Thursday, May 28, 2020

MAYOR DE BLASIO on COVID-19 - May 28, 2020

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. We've asked you now over the last two months to shelter in place to practice social distancing, to wear face coverings. It's a lot, and it hasn't been easy. It hasn't been easy for a single day. Everyone's been making huge adjustments and I've talked to so many New Yorkers who have told me it's been a struggle, but despite that you've done it. You've done it to a remarkable degree, and because you've done it so well, we're now actually in a position to start talking about opening things up step by step, phase by phase. You've proven it through your actions that we are getting to the point very, very soon where we can take the first step to restart in phase one. So, you have earned it. Everybody's thinking about it, everybody's talking about it, now we can really get ready for the real work, the tangible work of taking that big first step. So, I want to talk to you today about what that's going to look like and how the city of New York's going to help people into this first phase and through this first phase. And then if we keep doing things right, well beyond that to more and more reopening, and more and more steps towards a better situation for all of us.

So, first of all, it's important to remind everyone, we say restart, we do not mean rushing back to something that we used to think of as normal. We do not mean flicking a switch and suddenly everything's where it was again, of course not. We have to make sure this virus is in check. We've come a long way. We're not going to blow it now. We've talked in recent days about our test, trace, and take care effort. That is central to this, because that is the offensive. That's how you make sure you're pushing back the disease on top of everything all New Yorkers have done. Now a systematic effort based on examples from around the world, but bigger than anything we've ever seen in the history of this city or this country, a systematic effort to trace every single case, follow through, make sure people have the help they need to separate safely. This is a game changer, because it's going to be done on a vast scale and it's going to keep constraining the disease. Doing that is part of how we restart smartly, and that test, trace, and take care initiative grows with every week ahead so it gets bigger and bigger, more and more impact reducing the spread of the disease.

But now, we should talk about what restart looks like on the ground and phase one, and I want to say, I really give a lot of credit to the state of New York for a clear articulation of what is, what are the industries that are part of phase one, and then how each industry should think about the practicalities of reopening. The fact is the State gives out this guidance, and anyone who hasn't seen it, I really want to encourage you to look at it. It's written in a very helpful, straightforward manner. And this is for all of the industries that will restart in phase one. As I said, based on what we know today, that will be in either the first or second week of June. Anyone looking for this information can go to the State website And it lays out very practically what you need to do if you're a business owner, what you need to do to actually make it come together.

First of all, they tell us what we need to know about which industries. Construction, all the construction that's not going on now, that restarts. Manufacturing restarts, wholesale work restarts, and retail that hasn't been in that essential category. So, we know what essential has been, it has been pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets, but now we're talking about a whole range of other retail clothing stores, office supply stores, furniture stores, you name it, but restricted to curbside pickup or in store pickup. That means not wandering the aisles shopping or lingering or comparing things, but you know, placing an order and coming and getting it. So, it's a quick transaction with limited contact between people.

So, what does it mean? We think a minimum of 200,000 New Yorkers will be coming back to work, a maximum of 400,000. That's quite a range. A lot of other parts of the country that would be their entire city. But here, because we're in the great unknown, we've never been through a pandemic like this. Certainly not in the last hundred years. We can only give you a range to begin, but we're going to know really soon what the truth is. But even if you say 200,000 people, that's a lot of employees coming back to work. So, we want to make sure it's done the right way, and we want to emphasize safety throughout.

So now, let's talk about how we make it work, business by business. Every business has a set of rules that fit it's reality, the nature of its business. And so, there are very specific, you know, nuts and bolts rules that people can follow and make sense of. Now, let's talk about some of them so you get a grounding of what it means, physical distance to begin with. The whole concept here is you have to keep that six-foot difference. Distance, I should say. Look, there may be moments where people have to come closer together. Sometimes it's just the nature of the job. Sometimes there's an immediate situation that people have to deal with, but the goal is as much as possible, keep people six feet apart. On top of that, keep the occupancy in each location. Think about a manufacturing plant, keep it to under 50 percent of its normal capacity so you have room for people to spread out. If there's tight spaces, elevators, an area around a cash register, keep it to one person at a time to the maximum extent possible. These are sort of common-sense rules, and that look, it's all about limiting contact, limiting the potential spread of the disease. Obviously, PPE’s, some companies need more advanced PPE’s, but the vast majority just need a simple face covering for their employers. Employees, I should say, but it's crucial that every company makes sure every employee has one. They need to provide them for free to their employees. They need to make sure they're wearing them. Hygiene, cleaning, regular cleaning of any shared surfaces. 

