Secondary Navigation

Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

December 21, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. I want to talk about the news of the day from Washington and, also an important new announcement we'll be making here in New York City right now, but first I want to give you the big picture. Once again, we got to really focus on where we're at it, this exact moment, what Omicron means, what it means now, where it's going, what it means for New York City, what it means for all of us.   
So, here's the bottom line, as Dr. Chokshi said yesterday, it's going be a challenging few weeks. There is no question about it. We're seeing a big upsurge in cases. Thankfully in general, they seem more mild. And thankfully our healthcare system is well positioned in this city to deal with it. But it will be a tough few weeks and we need to understand that, and we need to do everything possible to address that. But look, this is going to be a temporary reality and I want to emphasize that. What we're seeing so far from Omicron is a very fast upsurge and then goes back down again. It's based on what we've seen in other parts of the world, we are preparing for that kind of very fast scenario. And that means we got to keep focused on the big picture, which is to keep this city moving forward. To remember, we got to keep building our recovery. We got to keep everyone safe and the way to do that is vaccination. What unites all the strategies is vaccination. Vaccination is the way to protect ourselves against Omicron. Vaccination is the way to continue our recovery. Vaccination is the way for people to live their lives. Again, vaccination equals freedom. So, that's going to be our focus in all of our strategies. When it comes to vaccination, New York City is ready, and we need you to be ready too. We need you to do your part. Everyone who has not yet gotten vaccinated it's time, everyone who can get that booster, it's time, everyone who has a young child, not yet vaccinated, it's time. So, this City is ready to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated. Everyone gets that booster, and that's the way we move through these challenging few weeks.   
And the other important point is, adamantly I feel this, no more shutdowns. We’ve been through them. They were devastating. We can't go through it again. In this case, we weather the storm because we were prepared with a high level of vaccination already. We are prepared with a strong healthcare system. We're prepared to get through. We need to all work together now to get through these weeks to come out the other side, continue our recovery, but no shutdowns, because that would devastate the lives of so many New Yorkers.  
Okay, with that overview, here's the news today. First from Washington, good news, and very thankful to President Biden, who continues to come up with approaches to help address COVID continues to respond whenever New York City needs help. And I want to thank him for that. We've gotten word, there will be additional federal testing sites in New York City. That's going to help. There's obviously a huge demand for testing. We're increasing the City sites to 112 sites, fixed sites and mobile sites. By the end of this week, federal governments coming in to help they're going to be up and running in the next few days. That's extremely helpful and important. I've been talking to the President’s COVID Czar, Jeff Zients, who has been always responsive with his team, always responsive to New York City. We're trying to get a major new shipment of at home test as well. So, we're going to hear from the President this afternoon with more details. What we're hearing so far is going to be really helpful to get us through these next few weeks.   
Now, when it comes to what we're going to do here, well, let's again, frame this, which we said start of this week, we now have over 6 million adult New Yorkers, who have had already one dose, at least over 6 million adults in this city have had one dose. That's amazing. Over 600,000 young people. That's fantastic, we need that number to go up more, but New York City has been leading the way with high, high levels of vaccination. It's made all the difference. It's made us strong and resilient compared to so many other places, but we got to double down. And one of the ways to double down is with boosters. Boosters are absolutely key at this moment. We need everyone to focus on boosters. If you're eligible, it's time, it will make all the difference. Now, we heard great news yesterday from Moderna, that their booster increases the antibody levels that are necessary to fight Omicron. And that is crucial. We have more and more evidence of the impact boosters can have in fighting off Omicron. This is a crucial piece of equation.   
So, if you're vaccinated, that's great, but if you want that extra protection, go get that booster now. We want everyone, right now, as quickly as possible, to get those boosters. And we're going to make it even better for you with a new incentive and an incentive that is here just in time for the holidays, because every one of us knows we're out there shopping for our families. It would be nice to have a little extra cash. So, as of today, we're announcing a $100 incentive for everyone who goes out and gets a booster here in New York City, between now and the end of the year. So, it's a limited-time opportunity. Over these next days, get your booster shot, get a $100 incentive. It's going to make you feel a lot safer, a lot better that you got the booster, and you'll have some more cash in your pocket at the same time. That's going to be a good feeling, particularly this time of year. You can go to any of the City-run sites that, that provide vaccination, or you can go to our partner, SOMOS clinics and practices, as well. So, that $100 incentive you'll get that quickly. That is now, today, if you go and get your booster today through December 31st. So again, limited time opportunity, but exactly the time we need New Yorkers to go out and get their booster. This will be by far the biggest booster incentive program in the United States of America. And I want to see New Yorkers respond. This is the moment, come out and real big numbers, get those booster shots and help make your family safer and help make this whole city safer.   
With more about why boosters matter and why they're so effective. I bring you the City's doctor, our Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi.  
Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. More than a month ago, I issued a Commissioner's Advisory calling on everyone to get a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine when it was their time and urging that providers not to turn anyone away due to eligibility considerations. That was because even then the science was clear about the benefits of booster doses. Since then, Omicron has made booster doses even more important and urgent. Yesterday, the CDC estimated that Omicron is now responsible for an approximate 93 percent of cases in the New York City region. But while the evidence is still emerging, thus far, it indicates that an additional dose of Pfizer or Moderna provides enhanced protection against both infection as well as disease related to Omicron. Pfizer released preliminary laboratory data showing a 25-fold increase in protective antibodies after a third dose. And yesterday, as the Mayor mentioned, Moderna release similar data showing a 37-fold increase. The way that we should think about this is that an additional dose helps keep your immunity up to date. Over 1.7 million booster doses have already been administered in New York City and I thank each and every New Yorker who has stepped up to increase their own protection and reinforce our vaccination wall against this new wave, but we have more work to do, and we must do it quickly. That's why I'm grateful that the Mayor announced the $100 incentive for booster shots across City sites. In total, over 1,000 sites are offering booster in New York City, just visit, or call 877-VAX-4NYC to get linked to one. Or we'll come to you, just visit to schedule a booster dose at home. We can all play our part in this booster sprint. I know many New Yorkers will be spending time with their loved ones over the next few days, even if only virtually. Please urge them to get their booster dose, particularly if they're older or otherwise at higher risk. And a special note for those who received the J & J vaccine, I recommend a booster dose of either Moderna or Pfizer for anyone vaccinated with J & J at least two months ago. That means time before October 21st. So, simply put, if you haven't yet gotten your booster dose, there is no better time than right now. Thank you, sir.  
