Mayor de Blasio Holds Media Availability

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Mayor Bill de Blasio: Good morning, everybody. I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving and a chance to relax and get ready for everything ahead with the holidays and the New Year. And New York City continues to move forward. But as everyone knows, we have a new challenge we’re going to talk about today and that’s the Omicron variant. We are very, very carefully watching this situation. Our Health leadership has been in constant touch with federal authorities and State authorities, everyone sharing information, closely coordinated. We have obviously a new situation here that we need to get all the facts on and make sure we inform the public as we get more information. But a high level of coordination underway right now. I spoke this morning with Governor Hochul to coordinate City and State efforts. Spoke yesterday at length with our Mayor-elect Eric Adams, who you’ll hear from in just a moment. Everyone focused together on getting all the facts about Omicron and making decisions based on the data and the science.

Now, everyone knows there’s still a lot of information we need, and that will take days or even a few weeks to come in. But we’re going to be in a very vigilant state in the meantime, and taking any and all actions as we get facts to support them. I can tell everyone at this moment, based on the latest research done by our New York City Department of Health, there are no Omicron cases here in New York City at this moment. It is very likely there will be, but there are no cases at this moment. But nonetheless, we are preparing to take action. And our entire focus, once again is going to be on vaccination. You’ll hear from the doctors in a moment, but based on everything we know vaccination is crucial to any strategy for addressing omicron. And we’re going to double down on our vaccination efforts. We’re going to keep climbing the ladder as we’ve talked about before, variety of tools we’re using to get more and more people vaccinated.

Let’s go over where we stand right now, 88 percent of New York City adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That’s fantastic. But we want to go farther. 81 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have received at least one dose. We want to go farther. We’ve just started with the five to 11-year-olds who are at 16 percent there. This is an area where we got to do a lot more quickly. I’m going to urge all parents now, this is serious. Get out there, get your child vaccinated now. If you have a child in that five to 11-year-old age group, it’s time. Also boosters, absolutely crucial. If we’re going to fight back Omicron and most immediately continue fighting the Delta variant. That’s actually the challenge we’re dealing with here and now. And it is the number one challenge still. Get that booster. 943,000 New Yorkers have gotten the booster. We need a lot more people to do that. It’s available to all, it’s free. That is crucial. So, we’ve got a lot to do and a lot we’re going to focus on when it comes to vaccination. That is job one, vaccination. We’re going to, of course, be talking about other tools as well. In a moment you’ll hear from Dr. Chokshi. We’re going to issue an updated mask advisory for wearing masks in key locations. You’ll hear from Dr. Chokshi on that. And we know that’s an important part of the strategy, but number one is vaccination. And that’s where we’re going to put all of our energy into getting more and more New Yorkers first doses if they haven’t had it, second doses if it’s time, and that booster dose for everyone who has not yet gotten it and qualifies. As I said, high level of coordination, federal, State, and locally here with our Mayor-elect who is preparing as we speak to take over the helm here. A lot of work being done to make sure this transition goes smoothly. I appreciate the effort he and his team are making to get ready. Want to now give you an opportunity to hear from him. Our Mayor-elect Eric Adams.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams: Thank you. Thank you so much Mayor for not only having me on today with you, for taking a substantial amount of time last night, in the afternoon speaking with me as we talk about this extremely serious moment for us. And as you stated, we are still watching this very closely. But this could prove to be a critical moment in our war with COVID-19. And we must treat it that way. I think it’s so important what you’re doing now and what you’re doing with the incoming administration and the coordination with the Governor. I believe that we’re sending a clear message, being sent to New Yorkers that the vaccine is our most potent weapon, but our coordination is a close second to that. And we’re going to have that coordination. And how we choose to respond as a city, we show our resolve against this virus, to each other and to the rest of the globe. I think the globe is watching New York. And we want to thank the South African scientists, something that many of us have not acknowledged. Who, they detected this new variant and immediately alerted the international community. Something we did not see previously. And we want to thank them for that.

The variant has now been detected in at least several dozen – or a dozen countries. And we need to take this seriously. This means following the guidance of public health officials and listening to the science. And most important we want to reemphasize the urgency of getting your shot. I got my booster the other day. We must get people to take the booster shot and those who are not vaccinated, we have to do that. And I want to send a clear message. Anyone that believes we’re going to play off a different playbook under the next administration of not pursuing vaccines. They need to believe that it’s not true. We are going to be on the same playbook. We must get vaccinated in a real way. And I’m going to continue to advocate that and amplify it like you have done as the mayor. And I say that it’s time for us to come together around this and look at the new initiative that you’re going to encourage such as wearing a mask. We’re going to push that here and Borough Hall at our events, indoor indoors as well. Not only did it help us during the flu season but it could be the assistance we need during this Delta variant to sort of get this under control.

