Friday, May 8, 2020

MAYOR DE BLASIO on COVID-19 - May 8, 2020

Mayor Bill de Blasio: You know, sometimes I have talked about this virus like it has human characteristics, and I do that to get a point across, to help us understand our adversary. And even though we're fighting every day, it's important to never underestimate your enemy. So, if this virus had human characteristics, it would be a pretty clever virus. Clearly more than once has thrown the medical community a curve ball, and a lot to deal with all the time, especially because of what we don't yet know. But this virus is no match for a group of people who are much more clever in that is New Yorkers. This virus has met its match in fact, in this city more and more. What we've seen from New Yorkers is an extraordinary commitment to a winning strategy of social distancing, and shelter in place, and face coverings, all the things that are clearly working, but they would not work if people were not so devoted to them. And overwhelmingly that's what we've seen around this city. It is not easy to do these things. This may be the single-hardest place in the United States of America to implement those kinds of strategies, for us to live in that way, and yet you have been doing it, all of you in such an amazing, impressive, extraordinary fashion.

I'm going to go over the numbers and take a look at them in the perspective of a whole week, and what we will see is real progress and what we will see is a winning strategy, and you are winning, but it is so important to never rest on your laurels. When you're winning in anything in life, in sports, and anything else, when you start winning, that's not the time to relax. That's not the time to take it easy or take your eye off the ball. When you start winning, it's time to double down, and make sure you keep winning. So, we're not resting on our laurels here in the city. The fact that we're going to go on the offensive against this disease here in this city, and everyone's going to be a part of it, and it's been working already to have everyone be at the same table. 8.6 million people in common cause, and in this next phase we're going to take that even farther.

So, let's start with going over the indicators. And again, it's Friday. On Fridays now, we're taking a look at a longer time frame. So, when we look at the daily number, indicator one, the daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19. Alright, this is just extraordinary. Look at that progress in such a short period of time. Again, we are probably the place on earth, or certainly in this country with the most challenges dealing with this disease. The biggest population packed into the smallest space, big buildings, an international travel hub as we saw, that's the origins of this disease here in this city. So, many things working against us, and you could see early on in this crisis what it meant in terms of the number of people each day going into the hospital. And now look how far we've come. So, most days lately we've been under a hundred new hospital admissions a day for COVID-19. That's amazing, but we are not out of the woods. And today's indicator – so you see the big picture – but now let's just talk about today's indicator – unfortunately, is up. Another day where we see the big picture is unquestionably good, but still day to day we're not where we need to be, we've got more work to do. So, unfortunately today's indicator is up from 79 to 102. Still overall much, much lower numbers, good sign in the bigger scheme of things. Not yet what we need to take the next step towards loosening restrictions. So, more work to do on that one.  Now, number of people in our public hospital ICU’s for suspected COVID 19. Again, the glass half full here is the improvement you can see clearly there. In the last few weeks, we've literally had over 300 fewer people in the ICU’s fighting for their lives. That number is really a crucial number, because it talks about the, the most extreme impact this disease has having. The folks in the ICU’s, are the ones facing the greatest threat. When that numbers going down, it really speaks to the heart and soul of this issue, the one we care about, saving lives. That number goes down, that means a lot more lives are being saved. A lot fewer people are in danger. But again, not yet where we need to be. Now, there's an uptick today by just one. I don't want to make more of that than I should. It went from 567 to 568. So, basically it break even, but we need that number to go down, and we need it to go down steadily, and we need to see fewer and fewer people fighting for their lives. So, progress overall today, we didn't get the progress we wanted.

Now, the one that might be sort of the biggest, obviously the biggest indicator in terms of the number of people it reaches and looking at the whole city. Percentage of people testing citywide positive for COVID-19. Now, this is going to be a number that is informed more and more by the fact that testing is coming on more and more each day. So, we're going to get a better and better picture the more testing we do. But you can see massive improvement. I mean, look where we were early on in that chart. Look at the stunning percentage of people are testing positive. Look where we are now, real progress. Today's number, progress as well from 16 percent down to 14 percent, that's great. More work to do, but that's a really good sign.

