April 18, 2016
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well I just had the opportunity to tour our extraordinary public health lab. This city is blessed with the finest public health department anywhere in the country and that includes an amazing public health lab that is at the cutting edge of research on the areas that we need to understand to keep our city safe. And the work that has been done by our Department of Health goes back 125 years – this really is the template. This is the exemplar Department of Health anywhere in this country. And this public health lab was in fact the first in the country and continues to do great work protecting New Yorkers. And the lab is a crucial part of our effort to deal with the Zika crisis and to be prepared to stop Zika from harming New Yorkers. And a lot of the most important work will happen right here in this building.
We are announcing today a three-year plan. It will cover all five boroughs. It’s a three-year, $21 million plan to address the Zika crisis and to ensure that New York City is prepared to keep our people safe. The threat of Zika we take very seriously. This is an emerging situation and as everyone has seen in recent weeks, new information keeps coming out. That’s why we have to have our own capacity to assess the situation and to make sure we have all the latest information to protect people against a threat that again is emerging as we speak and evolving as we speak.
CDC – we work very closely with the Centers for Disease Control. As you’ve seen, they have continued to issue additional warnings related to Zika. New information is put out consistently and we’re keeping constantly abreast of those changes so that we can adjust our strategy. And that’s part of why we wanted a proactive plan in place so that we could get ahead of this situation.
Now, I want to emphasize that we do not see a scenario in this city or in this country where they’ll be a widespread outbreak. But that does not for a moment stop us from wanting to address even more limited problems. I want to thank all of my colleagues who are here and would also like to acknowledge the Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Dr. Jay Varma. And I want to thank our host and the tour of the lab, Dr. Waheed Bajwa, the Executive Director of Vector Surveillance and Control for the Department of Health.
Now in this city, we have some of the finest medical and scientific minds anywhere on the globe and in our Department of Health, we have again some of the most experienced and effective public health thinkers and strategists anywhere in this country. In February, we tasked these experts with coming up with a strategy for addressing Zika. We had a roundtable at City Hall where we brought in experts from our private hospitals and from our academic institutions. We put all of our public health apparatus on alert. And we got everyone thinking together about the best way to address this problem. Over the last two months, a lot of good work has been done to prepare a strategy to address Zika.
The $21 million plan that I talked about. It’s $21 million – it will play out over three years. And it has three key parts. First, reducing the number of mosquitos in New York City through targeted and careful prevention efforts all over the city. Second, detecting the presence of the disease swiftly and improving our testing capacity and the reach of our testing capacity to do that. And that will include a doubling of the number of mosquito traps citywide. And third – public information – delivering the information that New Yorkers need to protect themselves, and to be aware of this threat, and to understand basic precautions they can take.
Now we have a poster here that will be part of this. I’m going to walk over to the poster. This will be part of our public education effort, Fight Back NYC, and letting people know about the Zika virus and the basic things that people can do to prevent the mosquitoes breeding in their yards, for example, and the importance of using mosquito repellant, the importance of having window screens. Dr. Palacio and Dr. Bassett will talk more about it. But you’re going to see these kinds of public health announcements gaining the attention of New Yorkers.
Now part of the additional expenditures we’ll be making will be to add 51 new Department of Health workers, and that will include exterminators, inspectors, and lab analysts. The Department of Health’s been monitoring Zika, as I said, all over the world, working carefully and closely with the Centers for Disease Control, working with the State Department of Health to monitor the situation. We’re watching the evolution in other parts of the world, looking for signs that would tell us what we need to do strategically here in New York City.
Now, there are some important facts that every New Yorker should know. First of all, Zika is present in 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries and territories. It is present right now. It is a threat to the health of people in those 34 places right now. Second, there have been roughly 358 travel-related cases of Zika, with people coming to the United States who were infected elsewhere – 358 for the entire country.
Now, for New York City, 40 of those cases have been found in New York City – folks who’ve contracted the disease elsewhere and came here – 40. But we have confirmed, once again, that no one has been infected locally. So, I want to emphasize that. No one has been infected in New York City by the Zika virus. The only people who have it here contracted it elsewhere, and brought it here.
The specific mosquito – and you’ll hear again from the experts who have been studying carefully – the specific mosquito that transmits Zika is not found in New York City, and we have no evidence of that mosquito being present in New York City at this point. And that’s another thing we’ll be constantly monitoring for.
