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Press Conference: Mayor de Blasio 2/22 Coronavirus Update

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Mayor Bill de Blasio's Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 daily briefing.

Video Transcript

- Mayor de Blasio is giving an update on the coronavirus in New York City. Let's go to it now.

BILL DE BLASIO: Congress member Nydia Velazquez, and resident leaders, and community members, all united to make sure that people get the vaccine. And this site was specifically focused on senior citizens, residents of public housing in Brooklyn in Red Hook. And the idea is not just to talk about equity, but bring the vaccination sites right into the community and do the outreach to make it work-- go out into the community, talk to people, answer concerns, sign up seniors right there at their door.

Our great Test and Trace Corps out there, literally going door to door in Red Hook houses and all over the city, talking to seniors in public housing saying, do you need the vaccine? Are you ready for the vaccine? Let's sign you up right now. And making the appointment with them online right there, helping to make sure they get what they need.

A lot of good energy there. A lot of folks really excited to get the vaccine. And I thank everyone who is a part of that Red Hook Center for the good work they're doing. And I also had the joy on Friday of being out in Staten Island at the Empire Outlets. There's a major new vaccination hub for Staten Islanders. And again, great energy. Really well organized. Folks were ready-- ready to help their fellow Staten Islanders, and lots of Staten Islanders coming in who are ready to be vaccinated.

This is how we're going to defeat the coronavirus, with lots and lots of locations at the grassroots. And more and more, we can reach all over the five boroughs, deeper into communities, if we have the supply. But let me tell you something about this last week. We didn't have the supply. The storms all over the country disrupted everything. At one point, we got down to fewer than 1,000 first doses left for the entire city of New York.

That is painful to talk about because so many people need the help. And we're ready. We could be doing a half a million vaccinations a week right this minute. And we literally got down to a point where we had fewer than 1,000 first doses available. We're getting now, finally, the supply that we expected last week is arriving today. That means we've basically lost a full week in our vaccination efforts. But it will not stop us. It will not stop us from reaching our goal of 5 million New Yorkers vaccinated by June, because we still have the ability and the capacity to do it. And the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is coming, which is one dose only. That's tremendously helpful.

So we're still able to reach our goal, but we lost a whole week because of the storm and what it did to supply around the country. Now, that said, some good news. We have now surpassed 1.5 million vaccinations since the beginning of this effort. Specific number, 1,527,527 doses have been given in New York City since we began. That number will jump up as soon as we get supply. And once again, we need the pharmaceutical companies to step up. We need to see a lot more from them. We need to see the federal government give us direct allocation, not with strings attached. Not through the state. Just direct to New York City. We need the state to give us the freedom to vaccinate. We need to go back to normal governance in the state so we can get the job done.

OK, now, I've talked since the State of the City address about the importance of a recovery for all of us. And more and more, we're going to be talking about recovery. We, every day of course, have to talk about COVID, because we're fighting COVID, and we need to get people vaccinated, and we need to fight back COVID to recover. But I want to turn more and more of our attention every week to the topic of recovery, how we recover, how we make sure it's a recovery for all of us. And we're constantly going to be posting updates at RecoveryForAll.nyc.gov to let people know how the recovery effort is going.

Now, we've got some good news today, in fact, several pieces of good news today. But first, let's talk about a major piece of the recovery effort. And that has to do with JFK Airport. JFK is crucial to the future of New York City. It's crucial in terms of reestablishing our strength as a global economic capital. It's crucial for New Yorkers who want to travel and people want to come see us. And I guarantee you they'll be coming back, and sooner than you think. And that's going to be great for the city, for people's livelihoods, for our economy.

But JFK also is a source of a lot of employment. It's a place where a lot of investment will happen. And we want that investment to go to the surrounding communities of Southeast Queens. We want to make sure that New Yorkers benefit-- people in Queens benefit from this new investment, minority and women owned businesses benefit, people that live in the community get the jobs. That's what it's all about.

So today I'll be signing an executive order to extend the JFK lease with the Port Authority, and to do it with a package of actions that will make sure there is economic empowerment that a lot of the wealth generated in JFK gets redistributed to the surrounding communities and businesses that represent the surrounding communities.

This overall effort-- the JFK Redevelopment project --will be between 10 and $15 billion in infrastructure spending-- huge, huge effort --and overall, will create 20,000 jobs. And obviously, crucial for the future of our economy, for tourism, everything that we need to bring back. Getting this right meant driving a tough bargain and making sure that the needs of the people came first-- public benefits, front and center.

And it wasn't just about saying, here's what we think would be good. It was about listening to the voices of the community, the leaders of the community who have been fighting for years for the kind of community benefits package that would really make a difference. That includes a lot of that money going into the hands of minority and women owned business. That includes local hiring from the community. That includes apprenticeship programs. Things that actually give people economic opportunity.

I want you to hear from two leaders who were absolutely focused and intense in their efforts to ensure that the JFK redevelopment would do the most for Southeast Queens on a lasting basis. First, a leader who's doing so much for us, not just in Queens but in Washington, and who I turn to often with great appreciation, Congressman Gregory Meeks. Congressman?