So, we are now going to take the next big step with this test and trace vision that is going to allow us to squeeze this disease, constrain it further. Remember, the disease flourishes when people who get it are not identified and spread it to other people. But this disease is put in a very bad place if more and more people are identified and isolated properly, their contacts are traced. Those people need isolation, or quarantine, or reach. The more knowledge, the more reach, the more ability to treat each person appropriately, the better off we are in fighting back this disease. Now, we've, the whole way through, not had the testing we needed or deserved, and it's still an issue. We're going to use every tool we have here to maximize testing, to maximize tracing, to change the trajectory even further in a favorable direction. And we put together a great team to do it, and this effort will be housed and will be led by the organization that's been throughout this fight nothing less than heroic, and that is our Health and Hospitals. The folks who have led the way in our public hospitals and clinics. The folks who have been at the front line fighting this enemy in a way that literally came to the attention of the whole country, of the whole world. I'll use the obvious example of Elmhurst Hospital. When I say Elmhurst Hospital, you're going to conjure up I think a vision of an extraordinary onslaught that that hospital took from this disease, but you should also conjure up the vision of heroes. People who fought back, people who had the wherewithal to hold the line. And our hospitals across the board, all 56 of them in this city, but particular respect for the 11 public hospitals and all the clinics, they held, no matter what was thrown at them, they held in this fight, and I have gained even more respect for the people in Health and Hospitals for the heroic role they have played.

So, considering that in this fight, New York City was the epicenter in this whole nation, and places like Elmhurst Hospital were the epicenter within the epicenter. It is such a statement on the strength and quality of the people at Health + Hospitals that they bore the brunt of the single biggest attack in the whole country by this disease, and they held and they fought back. They also, and I want to give a lot of credit to the folks at Health + Hospitals. They've been leading the way in so many other ways. They had to put together a huge new staffing plan, finding doctors, nurses, clinical staff, overnight, literally to fight back against this disease. They created the community testing program in the clinics literally in a matter of days. Everything at health and hospitals has been based on speed, and intensity, and precision, and they've done an amazing job. So, that is why it makes sense as we build this next effort to use that great leadership and that great organizational capacity of a huge, huge organization would reach into every part of the city, and have them lead the way on our new tool that we're bringing to bear in this fight. I am so happy to announce today the New York City test and trace corps. The New York City test and trace corps is going to be a dedicated group of trained individuals who will lead the way in creating testing and tracing on a level we've never seen before in this city or this country. And they are going to bring together a huge amount of expertise. The expertise of folks who have spent a lifetime in public service and in health care, but also the expertise gained from these last months fighting this disease at the front line.

The executive director of the Test and Trace Corps will be Dr. Ted Long. Dr. Long is Vice President of Ambulatory Care at Health and Hospitals. He oversees care at the 11 hospitals and 70 primary care clinics, this is the largest public hospital and clinic organization in the nation. This is the ultimate and Ted is the guy who oversees the day to day care to make sure that millions of New Yorkers get the help they need. He also led the way in putting together the community-based testing program over the last few weeks, literally in a matter of days creating grassroots testing all over the City. Ted has the experience and the knowledge and the spirit to lead this effort and I'm so thankful he's agreed to take on this assignment. Jackie Bray, Jackie Bray has done amazing work during this crisis and long before she will be the Deputy Executive Director of the Corps. She has been one of the unsung heroes with a great team of other unsung heroes and we're going to get a chance over the weeks and months ahead to really talk about the people who put together that amazing effort to get tens of millions of pieces of PPEs to our hospitals, our nursing homes, clinics, amazing efforts. Our first responders, you name it, Jackie was one of the ultimate leaders of that amazing effort that found PPEs all over the world, worked to get the federal government to get us more work to create more here in this City. The Chief Medical Officer will be Dr. Andrew Wallack. For more than two decades, Dr. Wallach has served at Bellevue and he knows our public health system in and out, and he understands the lives of New Yorkers and how to make sure they get what they need and how to create in real world circumstances. Bellevue is synonymous and revered all over the country, synonymous with practical front line medicine folks who deal with any challenge and somehow find a way. I first got to see that so vividly during the Ebola crisis and I got to tell you then, and now during the coronavirus crisis, folks at Bellevue are just tough as nails and they do not bend, and they do not break. Dr. Jay Varma, my Senior Advisor for public health. Jay brings a wealth of experience literally from all over the world. When you're talking to Jay and you ask him about certain realities we're facing with this disease, he'll tell you instantly about different ways he's understood this disease and other infectious diseases. And he'll reference the places he's been including Hubei Province in China, which is where this disease got its start. He's worked all over the world to understand how to fight back infectious diseases and he's renowned for his work nationally and internationally, but he also has a tremendous sense of New York City having served for seven years in the last administration as Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control, so, someone will bring so much to the table. And then, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, you've all seen and heard his good work during this crisis. He'll be advising this effort through his current role, of course, as Department of Health Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control – before fighting the coronavirus did extraordinary work in terms of reconceptualizing and helping to lead the fight against HIV and AIDS here in New York City. And he has been helping to lead the fight against the coronavirus from day one. So, someone who brings so much experience, but also so much creativity and good new thinking to the process, he'll be a key voice helping us build this unprecedented effort.