We're all going to learn together that, you know look, our business community is extraordinary in this city when you're talking a mom and pop store, bodega, right on up to the biggest businesses. One thing businesses do is they adapt, they create, they move with the times, they move with new conditions. That's the nature of business. Our small businesses know that better than anyone. So, I am convinced our business community will work it out, but now I think it's important that there are city government give them a helping hand. So, I want to talk about the ways that we're going to help, and also the ways that we have to make sure the rules are followed.

We're going to provide a lot of support, of course, all support we provide to businesses will be free and it will come from different city agencies for construction. The support will be primarily from our department of buildings for the other sectors, primarily from our small business services department and from our department of consumer and worker protection. So, what are we going to do? First, we're going to publish industry guides, we've got the guidance from the State that's really helpful. We're then going to add to it with simple, plain English examples of how people can do this work, how they can implement these rules. What you do in a clothing store is different than what you do on a construction site, we're going to try and make it plain and easy to use examples. We're going to get that out next week and provide it to every business, that's a part of phase one.

Second, we're going to start a business restart hotline and the restart hotline is going to be real human beings who know the rules and know how to facilitate and help businesses think through it, that starting next week as well. Any business that's trying to understand the rules can't quite figure out how to implement them is confused about how much is good enough. How many times a day do you have to clean? How do you create the right line for customers waiting to buy something? We will work with each and every business through this hotline. If there's something that they need resolved, it could maybe be done right over the phone, if we need to send out a city official to work with them to come up with a solution. For example, if they're trying to figure out how to do a line outside their store the right way and socially distanced and they're trying to figure out how much of the sidewalk they can take up, we'll work with them on that right there in person to sort it out. So, that hotline will start next week as well. In the meantime, as we've said, many times, any small business owner dealing with any problem we talked about those loan programs from the federal government or any other challenge of course can call 3-1-1 for help. We'll have a specific hotline though that'll be all about restart and how to navigate it.

Third, we're going to have a team of small business advocates and compliance advisors. So, we're going to send a team of city personnel out to businesses to check in to make sure they understand, to see what kind of help they need sorting out. So, we'll do some of over the phone, but we want the ability to immediately, if people need in-person help send teams of city officials to do that, to work that through. We want this to work, and so if someone needs help in the business, we want to see businesses succeed, we want them to start and start safely. If they need someone to come through and literally do a walk through with them, we'll send out help to do that.

And then finally, our sector councils have been amazing. These advisory groups, we're going to keep that going through this phase one, but through all the phases and beyond, they're going to be crucial to us understanding what's working, what's not, what needs to be adjusted. We're going to be able to explain, you know, what's going on with the health situation and figure out if we have to make any adjustments. They're also going to help us figure out the long-term efforts to help small businesses and larger businesses come back strong. Again, no lack of confidence in our business community that they can take the skills they've always relied on and bring them to bear here and come back strong. But they need to know the city is going to be with them every step of the way and we will be.

For other sectors, it will be our office of special enforcement and depending on the issue, sanitation department, department of consumer and worker protection, small business services, or it could rise up to something that involves the police department, Sheriff's office or the FDNY. So, what we will do is what we normally do, but modified for this crisis there'll be random inspections, there'll be agencies going out, checking on the businesses, looking for how things are going, but with a supportive attitude. I want to be clear about this. This is not gotcha, this is not something where we want to find a problem, we're not intending to give fines in the first instance. This is, hey, you got an issue here, let's fix this issue together and every employer who works with it, great, we will be supportive. If department buildings goes out to a construction site and workers are not wearing face coverings. They're going to say, let's get the face coverings on right now, and if they see it happening, there's no problem, we move on. If we don't see compliance, of course we reserve the right if we need to use fines, if we need to take even more aggressive actions we can. That's not what we want to do, we just want to solve problems. We just want to get these businesses up and running. We want to protect health and safety and we can do that together, the right way, that is absolutely the goal and I believe overwhelmingly that's going to be what will happen.

Okay, that's phase one. We're going to have a lot more to say on it, I assure you over the next days, because we're still not there yet. I believe all indicators suggest it'll be announced in the first or second week in June. All businesses are paying attention, they're hearing from the state, they're hearing from the city, they're seeing that this is all coming down to this, so they have time to get ready, but we're going to work very closely with them to make sure all the details get worked out. But some of them will only get worked out once businesses are actually on the ground and open and that's okay. We know we'll work it through in practice, that's phase one.