GREGORY MEEKS: Thank you, Mr Mayor.

BILL DE BLASIO: There you go.


BILL DE BLASIO: Yes, go ahead.

GREGORY MEEKS: I want to thank you, Mr Mayor, for recognizing the urgency of this matter and signing this emergency executive order to extend the lease for JFK Airport. As you know, it's one of the key elements to getting JFK redevelopment program back on track, and it's also a pleasure to see my friend and my partner, the Borough President, Donovan Richards.

We've been working very closely together with the community since 2018. And we became the chair of the community redevelopment program that was put on on part by Governor Cuomo. And we need to get that straight. We've been talking with the community as you indicated, working closely with the community advisory council, laser focus on working with you, the Port Authority, to make sure that not only JFK rises to a vision for a unified modern airport that I think all of our elected officials have been working on.

This has been a collaborative effort. And yeah, the project will draw more than $10 billion of private investment, creating 20,000 direct and indirect jobs-- billions of dollars in minority and women owned businesses, and local contracting opportunities, and other extensive community benefits.

And so I'm excited to know that you, Mr Mayor, and the governor, and the Port Authority, and now we're working hard in Washington, DC, because we know that the Port Authority has been devastated by this pandemic. They tried to find in this stimulus package another set of money to help them restore and to move this project back into the limelight where it need it to be so these jobs will continue.

So we appreciate you. We appreciate the Port Authority. We appreciate the governor, and appreciate particularly the members of the community who have come together to say, these are the things that we want. And you, Mr Mayor, insisting that it happens-- double checking that it happens --this is what unity is all about. So we'll keep fighting. I'm headed back to Washington right now this week.

So I will keep fighting and working with the Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and the entire New York congressional delegation who are pushing our colleagues from around the country to support the $3 billion we're trying to do in relief funding for the Port Authority that has not only allowed JFK airport redevelopment program to move forward, but will help lead the economic recovery for Queens, and for New York, and the entire United States.

So thank you, mayor. Your tenacity is getting us a step closer to getting where we need to be.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you so much, congressman. I wanted to just say personally, I am so appreciative for what you did here to make sure there was justice for the communities surrounding JFK. I know this has been a passion of yours for a long time. But I also want to say thank you for what you're doing to get us a stimulus we deserve and need.

And one more point, and you and I talked about this a few weeks ago. I'm just-- you know, you and I have known each other for years and years. To see, you know, a friend, a colleague rise to level being the chair of the House International Relations Committee-- one of the most important roles in the Congress-- to see a New Yorker having an impact all around the world, it makes all of us proud. I know your constituents in Queens are proud. And thank you for all you're doing for all of us.

GREGORY MEEKS: Thank you. I look forward to continuing to work with you and my distinguished Borough President.

BILL DE BLASIO: Perfect Segway. Look at that. So let me say the Borough President is nothing if not persistent and tenacious. I could come up with a variety of words. I've had a great experience working with him over the years when he was in the council. Now as borough president, this has been a passion of his too, and making sure we don't do things the old way.

Too often, a lot of government decisions were made without focusing on surrounding communities. This is the exact opposite. This front loads the focus on minority and women owned business, front loads of focus on jobs-- local hiring for the community. We want to go a lot farther with local hiring. We need support from the legislature to do that, going forward.

But here's an example of mandating local hiring from the beginning that makes a huge difference. And one of the leaders that made it happen, the Borough President of Queens, Donovan Richards.

DONOVAN RICHARDS: Thank you, Mayor de Blasio. What a good day for Queens, the best borough in New York City.


DONOVAN RICHARDS: I would like to also thank Deputy Mayor, Vicki Been, to Port Authority chair, Kevin O'Toole for all their efforts in making today's announcement possible. You know, Queens is the gateway to the rest of the country and the world because of our airports. Today's announcement to extend JFK's lease is a win for our borough indeed, and our city. This is a win for our economy as well, securing 20,000 jobs with 10,000 of them being union jobs. It's so critical as we talk about the disparities that we've seen during this pandemic.

We know that we have to rebuild, but we have to rebuild back better and stronger with communities in mind. Working with my congressman who is my co-chair, Gregory Meeks, on this, securing this historic deal at this moment, during a time where we're seeing unemployment somewhere around 10% in Queens has been so critical. And I am so happy that these not going to just be any jobs, but good jobs that are going to ensure that Southeast Queens and other communities around Queens can bounce back after this pandemic leaves us in a big way.

I've talked about the disparities. Once again, we've seen-- a lot of days, we know, looking back to the past, as you said, there was-- you know, we would hear about, jobs are coming in. Jobs are coming in. But we would say, who are the jobs for? Are they for the local residents? We talk about the airport. You know, there's no community outside of Southeast Queens, pretty much.

And you've got LaGuardia as well, communities in East Elmhurst and Corona as well who get the noise-- who get the pollution of the airport --but who need to also-- we need to address that. I'll say that. But we also need to ensure that they are the number one priority when these jobs are coming in. And I think we're doing that today with this bill.

