Thursday, May 21, 2020

MAYOR DE BLASIO on COVID-19 - May 21, 2020

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: A few days ago, a letter was passed along through one of our food delivery providers. These are these folks out every day making sure New Yorkers who are hungry have food in the middle of this crisis, helping people, many cases who never thought they'd ever have to ask for food. And want to start by appreciating, thanking all the folks out there every single day who are bringing food to people in need. What a beautiful act of kindness, and compassion in the midst of this challenge. So, a letter gets passed along to one of them from a woman named Sylvia in Sheepshead Bay. I should let you know that Sylvia is 97 years old chronologically. She's a great grandmother of 13, and she receives senior kosher meals through our food program. And in the letter she sent, there is a poem of gratitude. I want to share it with you for it's simple beauty. It says, “Had to write you about your food. For a 97-year-young was in the mood to thank you for all your days preparing food in different ways. Thank you. Thank you. I praise you all. Be gone virus, do not stall”. So wonderful that Sylvia was moved to thank all the great people who put together those meals, and delivered them, and to think about what they do and how much it matters to every-day New Yorkers. I love her poetic ability, and the way she puts it all together so nicely, but it's important to think about a second meaning I see in Sylvia's poem, and it's the fact of Sylvia's life – she's 97. She's writing a poem full of gratitude in the midst of this crisis. If she's 97, do the math, she was born just a few years after the pandemic of 1918. So, Sylvia is someone who grew up in the aftermath of a crisis. The only crisis, in fact, we can compare to what we're going through now. And she grew up and she grew strong, and with a strong and good heart, and she's still with us here today. I think there's an incredible affirmation of life in her very existence, but even more so in her willingness to thank others for all they are doing.

So, think about the people who count on these meals, because that's what we have to do every single day when we think about why we are doing this work. Don't think of just numbers, and don't think about some abstract idea of helping our fellow human beings, think of the people in need. Think of a 97-year-old who made it this far, but needs that food to keep going, and how much we have to honor and love and appreciate our elders as I talked about yesterday. Think about the working people, hardworking people, middle class people, people who were doing everything right and suddenly their job wasn't there anymore, and they don't have that paycheck, and they don't have enough money to feed their family. Think about parents. Number-one thought in the morning, last thought at night is how they protect their kids. Think about the pain they feel when they don't know if there's going to be a meal for their child. That's why we do the work we do to help each and every one of them, and everyone liked them to make sure they never have to wonder where their next meal is coming from.

So, what we set out to do was feed everyone. Enormous mission, feed them quality food, feed them safely, make sure everyone was safe in the process, the folks who prepare the food, the folks who deliver the food, the folks who are receiving the food. And it's a huge endeavor, and every day we're trying to make it better, but what has happened in just the last few weeks, this was all put together in a matter of weeks is quite remarkable and something New Yorkers should be proud of as another example of the spirit, the energy, the entrepreneurship, the creativity that exists in this amazing place. I'm going to turn in a moment to our food czar, Kathryn Garcia, to give you a quick report on where we stand, but let me give you this important fact. Since the middle of March when this crisis went into higher gear, we have distributed, the city of New York has distributed 32 million meals to New Yorkers who needed food, and this effort is growing every day. By next week, over a million meals will be delivered per day. Delivered to people directly per day. Over half a million grab and go meals will be handed out per day at our Department of Education food sites. 500 sites across the city.

I want to thank our colleagues in the media. We get together every day or six days a week, I should say. And a lot of times our colleagues in the media pointed out specific problems that have helped us make the food program better, address a problem, make the program better, realize something that needs to be fixed. That's one of the great virtues of the free press, is the ability to see things and hold government accountable. So, I want to thank four members of the media who have really focused on this issue – Juliet Papa of 1010 WINS; Sydney Kashiwagi of the Staten Island Advance; Marcia Kramer, CBS New York; and Julia Marsh of the New York Post. They've all raised really helpful, important concerns and we followed through on each of them, and we will keep following through on each concern is raised, because we need to get this right. So, now I'm going to turn to our food czar with great thanks for her effort and the team she's put together. And Commissioner Garcia has answered the call many times when the city needed something special and something important done, and I can't think of anything more important than making sure New Yorkers have food every day. Obviously, the folks at Department of Education, all those folks working in the kitchens and that those food sites, 500 sites around the city. Our colleagues Department for the Aging who long ago were providing meals to seniors things like meals on wheels and have been building and building since then, reusing senior centers and new ways to make sure that they can help get food out to seniors who need it. Now, anyone who needs a meal, a reminder, if you need to find out where you can get a meal at the community-based sites you can go to If you needed a delivery, you can call 3-1-1. But the bottom line is we will not let any New Yorker go hungry. So, if you need food, go online or pick up that phone and we will get it to you.

