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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

March 10, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. You know, what we've been talking about now for months is the fact that New York City needs the freedom to vaccinate, that New York City can do so much for our people if we simply have the right to do what we know we need to do. Oftentimes we ran into roadblocks, sometimes at the federal level, sometimes with the vaccine manufacturers, often with the State of New York. What we really need is the ability to control our own destiny, because here we have some of the finest public health professionals anywhere in the country, we have massive capacity in terms of being able to vaccinate people right down to the neighborhood level all over the city. But what we need is the freedom to vaccinate, and we've been fighting for that freedom now for weeks and weeks. We have some good news today. Once again, finally, Albany has heard us and we have new eligibility rules for New Yorkers 60 years old now and older – you can get vaccinated. That's good news for so many hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. And for government workers who interact with the public, who work with the public directly, you can now get vaccinated – makes a lot of sense, should have happened a long time ago, now it's here.  

But, really important, we finally are out from under bureaucratic State rules that stopped us from vaccinating people in all the different vaccination sites. Literally, the State had rules that said if you walked into one site, you couldn't get vaccinated unless you were from one category or another. If you were a public worker, you couldn't get vaccinated at one site. If you were over 65, you couldn't get vaccinated at another site. Only certain people could go to certain sites – it didn't work. And we kept saying to the State it’s not working. Let us use all sites for all eligible people to make sure we get the most people covered and come up with the easiest simplest system. Well, finally, the State has relented and now we have the freedom to vaccinate and use every one of our hundreds of sites to reach everyone who qualifies. That's going to make things a lot simpler. And I always think about this from the perspective of an every-day New Yorker who just wants this to be simple. They want to protect themselves and their family, they're ready to get vaccinated, they want it to be straightforward. Finally, this decision will allow us to do things in an easier, more straightforward manner. And this is just going to help us continue to vaccinate more and more New Yorkers.  

Now, of course, what do we need? We need more supply, supply, supply – still our number-one problem. Right now, we're getting less than we need by a lot – something like 150,000 to 200,000 doses per week less than what we actually could use. That problem has to be solved by the manufacturers, by the federal government, by the State government. We need local control. We need to have the ability to make our own decisions so we can make vaccination go as effectively as possible. These decisions from the State we've got, finally, we would have made those decisions weeks and weeks ago and made this simpler. There's a lot of other things like that. Let's get local control. And then, we need to keep reaching people who are not yet eligible. How on earth are our Sanitation workers not eligible? How on earth are folks who work in our court system not eligible? And jurors? And prosecutors? The people we need to bring back our criminal justice system, they're not eligible to be vaccinated. That makes zero sense – zero. Give us the freedom to vaccinate and we can do so many things to bring this city back strong.  

With that said, the good news is the vaccination effort continues non-stop. Even with the roadblocks, we keep going. And today – as of today, from the beginning of our vaccination effort, we have provided 2,448,892 vaccinations – a great number, but it could be so much bigger if we get the help we need.  

Okay. Now, let's talk about an issue that's on everyone's mind, and this is the question of the virus and the variants of the virus. Now, look, you've seen a lot of reporting on this, and some of it's clear, and some of it's not so clear. You've seen a lot of folks theorizing and some of it's grounded and some of it is not. I want to start this by saying, let's focus on the data and the science. Let's focus on what we know for sure, versus what some people fear, or what is not yet proven. Variants come with the territory. You're going to hear from our health care leadership today, and I give them great credit for being able to take complex scientific matters and break it down into plain English. But one of the things we know is, variants are not a new concept, they're part of the reality, and there's ways to address them. The most important thing is to understand what the variants mean and what they don't mean. And, so far, thank God, what we're finding is the variants are not posing the worst kind of problems that we might fear. For example, a variant that is more deadly – we're not seeing that. A variant that's vaccine resistant – we're not seeing that. What we are seeing is variants that are more infectious and therefore spread the disease more, and that's a real issue. But the good news is we have the strategies to fight back – all those basic things all of you have been doing, what New Yorkers had done so well, the social distancing, the face coverings, it works. It works against the variants, too. And what works the most? Vaccination. That's the number-one weapon in the war against these variants – is vaccination, just like it is and has been from the beginning in this war against the coronavirus. So, we are going to continue to explain, to demystify, to clarify, and to provide new information as soon as we get it. When we have hard facts, one of the things our health care team has done really well is immediately reporting to the people in New York City when we have new information, but it's always going to be based on the facts. So, to give you an update on research being done here in the city on these variants and what they mean for us, I want you to hear from two people, starting with my senior advisor, Dr. Jay Varma. 

