Monday, December 6, 2021

Mayor de Blasio Describes Measures to be Taken to Prevent Omicron Variant Spread While Fighting Delta Variant


 Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. Well, we are very, very carefully monitoring the latest news about the Omicron variant and, meanwhile, we're still fighting the central battle, which is against the Delta variant. So, a lot going on. Then, I have some updates for you today because we need to take very bold action, aggressive action to address these new threats. It's Omicron, it's cold weather, which we know presents a real challenge with COVID in every form. It's the holiday gatherings coming up. There's a lot going on and what we're seeing now in other parts of the world, and this is really an area of tremendous concern. We're seeing restrictions starting to come back. We're seeing shutdowns. Look at Germany right now, such a strong nation in so many ways, but the situation there has got to a really troubling place. So, now they're reinstating a lot of restrictions that we all hoped were part of the past. We cannot let those restrictions come back. We cannot have shutdowns here in New York City. We got to keep moving forward. And the answer is always is to use the things that work, vaccination works and vaccine mandates work. That's the bottom line. 

So, look, we're working closely with the State government, with the federal government, we're all united, common front to fight COVID and that cooperation is tremendously important, but we also know Omicron is here. No debate about it anymore. It doesn't matter if we're only getting a few cases in different states. We know it's here. We know it's going to spread. It appears to be at this moment, very transmissible. We're waiting for more facts and more evidence, but that's what we're seeing so far.


What does that mean? You can expect – and I'm sorry to say this, you can expect community spread. We have to assume it's going to be widespread. We have to assume it's going to give us a real challenge. We'd been to this movie before, we've been down this road before, we know what happens when we get a new variant, in particularly one that's highly transmissible. It's not something we can't handle. We have the tools, but we have to use those tools aggressively and we have to move quickly. And that's why I described the actions we're taking today as a preemptive strike, get ahead of this problem before it deepens and use the thing that works, vaccination. We can talk about all the other tools and we will, but vaccination is the central weapon in this war against COVID. It's the one thing that has worked every single time across the board on a strategic level. It's the reason New York City is back in so many ways. And it's the reason we can avoid shutdowns and restrictions, it’s more use of vaccination. So, that's why we are taking aggressive action today. We are not going back to what happened in 2020. We cannot allow that to happen. We're not going to allow to happen in New York City with what's happening in Germany right now. We cannot let that happen.


So, look, bottom line. I've said we have been climbing the ladder as we have climbed the ladder, good things have happened more and more people have got vaccinated. The city got safer. We were able to bring back people's livelihoods and jobs and the life of the city. We need to keep that going. So, today, we're going to be announcing some additional measures to keep New Yorkers safe. And I'm going to remind everyone job, number one, any mayor, keep people safe. This is the biggest crisis not only of our time, but of the history of New York City. We cannot let COVID back in the door again. So, these measures today will make a big difference. First of all, with the Key to NYC, extremely effective program has been respected and emulated around the country. It needs to be more honestly, it's something that should be used in more and more places. Well, right now we require all employees and patrons, everyone, 12 and up to be vaccinated, at least one dose, that’s indoor dining, fitness, entertainment. That's worked brilliantly. It's been a tremendous success or a lot of concern about the beginning. In fact, it has been an across the board success with very few problems. You know, there's been a few challenges, but not many. So, we now are going to deepen that effort by requiring all employees and patrons to have from 12 years old and up, two doses. And that will take effect on December 27th, because the idea is everyone by that point, who has got their first dose, if you've got your first dose by now, you're going to be able to get your second dose by then. We got to up the ante here. We want to also encourage folks to get that second dose, vast majority of New Yorkers do. And that's good news, but we've got to encourage people even more, get that second dose because that's what gives you so much more protection. So, two doses for all the Key to NYC businesses starting December 27th, employees and customers, and that's going to keep people safe and we want to see people go out and get those second doses right now, if they qualify. 


Remember with the holidays, with the cold weather, you haven't got your second dose and you qualify, this is exactly the time to get it. You should feel urgency because the challenge of COVID is about to get greater. Now, another point on Key to NYC thinking the youngest New Yorkers, the vaccination for the five to 11-year-olds has just begun the last few weeks already. We've got over 127,000 New York City kids in that age range vaccinated. That's great. It's a little over 19 percent of all the kids in that group, considering as brand new. That's good and it's better than the national rate, but it's not enough. Obviously, we need to see a lot more. We need to see kids getting vaccinated in that age group. Parents, we need you to step up for the good of your children, your family, all of us go get your child vaccinated. So, we're going to include them in the Key to NYC. The guidelines are Key to NYC starting on December 14th. So, this is again one dose now because it's a new vaccination, that gives parents plenty of time. We've been having vaccination drives in schools. We're in the middle of our second round, in every single elementary school in New York City, every school with five to 11-year-olds, this'll be the second time around started last week continuing this week. If you're a parent, you want to get your kid vaccinated. it's so simple. It could be at your own school, or it could be in many, many locations nearby your home. This is something that's going to keep kids safe and families safe. Go get your child vaccinated so long as they've got that first dose by December 14th, they can continue to participate indoor dining entertainment, all of these great things.