But we do have a similar species, and the concern is to ensure that that species does not end up spreading the disease in any way. And that’s why there’ll be a focus not only on the constant testing but the very aggressive preventative measures as well.
For most people who contract Zika, it is an uncomfortable disease, but not a particularly harmful disease. And that is true for the vast majority of both children and adults. The real danger with Zika is for pregnant woman for whom there could be a significant risk to their fetus. So we really want to emphasize, if anyone is pregnant and they’re concerned they may have contracted Zika, it’s absolutely crucial to contact your doctor, or go to any medical facility, and get a free test to see if you have the presence of Zika.
You’ll be hearing in a moment from Dr. Palacio and Dr. Bassett who will give you additional information. Again, they’re leading the effort to coordinate with our federal and state colleagues as well – and the private sector experts here in the city.
Now, I emphasize we have an extraordinary public Health Department and it is tried and tested. This public Health Department took on the challenge of the West Nile virus and prevailed. This Health Department took on the challenge of Ebola and prevailed – working very closely with the Health + Hospitals Corporation in that latter situation. So, the capacity is here. The knowledge is here. The scientific capacity is here. We’re adding a lot more personnel to speed up this effort because we want it to be very robust in the face of this challenge.
Quickly in Spanish –
[The Mayor speaks in Spanish.]
With that, I’d like to welcome our Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Herminia Palacio.
Dr. Herminia Palacio, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services: Thank you very much, Mayor. And thanks to Dr. Bassett and the entire Public Health Lab for their incredible work protecting New Yorkers from diseases.
As the Mayor said, the City has over two decades of experience and expertise controlling West Nile virus, and with this plan we are building on that infrastructure to address Zika. The City has been working diligently with partners at the CDC and the World Health Organization since the bell first rang about this outbreak. This plan prepares the city to respond to all scenarios – from the current situation where we a low number of imported cases, to an unexpected uptick in imported cases during the summer months, to a potential outbreak in the southern states. And it prepares us for the unlikely, but nevertheless possible scenario, that we might see local transmission from our own mosquitos here. Our focus right now is to make sure that we have the infrastructure and all the tools in place to be prepared for all of these scenarios. And we’re going to be focusing our efforts on education as you heard, and on making sure that we work with our health care providers, and on making sure that we have good mosquito control.
Like the Mayor said, the mosquito that’s causing this outbreak in Latin America is the Aedes aegypti mosquito. We here have a cousin – Aedes albopictus – it is that mosquito that bites you all day long during the summer months. This mosquito hasn’t been shown to be an effective carrier of Zika, but Zika has proven to be a rather different virus than some other viruses that are mosquito-borne by these mosquitos, such as chikungunya and dengue. And it’s because of that, that we are really leaning forward to be prepared for all of these scenarios. There is some that’s known about Zika. As the Mayor mentioned there are new things being learned every day about Zika and there are still things being unknown. We are taking all of that information – all of the scientific information that emerges – and incorporating it to make sure that our plans adapt to up to date science as we protect New Yorkers. We’re not taking any chances here. And we’re enhancing ours surveillance and increasing our mosquito control. And that’s really the message that New Yorkers should know that we’re leaning forward – that we are cautiously optimistic, but we are nevertheless prepared.
I want to again thank the Mayor, Commissioner Bassett, and all of the Department of Health and Mental Health and the Public Health Lab staff. And just to also say a few remarks in Spanish, especially because so many of the people who are travelling to and from Latin America are people who have family and origins there.
[Deputy Mayor Palacio speaks in Spanish.]
And with that, I welcome Dr. Bassett. Thank you.
Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner of Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Good afternoon, everyone – and thank you to the Mayor – my prop holder for the moment. Also to our Deputy Mayor.
It’s really great to be here at the Public Health Lab. Often – the Public Health Lab is sort of the back office of many of our disease control efforts. And I’d just like to take a minute to remind you all that this is a very old public health lab. It was established in 1892 – a decade before the very venerable state lab called the Wadsworth Center, a lab with which we work closely. It is the lab that sawed down the scourges of diphtheria, which we’ve now consigned to history. It did the testing for anthrax, for Ebola, and for Zika. Public Health Labs play a very important role, especially when tests aren’t commercially available, which is the case that we have in Zika now.
So, I want to thank the director of our lab, Jen Rakeman, who is here, and all of her staff for the incredible work that they do in protecting New Yorkers from diseases.