Senior Advisor Jay Varma: Great. Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. You know, we've learned a lot in the past week about the situation of variants in New York City, and we've seen new scientific studies regarding the variants and the interaction with vaccines. So, I want to give you a summary of what we know right now about COVID variants in New York City. First, the most important message – keep doing what you're doing. Scientific studies in the real world, lived experience of places like the U.K. and South Africa that have had widespread distribution of the variants all keep telling us that the single most important thing is to do the things we already do, just do them as diligently as we possibly can. That means wearing a well-fitting mask, maintaining distance, washing your hands, getting tested, and, very importantly, when your turn comes up, getting vaccinated. Here in New York City, we're testing for COVID and testing for these variants and reporting about them, you know, more thoroughly than any other place in the country. We're really the only city or state that's reporting weekly estimates about how prevalent these variants are here in the city. So, what have we learned in the past week? Unfortunately, we have found that the new variants of COVID-19 are continuing to spread. And when you combine the variant of concern B-117 – the one first reported in the U.K. – and the new variant of interest B-1526, that was first reported here in New York – together, these new variants account for 51 percent of all cases that we have in this city right now. So, for the variant of interest B-1526 that was reported here first in New York, our preliminary analysis indicates that it is probably more infectious than older strains of the virus – you know, what I referred last week to COVID-classic. It may be similar in infectiousness to the B-117, the U.K. strain, but we're not certain about this yet. We need to understand and study it more.  

Very important – our preliminary analysis does not show that this new strain, B-11526, causes more severe illness or reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. It's important to emphasize, of course, that this is preliminary. We're working closely with our academic partners, with our neighboring states, with CDC to collect and analyze more data. And we'll continue to update you with what we know, what we don't know, what we're doing about it, and what you should do about it, even if it's difficult. I want to turn now to Commissioner Chokshi to review the New York City data in more detail.  

Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor and Dr. Varma. As the City's doctor, I want to see cases and hospitalizations plunging rather than plateauing, and vaccinations skyrocketing with enough supply. But viruses are wily, they adapt and change, which affects what circulates in our communities. As Dr. Varma described, a majority of samples that recently underwent specialized genetic testing now represent new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. The B-1526 variant in particular is increasing in prevalence across New York City, representing about 39 percent of all samples sequenced by the pandemic response lab during the most recent week with full data, compared to 31 percent the week prior. The increasing prevalence suggests that the B-1526 variant is a more infectious variant. Our disease detectives at the Health Department will continue working to understand the characteristics of this and other variants. The B-117 strain, sometimes known as the U.K. variant, which also spreads more easily, has increased to 12 percent of samples analyzed in the most recent week, up from eight percent the prior week. No additional cases of the B-1351 or P-1 variants were found in the most recent week of data. All of this information, now including data on the B-1526 variant will be shared with New Yorkers on the Health Department's website.  

But let's not get lost in the alphabet soup of variants. Let's break down what this means for New Yorkers. First, you don't need a special test to see if you have a variant, but it is important to get tested, particularly if you've been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have symptoms yourself. Second, the variants have been detected in samples from across New York City and indeed in other states as well. That means we need all New Yorkers to pay attention to this, not just those who live in a particular neighborhood or borough. Third, we know the virus is a formidable foe, but we also know what has worked to curb its spread, and that's true for the new variants too. It's the safe six – masking, distancing, hand washing, getting tested, staying home if you're feeling ill, and getting vaccinated when it's your turn. In the match between vaccines and variants, let's not give the variants the upper hand. We must recommit to these public health precautions. Think of it like checking your safety belt and adjusting your mirrors in your car as you head into a winding road. And, Mr. Mayor, I'm hopeful that it will be the last leg of our journey through this pandemic. Thank you.  

Mayor: Thank you very much, Dr. Chokshi. I liked your analogy there, the car, the journey – very good. And you're right, it's the kind of way we think about things all the time. We all think about putting on our seatbelt in the car. Those safe six principles are exactly what we all need to follow. And New Yorkers have been great, folks have been getting tested in record numbers. Folks obviously are getting vaccinated and we see more and more people want the vaccine. And we look forward to giving it to them as soon as we get more supply. So, New Yorkers always respond to these powerful messages. So, I want to thank Dr. Varma and Dr. Chokshi for giving us that update.  

Okay. Now, let's go to another really important topic, and this is about our recovery. And I talk about recovery all the time as the way to bring this city forward, but it has to be a recovery for all of us. It has to be a recovery that reaches every neighborhood, every part of the city, every New Yorker. This is what we believe in – not a recovery, just for those who have done very well, a recovery for all of us. Now, that means helping our small businesses, because our small businesses – they encapsulate so much of what's great about this city. Mom and pop stores, neighborhood stores, community stores, multi-generational stores, part of our identity, part of what makes our neighborhoods great, so much of what gives people their livelihood. We have to save our small businesses. And the good news is we continue to see more relief coming in from the federal government. Obviously, the new stimulus is tremendously helpful, but even before – the PPP program and other types of direct relief. But what's important now is making sure that New York City small businesses get their fair share, because it's great that the relief is out there, but it doesn't work unless it actually reaches the people who need it most. And, again, there's bureaucracy, there's challenges to overcome. And we're talking about small businesses that have so much on their plate already, that are just trying to keep the doors open, just trying to keep things going. Even though they want the help a lot of times, it's hard for them to navigate. That's why our Department of Small Business services here in this city is stepping up to make it easier and to lend a helping hand to our small businesses. Here to give you an update, Small Business Services Commissioner Jonnel Doris.  