Obviously, with warmer weather, there's a lot of things that are going to start to change people's lives and behavior and a lot of that is good. That means we're moving the right direction, but it also means that a lot of the patterns of life will start to restore and we have to recognize the implications of that. So, in this crisis, one of the things that was so obvious on the issue of safety, clearly during the heart of this COVID crisis, we saw an extraordinary drop in crime and no one ever wanted the coronavirus here, but at least something happened with crime that was in the right direction. We saw less crime, but we know as things get even begin to get back to normal and as the weather gets warmer, we have to guard against any increase in crime. So, we are trying to make sure that everything we do, that we're focused on safety again today and what's going to happen in the weeks and months ahead. For that reason, we are going to use the strategy we have used the last summers effectively to keep crime down and that's called Summer All Out. It's an NYPD operation where officers who work in office settings in different specialized areas of the department go out to neighborhoods and work at the grassroots level. It's been very successful, very effective, we're going to do it again now. Why? Because over the years we learned that business as usual wasn't working, there were too many years going back decades where there was an assumption in this town that the summer was going to get more violent.

So, Summer All Out this year will involve about 300 officers, be 300 officers across 10 commands and you can see them on your screen. These are communities that have been hardest hit by gun violence, we want to make sure gun violence does not reassert as this crisis starts to wane, let us pray. And the officers are very visible presence in the community, they get to know the community. Again, those neighborhood policing principles make all the difference in the world because they help us do a lot more and we're going to do that again this summer with summer all out.

We also are learning new strategies and when it comes to homelessness, we have seen something extraordinary happen because of the innovation of shutting the subways for a few hours late at night to get them really clean, really safe for our central workers, but also to disrupt the historic pattern of homeless folks just staying on the subways and not connecting with services and shelter and we have been working together with the state, with the MTA, NYPD homeless services, everyone working together, lots of outreach workers who spend their lives helping homeless folks and helping them in off the streets. We have two full weeks now of results and I want to go over them. The first week, 201 unique individuals, meaning we cross check to make sure that it wasn't just the same people each day, but how many total people were affected by the outreach effort. 201 accepted placement of shelter for some of time and every time someone who's permanently street homeless goes into shelter even for a night, it's a step in the right direction. It's a beginning of convincing them to come in and accept a better reality that we can give them to keep them healthy and keep them safe. 102 of those individuals were still in shelter by the end of that first week, meaning that we were maximizing our chance to keep them in shelter and help them on the pathway to a new and better life. The second week, 181 unique individuals accepted placement and shelter for some period of time. 113 we're still in shelter by the end of week two. So these numbers, they may seem to some like a small number in the context of New York City, but when you remember that the total number of people living on the streets and subways is estimated by the federal government at about 3,500 to 4,000 people on any given day in New York City. When you see a hundred people in a week come in to shelter and stay there, that's actually a major step towards reducing permanent homelessness once and for all and ending it once and for all. So, we'll put these numbers together and over the past two weeks, over 1,400 unique individuals have accepted help, 378 accepted placement and shelter 211 remain in shelter, 301 accepted hospital care. Thank you to all our partners, thank you to our outreach workers. This is a huge step in the right direction.

Last night, I met with a group of folks who are going to have a huge impact on the future of the city, our advisory council on construction, real estate and infrastructure. So many people who will be central to the restart of our economy and whose work is crucial to the future of the city beyond the coronavirus, because this is a city more than any in the entire country that has so much work to do on infrastructure, so much work to do on building for our future. They're going to apply those relationships to help us get what we need in New York City, which is that stimulus bill from the federal government. Everyone on the call understood, if we get the kind of stimulus that New York City deserves, the kind of stimulus the House of Representatives passed last week - we can actually get back on our feet. We can actually start building stronger; we can put a lot of people to work. By the way, we're talking about a stimulus just to make us whole again to make up for the vast lost revenue we've experienced, but think about the word stimulus. It's actually not just supposed to get you back to square one. It's supposed to help you move forward; it’s supposed to stimulate greater levels of activity. That's what these folks were talking about; all they're ready to build that will benefit New York City and they're going to help us get the stimulus done so we can do that.