Mayor: Thank you so much, Dr. Chokshi. What a clear and powerful message. And listen, 1.7 million New Yorkers have gotten a booster already. That's amazing. That's going to help everyone to stay safe, but there's a lot more of New Yorkers who can get that booster and starting today, you get that $100 incentive with it. A great additional reason to come out, but really the most important reason is what Dr. Chokshi just said the impact of the boosters. So crucial.   
Now, I want you to hear from one of the national voices on the whole challenge of the COVID era, and he has been speaking about the different strategies and approach of that are needed. And particularly recognizing this moment with Omicron. I want you to hear from him about what it means to focus on boosters, to have incentives like this, the kind of mandates we put in place on top of that. He is a Professor of Molecular Medicine and a cardiologist. He is the Founder and Director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. Someone who has really, really studied what we're going through and understands what we need to do to keep moving forward. My pleasure to introduce, Dr. Eric Topol.  
Mayor: Well, doctor, thank you so much and, and you really laid it out beautifully, how important it is for everyone to get that booster. Look, as we've seen throughout, vaccination is the key but continuing to deepen the vaccination makes all the difference. And there's so many more people who would benefit from the booster. We hope this incentive inspires them further. And doctor thank you for your leadership, your strong voice, as we find the strategies that work to fight our way through the COVID era. Thank you very, very much.   
Now, everyone, remember to get that incentive, you can go to any of the City run vaccination sites, and again, the sites run by our partner, SOMOS at their clinics and practices. So, all of those sites available where you can get the booster and get the $100 incentive. But I also want you to know there's another great option, which is at home vaccination. This is something we've made available for months and months. It's reached hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers really, really effectively. And any city resident who wants at home vaccination, it could be scheduled. A vaccination team comes to you, by the way, they can provide vaccination for the whole family, many people as want it, whether people need a first dose, a second dose or a booster, or if different people in the family are different points in their vaccine trajectory. The teams that come to your home, have the ability to provide whatever help you need. And the $100 incentive is available for every family member. That's crucial to remember too. So, if that's a better option for you, you can get at home vaccination and get the incentive for everyone who needs a vaccination. You can go to, to take advantage of that opportunity. And everyone, look, I'll just finish with this point. It's the holidays we want to protect each other, we want to get together with our loved ones, do it in a safe way. We all know the smart things to do because we've been through this now for two years. But the number one way to keep everyone safe is to get vaccinated. So, if you haven't gotten that booster shot, go out right now and do it, makes a big difference. Go get it right away. Get that $100 incentive.  
All right, now I have the opportunity today to honor someone who really epitomizes the resiliency of New York City, the strength of New York City, the spirit of New York City. This is a time given everything we've been through these last two years, I like celebrating our heroes. I like celebrating the folks who are or quintessential New Yorkers. I like to remind us of who we are and how strong we are, because of everything we're going through and we continue to go through. But I have no doubt of where we're going because New York City always finds our way through. And a lot of times we get stronger even though we don't wish for any crisis like this, a lot of times we get stronger in the process. So, he recently did an extraordinarily powerful documentary called New York City Epicenters. And looked at everything we've been through with COVID and before that with the tragedy of 9/11. And his voice is one of the truest voices of all New Yorkers. The way he understands our city, loves our city, sees into our neighborhoods and our lives. And I have to say as a Brooklynite, I'm particularly proud and just moved by the way he's portrayed Brooklyn over the years. And the love he shows in his portrayals.  
And he shows the tough realities we face too with a really clear eye. And that has been moving to a lot of us and inspiring to so many of us. So, he's won every award there is. So, I don't need to list all of them. He's someone who has show own incredible loyalty to this city and love for this city. So much so that regardless of what's happening, he remains a Knicks fan, through thick and thin. And I admire – that is persistence. Let me tell you, thick and thin. I think there's been a lot of thin, but he's still the most energetic of fans. I could go on all day about all he's done, but I want to take a break from what I have to say to turn to someone who loves him, loves his work, has for years said to me that he portrays the culture of the city and this nation in a way that almost has never been achieved by anyone else in film or any other medium. And Chirlane McCray and I, when we started dating, one of the first things we did was we went to a Spike Lee film. So, we feel deeply what this man has done for all of us. And let me turn for her comments, to the First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray.  
First Lady Chirlane McCray: Thank you, Bill. And hello, everyone. This is a good day. It's very rare an artist comes around who can shake an entire system to its core. An artist with a conscience, who interprets our world and reflects it back to us. An artist who just doesn't open a door, but kicks it down, making a path for others. Spike, thank you for telling stories about Brooklyn, our Black and brown people, our city like no one else dared to. Thank you for challenging the status quo. Thank you for using your talent to say what needed to be said when no one else would do it. I can't think of anyone who captures the culture like you. You have it all down. The hustle and the charm, the rush and the dry and the word dances people speak. You put it all on screen. The fast beating heart that is our city. You show it with raw truth telling and compassion. No one does it like you, Spike. You got game. Congratulations. You earned that Key to the City.  