Commissioner Jonnel Doris, Department of Small Business Services: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I am always fired up to hear you talk about recovery for all of us, because that's exactly what we're doing at SBS. Community by community, block by block, small business by small business, our economic recovery will come from the ground up. I want to tell you a little bit about a New Yorker I recently met, Charles Lin, at his restaurant. Four years ago, he reached out to the SBS team to fulfill his dream to be a restaurant owner and open his business. He had a great business plan when we helped him launch L&C Grill, the signature Japanese BBQ restaurant in Flushing. This past year has been really trying for him in so many ways. As an Asian-American, he has personally experienced discrimination. Like so many other business owners, he lost customers. And above all, he cares deeply about the livelihoods of his 14 employees. Not one day has been easy, but Charles always tells us he is still fighting – he is still fighting. That is the story of all small businesses in our city. And our team wakes up every day, fighting to help them get the support they deserve.  

Since the pandemic began, we connected over 5,000 local businesses to $135 million in funding, including Charles Lin, who was awarded $100,000 to keep L&C Grill running. We launched the Fair Share NYC in January, a special effort to support mom and pops and minority small businesses, places that were structurally excluded from the first round of PPP. To-date, we have connected over 300 businesses to over $17.5 million – 70 percent of them in the outer boroughs and 73 percent minority businesses. We gave our own City grants to community-based organizations to support our small businesses, so far awarding $750,000. But even as we round the corner on vaccines, businesses are still hanging by a thread. That's why today we're going even further. First, we'll award more grants to community organizations, bringing our total to $900,000 in our hardest-hit communities. I'm also proud to announce phase three of our COVID-19 strategic impact grants will be open this coming Monday, and it will bring our total to $1.1 million to 54 communities. And, remember, everyone, the federal relief is still available, as the Mayor said. You have until March 31st to apply for this round of PPP funding. Any questions at all, please call us at 888-SBS-4NYC and we'll walk you through it. 55,000 businesses have already connected with us on the hotline.  

Thanks to the Biden administration, there's lot more to come. The American Rescue Plan app is going to be huge for New York City and our small businesses. Nationwide, they're adding $7.25 billion to the PPP program, and, more importantly, $28.6 billion to our struggling restaurants. What city deserves it more than the food capital of the world? It will save jobs of the working people who staffed them, and it will keep the heart and soul of our neighborhoods alive. As soon as that funding is ready, we at SBS will stand ready to help you apply, along with dozens of other tools and one-on-one support services. Again, if you need support, need help from our fair share campaign or anything, if you're a small business out there, we are here to help you and support you. Our number is 888-SBS-4NYC. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. 

Mayor: Thank you so much, Commissioner. I want to emphasize this to everyone, because this timeline is really intense. And I'm going to ask small business owners, spread the word among all your friends and colleagues, local chambers of commerce. Our friends in the media, please spread the word. Everyone out there, if you know a small business owner, make sure they know that they want to access that federal funding it's really important to get their application in by next week so that they are dealing with a lender and they're all set up to get ahead of this deadline at the end of the month. So, really, the true deadline is next week. We want to make sure people take full advantage. So, small business owners, again, any questions at all, in multiple languages, call 888-SBS-4NYC, or go to  

