Thursday, May 7, 2020

MAYOR DE BLASIO on COVID-19 May 7, 2020

  Mayor Bill de Blasio: This morning, I want to talk about something that really is quintessentially New York. Something that really is the spirit of this place and who we are, and I can summarize it with a simple sentence – New Yorkers do not lack for confidence. We are a people who believe in ourselves. We believe in our city. We have a certain energy in a certain spirit that is renowned all over this world and we need that now more than ever. That essence of who we are is what's going to see us through this fight. I'll tell you something, even a pandemic, even the worst health care crisis in a century, even an economic crisis that only rivals the great depression. Even with these things happening at the same time, I have not seen New Yorkers lose their confidence. 

Now, this virus, understandably, this whole crisis we've gone through, it's not surprising if it gnaws at that confidence. If it's sows doubt, that's normal, that's human. A disease that we all wonder about in terms of our own personal lives. Even though we're confident by nature as New Yorkers, there's uncertainty pervading this whole experience, and the most essential question we all ask is have I gotten this disease already or am I going to get this disease. If I have gotten it or if I do get it, do I put my family in danger? The people I love in danger? The uncertainty is directly related to the lack of testing, that's been the reality from day one, and this has been the central problem in this crisis. The lesson we have to take from this as not only New Yorkers, but as Americans, our nation wasn't in position in terms of testing, and we can never let that happen again. 

Now, there's two kinds of tests. The diagnostic test known as the PCR test. That's been the main part of the discussion from the very beginning of this crisis, and we still need to do a lot of that. And then there's the antibody testing. Remember, there's a clear difference. The PCR test, the diagnostic test answers the simple question, do I have this disease right now? It does not answer what happened in your past. It does not answer what happens in your future, but it does answer clearly, and consistently do you have the disease right now. It allows us to take the actions right now we need to take in a test and trace approach. The antibody test is, really refers to the past. It asks the question, did I get exposed to this disease in the past? And it therefore helps you understand the obvious answer of your own experience. If you did get exposed in the past, were you able to beat it? Well, you know it's, it's a good sign when you know your body's been exposed to this virus and you obviously came through it, it's a good sign. Does it tell you everything? No, and we'll always put that disclaimer on it. There are different kinds of antibody tests, some more accurate than others, some more specific than others. And even the best antibody test does not guarantee that you can't get the disease again. Seems that it's unusual for someone to get the disease again, that's what we've seen so far in our actual experience, but it is not a guarantee. That's a positive development that we want to support more and more, and more and more testing for antibodies does that, helps that along, and it's also part of answering the bigger questions about this disease. The more people test, the more our doctors and scientists have a body of information to help us really understand the disease better and beat it back. So, we are going to proceed energetically with antibody testing in this city as we also build up the PCR testing capacity at the same exact time.

Now, I talk to you before about the effort focused on our first responders, and our health care workers. That is a joint effort with the federal government, with the US Department of Health and Human Services and the centers for disease control. It will reach 140,000 health care workers and first responders, everyone making their own choice. If they want to participate, they will get individual results, but it'll also help us with the larger research we need to do. 140,000 New Yorkers will be tested. It will start next week at hospitals, firehouses police precincts, correctional facilities, and we're going to move that rapidly over the next few weeks ahead.

But now, a new announcement today. Beyond the testing that we'll do for our heroes, we're going to open up antibody testing to a much bigger group of New Yorkers. So, more and more people have the opportunity to get a test that will give them some information, some certainty as we fight ahead. So, as we do this, I want you to remember every time someone gets an antibody test, it's helping them have information. It's helping all of us to have information, so we're really killing two birds with one stone. The individual gets something they need, but the health care leadership, the scientists, they get the information they need to do the research better to answer the questions about the disease. So, real virtue in this. On top of the 140,000 for the first responders and the health care workers, we're adding another 140,000 for everyday New Yorkers. Combined 280,000 people will get antibody tests in just the next few weeks in New York City. Over a quarter million antibody tests will be given. These are numbers that really start to add up, even against the size of a city as big as ours. This initiative, the additional 140,000 that will be available in communities across this city, comes through a partnership with BioReference Labs. The first survey will involve 70,000 New Yorkers. It will start next week and continue through the month. It will be repeated again in early June. So, we'll get these 140,000 additional tests done between the remainder of May and the beginning of June.