So, let’s acknowledge the fact, we’ve done an amazing job as a city, and I’m proud of what New Yorkers have done under this pandemic. It hit us in the gut in the beginning, but we adjusted and we’re doing the right things. And we need to encourage each other to continue to do that. Deaths, hospitalizations, and new cases are at an all time low because we’re doing the right things on the frontline and everyday New Yorkers. And so Mayor again, I want to thank you. And I look forward to continue to coordinate with you and your team as we move into the next administration, to ensure that we fight back against this virus and get our city up and operating again. Thank you very much.

Mayor: Thank you, Mayor-elect. I appreciate very much a clear message to all New Yorkers that your administration is going to focus as ours has on vaccination. We have a lot to do in these weeks ahead, a lot more New Yorkers to reach. Your strong message is going to help us do that. So, thank you very much.

Mayor-elect Adams: Thank you.

Mayor: Everyone, I want you to hear now from our Health Commissioner, who’s been leading the way in the fight against COVID throughout. And he as always, is going to talk about the importance of vaccination, but also a mask advisory, reminding people how important it is to use masks in certain key settings. And we really are going to make a point and Dr. Chokshi will lead the way of keeping the public informed with each and every new development. But what we are saying clear as a bell today is, what has worked up to now continues to be the key. Vaccination and obviously masks play a very important role as well. Dr. Chokshi.

Commissioner Dave Chokshi, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor. As you said, there are currently no confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in New York City or in the United States. Delta remains the dominant strain in NYC with about 98 percent of specimens sequenced being the Delta variant. New York City has one of the strongest variant surveillance systems in the country, sequencing hundreds of cases a week. And we do anticipate detecting Omicron in New York in the coming days, based on what we know about its global spread. A lot is still unknown about Omicron because it’s so early, but studies are underway and we will know more about the variant in the coming weeks. We should all give our thanks to the scientists and researchers in South Africa for their speed in discovering the variant as well as their transparency.

Allow me to break down what is currently known now in terms of transmissibility, severity, and immunity. First, transmissibility, we don’t have reliable evidence yet about Omicron’s speed of spread compared to Delta. But it does have similar mutations to other transmissible variants. And there are some reports from South Africa indicating potentially rapid spread. Second, severity. We have even less evidence about whether Omicron contributes to more severe or as is possible less severe disease. You may have heard some reports of milder illness in South Africa, but take them with a grain of salt. Rigorous investigations are still underway since hospitalizations and deaths lag cases. We do know that some of the treatments for COVID-19 disease, including new oral antivirals anticipated to be available soon, are still likely to work. Third, immunity. This is perhaps the most important scientific question as to whether Omicron pierces immunity from vaccination or from prior infection. Preliminary evidence suggests that those who’ve had COVID-19 in the past, maybe more easily reinfected with Omicron. This underscores our strong recommendation to get vaccinated regardless of whether you have already had COVID-19. The World Health Organization and vaccine manufacturers are working to further understand how the vaccines hold up against Omicron. Based on what we have seen with other variants, we do expect the vaccines to retain some degree of effectiveness, but precisely how much will take a few weeks to clarify.

But remember that the vaccines are proven to be effective against Delta in the here and now. And for the most recent week of data unvaccinated New Yorkers were nearly seven times more likely to be infected than vaccinated residents. To summarize, we still have a lot to learn about the Omicron variant, but its emergence lends urgency to the importance of the precautions we’ve all become familiar with, particularly vaccination, masking, and testing. For vaccination as you heard from both the Mayor and the Mayor-elect get your first dose, second dose or booster today. And parents please get your child vaccinated as soon as possible. Cases have been rising, including among our youngest new Yorkers in recent weeks.

Today, as the Mayor mentioned, I’m also issuing a Commissioner’s Advisory, strongly recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask at all times when indoors and in a public setting like at your grocery or in building lobbies, offices, and retail stores. This includes those that are vaccinated and those who’ve had COVID-19. Higher quality masks like KN95s or KF94s can offer an additional layer of protection. And masks are still required for everyone in public transit, health care settings, schools, and congregate settings.

Finally testing. Coming out of the holiday weekend, it’s very important that those who traveled or gathered get tested if you haven’t already. With our colleagues at Test and Trace, we’ll be working to make rapid testing even more readily available in the communities that need it most. To wrap up Mr. Mayor, it’s natural to feel some anxiety about the new variant and I’m certainly feeling humility given all that we’ve been through. But the Marie Curie quote, nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood, comes to mind. Our understanding of Omicron will advance and we’ll be able to adjust our public health strategies accordingly. Until then let’s bring to bear our tried and true tools that are already helping us keep COVID-19 at bay. Thank you, sir.