Okay. Let's go to today's indicators. Number one, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19 – today's report, 243 patients. Confirmed positivity level of 64.14 percent. Hospitalization rate, 3.89 per 100,000. Number two, new reported cases on a seven-day average, today's report, 3,196. And number three, percentage of the people testing positive citywide for COVID, today's report on a seven-day rolling average, 6.23 percent. I'll do a few words now in Spanish on the topic of the new vaccine eligibility rules.  
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]   
With that, we will turn to our colleagues in the media. Please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.   
Moderator: We'll now begin our Q and A. As a reminder, we're joined today by Dr. Chokshi, by Commissioner Doris, by Senior Advisor Varma, by Dr. Katz and by Dr. Ted Long. First question today, it goes to Erin from Politico.  
Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to ask about the former Health Commissioner Barbot appears in a new documentary in which she says that some of the warnings she gave early in the pandemic about, you know, the severity of was going on weren't listened to, and that delays in closures costs thousands of lives. I know there's been some dispute as to what she was advocating and when. I'm wondering, if you can tell us what happened there and what is your response to her new allegations?  
Mayor: I haven't seen the whole interview. I've gotten a summary of it, Erin. It's just not accurate. What I needed from my health leadership was clear analysis and clear recommendations, and I didn't get that. That situation's a lot better now, thank God, and I commend our health leadership now for the way they're handling every new development, you know, clearly and decisively. But I'll give you a clear, clear example, Erin, I'm the person who, based on advice I got from folks other than our Health Commissioner, called for shelter in place, which I think was one of the most important elements of the strategy. So that's what really happened and my concern there was, of course, that the State of New York could have acted on it immediately and chose to push away that recommendation when they should have embraced it. But thank God we finally got there. Go ahead, Erin.  
Question: All right, thanks. And then second question is about these variants. I'm just wondering if you can put in some context the fact that these are more than half of cases. I understand it doesn't change anything for personal behavior, but what does it mean just as far as the spread of the disease and whether it can be contained, you know, before we get everyone vaccinated, it's sort of that race between the vaccines and the spread, you know, what is the significance of these new figures?  
Mayor: I'll give you my quick layman's version. I want to bring Dr. Katz into this too because I think he has a very powerful perspective as someone leading the nation's largest public health system in terms of what we're seeing on the ground. I think it is for sure, Erin, a race against time, meaning that every additional person we get vaccinated, that's the single most important thing we can do to get ahead of these variants. But at the same time, we see some really promising news because as more and more people are being vaccinated, we're almost at 2.5 million vaccinations now, that's serious stuff and we are seeing the impact that's having, thank God, at the hospital level, for example. So, Dr. Katz, you want to speak to that?  
President and CEO Mitchell Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals: Yes, thank you, sir. I mean, when I look at the data, what I think is most notable is that while variants have been increasing, the deaths and serious hospitalizations have been decreasing. And the way that I understand that is that we have been very good about vaccinating those people at greatest risk. So, the most dramatic in mortality and serious hospitalization are in the nursing homes, which were also where we saw the highest death rates last March and April. So, because we've been able to vaccinate those people at highest risk and because of the vaccine is working against the variants we are seeing major drops in deaths and hospitalizations, like all of your health team, and like you, sir, I'm concerned about the transmission, that the fact that it's more transmissible and that we, because of supply, can't vaccinate all the younger people and all the people who don't have underlying illness. But I am very pleased to see how the deaths are decreasing and the serious hospitalizations are decreasing despite the fact that the variants are increasing. Thank you, sir.   
Mayor: Thank you, and Erin, I'd say, you know, our job is to constantly update the public as Dr. Varma and Dr. Chokshi are doing today with any new developments we see. And if in fact we see new realities with the variants that would change our strategy or change the way that we educate folks about what to do, we're going to do that right away. But I think the most important thing that you can take away from today's presentation is that the basic steps people are taking to protect themselves work and they need to keep doing it and not stop. I think, Erin, this is crucial, don't let up, keep wearing your mask, don't let up. I’ve – we’ve said, we've all said, the health leadership has said expect to be wearing your mask until at least June as we work to get five million New Yorkers fully vaccinated. So, I think it's keep doing what works, keep getting vaccinated, and we'll keep updating people if anything changes.   
Moderator: The next is Katie from the Wall Street Journal.   
Question: Hi, good morning, everybody. For the health professionals here, looking at these variants, particularly the ones that are – that spread faster than and are more transmissible than COVID. I mean, could you predict, or could you foresee some further restrictions, like we had a year ago to stem that spread, or I don't know if there's anything that you're being discussed in case it gets to that point.   
Senior Advisor Varma: No, thank you very much for the question. I mean, I think it's important to recognize and keep acknowledging the fact that, you know, the viruses are going to continue to evolve. That's how viruses fight us. They fight us through evolution and we fight back against the virus using science and the science on this is very clear that if we take all of those individual precautions that are necessary and we get vaccinated, we can win. You are absolutely correct that, you know, when we are in times of stress on our health care system, when we see people dying at higher numbers, there are times when public health restrictions are necessary. Right now, I think we all feel quite strongly that if we can keep the persistent behavior that's necessary and get the vaccines, we can get to a very good moment and that's what the Mayor keeps talking about, getting five million vaccinated and getting ahead of it. So, you know, we're always aware, we're the ones always giving sort of pessimistic advice and guidance and having lots of vigorous debate. So, I mean, I think what's been great so far has been that we get our voices heard and we talk about those issues, but right now we feel strongly that keeping persistent on what we're supposed to do and getting vaccinated is really the best path forward.   
Mayor: Dr. Chokshi, you want to add?   
Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir. And Dr. Varma is exactly right. What I would add is that in addition to the individual behavior safeguards that we've talked about and that we've repeated, you know, for months, that has to be wedded to how we start to think about, you know, how we interact going forward as well. The layers of safety that we've put into place for the most common places where people are gathering, those remain very important, and they start with those same individual safeguards. But I would add to it that we also have to make sure that we are not moving too quickly with respect to the large gatherings that we've advised against and other things that we know would facilitate the increased spread of the virus. So, let's keep our foot on the gas so that we can so that we can finally turn the corner on this pandemic.  
Mayor: Another driving analogy. Okay, go ahead. Kate.  
Question: Lots of driving analogies. I hope Gersh isn’t listening.   
Mayor: Don't tell Gersh. Don’t tell Gersh.  
Question: I also wanted to ask, I know some people have complained - parents have said that the standard that we have for public schools now, the two-case rule, they think, you know, that's too restrictive. I don't know if anyone from the DOE is on the call, but I don't know if you have any - has there been any discussion about loosening those restrictions to keep more schools open? You know, I've heard from parents who schools –their children's schools to close, you know, six times or something since they reopened [inaudible] talk about that  
Mayor: Yeah, we are absolutely re-evaluating that rule and we've been doing a lot of different things with schools lately, you know, one piece after another, but that is definitely, you know, on the table now, a re-evaluation of that rule, working with our health care team, and we'll have more to say on that in the coming days, but we got a little more work to do on that. Go ahead.  
Moderator: The next is Henry from Bloomberg.   
Question: Hello, Mr. Mayor, how are you doing today?  
Mayor: I'm doing well, Henry. It's a beautiful day in New York City. How are you?  
Question: I'm good. I'm good. It's spring training.   
Mayor: Yes. It doesn't get better than that.   
Question: Right. You mentioned these at the outset, you know, the loosening up of the rules for vaccination, the opening up of these rules. Do you think that this is related to the Governors weakening political position that he is listening to local government a little bit more than he has in the past or is compelled really to kind of loosen up?  
Mayor: It's an important question, Henry, I’ll just say it very simply. These are the kinds of things the Governor should have done a long time ago. If it takes multiple scandals to get him to finally hear the voices of people at the grassroots and to respect local leaders, well that's a sad commentary. But what's important is we're finally getting some of the changes we need, but what we truly need is local control. We need to go back to normal governance. We are moving rapidly towards a recovery. We cannot keep the democratic process suspended. We've got to resume normal governance. Go ahead, Henry.  
Question: Okay. Thank you. My other question has to do with the stubbornness of these numbers. I mean, everybody – I was in the city this weekend, several places going around the city, I saw almost everyone wearing a mask. People seem to be complying, as you say, with these six precautions, more vaccinations every week, why are these numbers so stubborn where the infection rate remains above six percent, et cetera, et cetera?   
Mayor: Yeah, it's a great question. I'll just start and turn to Dr. Chokshi, the – I think there's evidence of what's going on in the presentation today, because while we all have been waging a successful battle against the coronavirus with vaccination and all these other steps, the coronavirus that has come up with these new variations which create an additional challenge. But what's really important is to go back to what Dr. Katz said, yeah, numbers remain high in terms of cases, but outcomes are changing substantially, fewer hospitalizations, fewer serious hospitalizations, fewer deaths. And I will think that pattern, if that continues and I do believe it will, that's the game changer, and also just the sheer rate of vaccination, you're talking about hundreds of thousands of people a week. We could be doing so much more if we have the supply. When we really get to full speed, when we're doing half a million or more people a week, you can see how the vice closes on the coronavirus. But I think the simple answer would be, as we've been making progress, the variants have sped the transmission, but thank God, not so much the negative outcomes. Go ahead, Dr. Chokshi.   
Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir. I'll just add briefly, look, just as viruses evolve, so must we, and that's why we've done things in recent weeks like updated our mask guidance, ensuring that people are wearing enough layers, making sure that they have a snug fit against the face. Double masking as a way of adding additional protection as well, and the vaccine gives us, as the Mayor has said, the most important new tool in our fight against the coronavirus. So yes, you know, the numbers may be stubborn, but I think New Yorkers are more stubborn than the virus, and if we keep doing the things that we know have worked then I do believe that the numbers will fall further.  
Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead.   
Moderator: The next is Andrew Siff from WNBC.  
Question: Mr. Mayor, how you doing today?  
Mayor: I'm feeling good, Andrew. I know you're a baseball fan too. It's getting closer by the day, Andrew.  
Question: Yes. My dad has expressed an interest in going to a baseball game at one of your newfound favorite stadiums, and that would be Yankee Stadium.  
Mayor: You're going a little far with that statement, but I do appreciate the history of the franchise and I wish them well, and I'm very hopeful that because it's outdoors, you will see fans coming back more and more as we go along. Again, when I think what we've learned in this whole era is outdoors better than indoors and masks work, and so that is a good sign for folks getting to be in the stands this year. Go ahead, Andrew.  
Question: Indeed. I'm wondering if you were aware of the new allegations against the Governor. You had indicated the last two days that more stuff was going to come out, was that just a guess on your part, or had anyone from the State reached out to you or the Attorney General's Office? Because you were awfully confident that there would be more revelations. And what was your reaction to hearing this latest accuser? Does it change your stance on what should happen right now with regard to the Government?  

