Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: I could certainly not have imagined all of us trying to stay six feet away from each other and socially distance. This is the closest, most emotional, warmest, passionate place anywhere on earth, and we're used to being close together. It's been a really strange thing to have to create a new routine where we have to stay part of a part so often and yet you have done it and done it well. It is not routine for us to work remotely in such vast numbers. And yet people have figured out how to do it as long as they need to. It's not routine to wear a face covering, Lord knows, but people have picked up the habit and gone with it.

One of the most powerful examples has been with our public schools. What used to be routine isn't happening right now, but new routines have been established, and so many people are working so hard. Students, parents, educators, to make it work and get the best for our kids. Remote learning, online learning, distance learning, whatever you call it, it had never been done anywhere near this scale. And so, it meant that teachers and parents had to work together, and administrators had to lead the way. The department education leadership had to come up with the tools, the resources, working with a whole variety of companies. I mean, all of this had to be to put together in record time.

So, we are now very focused in these last weeks of what would have been our normal routine school year. Very, very focused on ending the current school year as strong as we can through distance learning with a special focus on our graduating seniors. We really want to be looking out for them, and helping them to complete their studies, and to the next phase of their lives. We need to also recognize that this kind of situation, it takes special effort to connect with kids, to keep them engaged, to keep them learning. And that's not just now through June 26 with the traditional notion of the school year, we're in a whole new reality. So, we see the opportunity to keep helping our kids learn, extending all the way through the summer. Remember, distance learning creates challenges, but also creates a world of possibilities. And for so many kids this summer will be a chance to keep learning either because they need a little extra learning and a little extra time, or because it's something they want to do to keep building up their academic strength.

So, let's talk about summer learning. We see it in the positive and glass could be half full or the glass could be half empty. I'll tell you, my approach to life is look for the half full. I know the chancellor shares this view. We see this as a summer where unprecedented learning can happen, and it can propel us forward into the new school year. So, we've had the opportunity in these last months to learn our educators done amazing work with distance learning and in the process figured out what works best and are learning all the time how to do it better. And we're going to apply those lessons this summer. We have a number of students that need to be in summer learning. Students who need summer learning to help them finish out the school year strong and get ready for the next one. It's about 67,000 students in grades three to eight, about 83,000 students in grades nine to twelve, and then students with individualized education programs, special education students, 27,700 when you put that together, almost 178,000 of our students will continue in summer learning.

It's going to be a huge effort, an unprecedented effort, and the goal is simple and we believe we can attain the goal. Give every child what they need. It will look different obviously depending on the grade level, the age of the student and it will take creativity. It will take a lot of innovation along the way. Who better to do that than someone who's not only devoted his life to education and has been a leader of education all over the country, but someone who knows a whole lot about how to bring the school system back after a crisis.

Now, we understand, and no one's trying to say here that even though we're positive and we're looking forward all the time, that it's going to be easy. 1.1 million students, they've gone through a lot. We've talked about before, they've gone through a lot of disruption, a lot of challenges, some have gone through even trauma. It's, it's not easy for our young people. And on top of that, they're restless. It's been months that they're supposed to stay inside, especially hard as the weather gets warmer. So, look, I want to emphasize – and I'm saying this as a parent too – it's been tough so far on our kids. It's going to in some ways be even tougher as the summer goes on. We're going to be really creative in supporting them, really aware of all they're going through. Some of the things that any young person would be looking forward to in the summer they'd be looking forward to, you know, all the summer activities, barbecues and baseball, basketball, you know, concerts, whatever it may be. All the things that happen in the summer – going to the beach – you know, all those things now are on hold and it's tough. So, we know that's a challenge, that kids are restless. 