Mayor: Beautifully done. Chirlane, you outdid yourself. You can see the poet coming out there. You know, so everyone, we're going hear from him, but I just want to say giving out the Key to the City is a profound honor. And many great people have won this honor over the years because they did extraordinary things, but I can safely say no one has portrayed our city more truly, more from the heart in a way that both demands better of us and tells us how good we are in our souls. No, one's done it better than Spike Lee. So, it is my profound honor on behalf of all New Yorkers, to present the Key to the City to Spike Lee. It unlocks everything. The floor is yours.  
[Mayor de Blasio presents the Key to the City of New York:]  
Mayor: That's it. That's the perfect way to describe us. Everyone, thank you. Thank you, Spike. And everyone, I just – when I hear Spike talk, I just get reminded of our strength. I really do. And how we see our way through.  
All right. So, now we're going to go back to talking about how we fight off COVID and move through. Thank you, Spike. Very, very Merry Christmas. Happy holiday. Beautiful. Oh, look at this. Here we go. We're going to do a little – signed, that's cool. Signed even. Okay. Thank you, brother. All right. Merry Christmas, brother.  
Okay. Every day we go over our indicators. Let's do it again today. And again, number one, this is the key, vaccination. And this number keeps climbing. We need to climb more. So, doses administered to date, 12,988,773. That number's going to hit 13 million very soon and then keep going. But now we start to see the numbers that tell us just how fast moving Omicron is and what an impact it's making. Number two daily, number of people admitted to New York City hospitals, for a suspected COVID-19. Today 200 patients as of today, confirmed positivity, 50.24 percent. Hospitalization rate per 100,000 New Yorkers is now 1.93. So, these numbers have moved a lot. Again, our hospitals are doing very, very well addressing it, but this is going to be an intense few weeks. We got to get ready for that. And then number three, new reported cases on a seven-day average, and this is really striking, the case numbers have jumped up obviously, 9,297 cases. And that will continue to rise over the next few weeks. Where you are going to have to get ready for that in a lot of ways. But the most important thing, the reason New York City is ready is the high level of vaccination already. We got to double down on that. Okay, going to do a few words in Spanish and this on the incentives for the booster.  
[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish:]  
With that. Let's turn to our colleagues in the media. Please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.  
Moderator: Good morning. We will now begin our Q and A. As a reminder, we are joined by Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi, Dr. Ted Long, Executive Director of the New York City Test and Trace Corps, and Dr. Mitch Katz, President and CEO of New York City Health + Hospitals. Our first question for today goes to Aundrea Cline-Thomas from CBS.  
Question: Good morning, everybody. And happy holidays.  
Mayor: Happy holidays. How are you doing, Aundrea?  
Question: I'm great. Thank you. Mr. Mayor, your vaccine mandate for City employees in October required proof of at least one dose of the shot. Has your administration followed up to ensure that City workers are now fully vaccinated? And will you issue a booster mandate or urge Mayor-elect Adams to do so in light of the Omicron variant?  
Mayor: Yeah. Aundrea, thank you very much for the question. And I'll turn to Dr. Katz, so he can speak about the experience with his agency, with Health + Hospitals in terms of that follow up to make sure people get that second dose, the answer there is decidedly, yes. The idea was get that first dose immediately if you hadn't gotten it. But then there is a stipulated timeline to make sure you get your second dose when you're under one of those mandates. And to the other part of your question, we're certainly looking at the question of adding boosters, we are in discussion on that. We will be in discussion certainly as well with the Mayor-elect and his team. We don't have a decision on that yet, but we'll have more to say in the days ahead. But as to how we make sure that on the current mandate people get, not just the first, but the second dose, Dr. Katz, why don't you describe the experience you've had?  
President and CEO Mitchell Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals: Yes, sir. We track with everyone, when they get their first dose, when their second dose is due. We remind them and just as people were required to get the first dose, they are required to get the second dose. And if people do not get that second dose, we do require that they stop coming to work until they get that second dose. So, we are very tight on that. We feel very strongly that once people are due for the second dose, they have to get it. I will say, sir, that it's much easier, we have not had much issue with people getting the second dose. People have needed reminders, but we have not had any experiences of people who absolutely felt they couldn't get a second dose once they had already gotten a first dose. Thank you, sir.  
Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Aundrea.  
Question: What about this $100 booster incentive? How much money do you have to spend for this initiative and where is it coming from? Does it affect any other programs?  
Mayor: No, Aundrea. It does not affect other programs. Obviously, everything when it comes to fighting COVID is a budget reality and a budget necessity. We make it a priority in terms of where we spend the people's money to fight COVID first, because that opens up the door to recovery and everything else. So, it will not affect any other initiative. This is a limited time, but we hope a lot of people take it up because it will be money well spent. So, we're talking about from today through December 31st, and we will simply make it a priority to spend whatever it takes. We need to get the folks to get these boosters. That will be the difference maker.  
Moderator: Our next question goes to Andrew Siff from NBC.  
Question: Hi, good morning. Can you guys hear me?  
Mayor: Yes, Andrew, how are you doing today?  
Question: Good. I wanted to start with a question about schools. We are hearing from principals, parents, and others that they're not getting clear answers from the situation room about a growing number of COVID positives in the schools. And many describe it as a confusing reality. They don't know if schools, if any individual schools close anymore? If there's a hesitancy on the part of the City to close the school, even if there are dozens of positives there? Can you clarify what's happening with the situation room and what's happening with schools right now?  
Mayor: Absolutely. We have doubled the staffing of the situation room. We're applying the rules we've had over the last few months consistently. We have four schools that are closed out of 1,600. We have hundreds of classrooms closed, but that's out of 48,000 classrooms. So, we definitely see an uptick in terms of cases, but again, against a backdrop of a school system that has, you know, the highest conceivable level of vaccination in terms of the adults, and a huge number of health and safety measures. So the school system, the amount of COVID in the schools is about, you know, one fifth, the amount you're seeing in the rest of the city. We've got today, tomorrow, Thursday, and then of course there's the winter break. So things are moving, I’m going to turn to Dr. Chokshi who spent a lot of time working on the connection to schools and making sure that the policies we have used really keep schools safe and he can speak to what we're seeing overall in the schools right now. Go ahead, Dr. Chokshi.  