Now, another point for our youngest kids, previously, for the kids 12 years old and up the rule has been in place for high risk extracurricular activities, sports, band, chorus, orchestra, dance, things where there's a lot of close contact,  things where kids are, you know, singing or anything where they're really the letting a lot of air out that could have an impact on everyone around them, that has applied to kids 12 and up, We're going to now apply that to kids in the five to 11 year old range, as well. That's also December 14th, again, only one dose required. There's time for parents get that done. Most kids don't necessarily participate in those activities. That's fine, but for those who do we want to make sure they have that protection, it's real important.


Okay, now another really big, important step in this is going to be a first in the nation step. You're going to hear from our Health Commissioner in a moment, and he will be issuing a Commissioner's Order for all private sector employers in New York City. It is time. Look, this is how we put health and safety first by ensuring that there is a vaccine mandate that reaches everyone universally in the private sector. A lot of folks in the private sector have said to me, they believe in vaccination, but they're not quite sure how they can do it themselves. Well, we're going to do it. We're going to do this so that, every employer is on a level playing field. One universal standard starting December 27th. We're going to be working with businesses all over the city. And that's almost 200,000 businesses that are not already covered by the Key to NYC guidelines right now. We're going to be working with the business community. We're going to be talking to them in the next days on how to put together the right plan to implement this. The specific guidance, the specific rules will come out in December 15th. We want to have a collaborative process. We want to make this work and let's be clear, we have a great example with the Key to NYC, all those restaurants, all those fitness clubs, all those entertainment facilities and movie theaters, all sorts of places they've been working with us. They gave us good advice up front. We came up with rules that work the vast, vast majority of implement those rules really effectively. And I constantly hear from people that they know that go into a place under Key to NYC they're safe and they feel comfortable. They're going to enjoy themselves. They feel comfortable in those settings because they know everyone's vaccinated and there was a lot of concern up front. Would it work? Would it be difficult? You know what businesses have adapted and handled it really, really well. And we know will happen again. We're going to set up a call center to handle concerns from businesses. We'll have a strong outreach effort as we've done previously, to answer questions, provide the support they need. This is going to make a huge difference to make sure New Yorkers are safe going forward. I want you to hear from the person who will be issuing the order in the course of the day, our Health Commissioner, Dr. Dave Chokshi.


Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. When we were thinking through these major new policies announced today, we had a few groups of New Yorkers in mind. I thought about my patients. So many of them essential workers who have been at risk throughout the pandemic and who are at greater risk when they are in close quarters with unvaccinated colleagues. I thought about our nurses and other healthcare workers, the trauma they've experienced and the post-traumatic stress they feel right now with cases increasing again and Omicron on the horizon. I thought about the patients, those same health care workers look after, especially the unvaccinated patients expressing regret for their decision in terrifying moments of remorse, like just before they have to be placed on a breathing tube. And I thought about how we can better protect people who remain vulnerable despite widespread access to vaccination, like children who are still too young to get the vaccine and New Yorkers with weakened immune systems, such as those with cancer on chemotherapy. For all of those groups, risk rises as community transmission increases, even before Omicron becomes more common, we've seen case numbers grow in recent weeks due to Delta, the devil we know. They have more than doubled since of recent low point in early November, increasing in every borough and every age group. That's why the bold steps the Mayor announced today are necessary and vital, starting with the private sector vaccine mandate. Vaccines work and vaccine mandates work, particularly when joined with efforts to build vaccine confidence, provide incentives and improve access as we have in New York City. We've seen this with our healthcare workers, school staff and public employees, now it's time for the private sector to step up and follow suit.


Turning to our younger New Yorkers, case rates are currently highest among our five to 11-year-olds, but we can change this. And indeed, parents have already vaccinated over 130,000 kids since five to 11-year-olds became eligible. Extending the Key to NYC to those five and up and expanding our vaccine requirement for high-risk extracurricular activities to that same age range will help further. These are proven tools in our fight against COVID-19 and a logical step to protect our kids. New York City has led the nation when it comes to decisive action on COVID-19. We have to be even more relentless than the virus. And I'm so proud of all the ways New Yorkers have shown our characteristic toughness, particularly when it's most needed. For instance, in the last two days, over 108,000 vaccinations were reported as administered, including about 63,000 booster doses. Those boosters may turn out to be particularly important for Omicron. So, you'll see us work to further increase the almost 1.2 million additional or booster doses already administered in NYC. And beyond vaccination, I'm grateful to everyone for their commitment to common sense precautions, particularly masking, testing, improving ventilation and staying home when you are ill. My Commissioner's Advisory on masking from last week, emphasized mask use indoors, including for those who are vaccinated and also, call the attention into higher quality masks like KN95s and KF94s for those at higher risk.


Mr. Mayor, thank you for the swift and resolute leadership demonstrated by today's announcements. I know it will save lives and help us prevent unnecessary suffering. Thank you.


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