Okay, now, one of the things that has become clear in this crisis is when you need to do distance learning – when you need to do online learning – you’ve got to have a device to learn on. You got to have internet service. And we've all known about the digital divide, we've all talked about the digital divide, but it became very real and very tangible when this crisis hit because we knew a lot of kids couldn't get what they needed because they didn't have the technology. And so, the Chancellor and his whole team, they really very urgently and immediately said, we're going to solve this problem right now. They went out and acquired 300,000 iPads and we have been reaching out incessantly over the last weeks to find any family that needed one for their student. The original goal was 300,000 to be distributed to public school students. We kept reiterating the opportunity and many, many people signed up, but we saw there still weren't as many signups as there were iPads so we opened it up further and we said, if you're a student with disabilities who goes to a private school, independent school, a religious school, we want to help you too and we'll provide these iPads to you and more and more people signed up on top of that. So, as of today, we met our goal for the end of April of sending out an iPad to everyone who had signed up at that point. But then we – as we opened the doors further, more and more have come forward. So, now, as of today, 284,000 iPads have been delivered, 5,000 more have been shipped and on the way. And there were requests for more on top of that. The number now will reach 297,000, and I want to remind everyone out there that if there's still any young person in our public schools who does not have a device, who does not have internet service, you still can sign-up; call 3-1-1 we'll still make sure an iPad gets to you.

You know, lots and lots of people are asking questions about what's going to happen in the fall and it's still too early of course, to predict. But I'll tell you one thing, when we look to the fall, when we look to everything we want to do to re-open schools, unquestionably number one factor will be safety – the health and safety of our children, our parents, our educators, our school staff. And we've been looking at that from the beginning and that's going to be the first question in answering all of the challenges ahead. Now, that would've been true had we not seen the developments in the last few weeks, but obviously what we've seen with this new syndrome MIS-C causes us additional concern because it's about safety and health. So, if something new is happening or something has become evident, that wasn't evident before, we're going to focus on it, stay focused on it and it of course will be a factor in making decisions about what we do with our schools going forward.

Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, this is the name that the Centers for Disease Control is now giving it – this is what we will refer to it as. And I told you yesterday, new guidance has come from the CDC and we're working with that now. So, MIS-C, the symptoms are there on the screen, talked about them a number of times. If you're any child in your life has those symptoms particularly in combination, please call your doctor immediately - if you don't have a doctor call 3-1-1. Now, as of this moment with the initial definition we used, 147 confirmed cases – 69 of those cases, kids who tested positive for COVID or had antibodies. One child has been lost and obviously we never want to lose another child. We're going to have more updated information with the new categories, the new specifications we've gotten from the CDC. We will keep updating you on what we're learning as a result of the work the CDC is doing, but the bottom line is it is so important to just get the message out, early detection makes a huge difference. If you see these symptoms in children call it in to a healthcare professional immediately so we can protect that child.

We've really not had a situation like this before. I've talked to a lot of our health leaders and they don't remember anything like this, but it stands to reason we've never had an economic shutdown before and a huge amount of the blood supply came from corporate, corporate blood drives, blood drives by different organizations, charitable civic organizations, government agencies typically would do a blood drive. So, all of that's been cut off and disrupted. Therefore, the blood supply has gotten lower than we ever could have imagined. Now, we're going to put additional safeguards in place going forward to make sure that we don't have this kind of situation again and we're encouraging all New Yorkers who can give blood to do so right away. We started talking about this a couple of days ago. So far, 2,500 New Yorkers have made appointments to give blood just in the last few days. That's a great start, that's t help a lot, but I want to see thousands more come forward. I'm going to do it myself. I want to see thousands come forward to give blood, to make sure our hospitals have what they need. So, all sorts of times I've heard New Yorkers say they want to help in this crisis and I believe you and so many good people doing so much to help their fellow New Yorker. If you can give blood, this is a good moment to give back to the city. This is absolutely a reason to travel, to go and give blood. You're doing a great public service for your fellow New Yorker. So, anyone who can, we need you make an appointment with the New York Blood Center today; You can go online at NYBC.org, let's say again, NYBC.org or you can call 800-933-2566 and make an appointment and give blood and save lives.