We know that this pandemic is not just a public health crisis, but also an economic crisis. And with the support of JFK, of course, back to Congressman Meeks, and our federal partners I'm confident that we are one step closer to a just recovery. So I want to thank you, Mr Mayor, once again for being a firm partner on so many different things. I'll be out in Far Rockaway in a little while. We'll be cutting the ribbon on some new affordable housing out there. But this would not be possible without your partnership.

And you get criticized on some things. We will always call out the things that you do right. And you've done a great job working with us in Southeast Queens on infrastructure, $2 billion in infrastructure. We've secured a lot of affordable housing. And this just another accomplishment that we can say we got done together collectively with our congressmen to ensure that good jobs are coming to our communities. So thank you, Mr Mayor.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you so much, Borough President. And Borough President, I like to say we need to put working people first. And that's what this plan does. Thank you for your leadership. I agree with so many of the things you said. I want to join you in shouting out and thanking Deputy Mayor Vicki Been and all the folks who worked on this effort to get this right, and to make it about working people, and make it about the Southeast Queens communities.

The one thing, Borough President, I would contest potentially is your assumption that one borough might be better than another. I think we have five wonderful boroughs. Five wonderful boroughs. We love them all, but I admire your patriotism. So thank you, Borough President. I look forward to seeing you later on. More good news ahead.

DONOVAN RICHARDS: Thank you. Thank you.

BILL DE BLASIO: OK. Now, everyone, recovery. We're going to be talking about it all the time. Because, again, as we start to leave COVID behind, name of the game is a recovery for all of us. I'm going to keep talking about what that means. That means a recovery where everyone benefits. We do not want to recreate a status quo of inequality and disparity. We want a recovery that's strong, that's vibrant, brings New York City back to where it was and then some in terms of economic activity, and people's livelihoods-- people's incomes.

But we need to do it better, fairer. And there's an incredible sense of urgency at City Hall because now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID, our singular focus is a recovery that will really work. There's a lot to do. And it's going to take a lot of leadership, and a lot of coordination, and a lot of organization to pull together all the strands. Every single city agency must be part of the recovery effort.

Recovery for all of us is about everything. It's about our economy. It's about our schools. It's about public safety. It's about every element of what we do. And it means working closely with the business community, our huge non-profit community here in this city, universities, you name it. Everyone needs to be a part of this. That's a lot to pull together-- a lot of strands that need to be brought together to get this right.

So today, I'm bringing forward some new leadership to make this happen for all of us. It's a big job, and it takes someone who's accomplished so much already in the public sector, but always working closely with communities and the private sector as well. I can tell you that Loraine Grillo is someone who is so respected in this city for the work she has done over decades to build this city up in so many ways. And I am naming her today as my senior advisor.

I'm going to refer to her as our Recovery Czar, because what she has to do is really pull these strands together and make sure that every week, every day, the entire city government is focused on the recovery, moving together in a coordinated fashion. There'll be a weekly war room that will include all the deputy mayors, key agencies, key figures here at City Hall, constantly determining what it's going to take to move the recovery forward, and then doing the work with all members of the New York City community stakeholders of all kinds to keep that agenda moving.

We've got a lot to do. Lorraine Grillo is extraordinarily qualified, and someone who has been consistent throughout her career. I've worked with her for decades and I've seen her work. She's led the school construction authority. Used to be, bluntly, years ago, considered one of the basket cases of city government. Under Lorraine Grillo's leadership, it became a modern, effected, admired agency who got the job done regularly. Kept within budget timelines. Oftentimes did better than anyone could have projected.

She was one of the heroes of Pre-K for All. We had to ensure that space was created in record time. Lorraine led the way. And those goals we set for Pre-K For All in the first years of administration were consistently met. She was one of the heroes of the recovery from Sandy. When Hurricane Sandy hit, communities were devastated. There was so much to do. And it required bringing back schools that had been knocked out. And they had to do it-- we had to do it in record time as a city. And Lorraine led the way.

And something that a lot of people who care about justice have appreciated. There's been no part of city government that's done a better job in terms of empowering and supporting minority and women owned businesses, and school construction authority under the leadership of Lorraine Grillo. It's a passion for her. It's a passion for justice that has led her to make sure resources flow into communities of color, into the hands of women to make change. And she's shown it can happen.

So I want to tell you, I'm convinced that Lorraine Grillo will help us supercharge this recovery-- put it into high gear and keep it going, every single day. And that's because she's a great public servant. She's a great leader. But I also know her heart. Born and raised in Astoria, Queens, someone who loves this city to her core. The right person to, as Recovery Czar, help us take a big step forward in 2021. My pleasure to introduce my new senior advisor, Lorraine Grillo.

