratic and Republican mayors from around New York State who all feel the same, that these cuts are intolerable and they're going to either cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose their health care or they're going to bankrupt localities. And so, there's going to be, I think, a bipartisan push across the state to stop these Medicaid cuts and to convince the State to find the savings that are there. And if the State says there's no way they can keep providing health care people without new revenue, as I said earlier, then let's do the obvious thing and tax the wealthy at a level that they should be taxed, which I commend Speaker Heastie, he's already put that on the table. It's such a straightforward solution – the wealthy are not taxed anywhere near the level they should be in this state. That's a way to solve the problem. If the State can't find enough savings and efficiencies, well let's go where the money is and get the wealthy to pay their fair share.


Question: Mr. Mayor, have you had a chance to watch the house manager's prosecution case in the impeachment? And do you think that Americans have the requisite attention span to have paid sufficient attention to get the job done?

Mayor: Rich, what did you say?


Sorry, I kind of spaced out. So, I thought you'd like that, Rich. So, I've watched a little bit of it. I think – look, it's painful. Let's start at this – no one wants to see this, right? You know, you don't want to see it for any president. And it's a tough, I think for people to watch, because it's goes against kind of all our hopes. But I do think a lot of people are paying attention and I think there's a lot of people that are trying to see, you know, what it means, where the larger truth is. It's a very important moment for the country. So, I don't think people are riveted to it. I mean, you may remember that I have talked about watching the Watergate hearings, like ridiculous amount of those hearings when I was a strangely young person, meaning strangely interested at my young age. But I will say those were riveting and dramatic compared to this stuff, and there seemed to be more and more information flowing all the time, and this seems a little bit like we're a little stuck. But I think a lot of people are paying attention – I think they're paying attention in bits and pieces, but they're still paying attention.

Question: Mr. Mayor, where do you stand on the legislation that will allow green card [inaudible] –

Mayor: Louder please –

Question: Where do you stand on the legislation that would allow green card and work visa holders to vote in local elections?

Mayor: I think the underlying motivations are both honest and compassionate. But I have a different view of the matter. My view is we need to fix our immigration system. We need comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for everyone who's here and qualifies. We need to speed up and have a federal government that wants to speed up the process of folks who already are green card holders getting to full citizenship. I think citizenship is an achievement and it connects to certain rights and privileges, including the right to vote. But I think the bigger problem is a federal one that I'm actually optimistic can be solved in the next few years. I think the country is more and more getting to the conclusion that the status quo is unacceptable. And I'm actually optimistic that in – literally could be as a result of the next election – we could get to comprehensive immigration reform. And that's how I'd like to see the problem solved.


Question: You said you have not reached out to Andy Byford yet, but you would like to. Do you plan to?

Mayor: I will certainly happily talk to Andy Byford, and we will report back after I have, and I'm going to say to him, you should stick around.

Go ahead, Gloria – you’ve got to look up when you're raising a question. Gloria’s got an attention-span problem where she's got her hand up while looking away from the person that she is asking the question of.

Question: Can you – the possibility that we have now that the State will pass a bill to legalize e-bikes. I am asking where you are on what the Governor has proposed. There will be a safety component in terms of how much for the e-bikes, but what's your understanding of where e-scooters land on all of this? And is the City going to be given any latitude to do its own enforcement and rulemaking?

Mayor: I want to know a lot more about what the Governor is proposing. I haven't seen any bill language yet. The previous law, it may not have been perfect, but it did satisfy – meaning the one that passed the Legislature – satisfied a lot of our central concerns, most importantly the localities need to be able to make their own rules. I think whether it is by State law or by New York City having the right to figure out the specifics, there shouldn't be anything that's going faster and 20 miles an hour. So, that's the first point to me whether it's a bike or a scooter. I think we have to be able to regulate scooters legally because they're starting to pop up everywhere and we don't have the legal right to regulate them. There's something wrong with that picture. I think there's a real issue, and I agree with the Governor, we are united in a concern that helmets need to be more a part of the approach to regulating all forms of bike. But again, I can only give you those broad strokes because I haven't seen something real specific yet.

Okay. Last call. Anything else? Please –

Question: Last night on the subway, a homeless man came in and saying, I've been sick for two days and he started coughing all over everybody in the car. And I'm thinking – I'm wondering about with the homeless population, if the coronavirus does start spreading more will there be outreach to get in touch with people like this too?

Mayor: Yeah, I want to say, you know, we just announced before Christmas the Journey Home initiative, which really takes our intensive outreach efforts and takes them to a whole other level. And what I've said is, New Yorkers call in and say there's someone in need, we're going to get there real fast because we've got more and more trained NYPD officers, we've got more and more outreach workers from Department of Homeless Services, and we've got the ability, especially if someone is sick, that is often a time when they are not only willing but anxious to get to a medical facility. You know, our team will get them in immediately. So, the first thing is, if you or anyone else sees that, please call it in immediately so we can get to work on it. But yeah, I don't want to predict what's going to happen with the coronavirus because we don't know enough yet. But I will say, that outreach effort to get folks who are long-term homeless in will be intensifying month after month. You'll see it in action. And particularly if someone's sick, we want to get to them quickly and help them.


Question: Just given that Andy Byford was such a popular manager of [inaudible] would you be willing to start a movement to try to get him back? It seems like you have ready-made constituency to join the cause.

Mayor: Yeah, I mean what I said this morning on the radio was certainly a conscious effort to say let's all band together and fix this. People have said they're leaving and have changed their minds. It's not like unheard of in the least. And I think he really loved his job. I think he knew he was making a big impact and he was getting a lot of love from New Yorkers, and we are a tough audience. So, you know, I think, the people have spoken and want him to stay. But yeah, I'll keep saying it and I think as many people as possible should. I think it should be a movement of people saying, Andy, stick around.

Question: [Inaudible] call the Governor on this as well?

Mayor: I will talk to the Governor or anyone else that it would be helpful to convince. But I think the most important point is, the more people say we need you to stick around the better. I don't know what happened. I don't know, you know, the specifics. If some part of it is him feeling it's time to go, I think the most important thing is for him to hear from people in the city that, you know, we're asking you to stay.

Okay. Last call –

Thank you, everyone.

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