I also want to thank Dr. Jay Varma who leads our Zika response – he’s somewhere back – thank you, and Waheed Bajwa – Dr. Bajwa is our top entomologist. Anything to do with insects, he’s your man. So, he and all of us at the Health Department, working with our Deputy Mayor, have worked hard to develop this plan.
As the mayor said, we in the city, have over 15 years of experience in handling mosquitoes relevant to West Nile Virus prevention – and we’re building on that infrastructure to prevent the spread of Zika in New York City. And this plan prepares for all possible scenarios – the one that we have now, with a modest number of cases – you’ve heard the number now stands at 40 today – to the unlikely but still possible worst-case scenario where we have local transmission and a local outbreak.
Our focus right now is on building up the infrastructure that we already have in place so that we can increase the testing of mosquitoes – which will allow us to determine if our local mosquitoes are carrying the virus – and increasing our mosquito control. This plan also expands our capacity to test people for Zika. I can now – thank you Mr. Mayor –
Mayor: I’m here to serve.
Dr. Bassett: We have a new flier that will help New Yorkers determine if testing is needed – which is mainly a concern for pregnant women and their partners who’ve travelled to Zika-affected areas. We have a public-facing campaign. It’s up already on our subways. As the mayor said, the mosquito causing Zika outbreak in Latin America – Aedes aegypti – has not been found here in New York City, but we have a related species – Aedes albopictus – that could carry and transmit the virus.
The way this works – it’s very important that people understand that this isn’t a person-to-person spread – is that the mosquito would bite a New Yorker who’d return from some place where they’d acquire Zika infection. That mosquito might then acquire the virus, and then bite someone else, and give them the virus. So, it’s to prevent that possibility that we are taking the actions, and I’m – describing to you today.
And the real victims of Zika are the unborn babies, who are born to women who have Zika infection during pregnancy. There is now a definitive link between Zika infection in pregnant women – fetal death and a whole host of devastating birth defects. We don’t want pregnant women or their families here in New York City to face these risks, and its potentially terrible consequences for babies.
So, that’s why this mosquito season, the City will be monitoring and trapping mosquitoes more than ever before with the aim of reducing the Aedes mosquito population. We’re increasing the number of traps around the city. And in areas where we find higher numbers of Aedes mosquitoes, we will target them earlier and more frequently for enhanced mosquito abatement.
This strategy will protect the city from a Zika outbreak and from other mosquito-borne infections. So, New Yorkers, we have your back, but we also need your help. As we enter mosquito season, our message is to help us fight the spread of Zika virus in New York City with the slogan Fight Back NYC. And there are simple steps to take.
You’ve heard about installing window screens, wearing protective clothing – that just means covering your legs, your arms – using mosquito repellant. And people need to look for effective – we had some examples –
Mayor: Here they come.
Dr. Bassett: We’ll do another show-and-tell –
Mayor: You hold up some –
Dr. Bassett: Thank you. We want people to pick mosquito repellant that have CDC-recommended products in them.
Dr. Bassett: I get to hold some. We want – this one has DEET.
Dr. Bassett: Yes, that’s correct.
Mayor: So, these are actual examples of the types of repellants that work and are approved by the New York City Department of Health.
Dr. Bassett: And, you want to look for DEET, picaridin, or lemon oil of eucalyptus. Maybe that’s the one that says natural.
Dr. Bassett: Yes, we’re holding them up. We recommend that people even consider taking their mosquito repellant with them if they travel because you may not be confident that you’ll be able to find effective repellants when you get where you’re going. We also importantly want to highlight the importance of eliminating standing water.
This mosquito, Aedes albopictus, can breed in tiny containers of water, even in a bottle cap. So, we need New Yorkers to take care, and remove that flower pot that has water in the dish, to remove the bird feeder, and look for all these small household sources of standing water. If you come across a standing water collection that you can’t handle yourself, we want to hear about it. Call 3-1-1. Notify us, and we want to work with all New Yorkers to remove standing water. These are breeding sites for mosquitoes. By removing standing water – remove the opportunity for this mosquito to breed.
Also, our travel warnings remain in effect. We continue to alert women that if you’re pregnant, or you’re planning to become pregnant, that you should delay travel to regions where Zika transmission is ongoing. And if you must travel to one of these areas, we want you to be sure to take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. We want you to talk to your doctor before travelling.
And last – although Zika is almost always transmitted through mosquito bites, it also can be transmitted sexually. So, we want to remind New Yorkers that condoms are a safe and effective way to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted diseases and Zika. If you want to find free condoms, you can call 3-1-1 to find out where the free NYC-branded condoms would be available to you.