We're going to work with five sites initially, but then we will be adding, and the goal is to focus on people in the general area of these test sites. I want to be very clear. There's so many people in the city. Any time you set up a test site, tens of thousands of people live very nearby. We want to focus on where the test sites are, not having to have people travel a long way to get to these tests, but we'll keep adding sites as we go along. So, the sites will be in the Bronx, in Morrisania, in Brooklyn and East New York, and Manhattan, upper Manhattan, Staten Island in Concorde, and Queens in Long Island City. 1000 tests per site every day. Again, 70,000 tests will be given in the space of about two weeks, and then we'll repeat that again.

Now, how does someone get this test? You get it by appointment. Again, the priority given to the surrounding communities and the hotline for making the appointments will be launched this Friday, tomorrow. Now, how does it work? You give basic information, because remember this is to benefit you as an individual, but also to get us information on what has been happening with this disease so we can fight it. So, people will be asked demographic information, employment information, very important. We want to understand how the disease has hit people in different parts of our economy, in different parts of the life of this city. It's a simple procedure. A nurse takes a blood sample, you get your individual result back in 24 to 48 hours. So, even though this is the kind of thing, this testing and the PCR testing is what would have made so much of a difference early on, and could have fundamentally changed the history of this disease in this city if we had had it early. It still helps us now to learn more and more, and obviously to give more and more New Yorkers the confidence in knowing their own situation. So, we will keep you posted as more and more details come out, but I'm looking forward to between the two kinds of testing becoming more of a norm in this city every day that people are getting to those tests and we're getting a better and better picture, and it's all going to contribute to our efforts on testing and tracing, which are going to be developing rapidly in this month.

The fourth point in that plan regarded tele-medicine and we are now going much farther with tele-medicine than we have ever gone before through our public hospitals, through Health + Hospitals and the focus again will be on the communities that have been hardest hit by this disease. So, tele-medicine had become increasingly common in private health care, but not as much in public health care— before this crisis, now Health and Hospitals will be doing it on a massive scale. So, first phone clinician, this initiative, very straightforward and it's one of two key things that we are now putting into play. We want people to get much more guidance even though more and more information is out there about the coronavirus. So, the free hotline is 844-NYC-4NYC – again, 844-NYC-4NYC, and this means that anybody, anytime you need to come pick up that phone and get answers and never leave their home, never have to go through the hassle or the challenges that come with going outside. We keep telling everyone, stay inside the maximum stand possible, therefore, tele-medicine is part of how we give people confidence they can get the help they need without ever leaving their home. Now this initiative is growing all the time, so far, in the midst of this crisis, we've had about 90,000 calls and the result is that over 90 percent of the people make that call, never need to leave their home, get the information they need, get the care they need through the tele-medicine process, and it works, we want to keep building on this. Now, our goal, all of us is to drive back this disease and not need as much help, but we know we've still got a road ahead here. So, our goal is to keep building up this apparatus, we expect to do at least 4,000 calls a day, and if the demand is there, we'll keep building more. So, in the month of May, we're ready to handle 120,000 calls, and again, if this becomes a popular tool, more and more people make the decision to pick up a phone and that is helpful to them, especially again, those who do not have a private doctor or a facility that are already working with that they can rely on. The more people use it, the more we will build it, but expect about 120,000 calls in May – that's going to make a great impact on the lives of those people and their whole families that they have access to that help.