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you very much, and sir, I would just add briefly, you know, we are seeing cases increase across the city, as you know. We're seeing community spread and that does affect what we're seeing in our schools as well. But remember, this is why we put all of those layers of safety precautions in place in our schools, the levels of vaccination, masking, distancing where it's possible, testing, all of these things work in concert to make schools among the safest places where kids and staff can be. We do bring to bear our tools around quarantine when necessary school closures when we are seeing evidence of transmission occurring in schools, and because cases are higher we have seen an increase in using those mechanisms as well, although as the Mayor has pointed out, the vast majority of classrooms and the vast, vast majority of schools remain open so that our kids can benefit from the in-person learning that that provides. The last thing that I'll say is just to reemphasize, there's one really important thing that parents can do, particularly if you have a child who's five-to-11-years-old and that's to get them vaccinated. We do need to get those vaccination rates up because that will help both for the near term as well as the longer term. Thank you, sir.  

Mayor: Thank you, and Andrew, just before your second question, just an update. I had the number at the end of yesterday, as of this morning, it's actually seven schools close out of the 1,600, seven schools just to clarify by that. Go ahead, Andrew.  

Question: Yes. The question on the federal testing site, and you indicated we're going to be getting details on this later today, wherever it is, the Javits Center, whatever mass site, I wonder, what do you envision as to how effective that can be given that people have developed a pattern of going to get tested in their own neighborhood or near where they work, and do you think it's too late in terms of Christmas being just days away?  

Mayor: Oh, it's not too late at all, because it's not just about Christmas, obviously. It's about these next few weeks, and as best as possible getting ahead of it. The no –it's value add for sure. We want as many sites as we can get. I agree with you that with testing, like with vaccination, the best efforts are done at the neighborhood level, at the grassroots, that's how we reoriented everything to decentralize. You know, originally you'll remember the State had a lot of mega sites. We found people were not using those enough. We went to a different approach, really grassroots and decentralized, but given the high demand for testing, unprecedented because Omicron, more sites are better. And if folks are finding lines somewhere and they see another site where there aren't lines, they'll gravitate to the new site. So I'm very happy the federal government is doing this because more is more in this case.  

Moderator: Our next question goes to Emma Graves Fitzsimmons from the New York Times.  

Question: Hi, good morning, Mayor. I wanted to ask about holiday travel. So Dr. Chokshi said that he canceled his holiday travel plans. Dr. Varma said on Twitter that he was canceling his trip to the west coast. I unfortunately canceled my trip to Texas with my family. We all have young children who cannot be vaccinated or high risk relatives. Are you advising people not to travel out of town for Christmas?  

Mayor: I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi, and first thing, I'm sorry for you and your family, Emma, that you couldn't take the trip and especially painful because so many people been waiting for so long to see their loved ones. What, well, first thing I want to say, I'm the layman, and Dr. Chokshi will be the expert, but I want to speak to my fellow New Yorkers about think about those who are most vulnerable in your family. I think that's the best way to think about it. If you've got folks you're going to see, or folks who are traveling, who are in those particularly vulnerable categories, oldest New Yorkers or folks with serious preexisting conditions, obviously the most important thing is to keep them safe. If you have – if you're traveling with folks who are less vulnerable, that's a different reality, and as you said, if folks who can get vaccinated versus can't get vaccinated, whether people have gotten that booster, there's a lot of factors. So, I don't think it's one size fits all. I do think it's, you know, proceed with caution and think about the people I'm most vulnerable in your life, and Dr. Chokshi, now you can be the real expert.  

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir, and I agree as well. And first Emma, I'm also sorry to hear about it. I know many people have had plans upended, I hope you and your family still enjoy wonderful holiday season locally. Well look, these are my recommendations. I have a very clear and strong recommendation if you are unvaccinated, you should not travel. That's for your safety as well as the safety of others whom you'll be in contact with, on the other end of the spectrum, if you are fully vaccinated and you have your booster dose and you are not in one of the high risk categories then it is safe to travel if you take precautions, meaning wearing a mask at all times during your travel, you know, you can consider using a higher quality mask as you're doing so and of course the common sense precautions like washing your hands and taking other steps to protect yourself. It's the in between category where as the Mayor said, people do have to calibrate their individual risk and the most important consideration is the vulnerability either of yourself or the family members that you're traveling with. And I do advise caution if there's a borderline case, if you have any question and it is optional, then I would consider avoiding it at least for the next few weeks. Thank you.   

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Emma.  

Question: I also wanted to ask about your legacy on the budget. So, the budget has grown to $100 billion during your tenure and the highest workforce ever. The New York Post said that you were leaving Eric Adams, a fiscal nightmare including programs like 3-K that won't have funding in a few years. So, how do you sort of view your budget legacy?  

Mayor: I think when we talk about pre-K and 3-K, for example, these were absolutely necessary for the children and families of this city and for our future. If we didn't focus on early childhood education, we were going to in so many ways deprive our children and we weren't going to address income inequality if we didn't do those things. So look, I came here to address income inequality. I came here to change the lives of families. We had to do that. And you know what happens in the future is if something's truly a priority then that's where the first resources go and that's what needs to happen. The fact that the City of New York before our administration was not spending resources on early childhood education was absolutely missing the mark. So, a lot of the changes we've made will become the highest priorities in the budget. Second of all, what we've done over these last eight years and obviously hugely disrupted by a global pandemic, but the whole idea was to build a stronger city in every sense, stronger social of fabric, a more fair and equal city, but also a stronger economy. You know, in the time I was Mayor up to the pandemic, we added half a million jobs that also brought in a huge amount of revenue. We made this a more diverse economy, strengthening tech, strengthening life sciences, we're going to continue to do that in the future, based on what we've started. That's going to help bring in the revenue to make these initiatives sustainable. So, I feel that we're handing off to Eric Adams exactly the kinds of approaches that are needed for the city of the future.  

Moderator: Our next question goes to Elizabeth Kim from Gothamist.  

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I wanted to go back to something Dr. Katz said about how H + H is following up with its employees on whether they're getting that second dose and that if those employees don't get the second dose, they're asked not to report to work. I'm wondering if the same level of due diligence is be being done by the DOE?  