And if you want any more information about Zika in our city, you can visit our website where we work hard to keep it updated – nyc.gov/health.
So, finally I want to thank Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Palacio for their commitment to public health that this response reflects, and for their support in this important plan.
Mayor: Thank you very much.
Dr. Bassett: Thank you for all of your assistance.
Mayor: Yes. We’re always here to hold up things for you. All right. We’re going to take questions on this topic, and then we’ll take question on other topics. On this topic of Zika. Please.
Question: Mr. Mayor, the City already does considerable spraying for West Nile I believe, so just wondering – it seems like some – what are the new controls going to be? And if you’re already doing it, what would the added cost be?
Mayor: As we said, there’s going to be additional monitoring, additional mosquito traps, additional analysis therefore because we’re going to have a lot more information coming in – and the ability to do additional spraying as needed. And I’ll let Dr. Bassett or Dr. Palacio – want to add?
Dr. Palacio: So, one of the things that’s important to know is we are building on the infrastructure. As you’ve heard from Commissioner – Dr. Bassett, that there is a lot of work done on West Nile Virus. West Nile Virus is transmitted by a different kind of mosquito than the one we’re concerned about for Zika. So, you’ve heard about a lot of the additional traps are really being optimized for this other mosquito. So, we’re building on the traps that we’ve got for West Nile virus which do trap some albopictus. But we’re now optimizing a whole new set of traps for albopictus, and that will allow us to direct our efforts not just for the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile Virus but also for the mosquitoes that have potential to transmit Zika.
Dr. Bassett: I think that’s it.
Mayor: Covered it? All right.
Question: Of the $21 million and 50 new employees that are being hired, how many are – how much of that money, and how many of those employees are going to be in place for this season?
Mayor: Some of that money is for the current fiscal year which goes through the end of June. So, we can get you get you a break-out, but there’s going to be action taken immediately, obviously, as the warm weather is coming on, and we want a lot of this to happen right now.
Question: [Inaudible] testing. I know over the past couple of weeks, you’ve been sending teams out into high-risk neighborhoods, where people travel a lot from Latin American and Caribbean countries. Is that working? Because 40 is a lot more than what we were hearing a few weeks ago.
Dr. Bassett: Well, we expect as the summer months to go on that we’ll see more and more imported cases in New York City. So that number, 40, will go up. And we also know that travel from the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing will increase in the months of July and August. So, that will also mean there will be more people coming home to New York who’ve been in areas. Now, you’re talking about the – our observation that we weren’t seeing as many tests ordered from neighborhoods that are immigrant neighborhoods where people may travel back and forth – and we have been going out, and trying to make sure that all of their doctors are aware, in those neighborhoods, that they should recommend testing for people who should get testing.
The people who should get testing are all pregnant women returning from neighborhoods – from countries where Zika transmission is ongoing, and anybody who returns who has symptoms regardless of whether they’re a pregnant woman, or a man –
Mayor: Point it out here, so everyone sees how it correlates.
Dr. Bassett: So, we –
Dr. Bassett: So, it just says here, “If you are pregnant and spent time in a Zika-affected area while pregnant,” we want you to ask for a test. “If you’re pregnant, and while pregnant had condom-less vaginal, anal, or oral sex” – we’re very explicit here – “with a man who spent time in a Zika-infected area” that’s because we recommend that partners who have traveled use condoms for up to eight weeks.
So, your question is whether we’re beginning to see an equalization of the requests for testing across the city – and we’re tracking that. We’re going to continue to work and reach out to people. We’ve tested in our lab, over 1,500 individuals – and in aggregate for the whole city, we’ve tested over 2,000 – the remainder have been tested by the Wadsworth lab.
Question: [Inaudible] any of those who tested positive were pregnant [inaudible].
Dr. Bassett: We have six women identified who were pregnant and tested positive.
