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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on MSNBC's Morning Joe

March 20, 2020

Mika Brzezinski: Welcome back to Morning Joe. It's Friday, March 20th. Still with us, we have White House Reporter for the Associated Press, Jonathan Lemire; political writer for the New York Times, Nick Confessore; Willie and I are here, Joe will be back on Monday. Joining us now is the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. Mayor de Blasio, what is the latest on New York City, the potential that you may need to ask people to shelter in place. That has happened for the entire state of California –

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Mika, Right now, I'm so sorry that to tell you – 4,000 cases in New York City, 26 people have died. We now constitute 30 percent of the coronavirus cases in the United States of America, 70 percent of the cases in the State of New York. We have to take really intense radical action right away. That clip you played, that's not a commander in chief. The president is absent. We don't have masks. We don't have ventilators. I was very blunt with the people of my city yesterday, that at the beginning of April we will run out of basic medical supplies, because of the intense strain that's being put already on our hospitals by this crisis. We literally will not have the things we need to save people's lives. So, now we have to, not only in New York, but in many parts of the country – we have to go to a shelter in place model.

There's different names for it. In California, they're calling it state a stay at home. I think that's great as a message. But we have to recognize at this point we're running out of options in many places – and New York is really the front line of this battle right now. And Mika, we are – you know, it's stunning, the president has the Defense Production Act. He could right now use that to mandate the creation – the manufacturing of these products, he could activate the United States military. I am certain the military is ready and willing to serve and they could ensure these products get delivered where they're needed. And none of that is happening. And I'm telling you in two weeks’ time or three weeks’ time, we will have nothing left. And I've not gotten a hint of an answer from the federal government about when these supplies are coming.

Brzezinski: So what realistic requests do you have for the Governor and for the president right now? What can be done?

Mayor: I think the Governor has been doing a great job. I think he's been making the right decisions and trying to work with the resources that he has in the state that now, unfortunately, has the most cases in the nation, but the federal government has been absent. So, for example, we've repeatedly asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to get us ventilators. We need 15,000 ventilators and we need them right away. We need millions of surgical masks, which are used constantly in the day, not just by medical personnel, but by first responders, our police officers, our firefighters. You know, these are heroes and they need these masks to protect them. And we need to keep them at work. And we've been saying it over and over to the federal government. Nothing. The Secretary for Veterans’ Affairs, we have pleaded with him to open up the Veterans Administration Hospitals, which have beds going unused, which have medical supplies and personnel.

Silence. We have lots of those facilities in New York City. We need all hands on deck. And again, Mika, what is driving me crazy – the military, I know the quality and the devotion of the United States military. If they got the order this hour to mobilize and get resources to the places in this country that are suffering, they would give it their all, and they have the best logistical capacity of any organization in America. No one doubts that. They have an extraordinary group of medical personnel and material and supplies that they could put on the ground. They know how to do it in a war. I assure you they could do it in their own country, but the order has not been given by the commander in chief because he's not acting like a commander in chief. He doesn't know how, and he should get the hell out of the way and let the military do its job.

Willie Geist: Mr. Mayor, it's Willie Geist. Appreciate you taking some time on another busy morning for you. Let me be specific here because I think this is a really important point about you not getting what you need from the federal government. We just heard a version of that story from Senator Peters of Michigan who said he's got a bunch of companies in Michigan raising their hands saying, what can we do? We'll retrofit our factories, we'll get all this stuff out to the cities and the hospitals that need them, like ours here in New York City. But what you're telling is the story of a mayor's office calling the federal government – the mayor of the largest city in this country, eight-and-a-half million people – and not getting a response from them. Are they not calling you back or are they just saying you're on your own?

Mayor: Willie, they're basically telling us we're on our own. We asked for supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile. We got a paltry amount. We got a lot of expired supplies because they haven't replenished that stockpile. I mean right now Trump and Pence are weeks, if not months behind this crisis. And I made the analogy to – yesterday to Herbert Hoover. I mean, literally Donald Trump's go down in president – excuse go down in history as a president who acted like Herbert Hoover at the beginning of the Great Depression. He is out of touch with what's happening to people, slow to act, unwilling to use his powers. And so what is happening here is we make the request, we get lip service, and nothing comes. And meanwhile, every hour we're getting closer to that point where hospitals will be entirely full and we won't have the supplies.