Mayor: Yeah, Elizabeth, this is something that's been across – thank you for the question – it's been across all our agencies, that the mandate was clearly from the beginning to get everyone fully vaccinated, and that started would get in that first dose. And obviously in terms of getting people to the first dose, it was wildly successful because 94 percent of the city workforce is now vaccinated. But we knew from the beginning that overwhelmingly anyone who got a first dose came back for a second dose, anyway, even if they didn't have a mandate. When it's a mandate, we obviously have a further tool to ensure they do. So, systematically across all our agencies, the instruction has been when someone gets to that point where they can get a second dose, it's time to remind them, put a timeframe to it in which they have to get it. If they don't get it, then remind them that there is the risk of a sanction and we're seeing people getting those second doses. That's the bottom line. Go ahead, Elizabeth.  

Question: My second question is about at home or self-administered tests. If my memory is correct, I remember that, you know, at the beginning of the school year around September, you and your health officials had kind of teased some potential news on at-home testing. And then later on I asked, you know, whatever happened to that news on at-home testing, and if I remember correctly, Dr. Chokshi said that they had been thinking about it, but they were uncomfortable with the fact that the city was using PCR testing in the schools, and then to introduce this other different antigen test, it would be apples to oranges. I'm wondering, given the fact that, you know, it seems like we're moving toward self-administer tests, whether the thinking on that is going to change after the holidays? And I'm wondering if the at-home tests also get around the low opt-in rates at some schools for testing?  

Mayor: Well really interesting question, Elizabeth, and thank you. And, you know, I will say the reality over time has been, one, trying to make sure that the testing we had was available, first and foremost, and trying to have a consistent approach. And so, you know, clearly at times we've had supply issues around at home tests among other challenges, but I think where you're going with your question is important. I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi, that, you know, we want to provide the options that are going to work and that people want to use, obviously. And when there's lines, the most obvious example in the world, when there's a line that's discouraging to people, if you can give them an at-home test, that's encouraging to get them to do it. If an at-home test empowers parents to get more information about how that kid is doing, that's good for everyone. So, I think over time we've seen this can be a great tool to use, but the challenge still is having reliable supply, and that's been obviously an issue in these last days that we don't have yet the kind of supply we ideally want to have. Dr. Chokshi, you want speak to the overall picture with at home tests?  

Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir. Thank you so much, and the most important point is the one that you made, which is that with an increase in supply there are more avenues available for us to use those rapid at home antigen tests, and we want to bring those to bear immediately given the unprecedented demand that we're seeing for testing. With respect to your thoughtful questions, Elizabeth, I did want to distinguish between two parts of at home testing. The first is have at home PCR testing, which thanks to Test and Trace and Dr. Long, we do already offer to close contacts and that includes students who are close contacts. So that has already happened over the last several months. But the other part of it is what we were talking about, which is a at home or sometimes called rapid antigen tests, which we also do want to expand the use of, but there are many different categories of that expanded use of which schools will be an important one, which again, when the supply increases, we expect to deploy more and more. Thank you.   

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead.   

Moderator: Our next question goes to Steve Burns from WCBS 880.  

Question: Morning, Mr. Mayor, how are you today?   

Mayor: Good, Steve, how you doing?   

Question: Doing well. First, I wanted to go back to the news from Washington, any indication at this point where those federal testing sites might be and what kind of scale they might be like, are we talking a tent on a street corner? Are we talking something like the Javits Center?  

Mayor: I know Dr. Long's been talking to Jeff Zients’ team and we'll see if he has any update on that. We are waiting for more details, obviously, but I will say to you, Steve, every bit helps and we welcome the help both in terms of the fixed testing sites, and we need a lot more of the at home test kits, so we need and we welcome any kind of federal help. Ted, you have an update on anything on the details of where and how big the sites will be.  

Executive Director Ted Long, NYC Test & Trace Corps: Thanks, Steve. We're in great conversations with the White House. They're sharing details with us every minute that goes by. As soon as we know, you will know.  

Mayor: There's an answer. Go ahead, Steve.  

Question: Thanks very much. And back to testing, I mentioned Sunset Park yesterday, the line today is probably about three hours again, you know, people desperate for a test freezing their butts off because there's no better option at this point. So, I mean to the layman, it just seems like this is a problem crying out for a much larger solution than just a, a few more sites here or there. Seeing some experts suggesting maybe we prioritize in-person testing for health care or essential workers and drastically ramp up home tests for everyone else. I mean, are there any more kind of expansive game changing solutions we can look at here? We just kind of stuck with this for the foreseeable future.  

Mayor: It's a really important question. I think we got to help people understand what's going on here and I'm going to turn to Dr. Katz in a second first and then Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Long, anything they want to add. Steve, I think there's sort of a – because this came up so fast and this was not what our health care team projected, we obviously expected Omicron to make a big impact, but not with this shocking speed. We have had to make adjustments very, very quickly, but the problem is when it comes to testing, there are just supply constraints, it's a reality because this level – we've never seen anything like this before. And remember testing's crucial, but job one is still vaccination. So our first and best efforts are placed on vaccination, and I want people to understand this because it is crucial, testing it really helps us, but vaccination is the real weapon to defeat COVID, and right now we're seeing more and more people coming forward for a first dose or second dose or a booster, and we need to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible. So, that's where our first energies and our first resources are going to go. But with testing, even though we're going to have 112 city sites up this week, and obviously a huge number of private sites, the demand is just unlike anything we've seen before and what would relieve it would be a large supply of at-home test kits, and we cannot get that at this moment from either the private market or federal or state government. We expect a big shipment to come in soon, but we don't have it at this moment. So, that's just a pure supply problem we're banging into. Last thing I'll say before I turn to Dr. Katz, there are test sites that don't have those lines, and I really want to urge people, if they're able, to track, you know, online, the places that don't have lines and if possible, get to sites, because there are still plenty of places where we're not experiencing what you're seeing in Sunset Park. Dr. Katz, you start.  