Question: Just wondering if the doctor – either doctor – what optimizing the trap for the Zika- carrying mosquito – how do you optimize a trap for –
Dr. Bassett: Well, I may need to call on our entomologist, but there are traps that are specifically designed for Aedes mosquitoes. And we have acquired those traps and are going to be deploying them. They have special bait. They have special construction – and we’re going to be placing them in areas where we have concerns about Aedes albopictus. So the type of trap – it’s baiting and its placement will all be guided by our understanding of the distribution of albopictus [inaudible]. Dr. Bajwa, you want to –
Dr. Waheed Bajwa, Executive Director of Vector Surveillance and Control for the Department of Health: There’s 60 different sites, you know, where we’re going to place a special type of trap. It’s called BG Sentinel traps. It’s only for catching Aedes mosquitoes. So we’ll get the mosquitoes, you know, on a weekly basis. We’ll bring them to the laboratory – this laboratory – and we will identify them, and then we’ll test them for Zika virus. So, 60 different locations will have BG Sentinel traps.
Mayor: Before we take a few more questions on I just want to give a chance for Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh to jump in because he represents this community and all of the medical institutions in this community. I just want him to say a few words.
Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I apologize for being late. I just wanted to say this is a community that has all of – the full range of the world-class healthcare institutions that really are the front-lines of dealing with the public health crises we face. We’ve got Bellevue, which of course was the center of containing the Ebola crisis here, and many of these other healthcare institutions. And we’re very proud of that role that this community plays – and of course, we’re all very concerned about making sure we have the best possible response for Zika. But we also have every confidence that this city is prepared under the Mayor and the Health Department’s leadership, and all of the leadership of the healthcare institutions here. So, thank you very much.
Question: Mr. Mayor we saw – speaking of Ebola – we saw such an aggressive approach from the State and New Jersey when Ebola started coming to the United States. You spoke out against that approach. Are you fearful or concerned that people would also had that kind of response as the weather gets warmer [inaudible]?
Mayor: I think it’s a very different reality for a variety of reasons. I think Dr. Palacio and Dr. Bassett made the point that this is a community, here, with tremendously strong ties to the Caribbean and Latin America. And people are going to travel. We’re talking about, in a typical year, I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people and family members traveling back and forth. I think we have to recognize that and respect it. Thank God, this is a disease – as you heard – that in most cases does not cause real harm to people, so we really are trying to focus on the needs of women who are pregnant or might become pregnant. So I think this is different than what we experienced and the sort of concerns and some of the fears related to Ebola. So I don’t want to predict where things are going. I think right now the job is to make sure we are monitoring very, very closely. We’re on top of the situation we have now. We’re watching for any new changes and trends and we’re getting a lot of information out. And I think in this case – sober, calm, information flowing to people is the best way to deliver. Yes?
Question: When was the last time you spoke to Governor Cuomo personally about this issue?
Mayor: I have not spoken to him about Zika. I’m sure I will be because I think we’re going to be working on this for quite a while.
Question: You said you’re not anticipating widespread outbreak of Zika here in New York. Can you explain why that is? Is it because of the species of mosquito?
Mayor: Yes, I’ll start and either doctor can join in. There are so many doctors around me. Any of them can join in. Right now, look, at this moment, we have no evidence of the mosquito that actually carries Zika in New York. So that’s the number one reason I say it. We have no evidence of the central cause existing here. There is a concern about the mosquito that we have being able to do so, but that is not yet a proven concern. That’s why we want to do a lot more testing, a lot more monitoring. So there’s a scenario you could see where if either one of those situations changed, that you would be dealing with a bigger challenge. Right now, the central challenge is people who bring it back. And of course, as you heard, they can sexually transmit it. That’s a real challenge. But that’s not the kind of thing that – at least based on what we know – would lead to a broader outbreak. Either one of you want to add? Because I’ve gone to so many medical classes with you, I’ve learned.
Dr. Bassett: Well I think that the Mayor’s got it exactly right. That the mosquito that we have here in New York, while it has a potential to be a vector, we haven’t seen it behave as a vector in New York City. And so – and nor has it been a vector that has been identified as driving the current outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean. We also have the past experience with chikungunya and dengue for which Aedes albopictus can also potentially be a vector, and we’ve never seen either of those viruses transmitted in this city. So that also gives us a reason to be optimistic. But as the deputy mayor has said, nature can always throw curveballs. This is the first time we’ve ever identified a vector-borne virus that causes birth defects. So this is an unusual virus, and that’s why we’re being so aggressive in trying to bring the mosquito population down and carefully monitor it.
Question: Is that what you were alluding to Dr. Palacio about – the fact that it behaves different than chikungunya and dengue as to why it’s so important to watch Zika?
