Friday, May 15, 2020

MAYOR DE BLASIO on COVID-19 - May 15, 2020

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. You know, we're going to look back on these times and we're going to remember them very, very deeply. And I think there's going to be a story written, a story told of what happened here in New York City and how the people of New York City responded to this unprecedented crisis. And I think it's going to be a story that is filled with a lot of heroism, a lot of selflessness, a lot of compassion, a lot of teamwork and certainly it's going to be a story of people adapting in ways we never could have imagined and with lightning speed, because remember 8.6 million people, all of us together here in one place – and not that big a place, meaning there's not a lot of room, but there's a whole lot of people. We had only days to change our lifestyle, to adapt to a whole set of new realities and New Yorkers did amazing things in those days and continue to.

Now, this is going to be a different summer than any summer we've experienced in the history of New York City. And a lot of the things that we love about summer – we love barbecues, picnics, ballgames, going to the beach, all sorts of things. Those things are going to be different for the foreseeable future and there's a lot of things that we would look forward to doing that we can't yet do. Doesn't mean that's a judgment on the whole summer yet, we're going to take this day by day, week by week, but we know right now the lot of the things that we would look forward to doing, starting right away, we're just not ready for. But what we can guarantee is the heat is coming no matter what. And last year we saw some very sobering reality around the heat. It was the 10th hottest July in recorded history in New York City, and you remember those particularly hot days. It's not only uncomfortable, it's not only going to be a challenge in terms of social distancing and everything else we're dealing with, it can be dangerous unto itself. The heat itself, we've learned more and more of the hard way, can be dangerous. We're seeing this all over the country, all over the world. Obviously, because of global warming, things are changing and we're seeing a kind of heat we haven't seen before so much and we take it seriously. We understand the lives on the line. So, we're putting forward today the beginning of a plan to protect New Yorkers – these are the first steps, more to come – and this is all about protecting New Yorkers and helping them through the summer as comfortably as possible and as safe as possible.

So, we have three goals for our summer heat plan. First, protect the health and safety of the most vulnerable. Second, give New Yorkers safe, positive cooling options, different in many cases than what we've known in the past. Third, prevent power outages and, God forbid, they happen, be able to respond to them quickly. I'll go through each of them now. Protecting the most vulnerable – okay, so in every crisis we work to save everyone, protect everyone, protect the health, protect their safety, but we know some people bear the brunt in the heat. It is those who have the least ability to provide options for themselves who are the most vulnerable. Who is that? Many times that's our seniors, many times that's lower-income New Yorkers who don't have air conditioning. It's people who can't leave their home even if they wanted to because of disability or other challenges. It's folks who have chronic health conditions, certainly mirrors a lot of what we're seeing in terms of the impact of the coronavirus, but the heat has elements that allow us to hone in on those who need help the most and literally know person by person, department by department, who are some of the people that need the most help, and that's guiding us in our strategy to proactively get help to people and protect them against any heat wave that might be ahead. So, I'm going to go over some of the key elements of how we will protect the most vulnerable New Yorkers. First, we're going to be providing more and more a growing initiative to provide free air conditioners to low-income seniors who need them. Again, remember, senior citizens often with the fewest options, sometimes limited mobility, a lot of times lower income. These are the folks who are in the most dangerous situation. Many have major preexisting health conditions. Knowing that low-income seniors are the most vulnerable, we're going to start initiative right away to get them air conditioners. We're going to have 74,000 air conditioners in the first wave of this initiative, 22,000 of which will go to residents of public housing. We're going to identify the individuals need the most working with our colleagues at NYCHA public housing, at the Department for the Aging, our housing department, HPD and the Human resources administration, so we'll identify those who need help the most, we'll reach out to them, confirm that an air conditioner makes sense for them, and then we'll begin installations. Those installations will start next week. This is a $55 million investment and $20 million of it will come from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority – NYSERDA. And we are very, very appreciative to everyone at NYSERDA, everyone at the State government for their participation in this effort. It’s absolutely going to protect our seniors and help save lives no matter what mother nature throws at us. The remainder of the cost is – it’s an area of a public investment that is eligible for federal reimbursement. We want to make sure that we get those federal grants to offset the cost.