Mayor: Thank you very, very much Commissioner. Thank you as always for your leadership. And everyone, as we move forward in this fight against COVID, I’m going to use the phrase I’ve used many times before, we are going to be climbing the ladder. We’re going to be using a variety of tools and continuing to focus on the tools that allow us to get people vaccinated and stop COVID. You heard from the Commissioner. Our information to date is that any of the variants we’ve seen are affected helpfully by the vaccine. The vaccine works against every variant we’ve seen up to now. And we are working with that assumption again. So, we need to keep doubling down on vaccination. And this city has been leading the way and leading the nation in vaccination. It’s something New Yorkers should be proud of, but we got more work to do now. So, my message has been consistent now, literally for months. Everywhere, we need vaccine mandates. I’ve said it to mayors all over the country. And my message has been to mayors, governors, CEOs, everyone, public sector, private sector, implement vaccine mandates now. They work, they protect us. They will be crucial to the strategy against Omicron as well.

Today, we’re announcing an additional vaccine mandate related to child care programs. Now this is for childcare and early intervention programs city-wide. A total impact reaching 102,000 employees of these programs. These are all over the five boroughs. There are 90,000 employees who are in childcare programs, 12,000 in early intervention programs. So again, 102,000 total. We’re putting this mandate in place with a deadline of December 20, for all those employees to get vaccinated. And encouraging people, obviously in light of all the information we have, the quicker you get vaccinated, the better off you’ll be, your family will be. This is going to be important for the employees and their own health, obviously, but it’s also important for protecting the health of the kids who are in these childcare programs, and we know these employee mandates work and they help protect kids. We’ve seen it in our public schools. We have incredibly low positivity from COVID in our public schools, that continues and the high rate of vaccination in our students, but much more the fact that we made sure that every adult in our school buildings had to be vaccinated. That had a huge impact. It’s going to have an impact with childcare as well. I want you to hear from someone who can speak about this as a leader, but also as a father, and in fact, the information I have here says it’s his son’s birthday today, six-years-old, D3.  Is that true Borough President Donovan Richards, is it D3 day today?

[…]

Mayor: I’ve got to give you a credit Borough President, Queens has been exemplary, you’re right. Leads the city and vaccination, and the city leads the nation in vaccination. So, Queens is the tip of the spear and I commend you for all the efforts you’ve done. I know you’ve been out there personally, really encouraging vaccination all over the borough, thank you for that and send a message to D3, on behalf of the people in New York City, we say happy D3 day.

[…]

Mayor: I remember it vividly and great things are ahead for D3. That’s all I can say. Great things ahead.

[…]

Mayor: You too, thank you. All right, now, everyone, again, vaccination, key to fighting back the Delta variant, which is our challenge right now. We’re preparing for Omicron vaccination, still the answer any way you slice it, vaccination key to our recovery. So, the mandates have worked and we’re continuing to climb that ladder, but let’s talk about incentives. Incentives have also been crucial. We have put incentives in place, they’ve had a big impact here in this city and have been emulated around the country as well. One of the things that has really been promising and continues to grow is our vaccine bonus referral program. This is when we work with community-based organizations, small businesses, houses of worship, you name it. Local organizations, local gathering places, places where there’s trust from the community, places where people go and they’re comfortable exactly where we want people to get encouraged to get vaccinated, or even have vaccinations happen right there. But we’ve used that $100 incentive in two ways. One ,of course, for the individual getting the vaccination, crucial. It’s been very important to people, it’s going to be really important to some people now as the holidays are coming on, but also the referral bonuses have helped a lot of local organizations. Now the number is pretty impressive. So far 53,000 New Yorkers have gotten vaccinated through one of these referral initiatives, and that involves over a thousand organizations and small businesses and houses the worship have been part of it, which means about $4 million has flown – gone back into the community, through the referral program. Now, we’re seeing incredible results in one of the places that’s really impressive is in the world of PTAs, we have a bunch of PTAs participating, and they have referred over 11,000 students, parents, and community members. PTA is such an important part of the life of our schools, our communities, and a place that parents trust, what a perfect place for this program to be working. We are going to expand the referral bonus program, we’re adding another $3 million to it to take us through January of 2020. Anybody out there. Again, small business, PTA, house of worship, community based organization, anyone who wants to get involved, go to nyc.gov/vaccinereferralbonus, and please get involved and help keep your community safe. I want you to hear from someone who has been leading the way and she’s done with her colleagues and amazing job, she’s the president of the PTA at P.S. 166 in Queens. Listen to this, they have done over 130 referrals, over 130 in New Yorkers got vaccinated because of this PTA, which means over $13,000 – I’m sorry, $1,300 for their school. This is incredible and this is exactly what we need to see more of, so I commend Jennifer Tuttle and everyone at that school. Jennifer, tell us how it’s been?

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Mayor: Hey Jennifer, thank you. I really, really appreciate what you’re doing. You’re just – you and all of the other parents there, you’re an example to this whole city of how to keep each other safe. I really appreciate you. Now, you are right, Jennifer, I need to go and take a math class at P.S. 166 and brush up a little $13,000, $13,000, that’s a big deal for a PTA and what an accomplishment. And, you know, Jennifer, I would love it, if you could just tell people how easy has this been to do because I want to encourage PTAs and all other types of community groups, small businesses, to get involved, talk about how you’ve done this. That’s a lot of people. How easy has it been for you?

