Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability on COVID-19 Blue Room City Hall New York, NY 10007 March 15, 2020
NYC Mayor’s Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Let’s get our team in in here. Okay. So, everyone knows on Thursday, I declared a state of emergency in New York City. At the time, I said this situation was going to get more difficult. It is quite clear – thank you – it is quite clear that this crisis is growing intensely. I spent much of the day with our public health team going over a variety of projections, going over information from the experiences of other parts of the world and details of what we’ve seen here in New York City.
I am very, very concerned that we see a rapid spread of this disease and it is time to take more dramatic measures and I will tell you that the issue that’s been on everyone’s mind is our public schools.
I was a public-school parent for the entire education of my children, pre-K through 12th grade for both of them. I know just how much our parents depend on our public schools.
I know right now there are so many parents who do not necessarily have any other place for their children.
There are so many parents who depend on our schools for meals for their children.
There’s so many public servants we depend on, our first responders, transit workers, health care workers who need their kids to be in school. So, for everyone who is wondering why this has been such a difficult decision, it’s because I know the full cost of shutting our schools, I know all of the negative ramifications of this decision and it’s very painful. It’s going to be very difficult for a lot of families.
And so, this is a decision that I have taken with no joy whatsoever, with a lot of pain, honestly, because it’s something I could not in a million years have imagined having to do.
But we are dealing with a challenge and a crisis that we have never seen in our lifetimes and is only just begun. So, I regret to have to announce that as of tomorrow, our public schools will be closed.
In other words, to all parents who are hearing this now, there was no school tomorrow and we will be suspending our public schools until after the spring vacation. And I’m going to say this very precisely.
We will make a first attempt to restart our schools on Monday, April 20th but I have to be honest that we’re dealing with a lot of unknowns and a lot of challenges and we understand how difficult it will be to achieve that goal. But just so everyone has something to organize their thinking around.
Our first attempt to reopen the public schools would be on Monday, April 20th. I have been very honest about the fact that there is a real possibility that by closing our schools now we may not have the opportunity to reopen them in this full school year.
So, we may actually have to go out for the whole school year, which is just extraordinarily painful for our kids, for our parents, for our educators, for so many people.
And the notion of a school year being disrupted in this fashion, I have no words for how horrible it is, but it has become necessary.
You’re going to hear from the Chancellor in a moment and we’re going to talk about the things we’re going to do immediately to compensate for the loss of our public schools. And we will put a number of measures in place and we hope that they are effective and they help, but they will not by any stretch replace the full value of having our kids in school all day, and that’s just an honest statement.
The challenge, and I’ve said this as recently as this morning and again – I believe the facts unfortunately have given us no other choice, but there’s three things that we have been trying to protect. Most importantly, our public health system, our hospital system, our clinics, everywhere that people go for health care and two things that feed that system, our public transit system and of course our schools.
Now that we will not have our normal school schedule, kids in our normal school buildings, we are going to come up with a number of alternatives to try to as much as possible, still provide our kids with an education remotely and to provide a physical location for the children of those crucial public workers, those health care workers, transit workers, first responders.
Those locations will be in various places around the five boroughs. We hope between the remote learning and the specialized sites for the children of essential workers that we can keep enough going to support our health care system, but it will not be easy. So starting tomorrow morning, again, as of now, school is canceled for tomorrow, canceled to at minimum Monday, April 20th, at maximum the entire 2019-2020 school year.
Remote learning will begin on Monday, March 23rd a week from tomorrow. Our colleagues in the Department of Education have in these last weeks been setting up a remote learning system. It has never been attempted by the City of New York on this scale to say the least, but they have been working on a wartime footing to prepare it.
It will be up and running for children in grades K to 12 Monday, March 23rd, in a week. It is a system that will improve with each week and we’ll certainly take time to make it as strong as it could be and needs to be.
But it will begin and we’ll be effective starting Monday, March 23rd.
Over the next few days, teachers will be trained how to teach remotely.
Again, this is going to be a kind of battlefield training. These are not ideal conditions. We’re going to have to teach these teachers very quickly. And this is a point where I can say to all our educators, we need you.
We need you.
These children need you.
These families need you.
For so many of our educators, there’ll be an opportunity to take the tools of your profession and use them in a new way to reach a lot of kids who are going to be dealing with really, really tough circumstances.
Keep their education going, help those seniors to still graduate. We don’t want to lose that.
For those teachers who will be a part of our learning centers for the children of essential workers, your work will not only be crucial in terms of supporting our children and their education. You will literally be in a position to help form the backbone of the system we need to keep our health care workers at their post.