Test and trace and what this means. What it means is creating more and more testing all the time. Now we still have one hand tied behind our back because we're not getting the help we need from the federal government and we're still fighting for all the lab capacity we want, but unquestionably, we're going to be able to expand testing greatly. It means eventually being able to trace more and more, in our perfect world, every person who tests positive, we want to find everyone who is positive and then trace all of their close contacts. And then everyone needs help, you got to provide the help and that's what we'll do. So, someone who tests positive can they continue to see this disease through at home or they're in a place where they can isolate from the other members of their home or not? Do they need to be in a hotel? Do they need something more in the way of support to make sure they don't infect others? When you trace their contacts, the second question, someone was in close contact with three people. You interview those three people, those folks need to be tested, those folks need to be asked, can they isolate if they test positive, do they need a hotel room? If they need a hotel room, they're going to need a lot of support, medical support, food, laundry, you name it, this takes a big coordinated team to put all those pieces together.

We decided to call this the Test and Trace Corps because we wanted to make clear the word was chosen on purpose. By early June, we'll have 2,500 public health foot soldiers in this corps. So, it would take an entity that didn't even exist and the course of just weeks, it will be ramped up to 2,500 people to begin big number, but a necessary number to be able to build what we need to build that number will grow thereafter and keep growing as large as we need it to be. Now the same goes for testing, today our maximum daily capacity is hovered around 14,000, we need to go a lot farther. This team has guaranteed me that they will get the number up to a capacity of 20,000 tests per day by May 25th so basically in the next two weeks, and by that point we'll be using 33 community-based testing sites. Now, that's May 25th right around the corner, 20,000 tests per day, 33 testing sites, but that's just the beginning. This team is preparing to get us to the level of 50,000 tests per day and the goal is to have that in place in the next few months, 50,000 per day, 300 plus community sites and that will be both public health sites and working with private providers as well. When you get to the level of 50,000 tests a day, a hundred thousand every two days, a million every 20 days, you can see now we're starting to get into the kind of extraordinary levels we need, and we want to keep building all the time. So, the testing crucial at the beginning of it all, but now the tracing, think about what it means. A tracer needs to engage someone who tests positive, they have to say, who have you had close contact with in the last few days? Talk about all the places you've been, let's reconstruct it, then we have to find the people you had close contact with. We're going to use every tool we have, and I'm convinced we'll have a very high success rate identifying those contacts, tracking them down quickly. And then the whole process begins again with those contacts, if they test positive, everyone they've been in contact with in close contact in recent days, etcetera. In the next few weeks, as I said, we're going to build up rapidly, by later this month we'll be at a thousand contact tracers and folks working on the phone bank operation related to it. As I said, by early June 2,500 eventually we're preparing to get to a number of tracers and folks in the phone bank operation, so a corps that will reach between 5,000 and 10,000 individuals. So, this corps is going to be extraordinarily important and we're going to keep adding as many people as we need to get the job done.

I also had another conversation last night, which was also inspirational to me. One of the, I think the most impressive business leaders in America, Marc Benioff, of Salesforce. He's someone I've had the opportunity to get to know over the last few years and I think one of the business leaders in this country who has one of the strongest voices in terms of social conscience and what the business community needs to do to help the larger community. We talked about the work ahead with test and trace and Salesforce; his company is already doing this work with a number of States around the country. And we've agreed that we're going to work together and bring Salesforce into this effort - testing and tracing here in this city. Extraordinarily able company with the kind of technological vision and capacity to help make the test and trace approach as efficient and as far reaching as possible. Then they've been working closely with our information technology department DoITT and Commissioner Jesse Tisch, who's doing an extraordinary job on many different, addressing many different pieces of this crisis, but I want to thank Commissioner Tish and everyone at DoITT. We have called upon them many times in many ways and they've answered the call brilliantly, but the ability of our IT team to now bring in the talent of Salesforce, which will allow us to track every case, analyze the data constantly, keep the right information on each and every case, and manage the whole process efficiently. This is going to be a huge effort. Just think how it grows and grows over the weeks, but it's something that if we do right, continually will constrain this disease. So, Salesforce is coming on board in the next few weeks. Their effort will be up and running by the end of this month and a great thanks to Marc Benioff and everyone there. As we spoke, there was no question in my mind he believed this was a personal responsibility to support New York City. Also mentioned to you before Salesforce has done a whole lot in terms of getting donations of PPEs here to New York City to help our heroes and that's deeply appreciated as well.