LORRAINE GRILLO: Thank you so much, Mayor de Blasio. I'm so excited to get to work. Our city-- my city --has been hit really hard. But we'll recover. As the Recovery Czar, I'll make sure that we will recover quickly and fairly. This isn't the first crisis I've ever seen. As you mentioned, when Hurricane Sandy hit, I got to work rebuilding our schools. It was tough work. Some days, I would stand back and look at the overwhelming devastation. But we never gave up. New Yorkers never gave up. We rebuilt, and we did it the right way.

I made a point of rebuilding with women and minority owned businesses helping us lead the way. I knew that while there is pain and crisis, there is also an opportunity to do some things better . That same mindset, I'm taking to being your Recovery Czar. I'm going to take the skills that I put in place to reopen our schools, build our universal Pre-K, and rebuild from Sandy to help us rebuild from COVID.

Working directly with you, Mr Mayor, I'm going to lead a recovery war room that spans across government. I work with our deputy mayors, every agency, and reach out to business leaders and nonprofits. I'm going to draw on my decades of experience in government to cut through the noise and get things done.

Joining together with the task force on racial inclusion and equity, I will fight to make sure our recovery is felt in every borough and in every neighborhood. I want you to know that this is my city. I was born and raised here. I sent in my kids to New York City public schools. And I'll be damned if we don't lead the greatest, strongest, fairest recovery you've ever seen. That's what my mission is.

In my years serving New York City, I built schools for over 80,000 students. I've led nearly 4,000 capital improvement projects, and managed budgets totaling $28 billion. I build things. That's what I do. And together, we're going to build a recovery for all of us. So let's get to work, Mr Mayor.

BILL DE BLASIO: Let's get to work. I like that. I like the sound of that, and that's what you do every single time, Lorraine. You get to work. You get things done. And I'm really, really appreciative that you're taking on this new role. Lorraine mentioned something that we should dwell on for a moment here, how New York City schools came back.

In the midst of this crisis, so many naysayers said, back in the summer, it would be impossible for our schools to come back. It took a Herculean effort to get schools going again in September. Lorraine Grillo and her team led the way. Remember, we used to talk about getting classrooms ready, getting schools ready, ventilation, all that work Lorraine and her team led the way-- got the job done when people said it couldn't be done.

And when major cities all over America dared not even to try, New York City proved who we were, and we reopened our public schools. So that's exactly the kind of person Lorraine is-- a New York City can-do spirit. And she's going to make a huge impact as our Recovery Czar. OK, let's go to our daily indicators. Number one, daily number of people admitted to New York City hospitals for suspected COVID-19. Today's report, 252 patients. Confirmed positivity rate of 61.28%. And hospitalization rate, 4.09 per 100,000.

Number two, new reported cases on a seven day average, 3,116. Number three, percentage of people testing positive city-wide for COVID. Today's report, a seven day rolling average, 7.2%. Now, let me say a few words in Spanish about the vaccination effort and our supply challenge.


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

- We'll now begin our Q&A. As a reminder, we're joined today by Recovery Czar, Lorraine Grillo; by Deputy Mayor, Vicki Been; and by Senior Advisor, Dr. Jay Varma. First question today goes to Andrew Siff from WNBC.

ANDREW SIFF: Mayor, good morning. And good morning to everyone on the call. I want to ask about the vaccine and the vaccine supply. Where are we in terms of your confidence that we can proceed without future interruptions of the supply? And when will we be on course to do what you promised might be too strong, but strove for, which is the 5 million vaccinated by June?

BILL DE BLASIO: Andrew, you've asked the most essential question. And I'll tell you this. We got thrown a curve-ball by mother nature last week. And it turned out to be a lot worse than we thought it would be. The whole national supply situation got disrupted. But it doesn't stop us from achieving our goal. We can get to 5 million New Yorkers fully vaccinated by June because we have more and more capacity all the time. We could be doing 500,000 vaccinations a week right now-- and I say easily --if we had the supply.

So yes, we can hit that goal. In terms of catching up, I'll turn to Dr. Chokshi. We have finally received last week's shipment. The weather situation has obviously improved around the country. We do not expect another disruption like this. In fact, we expect supply to start to increase in the coming week. But this was another reminder that we've got a big challenge ahead. We need the supply to be consistent. Go ahead, doctor.

DAVID CHOKSHI: Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. And you're exactly right. We expect all of the shipments that were due to arrive in New York City last week to come to the city between-- mostly between today and tomorrow, perhaps some on Wednesday as well. And then we also expect the deliveries that were originally slated to arrive for this week to arrive by the end of the week as well.

Right now, we're getting about 170,000 first doses per week. And that's our expected supply for the next two to three weeks. We expect that that number will modestly increase through March. And hopefully by the end of March to April, based on what our federal colleagues are telling us, there will be a further increase in supply that will help us get to those goals that we have every intention of accomplishing as the mayor has Said

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead, Andrew.

ANDREW SIFF: My second question has to do with the governor and the ongoing controversy about the nursing home decisions. First of all, have you spoken with the governor since Friday when he had a very lengthy explanation of the timeline? And if not, do you-- do you accept his explanation that essentially, the state created a void by not being as forthcoming as it should have been but that there's essentially no scandal there?