We cannot lose our health care workers; we cannot lose our health care facilities.
So we need to make sure those children are taken care of so our health care workers feel the ability to be where we need them most. And we’re going to be asking a lot of everyone in the health care field, long hours, tough conditions.
So supporting their children becomes absolutely crucial.
Over the next five days, our school locations will be open for one function specifically related to kids, which will be grab-and-go meals on a transitional basis. So that is only for this coming week.
At least it’ll give some ability for families that need it to have that assurance. But again, these are not for kids to stay in the building, not to eat the meals in the building, to come to the building, get the meals, and take them home for any kids who need them.
We’re going to be doing a lot of work in the coming days on how to make sure food is readily available for kids at various locations around the city and in the days and weeks going forward. But we have more work to do on that front.
We will be working to supply technology for every child that needs it. This is, again the Chancellor’s been very honest about this, an imperfect situation. We have a lot of kids of course who did not have a computer at home, a lot of kids who don’t have connectivity. We’re going to do our best to supply as much as we can to help those kids.
So, I’m going to give you some other updates and then we’ll turn to the Chancellor, but to say the least, this is a very troubling moment.
A moment where I am just distraught having to take this action.
But I became convinced over the course of today there was no other choice. And now I’ll tell you the overall numbers of cases and I think it makes part of the argument clearer.
Number of cases is obviously moving rapidly. Confirmed cases at this hour and that could change literally in a matter of hours, from New York City, we now have a number of confirmed cases for coronavirus of 329. And I’ll remind you when we started this week with several dozen cases, we’re now at 329.
A borough breakdown from numbers earlier in the day. They will not add up to 329 but it’ll give you a flavor of the breakdown. 78 cases in Queens, 72 cases in Manhattan, 53 cases in Brooklyn, 21 cases in the Bronx and 16 cases in Staten Island. Yes, indeed. 78 cases in Queens, 72 cases in Manhattan, 53 cases in Brooklyn, 21 cases in the Bronx, 16 cases in Staten Island – that is ever changing. One of the worst things I have to tell you now is we are now at five total deaths in New York City. Again, it’s recently as Friday afternoon.
There were none.
It’s now five.
You all know about the 82-year-old woman from Brooklyn who suffered from emphysema then was hospitalized related to coronavirus.
We lost her.
Now four more deaths reported related to coronavirus, a 79-year-old woman who did have preexisting conditions of heart failure and lung disease, a 78-year-old man who had multiple preexisting conditions, a 56-year-old man who had diabetes and a 53-year-old woman who had diabetes and heart disease.
We feel horrible for these families. We grieve with them, they’re in our thoughts and prayers and it is a reminder to everyone of how vulnerable that part of our population is that is older and has those preexisting conditions, we must protect them. Another reminder, anyone in your life who meets that standard, we have to isolate them from anyone who might be sick, even if it’s their loved ones.
A number of other specific actions. I will tomorrow sign an executive order requiring all hospitals in New York City to cancel elective surgery in the coming days. This is one of the powers that exists under the state of emergency. We will work to word this specifically to allow the flexibility because some hospitals can continue over a period of a few days to close out some existing elective surgeries. Not all of them have to go to zero instantly, but they will all have to go to zero on elective surgeries soon. So that will be codified as an executive order and that will be a requirement of all hospitals.
Obviously, our public health system is ready to do that immediately.
We see several of our voluntary hospitals have started down that path, but everyone needs to do it is, it’s absolutely that time.
And even if a hospital at this moment does not have a demand related to coronavirus that requires in their eyes the cancellation of elective surgeries, that day is coming very, very soon. And we just have to make this a standard across the board.
We are canceling the special election for Queens Borough President that was scheduled for March 24th. Details will be provided soon on potential options for holding that election later. And other ways we might be able to approach that election. But we did not have those details yet. But there’s been a lot of concern raised about the election day and the, all of the experiences, particularly the poll workers would have to have to make this work. And as we have seen more and more challenges, you know, this is another one is very painful, honestly, in a democratic society, the canceling of an election is such a rarity. It should be avoided at all costs. But in this case with the nature of this crisis, I’ve come to the decision that it’s necessary.
We will be closing our senior centers, ending all programming there with the exception of activities related to food. We will turn them into feeding centers, again, focused on grab-and-go, meaning pickup of meals for those seniors for whom that works. They’ll all primarily be locations for preparing and delivering meals to seniors’ homes. So instead of being a place for seniors to go to eat meals in the senior center, they’ll become a dispensary to get quality meals out to seniors, whether it’s by delivery or by pickup, but we will no longer have any programming in our senior centers.