Second, we want to help lower income New Yorkers with summer utility bills. Now, look, first of all, summer utility bills go up in general. This summer, they could go up a lot more because more and more people are staying home sheltering in place. On top of that, you have so many people who have lost their livelihood. So, we want to focus on people who are struggling to pay the bills and we want to make sure that it can stay safe and stay cool and have the air conditioning they need. So, right now, there are almost half a million New Yorkers who get a subsidy for their air conditioning needs from the New York State public service commission – that's fantastic and we appreciate that. We are petitioning the public service commission to double its current commitment and that would mean for the average customer $160 more typically to help them defray the costs and help them have the air conditioning they need. So, for so many working people, lower-income people, particularly people who've lost their paycheck, this could be a lot of what helps them get through the summer both safely and in a way that helps them pay the bills. Now, again, some of this involves partnership with the State and we are very, very appreciative for all the things that we're doing together to protect lives. New York State gets a home energy funding from the cares act. We're going to reach out to the State and see if this is another area we can team up to magnify the amount of people we can reach.

So, we've got to keep people cool to protect their lives and their safety, but we also have to have cooling centers that work for this moment in history. So, we're going to be looking at a number of locations, particularly locations that are larger and allow for social distancing and we're going to be making sure they are places where seniors and folks who are vulnerable can go and be comfortable and have some things to do during those hot days. Again, lots of space will be needed. So, some of the traditional cooling centers will work, but some won't. So, we're going to be looking at libraries, we're going to looking at large community centers gyms, sports venues, auditoriums, arenas, you name it – places that will afford us some bigger open spaces that we can turn into cooling centers, of course, with social distancing, with the right use of PPEs and face coverings. And we want to make sure that there's something to do. If people going to be there all day, especially if it's days in a row, we want to make sure there's programming and things for people that do, particularly if it's families coming in with kids, we want good things to keep those kids entertained, but that are also safe. So, that's the cooling centers.

Second, we're going to be focusing on a variety of ways to cool people and keep people hydrated, this is so much, so much a crucial piece of protecting health and safety in a heatwave is hydration. So, first of all, we know that some of the things that people traditionally do, the beaches and the public pools, that's not in the cards right now. Again, we'll see what the future brings, but not right now. But what our Parks Department will do is create misting oasis – I think that's a beautiful phrase – that misting oasis and spray showers. So, new opportunities just to get people some cooling water on them and keep them cool kids in particular in the middle of summer. And there's a plan coming up in the coming days to take a classic New York City option and use it the right way, which is opening up hydrants. There's a way to do that that can provide cooling for a lot of people, a lot of kids in particular on their blocks, but can be done the right way, the safe way and the way that doesn't undermine the work of the FDNY. So, we’ll have more to say on that in the next few days. And we're going to help New Yorkers hydrate in addition to the other types of food we're providing and beverages that we're providing, either by delivery or pickup, we're going to include a lot more of the hydrating kinds of liquids, the Gatorades and the Pedialyte that will help people during this kind of crisis.

Now, I mentioned that we have a real concern as we always do, but we certainly saw it last summer in terms of preventing power outages and being raised respond no matter what. So, this is a crucial piece of the plan and we know that the more people are using electricity, the more strain it puts on the electrical grid and that's a real challenge. Now, this is going to be a strange summer. By every measure, we're going to see a lot less commercial activity. There's obviously not traditional tourism now, which is a big part of what happens in summer the City, there's not a lot of the big events, you know, there's no big events. And so, the things that often took up a lot of energy won't be there, the whole larger commercial reality, even though it may come back in small pieces, nothing like we would normally see in the summer. But on the other hand, a lot more people home, a lot more people using air conditioning. So, we have to be ready and we've been dealing with ConEd on this early to get ready and we've put new protocols in place with ConEd to see the warning signs earlier to predict problems earlier and take appropriate steps. There are a number of steps that can be taken if there is a danger of a blackout, a looming or an outage looming. And we're going to make sure there's tight coordination with ConEd and a lot more communication between ConEd and all of its partners and government, but also with the people. So, we can address these issues early has been a regular series of meetings with ConEd, a new approach to a situation room jointly between ConEd and our emergency management leadership. Our mandate to ConEd is to alert us even the slightest sign of a problem so we can all act together, and we can inform the public. And the public always plays a role here because the public can make adjustments in the way people are using energy and that makes a big, big impact..