BILL DE BLASIO: No, I have not spoken to him. No, I did not accept his explanation. There needs to be a full investigation. Thousands of lives were lost. Families deserve answers. We need to get the whole truth here. We need to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

- The next is Rich Lamb from WCBS 880.

RICH LAMB: Good morning, Mr Mayor, and everybody on the call. [COUGHS] Sorry about that.

BILL DE BLASIO: Hey, Rich. How are you doing, Rich?

RICH LAMB: I'm doing all right.

BILL DE BLASIO: This is the countdown, now?

RICH LAMB: It is the countdown. I'm hoping for one more shot at you.

BILL DE BLASIO: You will get that shot no matter what. And I'm going to keep saying I'm going to miss you. But listen. You are-- you will get most favored nation status for your next question.

RICH LAMB: Oh, OK. And I'm not sure what that means, but here we go. So the governor is saying that the city, according to his executive order, must pass a public safety reform plan package before April 1st. You know, he said that out loud. And then he has publicly mused over a list of city problems such as murders, and shootings, and homelessness, and [INAUDIBLE], saying the next mayor must address. And some see that as a swipe at you. Do you have a response to Mr Cuomo?

BILL DE BLASIO: For seven years we've been doing fundamental reforms to our police department. We ended stop and frisk. We reduced arrests greatly while keeping the city safe. We reduced mass incarceration. Body cameras on all our officers. Retrained our entire police force in deescalation and implicit bias.

That's just the beginning of the list I could give you. And a host of major reforms are coming now. We just announced our disciplinary matrix, revolutionizes police discipline, strengthening the civilian complaint review board, bringing communities into decision of who will be their precinct commanders. These are unprecedented reforms. You can look all over the country. You're not going to find this many reforms and this much impact. And there's more coming in this next package, which we will get done by the end of March, working closely with the city council.

And this city is coming back strong in 2021. You already have seen. January statistics from the NYPD, better than January a year ago. Fighting crime, pushing back crime in major categories, gun arrests up. You're going to see a huge turnaround this year, because we won't have a global pandemic and massive social disruption holding us back. And this city is going to be coming back really strong. So the proof will be clear. The evidence will be clear to all New Yorkers. Go ahead, Rich.

RICH LAMB: OK then. So you've been mentioning the Defense Production Act. Any hints from the administration that they're actually going to do that? And what about variants? Why not-- why not list them daily, or do we have any indication of these variants-- of what the numbers are in New York City?

BILL DE BLASIO: I'll turn to Dr. Varma on that who's, again, been studying the situation all over the world. And I'll say something about the variants and the impact they're having or not having. But, Rich, I'm sorry, the beginning of your question again was? Still got him? Rich, are you out there?

RICH LAMB: Yes, I'm here. Are you-- do you have me now?

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, yeah. Just start the first part again.

RICH LAMB: OK, the beginning of it was that you've been mentioning the Defense Production Act. And I'm wondering whether you've get any sense that the administration is actually going to do that. And then the other part.

BILL DE BLASIO: Listen. I do not see the pharmaceutical companies stepping up. Let's just start at the beginning. You know, there's been a global pandemic for a year. Yes, I'm extremely appreciative-- we all are --to the incredible work that went into creating the vaccines with the companies that succeeded. That's miraculous. That's wonderful. We should praise them. But where's the rest of the vast American pharmaceutical industry, an incredibly lucrative industry?

They have tremendous production capacity. Where is it? We have a crisis that we hope will really turn the corner on this here in this country. But the rest of the world has a long way to go. There's many, many countries where vaccination hasn't even begun. And it effects all of us. If a bunch of parts of the world don't have vaccine, it's going to endanger us. So what I would say is the entire American pharmaceutical industry should be in this war effort. And the Defense Production Act needs to be used very, very aggressively.

I'm certainly not seeing the pharmaceutical industry stepping up the way I had hoped. And I'm going to keep fighting for it. On the variants, I would say that even though we are constantly watching for the presence in this city, it does not change the game plan. This is the most important thing I can say to you, Rich.

To date, we still have a lot of evidence that the vaccines work across the board, regardless of the variants. The best game plan is to get the most people vaccinated as quickly as possible. So yes, we're watching constantly. But it doesn't change what we do. In fact, we're in a race against time and a race against the variants to get people vaccinated.

Dr. Varma, do you want to give an update on what we're seeing in terms of the incidence in New York City?

JAY VARMA: Yes, thank you very much for the question. So I want to just start by really emphasizing and doubling down on what the mayor just said. There's the concern, of course, as people hear about these variants, they may think that there's something different they need to do. The reality is everything that we're doing right now is what we need to push for. And we do have an opportunity to outrun this with getting vaccinated and continuing all the safety measures that we do.

We are putting out a report within the next few days that you'll be seeing to talk about the-- estimate the sort of burden of these new variants here in New York City. It's a very complicated data to analyze, and so we've been really ramping up our capacity so that we can actually have a really accurate snapshot of how much of these variants are being transmitted here in the city.