Now, at the same time as we're getting ready to begin phase one, we're already looking ahead to the phases that will come thereafter. And one of the things I'm hearing the most from business leaders about is they're paying a lot of attention to what will happen with our schools because that will say so much to them about obviously how the city is doing in general, but also if their employees can depend on sending their kids back to school in September and that will tell them a lot about their business planning as well. We are doing work every single day and I've said it really clearly, it's going to be a plan A to reopen school as normal, but with lots of other alternative plans, depending on what the healthcare situation is, there'll be a plan B, C, D I assure you, we are adamant though we want to work with the hope that we can get as close to a normal school reopening as possible for September 10th. We had a great conversation last night with our education advisory council. Now this involves a lot of key stakeholders in our public schools, folks in the department education the unions who represent the people who do the work of education parent organizations, but also beyond our public schools, religious schools, private and independent schools. Higher education is represented by some of the leaders of the great higher education institutions in this city. We're all talking together about what it's going to take and many, many organizations as well that provides support for our kids and our youth in a variety of ways. 

We know some people are particularly vulnerable and certainly every day, but particularly in a crisis, homeless New Yorkers are vulnerable. So, let's talk about what we have learned about this new effort in the subway system, the nightly cleaning and the impact it has had on our ability to serve the homeless. We now have three full weeks of data, three full weeks of evidence, and it's pretty striking. So, I want to give you an update since the beginning of the nighttime cleaning shutdowns, we have had 1700 individuals except help 1,700 encounters that led to a homeless person accepting help. 506 unique individuals, so that means not multiple times, but people who specifically took help, 506 unique individuals, accepted placement and shelter for some period of time, 281 are still in shelter right now. Now again, for all of us who have worked on these issues for a long time, 281 people have come off the street and just the last three weeks and staying off the street is a remarkable number and that is a beginning of something much bigger as we seek to end permanent street homelessness in this city. Very importantly, another 432 accepted hospital care to address medical situations, that's huge. So something in the midst of this crisis, in the midst of all the pain, all the challenges, something actually good has happened here where we're finding a new way to serve homeless New Yorkers and a lot of them are accepting the offer and hopefully are well on their way now to changing their lives and never living on the streets again.

Some kids deal with particularly tough circumstances, some kids have to deal with in their own homes, threats to them. And this is where our administration for children's services comes in and they do amazing work. And I want to highlight them today because they don't get enough attention, they don't get enough appreciation in any time. But I got to tell you how hard it has been for our ACS workers who go out there. Our child protective specialist, the folks who focus their lives on protecting the lives of kids and under very complex circumstances. Imagine what it takes to understand if a child is in danger in their own home and how to navigate that and how to protect that child. Very complex work, very trying, difficult work, and it's been made more difficult by the pandemic. People can't get out to homes the same way, and obviously home life has been disrupted and it's become very tense in many homes. We've got 3,000 child protective specialists at ACS, they do the Lord's work, they do amazing work. And thank you to all of you. Thank you to everyone at ACS because whatever your job is, ACS, it is about protecting and uplifting children. So, I want to thank everyone at the administration for children's services and a particular appreciation to those protective workers. This is an important time to take stock. May is national “Foster Care Month,” it's a time to thank all of the folks who work in foster care as well; the caseworkers and the folks who choose to be foster care parents, really crucial role in our society. Everyone in this, everyone in this area is unsung. We don't talk about the incredibly important role that foster parents play in the lives they have saved and turned around. We don't talk about the workers who make it possible. We should more often because it's an area that really, really matters to a lot of kids who found themselves in a tough circumstance, but there are adults who are there to pick them up and help them move their lives forward. So, thank you to all.

Okay, it is time today to look at our indicators and thresholds and number one, the daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID- 19 - good number today – congratulations, New York City, we have to stay under 200 we’re at only 59 today. So, we're showing some real consistency there. That means what you're doing is working. Daily, number two, daily number of people in our Health + Hospitals ICUs - so we want to get under 375 or 421. We're getting closer. You see that trend line, we are getting closer every day. We're very confident we can get to where we need to be, but we've got some more work to do. And then indicator number three, the percentage of the people tested citywide positive for COVID-19 the threshold is 15 percent. That we stay below 15 percent we can make it work, we can protect lives, we can keep the city moving. Here is a number that I am really happy to see – happens to be my personal favorite number – number six, and we have never been that low in these reports. This is a very good day, six percent positive and we're doing more and more testing. I told you about 27,000 tests per day and growing constantly. Here's the interesting thing a lot of folks have asked as you do more testing, do you expect the numbers to go up or down? To date as we do more and more and more testing basically the numbers are going down. The more New Yorkers we're reaching, the better picture we're getting at what's happening in the city; the fewer people were finding tests positive as a percentage. That's a great sign for the future of the city. So, congratulations, really good news on that number – a very good day.

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