Also, we want to focus on our seniors, we want to focus on nursing homes and adult care facilities. We need to make sure, and this is something we'll work closely with the State on, that every facility has a plan in place and is ready if there's ever an outage. And we're going to work with the State and certainly encourage the State to mandate that every one of these adult facilities and nursing homes has generator capacity ready to go in the event of a crisis. So, we'll be working on this every day as we get into the summer to prepare to protect everyone, but particular focus again on our seniors. So, this is the beginning of the plan more to come, it's as usual going to require all of us to think a little differently, do some things differently, watch out for each other, something New Yorkers do really, really well. Watch out for their fellow New Yorkers. If the results of the last weeks are any indication, people are going to make these adjustments to help each other out and help us move forward the same way we have already.

Okay. Now I want to come to a very sober topic and it's one we've been talking about now over the last week or more and it is one that has continuing to cause tremendous concern to all of us, which is pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, P.M.I.S. This is about protecting our kids from something that we are seeing differently than we've seen before. And again, a huge amount of energy is being expended in the medical field, not just here in New York City but all over to understand what's happening here and address it as quickly as possible. So, the numbers continue to concern us, we now have 110 confirmed cases, 54 percent of those cases either the child tested positive for COVID-19 or a tested positive for antibodies. And as I've said, we lost one child and I want us all to work together and parents to do everything you possibly can to make sure we don't lose another child in this crisis.

We have preliminary data on the demographic breakout of the kids affected, but I want to emphasize very preliminary cause it's only 110 cases, that's way too many. But in the sense of trying to understand this challenge, 110 cases is obviously a small number in the scheme of things and that the data is inherently incomplete as you'll see on the ethnic breakout. But we want to give people what we have as we have it. So here you see the age breakout, the number one category has been the youngest kids zero to four. The next category in terms of percentage effected five years old to nine years old. The next category 10 years old to 14 years old. And the category we've seen it the least end is 15 years old and up. So, this is initial information, but we want people to see and be particularly vigilant with our youngest kids. We see as we have seen with the coronavirus itself, more impact on males than females, and that is something that's still obviously being studied. The borough breakout here, the number one impact has been in the Bronx, followed by Queens and then Brooklyn with much less in Manhattan and Staten Island. And then the ethnic racial breakout, which again is incomplete because almost 40 percent of this is still not classified, meaning kids that we're still not getting the details but so far again, sobering – 24 percent African American, 14 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian, 9 percent white. Until we know more about the kids that are not yet identified, we can't give you a fuller picture, but again, very much concerned that this looks like it's tracking the same disparities we've seen throughout this crisis.