We, the City of New York, our City government, we're going to fight back. We're going to use all our tools to fight disparity. We've been doing that in so many ways over the last six-and-a-half years. We're going to amplify those efforts. And that means every conceivable form of redistribution, that means making sure that we get resources to folks who have been unfairly denied resources, unfairly denied opportunity. And one of the best ways to do that is ensuring that more and more business goes to minority- and women-owned businesses. We do that through a very aggressive M/WBE contracting effort in the City of New York that's been growing by billions and billions of dollars every year, but we have to go even farther. We have to come up with new approaches, new innovations. We have to reach more and more M/WBE’s, because that is an act of fairness and justice, because we know when we provide resources to an M/WBE that, that money goes right into the neighborhood, and circulates and provides economic empowerment, people get hired, people who learn at one business start their own business. It's important any time, but it's particularly important in light of this crisis. So, we've had extraordinary efforts by those working on our M/WBE initiatives over these last years. I want to thank our Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson.
Okay. So, I am thankful for the very, very talented members of this team who do such good work for the people of New York City. And I like to express that thanks all the time, and I've been noticing lately when there are particular days or weeks or months that celebrate our public workforce and all the people that do so much good for us. So, here is a moment where there's an annual week devoted to some heroes who we should be appreciative any time, any year, but this year in this crisis they have done extraordinary things. This week for 2020 is FDNY’s EMS Week, and it is falling at a very fitting time because our EMTs, our paramedics, our EMS staff have been superstars. So much has been asked of them and they have performed brilliantly. This was literally weeks ago, we hit the point in the entire history of New York City the most calls went to EMS in its history and it held – an extraordinary organization held no matter what was thrown at it. Thank God, the numbers have come way down and things are substantially back to normal. But these heroes, they went through so much and did so much good and they saved so many lives. I think of all the members of EMS who fought so valiantly through this, but I particularly think about the four members of EMS who lost their lives in this crisis. EMT Gregory Hodge, EMT John Redd, EMT, EMT Idris Bey, EMT Richard Seaberry. These were members of our EMS, valiant New Yorkers, gave everything they had to save lives and protect people. We've lost them and we need to honor them and remember them. And we also need to think about a man who came here from Colorado to help us. He didn't have to, he chose to – Paul Cary, serving as a paramedic here in the height of the crisis and we lost him to the coronavirus as well. And we will remember all of them, and there's a special place in our heart for Paul's family. They will always be regarded by us as New Yorkers and we'll always be there for them.

So, the members of EMS have done amazing, amazing work. I've had the honor of speaking with a number of these heroes and thanking them and listening to their stories and understanding the amazing work they do. Please, if you see anyone who's part of EMS, give them a special thank you this week and every week for all they do. And we all know we've lost not just these extraordinary members of EMS, we've lost other first responders in this crisis. We've lost public health care workers. We've lost people who work in City agencies and served us. People who weren't famous, but people who are there for their fellow New Yorkers. We've lost a lot of public servants to this horrible disease that came out of nowhere and has afflicted us so deeply. 270 New York City employees have been lost to the coronavirus – 270. And it's so important for us to say to their families that we will be there for you. Not just words but deeds – we will be there for you. We owe that to you. Your loved one gave their all to us. We will be there for you. A few days ago, we extended health insurance for an additional 45 days to families of City employees that we've lost, that was at the request of the municipal labor committee. And we've been fighting to get more and more benefits for the families who have lost loved ones in the federal stimulus legislation. And there is some very good activity in Washington. I want to be clear, in the stimulus passed by the House, in a separate bill passed by the Senate sponsored by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, very good steps are being taken to help first responders, to help people who have been heroes in this crisis, and the families of those we've lost, but we need to go farther. We waited to see what was going to happen in Washington and what we've seen is a step in the right direction, but it's not enough, so we need to go farther. 

Okay. Now, let's talk about our daily indicators. This is what we every day look to, to help us understand how far we've come and where we're going. Some days are really good, other days are mixed bag. Today is a mixed bag and it's a reminder of how much we have to stick to the plan. So, indicator one, daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19 is up from 48 to 57. Again, a much lower number than we used to have, which I always appreciate, but still numbers going in the wrong direction today. Daily number of people in ICUs across Health + Hospitals for suspected COVID-19 has also gone up from 475 to 492. But the percentage of people that tested positive for COVID-19 citywide has gone down from 11 percent to nine percent, and I very much like to see that single digit number, nine percent. So, again, mixed bag, more to do. Take some real comfort and some real inspiration from that last number, because that's a real good sign, but let's keep focused on the mission and we will get there together.

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