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Mayor: Jennifer, amazing what you guys have done. I want to say to all the parents there and the kids, and especially to you, thank you for your leadership. We’re all going to applaud you here in the room. We want to thank you. That’s amazing.

[Applause]

I hope you can hear our applause all the way from City Hall, you guys have done an amazing job, really amazing job. Thank you. All right. Way to go way to go. P.S. 166, and that’s a great example to everyone, whether you are a community organization, whether you’re a barbershop or a hair salon, a PTA, you can do the same thing and keep people safe, what a great example.

Everyone, as we now move to our indicators for the day, just want to say in the midst of all the challenges, something very positive and very beautiful last night, of course, the first night of Hanukkah, and what a powerful message and one we need at this point with everything we’ve been through, light and joy and hope overcoming the challenges, overcoming the negativity, that’s the message of this beautiful holiday. Wishing our Jewish brothers and sisters, a very, very happy Hanukkah.

Now let’s talk about our indicators and vaccination leads the way, and now we have surpassed from day one, we have surpassed 12.5 million doses, just staggering effort, and it is going to grow a lot. Right now, doses administered today, 12,527,715. Number two, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19, today’s report 99 patients, confirmed positivity level of 22.43 percent. Hospitalization rate per 100,000 New Yorkers is 0.79. And then new reported cases on a seven-day average, today’s report, 1,216 cases. Say a few words in Spanish, and this is about the vaccine mandate for childcare employees.

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, let’s turn to our colleagues in the media. Please let me know the name and outlet of each journalist.

Moderator: Good morning, we will now begin our Q-and-A. As a reminder, we are joined by Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, Dr. Mitch Katz, President and CEO of New York City Health + Hospitals, and Dr. Ted Long, head of New York City Test and Trace Corps. Our first question for today goes to David Evans from ABC.

Question: Hey, Mayor, how are you?

Mayor: I’m doing good, Dave. I don’t know why they always call you David when they introduce you. I’ve always known you as Dave. I hope you – I hope you’re cool with that.

Question: My mother appreciates them calling me David. I wanted to ask, first of all, and I heard Dr. Dave talk about take it with a grain of salt what we’re hearing out of South Africa, but over the weekend with reports that this could be more transmissible, that it could evade vaccines, I think there was great alarm over the Thanksgiving holiday, especially on Saturday and Sunday, and it sounded like we were back to perhaps, you know, the summer 2020. Then today we get up and we hear about these reports from South Africa, patients who did come down with the Omicron variant, that they had very mild illnesses, like the bad flu, that it wasn’t deadly. So, my question is, did we overreact over the weekend?

Mayor: Well, Dave, I appreciate you asking that question, and all the folks in the media, the folks in public service, we all need to ask these questions as we get information because there’s tremendous fear and concern, and there’s not always enough fact to go with it, we have to make sense of it. I don’t think it’s an overreaction for anyone to say, let’s be vigilant. Let’s be ready. Let’s take smart steps because simply the fact that we have another factor now in the equation makes me want to be very aggressive and proactive, but I think you’re right to say we don’t have all the facts yet, and we’re going to hone our strategies as we get more and more information. Let me turn to the doctors to respond to your point. First, Dr. Chokshi, then Dr. Katz.

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir, and I agree. South African scientists and the global community did the right thing in sounding the alarm and that’s what’s given us this runway to be able to prepare and ensure that we have as much time as possible, you know, to bring to bear the right strategies. But we are in this period right now where we’re counseling, you know, a bit of patients as the science sorts itself out, you know, for us to understand these key questions around transmissibility, severity, and immunity. And as always, you know, we have to keep our eyes on what we can do in the here and now, and that’s where our guidance around vaccination, masking, and testing comes in. So, we’re in a good place with respect to having the runway and the time that we need, and that, that gives us a chance to take some action. Thank you.

Mayor: Dr. Katz, you want to add?

President and CEO Mitchell Katz, Health + Hospitals: Just that I think it’s right that we should be focusing on whether or not people get very sick or need to be in the hospital. That COVID is going to be with us for the rest of our lives. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s all about how we learn to live with this virus. And so far the data do not suggest that this variant is more harmful in terms of hospitalizations or in terms of serious illness, and that’s certainly what I’m going to be focusing on. Thank you, sir.

Mayor: Go ahead, Dave. Dave can hear us, right?

Question: Yeah. Can you hear me now?

Mayor: Yeah.

Question: Can you hear me?

Mayor: Yup.

Question: Okay. Hey my other question is to Dr. Chokshi about the recommendation that he’s making. I don’t know if you all have noticed, but there are a lot of stores that have signs up that say, you must wear a mask if you’re not vaccinated. So, I’m just wondering if his recommendation today is saying those signs should probably go away, and if you’re inside wear a mask, please.