Dr. Palacio: Yes, absolutely. So, the – first of all, there’s a limited science around Zika because until this large outbreak, it was really considered a very mild disease in humans. So there wasn’t a lot of activity around studying it. There have been a of couple outbreaks in the Yap Islands and now in Brazil where the virus has caught people by surprise – both with the explosiveness of the frequency with which it’s transmitted, but also, as Dr. Bassett said, in the clinical manifestations. And as a CDC reported just a week ago, they’ve now confirmed the suspected link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly, in addition to a number – bless you – in addition to a number of other neurologic diseases. So the fact that we continue to learn new and surprising things about Zika, both in terms of how it’s being transmitted and in terms of the clinical manifestations once people get it, make us less than fully comfortable that we understand everything that there is to be understood about the virus. And make us want to make sure that we’ve sort of thought out – what are the potential scenarios and that we’ve planned against those scenarios. And that’s what you’re hearing today.
Dr. Palacio: I think it’s less than a fast – I think it has evolved and it’s understudied compared with other viruses that we’ve had more medical concern about in the future. So I think, again, now there’s a lot of activity, there’s a lot of scientific investigation. I think we’ll be learning more and more. And as I said, we are – have our ears to the ground on this – we are monitoring what’s happening not just around the world. We suspect that things will happen earlier in our Southern neighbors because they have both albopictus and aegypti. So we’re going to be seeing what’s happening around the world, as well as here in the continental U.S. – and really keeping track on the emerging science and changing our plans accordingly if the science suggests that we need to change our plans.
Question: Mr. Mayor, is any of the $21 million – is that federal money? And how do feel about Congress? There was a call on Congress to pass some more federal funding to combat Zika. How do you feel about that?
Mayor: So on the second point, absolutely. We’re going to need federal help. This is a problem coming to us from other countries, obviously. We are doing all we can locally to address the issue, but we’re going to need federal help as this emerges. On the question of the federal funding, that does include federal funding. That is City funding with some State public health dollars that are automatic matches when the City expends money in this type of way. So it’s primarily City funding. Last call on Zika? Is there anything else? Yes?
Question: Did you learn anything from the Legionnaires' outbreak and also the Ebola situation that you are now applying to this situation? Has it changed how you decided to address this situation?
Mayor: Well I think we learn from every situation. I think one thing that we need to do is constant public education. Secondly, the need to be as proactive as possible. That’s why we’re devoting the money now to the additional testing, the additional analysis by the labs. You know we’re going to of course work very closely with our federal and State partners, but this goes in the category of God bless the child that’s got his own. We have to protect ourselves. We need to have capacity here to constantly test, including individual New Yorkers. And much better that we be ahead of the situation. So I think with each – each crisis we face, we learn new things. I think the public information part is crucial here. Everything you’ve heard today – this is thank God a disease that in general would have very little impact. But we know exactly who needs to be most concerned – women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. We know the ways to protect them. We’ve got to spread that word. We’ve got to make sure everyone has access to that information.
Question: Did I hear correctly – six women are pregnant with Zika in the city. How are they doing and are their kids going to have microcephaly?
Dr. Bassett: We’ve identified six women who are – who were pregnant at the time that they were diagnosed with Zika. And we protect their privacy.
Mayor: Last call on Zika – going once, going twice. Other topics?
Question: Mr. Mayor, we looked at enrollment statistics from the State Board of Elections. And found that the number of active-registered Democrats in Kings County actually dropped by seven percent [inaudible]. I’m wondering if that raises any concerns for you [inaudible]?
Mayor: Well, I want to understand how those numbers developed because I am surprised by that. Let me begin at the beginning, we need to do a lot to change the way we approach voting in this country, in this State, in this City. There is a lot of reform needed. It has to become much easier to vote. I believe in the whole package of reforms – same day registration, early voting, vote by mail. I think we have to bring a whole host of reforms. I’m certainly going to work hard for that in Albany. In terms of our Board of Elections, we have more work to do. We have certainly made progress, we have more work to do. Now, this number surprises me. I admit that Brooklyn has had a lot of [inaudible] population. That is obvious – a lot of people moving in, a lot of people moving out. That might account for some of it, but I am confused since so many people have moved in that the number would move that much in a negative direction. So, I do think at the same time that we’ve seen a reduction in turnout in recent elections, which is sadly true in a lot of places in the country. It is certainly true in New York – and that, you know if people don’t vote for four years their name is taken of the roll. So, sadly that could be legitimately part off the problem, but I’ve asked already today for an analysis of this from the Board of Elections. And I want to come back to you with a fuller answer because it does concern me. But taking the occasion to say, please all of you remind people they have an opportunity to have a very big impact on the course of our nation tomorrow, whoever they vote for. Everyone should come out and vote tomorrow in the primary elections.