You can't effectively treat people if you don't have surgical masks. If you don't have a ventilator, you can't help someone who's in deep respiratory distress. And that's what happens with this disease. So there's a point at which, as more and more cases grow, the medical community can do everything and anything, but they can't create supplies out of thin air. They can't treat someone without equipment. And this is like something you would think we've been talking about in an underdeveloped country or something from generations ago. It's about to happen here, not only in the nation's largest city, it's going to happen a lot of other places, if the federal government doesn't get involved. And I think what we're all going to have to do, Willie, I think every place that's at the frontline of this crisis needs to move to shelter in place to protect ourselves. Anything non-essential needs to stop. People need to get home, stay close to their families, and socially distance to the maximum.

But like you said about the Senator from Michigan, any company that can start producing now, don't wait for that order from the federal government. You know, the federal government doesn't exist at this point, the way they're acting. We're all on our own so let's act self-reliant as Americans, and every city, every state, produce what you can and share it with those in greatest need because until we have some evidence that our federal government is awake and conscious of the crisis, we really are on our own at this point.

Geist: So, Mr. Mayor, I take your point about the president's leadership and a lot of people in this country would agree with you, but I just want to be specific because it's breathtaking and confounding to hear you say that you, the mayor of the largest city in this country, are reaching out to the federal government and they're either saying, we can't help you or they're not calling you back. Who specifically do you ask? How does this work exactly? And how are they not saying, yes, we are ramping up production, we understand the needs of you, the largest city in this country, and we're going to get that stuff to you right away? Are you just hearing nothing from the federal government [inaudible] –

Mayor: No, no, Willie, I reached out to Vice President Pence several days ago. He sent me the Secretary Azar. We had a great conversation and then all my subsequent requests, we've heard nothing. We've put it all in writing.

Geist: They’re not calling you back?

Mayor: I went to – they're not calling back, they’re not responding, but most importantly, Willie, you would know it, too. There's no supplies moving, there's no military mobilization. We would know, I assure you, if we were receiving supplies. We're not, we have not gotten the call saying, here's your shipment, here's when it's coming. And then I asked Senator Schumer, who I think has provided a lot of leadership. He has suggested a Marshall Plan for our hospitals. That's exactly what we need. I've asked the Senator to also reach out on behalf of the people he represents. He's been trying, he's not getting a response. He's the Minority Leader in the United States Senate.

He's doing his damnedest, but there's – you know, the lights are on, but nobody's home at the executive branch. We can't get a straight answer. And look, Willie, we all know what things look like in wartime in this country. We've all understood that history. My parents were part of that greatest generation of World War II. I grew up on all the stories of what our nation went through. And you knew the President of the United States was calling the shots every single moment and you knew that things happened. We aren't seeing the military. The military should be present on the ground in the nation's largest city right now. If we have 30 percent of the cases in this nation and we are about to hit a really bad wall in a few weeks, I can tell you – come out in the street, go out on Broadway with me, right down the street from City Hall. You're not seeing the United States military. You're not seeing trucks from the federal government delivering supplies. We've gotten no word of any resupply whatsoever.

Brzezinski: Mayor de Blasio, your calls for action are quite clear and stark. I'd like you to continue with that stark reality and give it to us. Where are we headed at this point? What are we careening toward if there is no action?

Mayor: Mika, a lot of people are going to die who don't have to die. That is the blunt truth. And it will start with dozens and it will go to hundreds and it will go farther than that when you talk about this country. The reality today, this minute, Mika, is if the president does not act in a matter of days, because look at the trajectory of this crisis. You can see it clear as a bell now. If the president does not act within days to maximize the use of the Defense Production Act, to put every company that can produce a ventilator or a surgical mask or any other necessary supply, put them on full 24/7 production and guarantee that those products get to the frontline, get to where the need is greatest – if he doesn't do that in the next few days, if he does not mobilize the United States military immediately, not only will hundreds die around the nation who didn't need to die, thousands will die around the nation who didn't need to die.

People who will die waiting to get into a hospital, people who will die at a hospital because there is no equipment or there's no medical personnel who can help them in time. There are doctors and nurses all over this country ready to serve where the need is greatest. There is our military medical personnel who swore to their nation they would serve overseas in combat and we're not asking that. We're asking them to be at the frontline in their own nation. They're ready. They would do it in a heartbeat. They would serve us, but the commander in chief won't give the order. Where is there a greater threat to American lives than the coronavirus right now, right here in places like New York, and yet the military is being left on their bases. They don't want to be there. They want to be at the front line and the commander in chief will not give the order. That's what's happening, Mike.