We have to start to make adjustments accordingly. One example, I'm going to give you refers to a lifeline for this city; for folks who depend on the Staten Island Ferry it couldn't be more important in their lives. It's the way they get to their livelihoods; it's the way they connect with so many other important things in their life. Staten Islanders depend on the Staten Island Ferry in a very, very powerful way. Now, in the beginning of this crisis, ridership of course went down radically – a 90 percent drop in ridership on the ferry. So, we reduced service accordingly and the most we saw in a typical rush hour trip was 400-500 passengers, but now we actually see ridership starting to go up. We're seeing up to 600 passengers already and think it's going to keep rising, so we need to get ahead of that. And some good news this week as well on top of that for the Staten Island ferry, we have just heard from the United States Department of Transportation that we're getting a $21 million grant for the ferry and that is going to help us as we start to ramp back up service to pay for a lot of the costs associated with restarting, growing the service, and the additional cleaning we want to do to make sure that all Staten Islanders know that ferry is clean and healthy at all times.

I constantly come back to appreciating the folks who have helped us through this crisis. But you had a lot of help and you particularly had a lot of help from our friends at the Parks Department who led the way in terms of educating people, motivating people, showing people what social distancing looked like and how to do it, giving out face coverings. The Parks Department, this has been one of their finest hours. Parks workers not only kept the parks going, not only gave out the face coverings and helped us to make sure we were socially distancing; they help put together field hospitals, they helped to run those food distribution sites. As I mentioned, they gave out untold numbers of face coverings all over parks and beyond. So we want to thank them. So today is, “Go Green for Parkies Day,” and as you see on your screen, the Empire State Building will go green and here's an example, everyone going green. I want to show you the stylish, they have very good stylish equipment, clothing, whatever you want to say, caps - they have it all the Parks Department. But we all need to take a moment to appreciate our colleagues at the Parks Department. So when you're out there, say thank you to them, say thank you to all the different kinds of parks workers you meet – the folks in forestry, maintenance, operation, parks enforcement, patrol officers, the parks ambassadors who are out there with the education and the face coverings, the urban park rangers, all the park staff. They've really gone above and beyond. 

So, our parks workers have stepped up and they've been amazing and so many New Yorkers have stepped up and so many New Yorkers have said, I've heard it and I know all of you have heard it, they want to do more; they want to find a way to contribute, they want to help. And I believe them because people have done amazing things. So here is another important way to help - donate blood. We need New Yorkers who can give blood to give blood, it’s a very important moment in history because we're dealing with this crisis. It's disrupted all the normal blood donation drives that happen each year. We want people who can to do it. On the screen you see how you do that; you go to and make an appointment, or you call (800) 933-2566 the New York Blood Center – make an appointment. I'm going to give blood today along with Chirlane. We know it's important, so we're going to do it; I'm asking you to do that as well. And literally you could help save the life of a fellow New Yorker by giving blood at this crucial moment.

Okay, let's talk about our daily indicators. It's a pretty good day. Again, I want us to get to great days, but it's definitely a good day because two indicators down and one up by just a little. So, indicator one, daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19 – that is down from 63 to 60. And number two, daily number of people in ICUs across Health + Hospitals for suspected COVID-19 – that is down from 483 to 477. The only one that's up, again only up by one point, is the percent of people tested positive for COVID-19 – up from 8 percent to 9 percent. Here's something amazing; for more than a week we have been around or even below the annual average for folks admitted to hospitals for this broad kind of disease. On that third indicator, the percent of people testing positive citywide, again, you see a little fluctuation; you saw a little bit of fluctuation today. We've had several days in single digits, which we obviously didn't see before, but here's another big picture reality – the last 10 days have all been below 15 percent. So even though we see some fluctuation on the big picture, something very important has happened. We've gotten down below 15 percent for 10 days and stayed there consistently. So, again, this is remarkable progress. I'm going to go into more and more detail starting tomorrow and the days ahead about how we are taking this information and now using it to prepare for the steps we'll take in June and what we're looking for as we make our final decisions on restart and then how to sustain a safe restart. And again, we're talking about small smart steps. It will take a series of steps over time to get back to anything like normal. But something very good is happening because of your hard work and everyone in this town should feel good about that.

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