Question: Do you believe that the 9/11 family members should be able to sue Saudi Arabia? Do you support a bill that would take away [inaudible]?
Mayor: I do, absolutely. Look, as the place that bore the brunt of 9/11 – and I have met so many of the family members who are still in pain – their rights come first. And I have long been dubious of the Saudi Arabian government on many, many levels. And I think we need to reassess our approach to Saudi Arabia in general. But I support Senator Schumer and as you know the bill he has put together is bipartisan with Senator Cornyn of Texas. We need to protect the rights of these families and we need to get at the truth. And this is a way to do it.
Question: One of the issues that have come to light in the course of the investigation is that information may have not always been flowing to you the way it needed to [inaudible]. Have you made any changes in your administration [inaudible]?
Mayor: It’s a huge administration, is the first answer. I have 350,000 employees over dozens and dozens of agencies; and an $82 billion operating budget. So, I do not have the illusion that I am going to know about everything all the time. I have pushed very hard to the deputy mayors and the agency heads to recognize that we need information on key decisions at City Hall. And there are certain decision that could only be made at City Hall. And I know you have looked at our decision memo structure, which is something I think actually helps everyone ensure that everyone has been consulted; everyone has been informed. But it is not perfect yet we’re trying to improve that process. I get – you know – a huge number of emails every day; I get lots of communication. I don’t get to see all of them, obviously by definition. So, we are trying to perfect the process and when something really matters it is brought more systematically to my attention.
Question: [Inaudible] police have just arrested a man accused of slashing a man to death inside one of the City’s homeless shelters – the same man they say slashed a cabbie. And now on Sunday, we had a homeless man that slashed [inaudible]. A lot of New Yorkers are on edge thinking that these problems are getting out of control. What is your response to that [inaudible]?
Mayor: Plans are moving forward, not because of these tragic individual incidents but because it is something we have to do systematically. And the bigger point I’ve made about the NYPD – the NYPD has time and time again focused on an area of strategic concern – put additional resources on it and turned the tide. We have seen it over and over again. We had a concern in our first year in office around some particular crime activities we saw in public housing. There was a surge of officers and other measures in public housing that brought those numbers down. We had a deep concern last year about an increase in the number of shootings. There was a surge of activity; that number went down. In fact, this year – as you know – first three months of this year the lowest number of shootings; the lowest number of murders of any first quarter of any year in New York City history.
So now, the NYPD is turning extraordinary attention to where we are finding stabbing and slashings. Now, we made very clear at the press conference some of this sadly isn’t visible to [inaudible]. What happens behind closed doors, for example, tragically in a domestic situation? What is visible most especially is the activity that happens around clubs, around nightlife locations both legal and illegal. So, you’re going to see a lot more NYPD presence in those locations particularly Friday night and Saturday night hours. On the question of the shelters, we brought the NYPD in now to supervise shelter security and train those who provide the shelter – actual security workers. We think that is going to make a real difference in the whole operation. And we’re continuing our efforts to determine if someone has a history of violence; a history of mental health problems how we identify them early and get them either the mental health support they need or if they are not yet done with the criminal justice system, how we expedite what the criminal justice system is doing with them. So, all of those pieces are moving a pace. But why I say to my fellow New Yorkers – NYPD is very much on the case. They have proven that they can continue to drive crime down for over 20 years. They are going to handle the situation.
Question: In the course of any of these probes that are going on if any member of your administration is found to have been involved with wrongdoing, is indicted, or is [inaudible]. Are you willing to promise New Yorkers that you will fire that person immediately?
Mayor: I want to say, first of all, I hold myself and my administration to the highest ethical standards. I am very, very serious about that. The bottom-line is we’ll look at each situation as it emerges. I don’t deal with hypotheticals. I believe anyone who does something wrong should suffer the consequences as some of our police individual chiefs are at this point; someone does something wrong they should suffer the consequences.
Mayor: On the second one, I have said to you all, so I am not going to get into the details day by day. The bottom-line here is we hold ourselves to very high ethical standards. We’re going to cooperate. We actually reached out – as you know – to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to say we are happy to cooperate. That is going to be our stance. On the first question, I did not talk to Mr. Peters, but I am glad he rescued himself. That was the right decision.