And we anticipate also being then being able to update those reports weekly. We've been working very closely with our city laboratories, our state laboratories, and all of the other private partners and academic centers to make sure that we have a really good estimate of how much is going on in the city right now.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you, go ahead.

- As a programming note, we're also joined by Dr. Chokshi and Dr. Katz. The next is Juliet from 1010 WINS.

JULIET PAPA: Hey, good morning, Mr Mayor. Good morning, everybody. I actually have a follow up to that. Could your health officials talk about how long the vaccine actually lasts?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, I'm mixing up the-- I'm dishing the ball to different folks, so let's get Dr. Katz in this. Do you mean how long it lasts in terms of once it's delivered, how long it lasts, or how long it lasts the impact on the patient?

JULIET PAPA: How long it lasts in the person.

BILL DE BLASIO: In the person. Dr. Katz?

MITCHELL KATZ: Oh, I'm happy to try that impossible to answer question.

BILL DE BLASIO: [LAUGHS] We give you the best one.

MITCHELL KATZ: We cannot answer and the long term ability of the vaccine to prevent disease because we haven't had it for a very long time. The statistic that is the most meaningful to me is that not a single person who has received the vaccine has died of COVID. This vaccine-- these two vaccines --clearly prevent people from having very serious repercussions from getting COVID infection.

Only a few people who have gotten the vaccine required hospitalization. A small number of infections. So clearly, this virus is vanquished by these vaccines, but for how long? We don't know. But I have confidence that if it turns out that antibody levels do diminish over time, then we will require a booster. And that's not unusual when you think of other vaccine-preventable diseases. So I feel very confident that people who have two vaccines and two weeks go by are highly protected.

The pharmaceutical companies and the other scientists are watching what happens with people's antibody levels, and watching for disease. And if it turns out that we all need a booster every year, I'm hoping it will be coformulated with the flu vaccine. Thank you, sir.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. And Mitch, I'm just going to hold you one second on this. I think the really practical point that we have a chance to box this disease out in the first six months of this year in many ways. And I'm not saying that's the end of the discussion. I'm saying if we can get to 5 million people vaccinated, and it provides protection for a meaningful period of time, that means we have closed off the avenues for this disease to keep growing in New York City.

So Dr. Katz, I just want you to speak to this for a moment. It's not-- no one's saying herd immunity. But I will use the phrase community immunity. If we get to 5 million New Yorkers, and we hope to go a lot farther than that, and we're just talking about the year 2021, I think it exhausts the impact of the disease in many ways. And we're worried about variants for sure. But what I'm concerned about is how do we box out this disease and bring life back in this city. And I think for that particular mission, the impact on 2021, I feel very good about what we're seeing from this vaccine. Could you comment on that, doctor?

MITCHELL KATZ: Oh, absolutely, sir. No question that this vaccine will protect people for months and months. And just doing that will, as you say, box out the virus. We will be able to return to normal. The less transmission of the virus, the less chance there is of the variants, the less chance that people who are not vaccinated will get sick. And as I said before, if it turns out that, you know, in the years to come, we need a booster, then we will all get a booster.

But meanwhile, this vaccine does a great job of boxing out the virus. Thank you, sir.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead, Juliet.

JULIET PAPA: OK. And so my next question, then, is when city workers return to their offices in the workforce, what safety requirements and/or cleaning protocols will you require, and who will be responsible for that? And what's the concern if many people are refusing the vaccine?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, first of all, clearly, a strong majority of people want the vaccine. That's what we're seeing. And we're talking about May is when we start to bring people back, and we'll have a lot more people vaccinated by then Department of Health, as always, will be making sure that every agency is following the rules. But each agency head will be responsible for making sure all of their employees are protected.

You're going to see mask wearing, of course-- double masks, now, as we've been talking about. You're going to see constant cleaning. Really care efforts to make sure that people are safe. And we've proven with the schools that we have protocols that work. And we certainly are seeing it in a lot of private sector workplaces, these are working. So we'll apply them very consistently in public workplaces as well. Go ahead.

- The next is Katie from the Wall Street Journal.

KATIE HONAN: Hey, good morning. My question is about the Recovery Czar role. And I don't know if you could describe a little bit about what kind of recovery work-- you know, has there been weekly war rooms already? Who have kind of filled that Recovery Czar role? And then looking ahead to the next administration, I mean, what is the plan to kind of create a seamless-- there's always change and turnover when a new mayor comes in. But I don't know if that's something that you're trying to at least-- obviously, when we have an idea of who the-- after the primary in June of who the next mayor could be, what is that plan looking forward so there is more of a seamless recovery, knowing how badly the city needs it?

BILL DE BLASIO: Well, as we talk about Lorraine Grillo's role, I'm expecting you-- because you're a very proud Queens resident, Katie --to be entirely biased towards a daughter of Astoria here. But the transition-- look, that's well ahead. I think the way we go about this is to create the strongest recovery with a clear roadmap. New administration can pick it up and work with it, of course, make whatever modifications they deem appropriate.