Geist: Mr. Mayor, you said a couple of minutes ago, ‘I think the governor's been doing a great job’. He's been complimentary of you as well throughout this. You do have one very strong disagreement, though, which you just said again that you think we should institute shelter in place in New York City. At this point, Governor Cuomo has again and again said, that's not a good idea. He says the fear and panic often is worse than the virus itself. How would you rebut that argument from the Governor of New York?

Mayor: It's not a rebuttal because I respect the decisions he's making. I really do. We've been in very great agreement throughout this crisis and he's done a lot of the right things and to his great credit, while the president's been asleep, Governor Cuomo has really been leading. I would say it this way – at this point things are moving so fast and what the State of California did, I think, was just a recognition of a necessity. We all hate it – I agree with the Governor, the last thing we want is panic and it pains me, and I know it pains him, to think about people who won't be able to work anymore, where are they going to get a paycheck, where's that federal support they need? These are very real issues. But you know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, after Pearl Harbor, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’.

I think, Willie, with this crisis so deep already, the fear is pervasive and honest in America. People are worried and confused. Why wouldn't they be given a disease of this magnitude that we've never seen before? But on the other hand, people are learning to deal with that fear. Americans are strong and resilient. New Yorkers are tough. We can get, you know, ready for anything. I think the truth is to save lives and really try to slow down this horrible trajectory of this disease, shelter in place or whatever word you want to use for it, it is a smart strategy. It means people stay home. They can still go to the grocery, the pharmacy, they can still get basic services, but the only people who are working are essential workers. That's the basic concept. That's what they did in San Francisco. That's what they're doing in California.

I think at this point it’s not only needed in our city, it's going to be needed in states all over the country soon. Because if you do it you knock down the speed with which this disease is progressing and you give your hospitals a chance to prepare, a chance to deal with the massive incoming look. Our hospitals are going to be, like, mashing it soon. I'm not making it up. I've heard this from the leaders of our public health care system. They literally have said to me, do not expect the medicine that we are used to in civilian times, this is going to be mass production medicine. They're going to have to serve vast numbers of people very quickly, battlefield conditions. Our health care providers are our heroes also, and they will answer the call.

In New York City in the last 48 hours, over 2,000 retired medical personnel have answered the call to come back out of retirement to protect people. So, we're going to have heroes who come forward, but they're not going to be able to do business as usual. They understand it and so I think it's going to be necessary, Willie, not only here, but all over this country to institute shelter in place in many, many places to try to fight back against the Coronavirus.

Jonathan Lemire: Mr. Mayor it’s Jonathan Lemire. I wanted to focus a little more on the idea of shelter in place or whatever terminology ends up being adopted. There are obviously a lot of, sort of, guidelines and restrictions being placed already on New Yorkers. The Governor yesterday said that no business should have more than 25 percent of its employees there and so on. So I have two questions for you – how much stricter do these guidelines need to be, in your estimation for it to be effective, and more than that, how will this be enforced? Will the NYPD be on the streets perhaps and taking people back home if they violate this?

Mayor: Yeah, Jonathan, so the simple answer to me is, again, I think people know what time it is. For weeks and weeks through the media, they've gotten really clear information about how bad this crisis is. So again, the question of panic I think is reduced and this is to answer your point, I think people are going to abide by this a lot more than is recognized. San Francisco has been doing it and the surrounding counties for days now. I've been getting a direct feed-in of information from my colleagues out there and the level of adherence to the public health order there, they put a public health order out. I think that's the right methodology. It's not a suggestion, it's an order. Californians are abiding by that because they understand what time it is, because they understand it's about protecting themselves and their families.

So, point-one, I think people are there. When we closed bars and restaurants here in New York City you know, you can understand a bar owner, a restaurant owner wanting to see, maybe I can get a little more done. No, in fact, overwhelmingly they immediately abided by it. We sent out inspectors to make sure everyone was closed down, just doing delivery and take out. In all of New York City, we had six – literally six instances where anyone did not abide by the rule. So I think when this order is given, people will get it, they will honor it. But yes, we will have the NYPD out to make sure – and in a very positive way, it's not – we're not trying to be draconian. We're trying to save lives and protect people. NYPD is out in communities all the time.