Mayor: No one provided me any information from the State government or anywhere else. It does not change my stance. My stance is that I don't see how the Governor can continue to do his job. I think it's become untenable, and the reason I said it is the reason I'll say it again, I think more will come out still. I think the way the Governor has comported themselves himself for years created a lot of fear and a lot of people felt they could not speak up and now they feel they can speak up, and I think you're going to see more. Go ahead, Andrew.  
Question: And on the vaccine front, I believe it was yesterday that Senator Schumer talked about the likelihood that at some point will be a federal standard for eligibility and you might just have it open for all where people line up in cities around the country, including New York. How close do you think we are to essentially open eligibility for the vaccine?  
Mayor: I’m going to speak as the layman, and then bring Dr. Varma, Dr. Chokshi into it. Not yet would be my answer. I think right now our rough estimate is we've got a vaccination universe with all of the eligibility that exists right now, more than half of all New York City residents are eligible, you know, four to five million people, and it's going to take a substantial amount of time to get all of that covered, and I think the level of interest and willingness to get vaccinated is going up all the time. But this obviously includes the most vulnerable people, folks who are older, folks with pre-existing conditions. So, I don't think open vaccination happens in March. I don't think it happens in April. Maybe May, June would be my layman sense, but let's see what the experts think.  
Senior Advisor Varma: Sure, I'll just very briefly then hand it back to Dr. Chokshi. I would concur with the Mayor. I mean, that is the exact scenario that we want. We want to be in a situation where supply exceeds demand because at that point we get to the point where we can start to let people go back to the lives that are somewhat similar to what they had before. But I think based on everything we know about supply right now, I think the earliest we would estimate that that would happen would be probably sometime in May or towards the end of May. That would be really the earliest upper limit of it.   