Mayor: Yeah. And I want it to – as we turn to Dr. Chokshi, I want to make another point real quick, Dave, you’re right. A lot of stores, some say – if your vaccinated – a lot of stores just say, please wear a mask. So, I want to remind all New Yorkers that there’s a lot of places that have that right to say if you’re coming into our establishment, you got to wear a mask, and re we’ve always respected that. And I think New Yorkers overwhelmingly follow that guidance. And again, we have a current mandate in effect for mass transit, for hospitals and health care settings, for schools. So a lot of mass usage going on right now. Dr. Chokshi, to the specific question from Dave.

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you very much for the question, Dave. And yes, this strengthens our recommendation around masking particularly indoors. And to clarify that is for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Of course it is most important for people who are unvaccinated to wear masks in all settings, but what we’re saying today is delivering a clear message that when you’re indoors, regardless of whether you’re fully vaccinated or not, everyone should be wearing a mask.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Andrew Siff from NBC.

Question: Mayor, good morning. I just want to pick up on the Commissioner’s advisory and ask it this way. In the UK, it’s a flat-out mandate right now, indoor spaces you have to wear a mask. I’m wondering, given that there is still uncertainty about what we’ll learn about Omicron in two to three weeks of study, why wouldn’t you err on the safe side and make it a mask mandate instead of an advisory that’s essentially already in place?

Mayor: We’ve looked at that question, Andrew, it’s a really important question and we’re – two points. One, we still need more data to determine that that is the right way to go. But the biggest point really is, we want to keep the focus on vaccination. This is the much more important part of the equation. We respect the role masks play, always have, but our team is united and we’re united with the Mayor-elect as well on this crucial point, vaccination is the crucial strategy. There’s a lot more that needs to play out on vaccination. I never want to give people the impression that wearing a mask is a substitute for being vaccinated. So, we’ve got a lot more to do with our youngest kids, we’ve got a lot more to do in terms of boosters, we’re keeping the focus on vaccination. Go ahead, Andrew.

Question: But just as a follow-up to that, one of the lessons we learned from March of 2020, and you’ve made this point yourself, you were calling for shelter in place days before Governor Cuomo finally agreed to it. So, wouldn’t you want an even stronger measure now, even if you learn two or three weeks from now, yup the vaccines still work, nothing to be alarmed about because if you learn the opposite that there is immune evasion, wouldn’t you have wanted to take the more stringent measure?

Mayor: Really – a very, very powerful question. Seriously. That’s exactly the conversation that I have with our health care leadership yesterday, and it’s something that at this moment we think the advisory sends the message loud and clear, and a lot of people are going to make that choice. But, again, what we do not want to do is mix messages about what’s the thing that actually has the most profound impact. So, picking up on your point, Andrew, the thing that we need to do with urgency is get people vaccinated. I’m really thrilled at 16 percent-plus of our five- to 11-year-olds are vaccinated. But if we’re going to battle this new variant and especially the one we have right now, Delta, we’ve got to get that number up a lot more. We’ve got to get a lot more people their booster. That is the key strategy. And if we think a mask mandate is going to play a crucial role, we’ll move on it quickly. We do not feel that yet today, but we do know that we’ve got to put everything we’ve got into more and more vaccination. And that’s why I climbed the ladder today with the child care employee mandate for vaccination. And we’re looking at other options as well.

Moderator: Our next question goes to James Ford from PIX 11.

Question: Hey. Good morning, Mr. Mayor, and everyone on the call. How are you doing?

Mayor: Good, James? How was your Thanksgiving?

Question: I appreciate your asking. It was excellent. Thank you. Speaking of holidays, can you and the medical professionals on the call talk further about preparations that you’re making, where Omicron could affect the holidays? Affect shopping, particularly with this mask directive. And perhaps even affect New Year’s Eve plans in Times Square.

Mayor: Great question, James. So, what I’ll say is, right now, again, the crucial strategy will be vaccination right now. As we get more information, we’ll make any other adjustments. Right now, for Times Square, really importantly, the only way you can attend as if you’re vaccinated. And that was something we decided a few weeks ago and I’m very glad we did. We continue to, you know, focus everything we’ve got on vaccination. Those plans continue as they are for now. We’ll monitor that situation. If there’s any updates, we’re certainly going to give them. But the key thing I want to key on also on is how we’re handling travelers. And I’m going to turn to Dr. Ted Long in a second. One of the crucial things here with holiday travel, making sure that folks are getting tested and anyone who needs to quarantine is quarantining. So, we’re ramping up that effort again and we’ve added a lot to it since we last focused on it publicly. So, Dr. Long, why don’t you give a sense of what’s being done by Test and Trace in terms of monitoring and supporting travelers.