Now already during this crisis, there's been 60,000 tele-visits initiated by Health and Hospitals clinics, this is going to deepen, this is going to be a big part of the strategy going forward. So, the goal is to ramp this up to at least a 16,000 per week starting in June. We believe that at least 80 percent of people who need through our clinics for now can do it through tele-visits. So, it'd be aggressive program by the clinics to reach their patients, check in with them, make sure they get whatever appointments they need. Of course, if someone needs to be seen in person, they still can be, but the goal is to the maximum extent possible, lean on tele-visits reach a lot more people a lot more quickly and always give people the option of getting health care without having to leave their home. People live on the streets, those 3 or 4,000 people at any given day who are permanently homeless.  You know, last night was only the second night in which subways were closed down in those very late night hours for cleaning and therefore all passengers had to leave the subway system and that meant that our Department of Homeless Services and our outreach workers and specially trained NYPD officers could be there in places where there were a number of homeless folks to help them out and offer them a helping hand and offer them a place to come in and get the support they need.  Well, the results on the second night were even better than the first night, which is very encouraging. Last night, our outreach teams engaged 361 homeless New Yorkers coming out of the subways when they shut down 218 of them well over half accepted help. Again, this is the entire core principle of doing this outreach work to constantly open that door. For those who are homeless to realize there's something else that could be done to make their life better, there's a different way that could pursue, 218 out of 361 accepted help, that meant 196 went to a safe haven or a shelter, 22 went to a hospital. When these kinds of numbers mean that that many human beings who had lost their way now get a chance to live a better life, that's an extraordinary story. So again, thank you to all those extraordinary outreach workers out there night after night, no matter what's going on, they're there. The NYPD officers who got trained to do this work, who are devoted to this work, thank you. 

Now, in this crisis, we've seen much domestic violence, too much gender-based violence. We can't accept that. We need people to stay home for everyone's safety, but we also have to find a way to disrupt this problem because it's unacceptable – unacceptable that anyone would be in danger in their own home. We do not allow that in New York City. So, there's always help available literally on a moment's notice. If anyone's in danger, not only will the NYPD come to help and they've put immense resources into fighting domestic violence, but anyone who needs shelter will get it instantly - no questions asked – 24/7 anyone who's in danger, we will help immediately get a roof over their heads and be protected. Anyone who feels endangered, there's a particular hotline for people who are facing this threat - it's 800-621-4673 – 800-621-4673. You know the person on the other end of the line will understand your circumstance and will act immediately to get you help. But responding to the crisis is not enough, we have to prevent domestic violence from happening to begin with. The NYPD and so many community organizations, so many providers, advocates have done extraordinary work finding new ways to fight back against domestic violence and gender-based violence. We need to find even more preventative strategies in this crisis and even more ways to protect those in danger. I'm announcing a COVID-19 response taskforce on domestic and gender-based violence, taking some of the leading minds and some of the people who do the most important work in this city to fight this scourge, bringing them together, working with our Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence. We'll bring together about 20 of the leaders in this field, convening them right away to figure out what else we can do and what's working any place else in the country of the world that we can bring here. But the bottom line is, we're just not going to allow this to happen. No one should be suffering because they're at home; no one should suffer in silence. 

So, a couple more things and, and when we talk about new solutions, I want to talk about the challenge that this city faces. In fact, cities all over the country, all over the world are facing as we fight back this disease, as we restart and recover and then work together to find a better path for the future.This disease has pointed out disparities and has also pointed out the danger of not being prepared for the bigger challenges ahead. So, we have to figure out all of us, all the cities of the world have to work together particularly to address profound dangers to health and safety when it comes to our climate. 

Okay, now time for the daily indicators and again, I'm looking forward to us working together, continuing that strong disciplined approach you've all engaged in to get these numbers to go down together steadily. Today we have progress, it's not perfect progress, but it's damn close. So, this is a good day. I want to see even better days and I want us to string them together cause that's our pathway to opening up, reducing restrictions, and taking the steps towards the restart. So, let's go over to the indicators. Number one, daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19 - that is down from 109 to 79. Isn't that good to hear? Only 79 people, now for those 79 people they are dealing with real challenges. I never want to belittle, even if a single person has to go into the hospital for COVID-19, but thank God compared to where we were only 79 people as of the latest measure. The daily number of people in ICUs across our public hospital system for some suspected COVID-19 that has gone down as well – from 599 to 567. Again, still 567, that's a lot of people, but it has gone down noticeably and that's great. Now, one thing went in the wrong direction, but I will say thankfully only by one percent, so you know, it's still a good day. Percentage of people tested positive COVID-19 citywide – up 15 percent to 16 percent. Overall, right direction – let's dig in and go farther.

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