Tonight, in all five boroughs. The FDNY, the New York City Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Business will be cracking down on businesses that are not abiding by the 50% occupancy rule. In the first day there was warnings given, there was an attempt to educate, but now given the nature of the crisis, it’s time for violations to be written. Those violations come with penalties and we are asking all businesses and that obviously largely means restaurants, bars, all businesses that have a number of people coming in and can become crowded. We can’t afford those crowded spaces anymore. So, stay to the 50 percent level or you will be penalized. If you cannot make your business viable at the 50 percent level, we understand. We wish there was something we could do otherwise. And any business that feels they have to close the result, we understand that, we are not any more happy than you are. We’ll try and be helpful in any way we can, but we cannot have bars and restaurants at over 50 percent capacity.
I will also say we are going to take a look at even going farther related to bars and restaurants. We have not made that decision yet. There’ve been a series of meetings today at City Hall and OEM. There’s going to be more meetings this evening on additional topics, so in terms of the future of bars and restaurants, that is an ongoing discussion that will continue this evening.
There’s also a discussion that will be solidified this evening on programs related to young people. I want to say very frankly, at the same time we are closing schools,
I am tremendously concerned about what’s going to happen with young people out in our communities without enough positive options, particularly teenagers, but we cannot have large congregations of young people in small spaces.
One of the things we’re going to be looking at is as the weather’s getting warmer, can we convert some programming to outside? Is that an option that would allow us to continue some youth programming? That’s something we’re going to try and determine this evening.
Just finishing a few points and then to the Chancellor. The federal government – some progress, I don’t want to say a little, there’s been some real progress over the last few days. It’s nowhere near what we need. We still need more FDA approval for more companies to do the automated testing. We still need the Senate to pass the stimulus and then we’ll need additional stimulus thereafter.
Although there’s been serious progress last few days on support for working people and a safety net as a strong beginning, but it’s nowhere near what people are going to need for a crisis of this magnitude. So, we have to see more.
I am particularly concerned about medical supplies and all supplies needed in this city, but particularly medical supplies: ventilators, masks, face guard, sanitizer, everything that not only are we going to need in huge quantities, but Washington State will need, California will need, every part of this country that experiences this crisis right now.
We’ve asked repeatedly and have no indication for the federal government that there has been an effort to in-effect nationalize the production process, meaning to ensure that these companies and factories that produce these goods are on a 24/7 basis until this crisis is over and that the goods are being distributed where they’re needed most.
This is a wartime approach. It is well known in the history of the country.
We have not seen any efforts so far by the federal government in a meaningful way to do it and meanwhile this crisis is bearing down on us.
We must have a consistent supply of these particularly crucial goods and we cannot guarantee that at this moment.
I’m going to emphasize something that Dr. Barbot said and in the Q-and- A, I’m sure she’ll get into it further. In light of the growing number of cases, amending the guidance for the vast majority of people and Dr. Barbot can get into any exceptions or specifics, but for people who get sick with those symptoms, those what we would think were normally the seasonal kind of cold and flu-like symptoms: stay home, do not go to work.
If your child is sick, do not send your child to any kind of program. Stay home. We’re saying now three or four days is the timeframe to see the direction of the disease.
If you’re getting better, great.
If you’re not getting better at that point, then that’s the time to call the doctor and discuss next steps.
But remember, we are now going to be in a situation where our health care system is going to be increasingly stressed. We need people to recognize who will be the priority. Obviously, we’ve already said it, the folks who are in most danger, we have to protect first.
Folks who may not be in any danger at all, we’re going to ask them to wait and then if they need to get care, that makes sense, but first to wait and see it develop.
Before just a couple of words in Spanish and the Chancellor, look, I’ll conclude with this. We’ve never been through anything like this. We’re all trying to make sense of it. I’ve talked to so many New Yorkers. Everyone is confused. Everyone is in pain. Everyone feels like we’re dealing with the great unknown because we are dealing with a great unknown. The only way we get through it is by supporting each other. The only way we get through it is by people actually following through on the information they’re receiving and then backing each other up, supporting each other, looking out for each other. There’s no other way. We got to take this more and more seriously with every passing day. It’s tough. It’s tough to get out of the patterns that we’ve lived our whole lives in, but something’s changed and it’s not going back. So I ask you, all New Yorkers, there’s no place on earth where people are stronger, tougher, more resilient, and more compassionate. There is no place on earth better than New York City. We’re going to need to show that right now. Everyone, step up. Look out for the people in your life because they’re going to need you….