Now, when we get to the reality of tracing people that will inevitably lead to folks who need to isolate and folks who sometimes won't be able to properly isolate in their own home. So, look if you live alone, you can isolate. If you live in the kind of home or apartment where there's enough space and you can be separated from other people in the home the right way - people are doing it all the time - that's fine, but there are many, many New Yorkers who live in such crowded circumstances that they simply couldn't isolate properly or they don't feel they could and they need support and that's why we're going to be leaning heavily into this isolation effort through the hotels. So, by June 1st, we'll have 1,200 rooms available specifically for this isolation effort, but we can build that number out very quickly anytime we need. Remember, it is not just here's a hotel room, have a nice day. It is we're going to get you to a hotel room, we're going to transport you, we're going to make sure that you have food, we're going to make sure you have medical care, we’re going to make sure you have laundry, whatever it takes and constant checking-in. Someone who is experiencing the disease we want make sure they're okay and if they need further care, we're going to get it to them. So, that hotel operation comes with a lot of support and all that has to be coordinated and individualized to the person. That's a key part of what the corps will do as well.

I want to talk to you about the way we're approaching social distancing because it has been unquestionably successful. So we're going to try a new approach and this is a beginning - this weekend - and we're going to try in a few places where we've had particular problems. It's something we can apply to more and more places if it works. We're going to experiment sometimes to try and get it right. And clearly, we've talked about this before. Our police officers are being asked to do something they never were originally trained for it. We're going to keep improving the training and the protocols because no one's had to do this before on this scale. But we know we had some parks last weekend that were more crowded than they should have been. And we know it wasn't just some [censored] individuals; it was really the physical reality of the park, so we want to do something different. So, for example, there are some places in Hudson River Park where we saw too many people too close together. Hudson River Park, Piers 45, 46 we're going to proactively limit the number of people who can be in any given area right there. We're going to have the NYPD working with other agencies from the very beginning of the day, limiting the number of people who go in. Obviously offering people face coverings as well and keeping an eye to make sure the number of people never reaches too high a point and when it does, obviously asking people to move out and make more space - make sure there's turnover. We're going to try that approach, see if that gets us where closer to where we need to be. Domino Park, Williamsburg, another place where we've had problems; we're going to intensify the enforcement and monitoring there to make sure the numbers are kept smaller as well. This is what we'll do to get started and try this out. We think that limiting access at the beginning make sense, helps us to stop problems before they begin. Helps us to educate people from the beginning there has to be limited time and turnover. Why? Why are we doing this? Because it saves lives and that's what we're going to tell people from the beginning. 

This is also about saving lives, fighting back this disease, protecting our essential workers, but also protecting some of those vulnerable among us - homeless New Yorkers. We've talked about the subway initiative, what we've been doing with the state of New York, the MTA the last few days. Something we'd never seen before in the history of city, the cleaning out of the subways each night, making sure they're safe and clean. So, we continue to see unbelievable hard data, hard evidence of the positive impact this is having on our ability to reach homeless folks, get them support, get them services, get them to come into a safe, supportive environment. I told you about the last couple of nights. Last night, 163 homeless individuals accepted help. So again, the 163 out of 269 people are engaged. Now, we've had three nights in a row where more than 50 percent of the people engaged, accepted help. This is a very, very striking reality – 163 accepted help, 148 went to shelter, 15 went to hospitals. We have never seen anything like this. I have been working on issues of homelessness now for literally 20 years since I was Chairman of the Jail General Welfare Committee in the City Council going back all the way to 2002. We have never seen results like this in our history; that this many people accepted services and came-in in a single night and it’s happened three nights in a row. This is amazing; this is beyond anyone's expectation. This is good news and it's pointing us in a really powerful direction. So again, totaling the last three nights, 520 homeless New Yorkers have accepted help, have agreed to come in to safe havens and shelters or go to medical facilities; 520 people in three days – it's breathtaking. So again, a thanks to everyone involved. 

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