Now, there's been a lot we've talked about in recent days about how to make sure as we continue toward that better situation that we hold on tight to what we've achieved with shelter in place with social distancing, with face coverings, the things that have been working, the things that have been driving down and driving back this disease. A lot of talk about how to do it, how to sustain it, and the role that enforcement plays in that equation – the role of the NYPD. So, we've been talking a lot here and had numerous conversations with Commissioner Shea and his team and a whole lot of conversation with elected officials and community leaders who have offered a lot of insight, a lot of concern, but a lot of insight as well - a lot of suggestions, a lot of ideas. And I think what's become clear in recent days is we're balancing a very complex equation here. Health and safety come first – unquestionably. We're dealing with a pandemic; we're dealing with the biggest healthcare crisis in a century. We have to get it right. Enforcement is always a part of protecting people's safety for time immemorial. But at the same time, we have something very precious that we have achieved here in this city in changing relationship between police and community, in reinventing our approach to policing, in reducing crime because there's more of a bond between police and community. And that's also about protecting people's safety and we need to protect that. So, we do not in any way, shape or form want to slide backwards and undermine that precious bond that's been growing and improving between police and community. As we've talked it through and thought about how to apply a neighborhood policing approach – the strategy that's been working – how to apply it in the middle of a pandemic, it became clear that everyone deserves more clarity. And I said, you know, yesterday that Commissioner Shea and I are responsible to inform the people of the city and our officers, what's expected of everyone and we needed to do that in a way that made sort of clearer, sharper sense to people. So, the reset will be this, we start with the fundamental notion – the NYPD is here to protect lives, to save lives, and where we see the greatest danger to lives in terms of the Coronavirus and the area where we can enforce is around gatherings, particularly large gatherings. So, that's where we're going to focus, wanting to give people this clarity. And it's literally the bigger the gathering, the more that needs to be done by the NYPD to make sure that gathering either never get started to begin with or is quickly broken up. We think we can strike a balance when someone says, I don't have a face covering with me; we want NYPD officers and all these other civilian ambassadors and everyone else to be there with a solution. I think that is the right way to move us forward and strike the balance, but it's also comes with a reminder to all of you that it is a responsibility of all of us to keep doing what we're doing; we have been doing on social distancing and to do it even more. You see a lot of people doing social distancing, right; you see some who are not. Let's all work together to remind people to do it right, especially the people we're closest to in our lives. It's the vast majority of people have face coverings, some don't; sometimes someone just forgets it. That's why we're going to have free distribution, but we got to keep reminding people how important it is and every one of us is responsible and we can create more balance the more responsibility everyone shows in this situation.

We'll be limiting access to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park, to areas of Hudson River Park, and Piers 45 & 46, and Domino Park in Williamsburg. We're going to create a monitoring approach; NYPD officers, civilian ambassadors, they'll be there, they'll be there early. They'll set parameters on how many people should go into these areas and always be providing guidance, be providing free face coverings. We want to just get ahead of the problem by limiting the number of people in these areas that become crowded and if our approach continues to work, we'll apply it to any place else we need to. And then our social distancing ambassadors, that number is now gone up to 2,260 – that's a lot of City employees who will be out there educating, giving out face coverings. You'll see a lot of presence this weekend. You'll also see in the beaches, which of course are not open; enhanced patrols to keep people safe and to remind people that beaches are not open and to protect against any danger that people will go in the water. You'll see that in the Rockaways, Coney Island, Orchard Beach, and we're going to make sure in terms of addressing those large gatherings, there'll be a dedicated NYPD car in every police precinct that will focus always on being able to get to wherever a large gathering might be to make sure that situation is addressed.

On Fridays, we look at the big picture and we see some tremendous progress overall. Today's report, not everything we want it to be for just today, but the overall progress – again, I'm going to keep saying so impressive, so consistent and so much because of all that you are doing. So, the turnaround, you look at this chart, it's breathtaking. We've been consistently below in daily indicator number one, number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19, consistently below 100 now for a meaningful amount of time. And again, that's 800 fewer people per day being admitted compared to the end of March – that's just breathtaking. So, that's the good news. The less good news is today's update. Unfortunately, we have a situation where things have gone up from a 59 to 78. So, that is not what we're looking for – still a low number overall, but wrong direction. Daily indicator number two, this is the toughest one to move because it is about folks who are the most sick and fighting for their lives. Again, progress unquestionably – you look at that chart over 300 people, fewer in ICUs than at the peak, that's a very good thing, but still a lot of people fighting for their lives. The good news today, the numbers down from 517 to 506. And then percentage of people citywide testing positive for COVID-19 – amazing progress – again, we've seen consistent improvement, but not everything we need. We still have to keep going. And again, today, wrong direction, only by one point, but wrong direction from 11 percent to 12 percent.

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