Mayor: Go ahead, Dr. Chokshi.  

Commissioner Chokshi: Well, first let me just start by saying that I really look forward to this day when we will be able to offer every New Yorker who wants a vaccine, the chance to get vaccinated. So, it needs to happen as soon as possible, and we have a real sense of urgency of making sure that particularly our federal colleagues know that. But as the Mayor and Dr. Varma have said eligibility flows from supply, and so the conversations that are having at a federal level also have to ensure that the supply picks up. So, if supply does increase through the course of April, as we are expecting, then then I agree that, you know, May is the month that we should look toward for every New Yorker who wants a vaccine to get one.  

One final point, if I may, which is that we're not going to rest on our laurels until then, for people who remain to get vaccinated because of eligibility. There are so many important things that can happen, particularly answering their questions about the vaccine. Whether it's through the public communication that we're doing, or for them to have conversations with their family doctor, there's a lot that can happen in these intervening weeks to get people prepared so that when their turn comes, they will be ready to get vaccinated.  

Mayor: And Andrew, I'll finish this point where we started. We started with spring training, so let me put it in the context of the spring. I believe before the spring is over, all New Yorkers will be eligible to get vaccinated. I think that's the central point. The day is coming soon when all New Yorkers will be eligible. In the meantime, let's reach the folks in greatest need and let's get the supply we need so we can really hit the numbers we could be hitting right now. Half a million a week, or even more. Go ahead.  

Moderator: The next is Abu from Bangla Patrika. 

Question: Hello, Mayor. How are you?  

Mayor: I'm doing well, Abu. How’ve you been?  

Question: Good. Thank you so much, thank you. Mayor, my question is, do you remember about a week ago, you talked about the hate crimes against the Asian community, and also you mentioned about the highest authority in the White House who indicate that kind of hate crime, and there's a lot of people [inaudible] the hate crime. You are the custodian of New York City. Do you think to sue against ex-President Trump who always indicated Asian virus, Chinese virus, so and so, and after that, the hate crimes rise and a lot of people are victims in New York City as well? 

Mayor: It's a fair question, but I'd say it this way. We, we have to fight this horrible trend, this horrible incidence of hatred towards Asian Americans. We've got to stop Asian hate. A lot of it emanated from Donald Trump during his time as president. Thank God, he is no longer president. Thank God, his voice is not being heard the way it was. In fact, I think many, many people, even some who think – who used to listen to them are not listening to him anymore. So, I don't think legal action changes what he did. I think we all need to stand in solidarity with our Asian brothers and sisters. We all need to stand up to hate, and we need everyone to report hate. I really want to emphasize that. If someone's been a victim of hate, if someone's witnessed a hate crime. To report it immediately, because that's the best way for us to find those who are doing these horrible acts and stop them. Go ahead, Abu. 

Question: And then second question about the community pharmacy, where the vaccine supposed to distribute it in Astoria, Long Island City. I know there’s a South Asian pharmacy, I spoke to them – the Astoria pharmacy, and they told me about two weeks ago, the vaccine is – the pharmacy got about a hundred vaccines. It's finished within two days and they're waiting for the supply, but there’s no supply? 