Executive Director Ted Long, NYC Test and Trace: Yeah. Thank you, sir. And James, thanks for your question. Testing has given us the line of sight that’s been one of the most important layers of protection we’ve had in New York City, really from the beginning of COVID. What we’re doing now is we’re seeing Omicron pop up in other countries. We’re going to be offering to anybody traveling from those countries to New York City an at-home test, and even an at-home vaccine. But knowing, that as the holidays are approaching, and knowing as we see more and more now that Omicron going into other countries, for example, other European countries from the eight countries in South Africa, which it was first identified, is we are proactively now reaching out to all international travelers with three live phone calls, coming from 190 countries across the world, which includes all of CDC level three, level four, and [inaudible] this level four in addition to any country where there’s been a known case of Omicron. We’re going to adapt. We’re going to add countries that list over time. But our goal in New York City has always been to do as much testing as we can to give us that line of sight, which has kept our city safe. And, as part of that same phone call we’re going to be giving you, we’re going to be offering resources as well. So, again, as we go into the holidays, testing is going to be a very, very critical resource, as Dr. Chokshi said. And I encourage New Yorkers to continue to get tested as well.

Mayor: Go ahead, James.

Question: I appreciate that. And I just want to clarify regarding the protocol the City is taking, that Dr. Long was talking about. So, you’re – the City is calling people before they leave their country to come into the U.S. through New York? And what specifically are they – is the City saying and or asking these incoming passengers?

Mayor: Dr. Long, why don’t you play out how you guys do this work? I think James is asking a question and a lot of people would like to understand better.

Question: Yeah, absolutely. I’ll leave do my best, James. If you have more questions, always happy to talk later too. So, when an international traveler from – as CDC level three, four, or unknown CDC level country, or country with known Omicron cases, comes back into the U.S., we collaborate with the CDC and with the Department of Homeland Security to get their phone numbers so that we can call them. We actually [inaudible] go into the details here. For any people coming from those 190 countries now, they get three live phone calls, in addition to text messages, and emails. We take whatever information the Department of Homeland Security and CDC has on file. And our message to them is, vaccinated or unvaccinated, we want you to get tested when you come back to our city and that’s the best way to keep our city safe. We’re clear that if you’re vaccinated, we recommend getting tested between these three and five. So, again, we also offer all the resources that we built out through Tests and Trace through our 212-COVID-19 hotline. So, the main messages are, we want to bring in a free at-home test to your doorstep. We’ll offer to bring your free at-home vaccination to your doorstep. And we give you another resource, our 212-COVID-19 number for anything else that you need in order to keep your family safe if you’ve been to one of these countries.

Mayor: Thank you.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Dana Rubinstein from the New York Times.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Forgive me if this question is redundant, but just so I’m clear, before Omicron, it was the City’s recommendation that people mask indoors in public spaces. Now, it is the City’s recommendation – it is the City’s strong recommendation? I mean, is that the distinction?

Mayor: Yeah. And I’ll let Dr. Chokshi clarify it to you. We’re doubling down on it, basically. We have given that advice a long time ago. Obviously, things had gotten a lot better and it’s not surprising if people have started to change their habits. It’s time to re-up that advisory and make it very, very clear this is a smart thing to do at this point. Dr. Chokshi?

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. And yes, that’s exactly right. Dana, this strengthens our recommendation and it helps to clear up some of the confusion that we know has existed around guidance related to face covering. So, we want to deliver a very clear and unequivocal message that everyone should be masking indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Dana.

Question: Thanks. And then, this child care worker vaccine mandate – is this coming in response to the new variant? And does it apply to all child care sites in New York City or just those that receive City funding? How does that work?

Mayor: We’ll get you the exact definitions of the sites. Maybe Dr. Chokshi can help to perfect that definition for us right here and now. But to your first question, Dana, this is something we’ve been working on for a while. When we talk about climbing the ladder, that’s something that’s been an active concept, looking for what the next thing to do is, depending on what we were seeing with COVID. Certainly, seeing this additional variant emerge encourages us to keep climbing that ladder steadily. But this is something we’ve been working on for a while. This is the right time to now put it into effect. Dr. Chokshi, in terms of the definition, if you have it – so, again, 102,000 employees, are you able to parse the groups a little more for Dana? Or else we’ll get her follow up information.

Commissioner Chokshi: Yes, sir. We were happy to follow up on the details, but the big picture is that we had previously issued a vaccine requirement for City-contracted child care settings. This extends it to essentially all child care settings in New York City. So, that means the vaccine requirement covers all child care broadly. And it also covers providers for a program known as Early Intervention. So, that is now all under a Commissioner’s Order. And the previous one, as well as this one, have been unanimously ratified by the Board of Health. We can follow up with the precise language in those orders. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you.

Moderator: Our next question goes to Marcia Kramer from CBS.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor. How are you doing today?

Mayor: I’m doing well, Marcia. How was your Thanksgiving?

Question: It was great. Thank you for asking. I hope yours was too. The question I have, it has to do with COVID fatigue. Are you at all worried that because so many people are very tired of all the alerts and the COVID – and wearing masks, and the fact that now the city is coming back to some sense of normalcy, that there’s going to be a resistance to taking the new Omicron variant as seriously as you think it should be?