If they see people gathering, they will say, obviously, this is not a time to gather. They are going to give warnings to people, reminders to people. If you're out, going to the grocery store, that's part of life. Even in Italy now, with the draconian measures there, people still go to the grocery store and pharmacy. This is better than that, it’s a little freer than that. But it's still clear, when you can stay inside, you need to stay inside. You can stay among your family, not socially interact with anyone else. You need to have that six-foot distance from other people. In the end anything nonessential needs to go right now. Anything nonessential business, there's no reason on earth in the areas bearing the brunt of this crisis that any nonessential business should be operational because it simply, unfortunately, leads to the spread of the disease.

Nick Confessore: Mr. Mayor, it's Nick Confessore. The one piece of good news you have is that the health system in New York City now has an elevated testing capacity. As you know, there's been a lot of confusion among people as to when they should get tested, how to get tested, and which symptoms should trigger them to get tested? Can you lay out for our viewers in New York today, in as clear a way as you can, exactly what the protocol should be for them to seek testing and where and from who and how?

Mayor: Absolutely, Nick, and I’ll preface it by saying this – we have more testing but nowhere near what we need. Weeks and weeks ago we all might have – many parts of the country might have been able to get ahead of this with a really pervasive amount of testing. That opportunity was missed. South Korea used very aggressive testing and you see how extraordinary their experience has been in terms of limiting this disease. At some point I would like to see this country actually get to that point soon. Here's the reality, we have more testing but it's still rationed, if you will. It is still limited. So, it goes this way. If you feel sick, you go home and stay home. If you are someone who has anybody in your life who is over 50 with pre-existing conditions – and that means cancer, diabetes, serious lung disease, serious heart disease or compromised immune system – anyone in your life who is over 50 with those conditions and anyone over 70, even if they are relatively healthy, should not be near anyone sick with anything.

Those folks in those really high priority categories need to be totally isolated from anyone who might be sick. They need the most social isolation. Now to the question of the specific testing protocol. So, let's say you, Nick, or me, start to feel bad. Stay home, after three or four days if your symptoms are getting better, then just ride it out. If your symptoms are not getting better, they are getting worse, call a doctor. The doctor will then direct according to your specific situation whether it's time to come in. They can test you first for more typical diseases to see if they can rule out coronavirus. If it proves that that's not the case, then you will get tested but with reference to your level of vulnerability. The first people that need testing are the folks who are older and the folks who have pre-existing conditions. So it's all going to be done by priority. Until we have a huge amount of testing, everything has to be about who is most vulnerable. They go first. We're setting up testing centers in all of our public hospitals. It's a phone-in system. It's by reservation. It's by priority. And a doctor determines if you have a priority situation.

Nick, the thing that's being missed so often, and I hope people hear this, really, in their hearts. 80 percent of those who contract this illness will have symptoms similar to cold or flu. They will ride it out. They will have no lasting impact. Basically if you're younger and healthier, your chances are overwhelming that you will have a very mild experience. We know those folks will be okay. But the 20 percent who are older and/or have those pre-existing conditions, and we are seeing it particularly in folks in their 70s or 80s, that's where we're losing so many people. That's the greatest danger. Those are the folks that will end up hospitalized, 20 percent or so hospitalized, and some of those folks will be in grave danger if we cannot provide them sufficient care and we’re going to lose a lot of people if that care is not there for them.

That's the realization people have to just understand, the tests are being prioritized and rationed because that's what our medical leaders believe has to happen at this point.

Brzezinski: Well, and because we don't have enough.

Mayor: Correct.

Brzezinski: Mr. Mayor, quickly, because I know other people need you. Given where we're headed, do you have any concerns about the election process?

Mayor: Mike, it's impossible to do a traditional election in this environment. My prayer is this crisis will recede in time, that we can have a proper election in November. I think the timeline suggests we can do that. But any primaries, any local elections, they have to go to a mail-in system or some kind of online system. We have to keep it secure but we need to innovate that because people cannot congregate at poll sites at this point until this crisis subsides.

Brzezinski: Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you so much. We will talk to you again soon, we hope. Thank you. 

Mayor: Thank you, Mika.

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