Mayor: Yeah. I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi, but this is the problem we're having all across the board. Abu, we don't have the supply that we need. Again, I want to emphasize, we need about 150,000 to 200,000 more doses a week to be able to reach the capacity we have, and we really want those independent community pharmacies to be a part of this in a bigger way, because they provide health care to so many people and they're trusted, but we need the supply. That's the fundamental problem. Dr. Chokshi. 

Commissioner Chokshi: You're exactly right, Mr. Mayor. We are we're looking forward to being able to get more doses to independent pharmacies because we know how embedded they are in neighborhoods. They're the places that people already rely on for so much of their health care. So, we've been working very closely to prepare them, to be able to safely store and administer the vaccine, and now all we need is the supply to really ramp up their ability to reach the New Yorkers that we all want to. 

Mayor: Thank you.  

Moderator: The next is James Ford from PIX 11. 

Question: And good morning, Mr. Mayor, and everyone on the call.  

Mayor: How are you, James?  

Question: I appreciate your asking. I'm great. As you said, it is a beautiful day in New York. 

Mayor: I like your positive attitude. 

Question: I appreciate that. Well, I'd like to go with this. You mentioned, and so did, Dr. Varma and Dr. Chokshi, that viruses continue to evolve. This week, the drug company Merck has released results of its trials of a COVID treatment drug called Molnupiravir. It's a pill shown to significantly reduce symptoms among people who contracted the virus, keeping them out of hospitals and helping to prevent them from spreading the disease. Is the City aware of this trial drug, and is it considering using it at all? 

Mayor: I'll turn to Dr. Varma first then Dr. Chokshi, but I want to say, I commend you for even being able to pronounce this new drug. It was a very impressive effort. Go ahead, Dr. Varma. 

Senior Advisor Varma: Great. No, thank you very much. The simple answer is we don't really have any great antiviral agents right now that make a big difference in the outcome. You know, Remdesivir has been evaluated, and in some trials has shown benefit. As you note, there was a tremendous amount of research, however, going into this area because we, we really have to grapple with the fact that this virus isn't going away from the world. There are going to be way too many people around the world who remain unvaccinated. The virus also has the ability to hide out in animals and other places. So, we need to have all the weapons that we can possibly have available to us, and that's why research as you're reporting right now for Merck, and I know research that the U S is funding is going to be really important. The first line of defense is always going to be prevention, but we know that some people are still potentially going to get infected in the future too, and so having new treatments available is important, and we continue to evaluate all of the scientific literature and work with all of our academic partners to make sure that gets translated into practice once it's been proven. 

Mayor: Dr. Chokshi. 

Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, that's exactly right, and with respect to Molnupiravir specifically, we are aware of that study. It remains to be confirmed in the large, you know, phase three trials that have to be done for anything that eventually gets FDA authorization or approval. So, we'll look forward to following those scientific findings to figure out whether it can truly benefit New Yorkers.  

One other thing that I will say is that there are other treatments that are available, as Dr. Varma has alluded to, and one that people may not know about as commonly are monoclonal antibody treatments, and so if you're someone who has been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, particularly if you have underlying health conditions or older, please do speak with your doctor about the treatments that are available to you. 

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, James. 

Question: Thank you all for that. Question also for my colleague, Nicole Johnson. There was a prisoner at Rikers who somehow managed to be released, apparently through a clerical error. Can you elaborate on that? Particularly talk about any investigation into how this happened? 

Mayor: Yeah, this is being fully investigated right now. We're going to put additional safeguards in place to make sure this never happens again. That's very frustrating. It was based on a court order, but it was apparently, you know, one case that this inmate had connected to him, but there were other charges obviously as well, that should have meant he remained incarcerated. So, we're going to get a full review of this immediately, make whatever changes we have to. In the meantime, we have a high level of confidence that he will be re-apprehended shortly.  

Moderator: We have time for two more for today. The next is Reuven Blau from The City. 

Question: Hi, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for taking my question. I really appreciate it.  

Mayor: How are you doing, Reuven?  

Question: Good, good. How are you?  

Mayor: Good. Hanging in.  

Question: So, just sticking on the Correction theme, we have a story today detailing how there are three deaths related to inmates or detainees who passed away shortly after their release, and they're not actually being counted in, you know, the COVID deaths in the Department of Correction, because technically they were kind of shortly after custody. You know, similar thing happened, we know regarding the nursing homes and you had asked, you know – called for a federal probe into the numbers and the stats. Do you think, you know, that kind of stuff should be taken here? 