Mayor: That’s a great question, Marcia. I do think there’s a lot of fatigue. Now, that said, when you hear these reports, I think it’s natural for people to say, wait a minute, if this is something new, it might affect our lives. And, obviously, everyone thinks about their health and safety and the health and safety of their family. So, there’s a lot of fatigue, but I don’t think there’s so much fatigue that people are not paying attention to these new developments. I think the simplest way to answer the fatigue is with a clear message around vaccination, because it’s the single most effective thing you can do. People can debate all the other measures that they could take, but the one that is the most important is vaccination. And I do think this news is going to encourage some people who are on the fence to now come forward and get vaccinated. Go ahead, Marcia.

Question: So, my second question is, this seems like a new day for how the City and the State coordinate in terms of how they handle COVID and their response to the new development. You’re coordinating not only with Mayor-elect Adams, but also with Governor Hochul. I wonder what you think that means for you personally in terms of how you’re able to do things well. But also, what does it mean for New Yorkers that there’s now what seems to be a unified message, a unified response, and a unified plan?

Mayor: It’s so much better, Marcia. Look, the truth is, in the worst moments of COVID in the spring of 2020, it was a constant struggle. The lack of federal leadership is well-known. The constant struggle with Albany just to get anything done was such a burden. And, on top of that, the things that none of us were told that we should have been told, for example, about the nursing homes. For this city, and for everyone in this city struggling against COVID, we also had to struggle against Albany and struggle against Washington. That was the reality of 2020. Now, we have a unified front. We’re working with our federal partners. We’re working with our State partners. Everyone is having open, thoughtful conversations. This is so much better for the people of New York City. And I have a lot of respect for President Biden, and the way he’s approaching COVID. I have a lot of respect for Governor Hochul, and we’re communicating regularly. This is the right way to do things and I do think it’s going to help keep everyone safer.

Moderator: We have time for two more questions today. Our next question goes to Erin Durkin from Politico.

Question: Hello, Mr. Mayor. You know, Dana asked both of my questions. So, we were very much on the same wavelength today. But I still – I just want to really clarify on this mask thing. I know this has been asked a couple of times, but it’s a little confusing. Is there anything different in this advisory than the advisory that you issued in the beginning of August? Or is it purely just emphasizing the guidance that was already in place?

Mayor: I think, again, Erin, it’s – an I’ll have Dr. Chokshi speak to it again. And it’s a fair question. I want people to understand August was a long time ago. We have some new challenges now. It’s getting colder out. We know that means more people inside. That means COVID spreads more easily. Holiday gatherings, obviously the potential challenges with Omicron. It’s time to remind people and double down and say, even if you started to move away from masks before, we’re telling you, get those masks back on now. It’s smart to do. The number-one thing is to get vaccinated, but we’re reminding people of the important role that masks can play as well. Dr. Chokshi?

Mayor: Thank you, sir. You described it well. I’ll just reiterate, you know, this strengthens our recommendation. And what we always keep in mind is that our guidance is only as good as what happens in the real world. And what we want people to do is to is to take the changes that the Mayor has described seriously. The fact that we are seeing an increase in cases with colder weather, as well as the persistence of Delta, and the fact that Omicron is over the horizon. So, for all of those reasons taken together, we wanted to send a clear message to our fellow New Yorkers about how to protect themselves and how to protect our city.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Erin.

Question: Okay, thanks. And then, with regards to the child care mandate, do you have any data on what percentage of that workforce is currently vaccinated?

Mayor: I don’t have it in front of me, honestly. Let’s see if Dr. Chokshi or any of his colleagues happens to have it. Otherwise, we’ll get it to you right away. I mean, we know across the board in areas where there are not mandates, we typically see lower vaccination rates than we want and the mandates help move the rates substantially. But, in terms of the specifics, Dr. Chokshi, do you have that?

Commissioner Chokshi: Sir, I don’t have a number at my fingertips either. What I can tell you is that we do know that there was a range in terms of vaccination rates among different child care providers. And so, in addition to what you described in terms of the mandate encouraging vaccination across the board, this helps bring everyone up to the same level, which is so important to protecting all of our children across New York City.

Mayor: Thank you very much. Go ahead.

Moderator: My apologies, now we have two more questions left for today. Our next question goes to Julia Marsh from the Post.

Question: Hey, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for the news on the child care of center mandates. I was just able to provide some breaking news to my mom groups. So, that’s very exciting.

Mayor: You’re covering a lot of fronts, Julia.

Question: I’ve got to multitask as a working mom. So, back to this, this variant. Mr. Mayor, you know, you said that it’s not here yet, but it likely will be soon. So, I’d love to hear from the doctors, you know, how soon they think that will be? I mean, is it really already here and we just don’t know yet? Is it a matter of days before we detect it? And do you think there should be a requirement to test and-or quarantine for people coming in to the city from those CDC countries? I don’t know whether, you know, the City can impose that or if it has to be the federal government.