President Katz: Yes, sir. You're absolutely right. We're not having long lines at all of our sites. I'm sorry, we're going – to hear the Sunset Park is still having a long line and we're going to dispatch as soon as possible to Sunset Park to see if we can help. But other sites do not have long lines, and I would also tell people that due to the great efforts of the Test and Trace Corps, we've done double the number of tests that we were doing three weeks ago. Yesterday, I was talking with the head of Elmhurst Hospital and they did more tests yesterday than they've ever done. We have since, by going to virtual visits for our ambulatory areas, we've sent staff to all of our testing sites that all of the hospitals. I would encourage people if they can get to an H + H hospital because of the large size, they're much more likely to have a short wait and get that test done. But as you say, sir, so the ultimate solution is having the home test kits that work for us well, when we had long line. We would send someone to offer tests to people starting at the back of the line. We found that people accepted those tests, and ultimately, as soon as we get those tests, we feel the situation will get markedly better. Thank you, sir.  

Mayor: And Dr. Katz, thank you. And I want to, for the sake of Steve's point – and thank you, Steve, for telling us about the Sunset Park problem, we really appreciate when our colleagues in the media alert us to a problem. I want to amplify, Mitch, the importance of getting additional mobile units or additional personnel to that site to leave some of that pressure. So, I know you're focused on it. But I just want to say publicly to Steve, that's our game plan right now to try and improve things at that site quickly.   

President Katz: We're on it, sir.   

Mayor: Thank you very much. Dr. Chokshi, do you want to add?  

Commissioner Chokshi: I will just add very briefly to say that as soon as the supply of rapid self-tests arrives in New York City, we have an assembly line to get it to all of the sites, all of the City sites to be able to help with those lines that we're seeing. So, we have a plan in place for that as soon as there is a resupply. Thank you.  

Mayor: Thank you very much.  

Moderator: Our next question goes to Paul from the Staten Island Advance.  

Mayor: Paul, can you hear us? Paul?  

Moderator: We lost Paul.   

Mayor: Well, we’ll come back to Paul.  

Moderator: Our next question goes to Reuvain from Hamodia.  

Mayor: We'll come back to Paul soon as we can get him. Go ahead.   

Question: Good morning.   

Mayor: Hey, Reuvain.  

Question: Hi. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. I would like to ask, for years, social justice activists have pointed to the issue of disparate impact when determining whether a certain policy was racist. So, regardless of the intent, the question was whether it impacted minorities disproportionately. Right now, 64 percent of black adults are vaccinated, that's an increase of one percent from last week. That means in one week from now, 36 percent of black adults will be unemployable in this city. Doesn't that make this a racist policy?  

Mayor: No. Thank you for the question. And you raised this, I think, last week. Again, people respond to mandates. Look at our City workforce. Many, many of the people who are part of our workforce, as you said, Black adults – well, obviously, that's a lot of the folks who work at Health + Hospitals and many other City agencies who, when the mandate came effect, overwhelmingly, went and got vaccinated. You're talking about the overall workforce at 94 percent, Health + Hospitals at 95 percent. So, the jury has come back, Reuvain. People respond to mandates and they do get vaccinated. So, this is how we help make sure it happens for everyone. Go ahead.  

Question: Mr. Mayor, as I mentioned in my question – I know, I did ask it last week and you said that you thought people would go get vaccinated, because of this mandate. But there was – in more than a week, the rate of Black adults getting vaccinated has gone up one percent, from 63 to 64. So, I'm not sure how you could say that there's going to be a big increase. But I do have to move on to my second question and it's for Dr. Chokshi. You've mentioned, Dr. Chokshi, that even if people are vaccinated, even if they do get – that once people are vaccinated, even if they do get infected, it'll likely to be a relatively mild case. I'd like to ask Dr. Chokshi, do you have similar data for natural immunity? That if people get infected after having a prior infection, will their case be more mild than a first-time infection? Do you have that data? And if no, why not?  

Mayor: Dr. Chokshi, go ahead.  
Commissioner Chokshi: Yes. Thank you, sir. Thanks, Reuvain. You've also asked this question previously, and the short answer is this – we do know that prior infection confers some degree of immunity and protection, you know, not just from data that that we have in the United States, but from around the world, that seemed to be more true before Omicron came about, meaning that because of Omicron's greater ability to evade the immune system, someone who has only had prior infection and is not vaccinated is at much higher risk for a reinfection and potentially a severe reinfection, although we do not have rigorous data on that from around the world just yet. And so, the upshot is that my public health recommendation remains the same. For anyone who was previously infected, I recommend that you get vaccinated, and Omicron has underlined the urgency of doing so. Thank you.  

Mayor: Amen. And I hear are we, unfortunately, have lost Paul from Staten Island Advance. I think we have two more left. Go ahead.   

Moderator: That's right. Our next question goes to Nolan Hicks from the Post.  

Question: Hey. Good morning, everybody. Is this thing on?   

Mayor: Hey.   

Question: Yes, I'm here. Can you hear me?   

Mayor: Yeah. How are you doing, man?  

Question: I'm all right, Mr. Mayor. How are you?   

Mayor: Good.  

Question: I just – I have a couple of clarifying questions and I’d just like to just run through them real fast. The hundreds of school classrooms are closed, is there a hard figure for that?  

Mayor: Yeah. The one I have here, 359.  

Question: All right. Thanks Mr. Mayor. I, like so many New Yorkers, have depended on Health + Hospitals for testing – coronavirus testing throughout the pandemic. And I'd just like to take a couple of seconds to, sort of, go over, sort of, my experience yesterday, trying to get a test, if you'll indulge me. So, I went to the old Cumberland Hospital in Fort Green. The line was, give or take, an hour long. There weren't any of the rapid tests available for folks who needed to come or go. At Cumberland, it's open for testing from nine till 3:30 PM. So, anyone who needs to come in before work doesn't really have an option. Anyone who wants to come in after work doesn't really have an option. And you have to, sort of, schedule your test in the midst of the school day and in the midst of the work day, which is hugely inconvenient for a lot of folks. Additionally, the Cumberland testing site is the only publicly run walk-in testing facility for Fort Greene, for Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Dumbo, Prospect Heights, and a whole slew of other parts of, sort of, the waterfront and, sort of, the western sections of Brooklyn. And you know, you guys keep talking about how it's important that folks who need a test go to the publicly-run sites, but for this vast swath in Brooklyn, just to use it as an example, it's hugely inconvenient. So, I guess the question is, we're two years into the pandemic. You are treating the City-run sites as, sort of, the option that folks should opt for and yet it seems like they're hugely unavailable. Is this the best we can do?  