Mayor: It's a very, very different situation than the nursing homes to say the least, and what we've seen with the nursing homes is deeply troubling with systematic efforts to cover up obviously huge mistakes. Here, we have an accounting that I want to get, right, and I appreciate the question. I'm instructing the Department of Correction to go back and look at not just inmates, who God forbid passed away in custody, but anyone who passed away in the time immediately after. I want the whole truth and we'll provide it all publicly. What I do know is measures were taken immediately when we saw the extent of this crisis to protect folks who are incarcerated, and we particularly focused on getting folks released, which was not unfortunately an automatic process. We had to work with the state, we have to work with prosecutors, but we managed to get between 1,500 and 1,600 inmates released to protect everyone. But I want a full accounting quickly of what happened with anyone who was released so that we see the whole picture and we'll make sure to make that public, go ahead. 

Question: Again, sticking on the Department of Correction theme. One of the things they do is they use logbooks. They just manually kind of mark statistics in these logbooks, and it's been kind of a long point of contention for years, about how they feel like – people in the Department feel that that has limited sort of the public access to statistics and also enables members of the Department to kind of fudge information. Do you think that, you know, it's that the time has come to end this practice of using literally just sort of manual logbooks to mark routine instances in the Department? 

Mayor: I don't know the specifics of how data is tracked. I know the department has more and more used data in the way it makes us decisions. I know a lot of modernization has happened particularly via the leadership of Commissioner Brann, but I will check into what's going on with law books, and if it's something that can be computerized or done better, I think it's a valid question. We'll get you an answer back on that. 

Moderator: Last question for today. It goes to Luis Diaz from New Yorkled. 

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor, it's been some time.  

Mayor: How are you, how you been Luis?  

Question: I've been around, I've been around. Thank you. After connecting with someone on your team, it's my understanding that street fairs might not take place until summer, if at all— 

Mayor: Say it again, I'm sorry.  

Question: I’m sorry. After connecting with someone on your team, it's my understanding that street fears might not take place until summer if at all. It’s also my understanding that without these fairs, dozens of nonprofits, BIDs and other local organizations won’t benefit monetarily and otherwise, as they normally would as sponsors of these events. Not to mention the many hundreds of participating merchants and other personnel who just like New York City storefronts, restaurants, and other businesses need to make a living. Any thoughts on that, Mr. Mayor? 

Mayor: Yeah, it's something we need to look at. We start from a cautious place, Luis, that bigger gatherings where people are not distanced continue to be a concern, and even though we're hopeful, as you can hear from today's report, we have an X-factor with the variants that we're watching very closely. So, right now I would say we would be going slow when it comes to street fairs. I don't think it means that the discussion is over by any stretch. We'll know a lot more in the next month or two we'll know a lot more as we see what happens with supply, whether we can hit, which I really want to do hit this goal of 5 million New Yorkers fully vaccinated by June. The more we get done, the more that we can bring back, although many things we're going to bring back will come with still substantial restrictions. So, I would say the jury is out Luis.  Right now, we can't say we're ready to do it, but I wouldn't rule it out for later in the summer. Go ahead. 

Question: Thank you. This week, as in the past, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and others have called on you to “ban the scan” or rather ban the use of facial recognition technology. Here are just some of his most recent words – "Facial recognition, technology misidentifies Black and Brown New Yorkers ten to a hundred times more than Caucasian New Yorkers, resulting in real harm. These error-prone, racially biased algorithms have devastating impacts for people of color. One false match can lead to wrongful arrest, a lengthy detention, and even deadly police violence." What's your response to these requests, Mr. Mayor? 

Mayor: Luis, I take this issue very seriously. I think everything involving technology and how it intersects with privacy rights, with ensuring, you know, social and racial justice. These are all really, really important issues, not just in policing well beyond, and we've seen all the concerns folks have had about technology companies and internet companies. What I'd say is we need to continue to refine the approach. We need as much transparency as possible. We need as many safeguards as possible, but I would caution that there is an appropriate way to use the technology. We're still living in a time where we have to be very mindful of threats that could endanger New Yorkers on a large scale. We don't talk as much about the threat of terrorism today, but it still exists in this world to say the least. So, I think it's an area where we should continue to make reforms, continue to work for improvements and transparency, but also recognize what it means in terms of keeping people safe. 

Okay, everyone would that look, I'm going to talk about where we started today with the discussion around the vaccine and the variants and say simply this: we continue to make progress in this city, and the reason we're making progress is because of all of you, the people in New York City have been heroic. People in New York City have heard when Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Varma, Dr. Katz speak to them – they listen. All of you listen, and it makes all the difference. So, when you hear about the variants, it's right to be concerned and it's right to want more information, and we're going to continue to provide that information. But what's most important is to hear what our health care leaders are saying. Practice those simple precautions, get tested regularly, get the vaccine as soon as you can. That's what makes a difference, and look, New Yorkers – since we had the baseball analogy earlier, I'll say it again. New Yorkers have a great batting average when it comes to fighting this disease, New Yorkers have been amongst the very best people in this country at listening to the guidance, putting it into action, and protecting each other. So, let's keep doing that for these next few months. This is a final, big battle against the coronavirus, and I am absolutely certain that we're going to overcome it and win in the end. Thank you, everybody. 

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