Mayor: Yeah. Very important question, Julia. So, I’ll start and I’ll turn to Dr. Chokshi. We definitely believe we will see this variant soon. Just the amount of spread we’re seeing already reported in Africa and in Europe suggests it will be here and soon. But at the same time, it’s good that we don’t have any cases reported so far from a lot of research that is giving us time to get information and prepare. In terms of travel, the thing we need is a vaccination mandate for all travel. This is something, obviously, has to be done first and foremost on the federal level. But this is, to me, the missing link that really would improve the health and safety of all Americans, if that was in place clearly and strongly. Dr. Chokshi, do you want to speak to what your assumptions are about how and when we’re going to see this?

Commissioner Chokshi: Thank you, sir. Yes, we believe it will be a matter of days before Omicron is detected in the United States, and very likely in New York City as well. You know, the positive news is that we have such a strong surveillance system for variants in New York City. We built it up over the last several months and we are now sequencing about 15 percent of all cases in the city, which means that when it is here it will be discovered quite rapidly and that will allow us to, you know, to continue to make adjustments to our approach. With respect to the travel question, I’ll just say that I strongly support the Mayor’s call for a vaccine requirement for travel. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead, Julia.

Question: I’m just confirming that the Mayor-elect is no longer on the call, correct?

Mayor: That’s right.

Question: Okay. I know he had planned to travel abroad this week, and I’m not sure if you discussed it with him yesterday, Mr. Mayor, but I’m wondering, you know, what your and the doctor’s advice would be? You know, both to the Mayor-elect and others who are considering international travel right now.

Mayor: My advice is get vaccinated. It’s as simple as that. And I’ll turn to Dr. Chokshi, but I think the bottom line is, if people are vaccinated, that’s the way that they protect themselves and protect everyone else. Dr. Chokshi?

Commissioner Chokshi: Just to elaborate briefly on that, sir, it sounds like the Mayor-elect got his booster recently. That’s very important. You know, even if you are fully vaccinated, the booster gives you a very important additional layer of protection and that’s helpful for people who are traveling. We also do recommend testing before and after travel. And, of course, people should continue to wear their face coverings in transit. Thank you.

Mayor: Thank you. Go ahead.

Moderator: Our last question for today goes to Abu from Bangla Patrika.

Mayor: Abu, can you hear me? We got him out there? If you have someone else, you can go to someone.

Moderator: We’re going to go ahead and go to Michael Gartland from the Daily News.

Question: Good morning, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor: Hey, Michael. How have you been? How was your Thanksgiving?

Question: I’m good. It was great. Thanks for asking. I wanted to go back to something Dr. Long said before about the tests that are being offered to people coming into the city. Are those tests required? And does the City at this point have the power to require, you know, incoming travelers to be tested?

Mayor: Dr. Long, why don’t you give Michael an update on that?

Executive Director Long: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Michael. So, these tests are not currently required. What we do is when we get the information from the Department of Homeland Security and from of the CDC, we call it the [inaudible] traveling from any of the countries that I was referencing. We call, talking about public health guidance and encourage them to get tested. And one of the best ways that we’ve learned in New York City do encourage people to get tested is by bringing it to your doorstep, through your doorstep, always free of charge. So, that’s what we are – what we built out now and that will take us into the holidays as well. With our clear guidance being, again, if you’re coming back from one of these countries, the best gift to give your family this this year for the holidays is the gift of protection. Especially, if you’re a traveler coming from one of these countries, get tested to know if you have COVID to keep your family safe, and we’re going to do everything in our power to help you do it, including bringing you a PCR test to your home so that we’ll know as soon as possible when Omicron comes into our city.

Mayor: Excellent. Go ahead, Michael.

Question: Thanks, Dr. Long. I also want to ask about – Mr. Mayor, you talked about, you know, this – you use this metaphor again of climbing the ladder and, you know, the possibility of additional options in the future as far as that goes. Can you tell us what some of those options may be and is – are restrictions on indoor dining one of them? I mean, what do you have in mind as far as that goes?

Mayor: Michael, I’m not going to go through a theoretical list on purpose. I appreciate the question, but I’m saying this is something we’re looking at very carefully right now. I think it makes sense to let us process a little through – a little more and get it through that. The indoor dining, right now, I think we’ve got the right approach with the Key to NYC. So, that will continue, obviously. The overall reality is to focus on vaccination in every way and really make sure we don’t need the other kinds of restrictions we used to have that were so difficult. So, we’re looking for any other area where we can do more with vaccination, that’s the bottom line. It has worked. The mandates have worked. Really, really powerful evidence – we’ve seen the success in the schools, the success with the public workforce, the success that we’ve seen with Key to NYC. So, we’ll keep you posted. If there’s any other areas that we think we can make an impact, that’s what we’re going to do.

And, everyone, as we conclude today, look, we we’ve got some challenges here and obviously some big unknowns, but what we will do is keep the people of this city constantly updated. And the one thing we know – and I say this particularly to parents right now – getting your child vaccinated makes so much sense. Even before we heard about Omicron, it made sense. It especially makes sense now. Go out and do it today. We need to get our kids vaccinated. We need everyone to get those boosters. That’s the best way to protect each other and protect our city, going forward. Thank you, everybody.

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