Mayor: Well, thank you for sharing the experience, because this is exactly what we need to keep hearing and adjusting to. And, obviously, look, we have people out all over observing what's going on, making adjustments, but hearing from the media helps as well. So, by this week, we're going to have 112 sites between the fixed sites and the mobile sites. We can keep working every day to increase that number, but the other thing we've said that will make a huge difference is the – having more and more available the test kits, because that gives people another option. We just haven't had that supply. As I've said, we've tried to get from the private market. We tried to get it from government. Hasn't been here yet. We really, really need it, and we need it quickly. But as I turn to Dr. Katz, who can answer in greater depth about what adjustments will be made, going forward, including things like hours and all, I want to remind you, Nolan, that, in the end, as much as testing is crucial, the first thing we need to do with our resources is focus on vaccination. I keep coming back to this. There are still a lot of people getting vaccinated and, in particular, a whole lot of people coming in for those boosters and hopefully the incentive will get even more. That is the strategic impact. We want people to get tests. We want it to be as convenient as possible. We want it to be as fast as possible. But the number-one thing we’ve got to do is get more people vaccinated. That's what's going to make the bigger difference to get us through these next weeks and beyond. Dr. Katz, why don't you respond to some of the details of what Nolan said?  

President Katz: Yes. Nolan, I'm sorry that it wasn't a better experience at our facility yesterday. I will say that many of the private facilities are reporting three-hour waits, not one-hour waits. And that part of why the Mayor always urges people to go to public sites is that we have the fastest turnaround for results, that we get results to people on average in 24 hours. Obviously, no matter how short the wait time is, if you're not getting your results for three days, it really impairs the ability of the test to change behavior and to enable people to seek the right treatments and isolation if necessary. What we are doing – and it will be seen as early as today – is we are at sites like Cumberland, where we normally have in-person visits. We are switching all of the visits to virtual visits so that the doctors will continue to see the patients virtually, but then we will have the registration staff and the nursing staff all working the testing sites at places like Cumberland. And that's going to allow us to both extend the hours and shorten the wait time. So, starting today, that's in place. Again, as the Mayor has said, having home kits makes a huge difference, because we can then go through the line and offer people those home kits, shorten the line. People can then use us for when they really need to get that PCR. Thank you, sir.   

Mayor: Thank you.Go ahead, Nolan.  

Question: Thanks, Mr. Mayor. If I could just [inaudible] sort of, other observations about this, if you'll just indulge me. And then, I have a second question. If you were to go to the City's testing website,, which you suggested folks visit on a fairly regular basis, there is an active map of locations that are in theory available in the city. But that interactive map frequently does not include the mobile sites that are either contracted out by the Health Department or Health + Hospitals, does not include the by-appointment rapid testing sites also run by the Health Department, nor does it provide any way to sort out what is a privately run testing site and a publicly run testing site. And, to me, it's just sort of remarkable that, again, two years into the pandemic, we don't have a, you know, sort of, coherent hub for all the City-run testing facilities online. But to the emergence – and if that could be addressed or fixed, I think that that would help a lot of folks, especially if you're trying to push them towards getting testing through the City-run labs. But, sort of, additionally for everybody who's getting sick now, I was wondering, is there any update to the guidance on what folks should do when they do get sick? Is the quarantine still expected to be 10 days? Should folks, even if they're, you know, testing positive, but asymptomatic stay at home? How has the new variant changed the guidance in terms of what folks do, should they test positive?   

Mayor: Yeah. And I would say – I'll turn to the doctors on the first piece. I think on the second piece, the guidance is the same. It's just very, very clear, that 10-day quarantine. But let's focus – and, obviously, if any of the doctors want to add on the guidance, that's great. But let's focus on your first question, which is very important about the clarity of the information we're putting out to the public and whether it is inclusive of the sites, including the mobile sites. So, I'll start with Dr. Katz, and then Dr. Chokshi, Dr. Long join in. In terms of how much and how clear the information we're putting out is, and any adjustments we need to make, starting with Dr. Katz.  

President Katz: Thank you, sir. And I'll go right after I presser and look again at the site. I've been to it, but I'm going to look again given these questions. It is a true statement, we do not have the mobile units on the website, because we keep them in movement. They don't stay in the same place in any given day. And so – I mean, I don't know that that's a fixable issue. We deliberately move them, especially when we hear of another site that is overwhelmed. One of our first actions is to look to see if there's a mobile site nearby that we can move to that other site. The website does show that it's a Health + Hospital site, or that it is a T2 site, or a DOHMH site. So, I'll go back and see if there's a way to make that clearer, but that information is on the website. And, again, my apologies to everyone that – we don't have more capacity right now, but we have a lot more than we had three weeks ago, and we're going to keep growing it until we fully meet New Yorker's needs. Thank you, sir.   

Mayor: Thank you. Dr. Long, you want to add?  

Executive Director Long: Yes, sir. Can you hear me?  

Mayor: Yeah. Dr. Long, go ahead.  

Executive Director Long: Yes, thank you. So, Nolan, I appreciate the question. Right now, just to the backdrop is, the interactive map includes all sites, because we want people to know what sites are nearest to them, but it's clearly demarcated, as you know, which are the T2 or H+H sites on the interactive map. And then, underneath it, we list all of our mobile units. They move around, so, therefore, the interactive map doesn't have them as fixed sites. If there's a better way to do it, all of the sites are on the website right there. So, that that's your source of truth 100 percent of the time, along with the correct hours. If there's a better way, we welcome more feedback. In addition, we also have our tracker for the wait times on our Test and Trace Corps. Sites, so you can see among our sites what makes the most sense in terms of wait so you can make your decision.   

Mayor: Thank you. And Dr. Chokshi, anything you want to add?  