But you know, the primary and the transition period, that's well enough ahead that that's not my focus right now. I'm sure we can all work together when that time comes. In terms of what we have been doing, if you look at the state of the city, the plan laid out there in the video and in the policy book that goes with it, delineates the actions that we've been taking which deputy mayors and agency heads have all been implementing.

And as this is ramping up, and as we're now able to start moving our focus away from the day to day, hour to hour fight against COVID, it is time to put this into a higher gear and centralize the process with a weekly war room with a single leader coordinating the efforts. That's why we decided it was time for a Recovery Czar. And again, Lorraine's history really recommends her in the role.

But we now are going to ramp up these efforts intensely. And all agencies will be a part of it. That's the crucial point. Go ahead, Katie.

KATIE HONAN: Thank you. Just to clarify on that, so what we've had is sort of a-- how would you describe the recovery planning now if you were going to transition to the war room strategy? And also, I'm curious if you know when sanitation would be added to our priority for COVID vaccine? So that's two questions in one. I'm sorry.

BILL DE BLASIO: Those were very different questions. I'm sorry. We're going to have to do the main one and leave aside the other one. The concept for the year 2020 was defeat the coronavirus in a pure emergency environment while simultaneously, of course, starting to build the groundwork for recovery. We announced back in the fall the vision to become the public health capital of the world because of our real experience as the epicenter of the coronavirus.

We put out in the fall and into January with the state of the city variety of recovery platform pieces, if you will-- specific recovery policies and initiatives that will be implemented during this year. And deputy mayors and agencies have been tasked with those roles, created a lot of those ideas to their credit, and they're implementing them now.

A lot of that work, obviously, was being done here in City Hall to pull the pieces together. But we've got a lot more to do now. And we wanted to really magnify those efforts, and coordinate them through a single Recovery Czar, so that's why we built this new structure. Go ahead.

- The next is Caroline from Gothamist.

CAROLINE LEWIS: Hi, thank you. I know that you mentioned that the city vaccination effort was set back by about a week due to shipment delays in the vaccine supply. I'm wondering if you know the extent to which appointments for vaccines have been canceled or rescheduled because of this, you know, if not city-wide, then at least in the public hospital system.

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah, rescheduling has been the key point, because we don't schedule appointments that we don't have vaccine to back them up. So generally it has been just not making appointments available or some rescheduling. Dr. Chokshi, you want to speak to that?

DAVID CHOKSHI: Yes, sir. I'm happy to. And that's exactly right. With respect to health department sites, we had second dose appointments that were already scheduled over the last week. And all of those were honored. All of those New Yorkers were able to get their second dose of vaccine. We didn't have to reschedule any first dose appointments because just as the mayor said, we wait until we actually have the vaccine in hand to schedule those first dose appointments.

Unfortunately, we would have liked to have done more first dose vaccinations over the last few days. But since we didn't have that supply, we weren't able to. But we intend to catch up across all city sites as well as noncity sites over the next several days to get those doses into arms as quickly as possible.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead, Caroline.

- Um, thank you. Sorry, that's all, thanks.

BILL DE BLASIO: Do you have another one, or are you good?

CAROLINE LEWIS: No, no, that's all. Thank you.

BILL DE BLASIO: Thank you. Go ahead.

- The next is Narmeen from PIX11.

NARMEEN CHOUDHARY: Hi, mayor, how are you good?

BILL DE BLASIO: Good, Narmeen. How you been?

NARMEEN CHOUDHARY: I'm doing well. You have really high goals to reach the 5 million number for New Yorkers. But we are still finding vaccine hesitancy to be a significant roadblock for a lot of our boroughs. Misinformation, really significant, particularly in immigrant communities that I've spoken to in the Bronx and in Queens. How do we ramp up the education that people need to have about the vaccine efforts?

I know you said that the city has been doing it. We've talked about this before. But clearly there needs to be a ramp up if there are still so many people unwilling to get the vaccine, no?

BILL DE BLASIO: It's a great question, Narmeen. here's what I really believe will make the difference. There's millions of people that want the vaccine right now. I mean, I thoroughly believe, based on all the evidence we've seen, that right this minute, a majority of New Yorkers are ready to get this vaccine once it's available to them. Well, right there, that's over 4 million people.

Beyond that, those who wanted to see evidence, that it would be safe, wanted to see if other people had a good experience, are getting that evidence every single day. I mentioned this story last week, which really struck me. A woman named Eva in Sheepshead-Nostrand Houses, public housing in Brooklyn, who said she was hesitant, she told me to my face, I wasn't sure I wasn't ready. But there she was at the vaccination center we set up in public housing right there. And she had been vaccinated.

So I said, what made the difference for you, Eva? And she said, my sister went ahead and got vaccinated. I said, tell me about your sister. And she said, well she's my older sister. She's 95 years old. So her 95-year-old sister in Williamsburg decided to get vaccinated, told her younger sister, it's OK, it worked for me. You can do it now. And her younger sister went to the vaccination center we set up in public housing there at Sheepshead-Nostrand?