Commissioner Chokshi: Just briefly to say, remember, you can also text COVID test to 85548 for people who may not, you know, be as ready and navigating the website. And you can also call 212-COVID-19 to help speak with someone who can navigate you as well. So, these are all different channels to be able to help access testing, because we know when someone is feeling sick, you know, they just need a little bit of help to figure out how to get to the right place. I'll also just briefly comment on the guidance. First, remember, it's isolation that applies to cases. And then, quarantine is for close contact. As the Mayor said, the guidance remains the same at this moment with respect to, if you are a case, meaning either you're symptomatic or you have been diagnosed with a positive COVID test, but are asymptomatic, the guidance is to isolate for 10 days. There is some scientific evidence that is emerging that may consider us to reevaluate that for people who are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, but we're are not quite there yet. And we'll, of course, continue to follow the science in making any updates. So, for now it's a 10-day isolation period.  

Mayor: Thank you very much.   

Moderator: Our last question for today goes to Juliet Papa from 1010 WINS.  

Question: Good morning, everybody. And I have a question actually for Dr. Chokshi. You mentioned that you do have this assembly line plan in the works to distribute the at-home test. So, how would that work? Would people online get the test or would you have to actually enter the facility to pick up the kit? How do you want to distribute that?  

Commissioner Chokshi: Certainly. Well, I'll start, sir, and Dr. Long may have something to add here as well. But briefly, by assembly line, I was I was speaking more to the fact that as soon as the tests arrive in New York City we'll be able to get them rapidly disseminated across our City sites so that they're available to distribute to people particularly when there are longer lines. And when that happens, yes, it would be for people who come to a City site, particularly where we're seeing that, you know, the demand is greater and staff would be able to work down the line and distribute those rapid test kits for anyone who wants one.   

Mayor: Thank you. Dr. Long, you want to add?  

Executive Director Long: Yeah, just to draw out the point, because it's an important question, Juliet. If you come to one of our sites and there is a line, you can choose to wait in the line or you'll be able to walk away with a home test kit. Whatever makes the most sense for you, we'll serve everybody.  

Mayor: Excellent. Go ahead, Juliet.  

Question: Great. Thank you. And again, this is for your health experts. Being that this variant keeps evolving into something different and more transmissible or whatever, what are your concerns down the road? Do we see another variant coming down the pike and what could that mean or how – how would that – how would it operate or how would it affect people?  

Mayor: Okay. This is – you are asking a big, big question there, Juliet. And I'll start and then turn to Dr. Katz and Dr. Chokshi. Look, I think, one, that you’re right to say, one of the things we've learned in the COVID era is expect the unexpected. So, no one can say with assurance whether there's going to be more variants or how they're going to act. But, at the same time, I want to emphasize what the eternal truths are here, and we've seen this for the whole two years. The basics really matter, everything from washing your hands, and using hand sanitizer, to using masks, social distancing, all the fundamental things have had a huge positive impact. And then, the number-one reality is vaccination. So, whatever we've seen, every single time, the answer has been vaccination and going deeper and deeper into vaccination. That's why we're doing the booster incentive over these next days, because we need to get people maximally vaccinated. That's what makes the difference. So, I think it's right to say, you know, could there be more up ahead? Yeah, and we always have to be ready for it. But I think the strategy is essentially the same over the course of the whole two years. And once we got vaccination, that was the game changer. We still need to maximize vaccination. That would be my summary of how to approach things. Dr. Chokshi, then Dr. Kaz.  

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you so much, sir. And I agree. First, I would just say, you know, as you've heard from us before, we feel a lot of humility in the face of the coronavirus. We – this team, together has now faced four waves. And the virus has proven wily and formidable, you know, and has shifted course. But what I'll say is that we have met the challenge at every turn and we've done so with the notion that we have to be even more relentless than the virus is. So, that's why we've taken all of the steps that we have in recent days. That's why we had such an aggressive focus on vaccination, which helped us get to that remarkable level of over 71 percent of all New Yorkers fully vaccinated and over 90 percent of all adults with at least one dose. So, we have to remain prepared and see what else is around the corner. But we are positioning ourselves to be in the best possible place to do so. The last thing that I'll say just from in the scientific perspective is that the best way to keep more variants from emerging is, once again, vaccination. That's why we're emphasizing it for New York City. And we have to think about that across the country and across the world as well. Thank you.  

Mayor: Thank you. Dr. Katz?  

President Katz: I want to do a quick update. There will be an additional unit at Sunset within 60 minutes. It's already dispatched. So, we apologize to the people who are at that site and hope that with the additional unit the line goes down quickly. To just add to what both of you have said, I fully agree with all of what the two of you have said. But I'll talk a little bit about the virus itself. The virus will always make errors as it reproduces. That's part of what viruses do. It reproduces itself and a certain number of errors occur. Those errors in replication are what are called mutations. Most mutations offer no advantage to the virus, and some of them make the virus nonviable, and those disappear. The mutations that are the most likely to stick around are those mutations that offer an advantage in transmission, that make the virus more likely to be able to transmit, and therefore to reproduce, because the virus doesn't really want to hurt us. The virus just wants to reproduce, wants to reproduce as much as possible. That's what it's code is telling it to do. So, yes, there's certainly can be more mutations. The mutations don't have to be more lethal despite what you see in science fiction films. The world survived the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. That same virus is still circulating. And now, it is not a harmful virus in the vast majority of cases. So, part of life is the mutation of viruses. And we stand ready to be defensive and protect New Yorkers, whatever this virus sends us. Thank you, sir.   

Mayor: Well explained, doctor. Thank you. And thank you for the quick action on Sunset Park as well. And, everyone, as we conclude I just want to express my thankfulness to our whole health care team, our health care leadership, and all the folks out at the front line, the vaccinators, the Test and Trace Corps., everyone – our health care heroes in our hospitals and clinics. These are folks working every day to protect us. And it's been a long, long mission, two straight years for a lot of them. But they keep coming back to do more for us. We can do something for them. Go get vaccinated, go get that booster. And, starting today, what a perfect time to get that booster, and you also get $100 dollars with it. So, everyone, let's help each other. Let's move this city forward out of the COVID era, get vaccinated, get boosted, move forward. Thank you, everyone.  


Media Contact
(212) 788-2958