We're going to see that repeated you know hundreds of thousands of times-- that kind of reality of someone in your life-- your family member, friend, neighbor, someone you worship with, someone you work with got the vaccine. It was OK. They had a good experience. They feel safer. They tell you about it. Now you're willing to do it. But we're also going to send community leaders out. We're going to have door to door efforts like we did with the census. And we're doing that right now in public housing-- signing people up to vaccinate, answering their questions. We have a phone number of people can call if they want to talk to a clinician and get medical answers.

We're going to do all the above. And obviously reaching people in many, many languages. And momentum will win the day for us. But we need the supply. We need the supply so we can create that momentum. Go ahead, Narmeen.

NARMEEN CHOUDHARY: Just following up on that, Mayor, do you have the bodies to do everything that you just mentioned-- the door to door efforts, do you need more volunteers? Is there a place that people can go to help out with that process?

BILL DE BLASIO: So the Test and Trace Corps we've built up now to about 5,000 members has been leading the way, and absolutely outstanding. All the lessons they learned, all the good work they did in getting people tested and going out into communities to encourage testing is now becoming incredibly valuable in the effort to get people vaccinated.

We're working with community organizations and we're supporting their work, so they do a lot of the outreach as well. But you raise a great point about folks who might want to volunteer to help. And we would welcome the help. We'll come back with an update tomorrow on how we can involve more and more people who want to be part of this effort, because we have a lot of people in it already, but we always need more help. We want to reach every corner of the city, and get the maximum people vaccinated.

- We have time for two more for today. The next is Nolan from The Post.

- Hey, good morning, everybody.

BILL DE BLASIO: Hey, Nolan, how've you've been?

- I'm all right. Why did it take 11 months to get a reopening czar?

BILL DE BLASIO: As I said, we were focused last year on the emergency reality of turning this city around in the battle against COVID, bringing us back from being the epicenter to being one of the safest places in the country by the summer, creating the biggest Test and Trace Corps in the country, opening up the New York City public schools when many cities didn't dare to, and then the plans we laid out in State of the City in January, the plan for a full recovery of the city. And now to bring all these strands together, decided that a Czar could really make this thing go into the next year.

But the work has continued intensely, and I am absolutely certain this will be the turnaround year for New York City. Go ahead, Nolan.

- Secondly, on the city's response to the problems of mental health-- public mental health --you promised a review after that brutal deaths in Chinatown of the city's mental health apparatus. You said it would be completed in 30 days. I can't find any place where it was ever publicly released. Will you commit to that? And have you identified the neighborhoods yet where do you hope to start your pilot program to have EMS and mental health workers responding to calls about emotional distress instead of police officers?

BILL DE BLASIO: Yeah. On the latter, that's absolutely about to be clarified. There's a few last details that were being put together. But we're going to be talking about publicly, those neighborhoods. And that effort to do the crisis calls with mental health professionals rather than police officers is really important to the future of this city, and to protecting people's lives and getting people the help they need. It will start in a matter of weeks in a very big way, and then it's going to go in the course of this year and next year to something I think will be a city-wide approach. Because I think it's going to prove to be extraordinarily effective and necessary.

We intend to build it out rapidly. Particularly if we get the kind of stimulus funding we need, this is something I want to see us build very, very intensely. There was a review after the very painful, horrible incident in Chinatown. I believe that was in some way put out publicly. We'll make sure there's some kind of summary put out for sure. I want people to see what came of that, and the changes we made as a result. And it's something we keep working on all the time. Go ahead.

- Last question today goes to Gersh from Streetsblog.

GERSH KUNTZMAN: How are you, Mr Mayor? I love going last.

BILL DE BLASIO: You know, you're the number eight hitter, Gersh. Come on. It's a role of great honor.

GERSH KUNTZMAN: I know that everybody hangs up. But I will ask-- I'll ask a question that people should stay on the line for. So first one, how come we still don't know how many off-duty NYPD officers were involved in the attack on the Capitol on January 6th?

BILL DE BLASIO: I'm going to double check, Gersh. I don't have a current report of anybody. But I'm going to check that again to make sure that-- because there's been ongoing investigations, obviously, by federal authorities. Let me double check, and we'll get you an answer today. Go ahead.

GERSH KUNTZMAN: OK. So a different question then. Last week, the council heard a bill about noise from tourist helicopters, which is a crucial mental health issue in New York City. There have been thousands of 311 complaints about noise from helicopters. The EDC testified at the hearing that the helicopter industry brings in about $2 to $3 million in rent for the city of New York.

But, you know, at the same time, the health department has documented the danger of excessive noise. And we all know the danger of pollution from helicopters, some of which still actually run on leaded gasoline. So why are we putting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers at risk of noise pollution and regular pollution for so little money?

BILL DE BLASIO: I think that's a very good question, Gersh. You know, you and I have been in a long dialogue on many issues. But I will always say when a journalist raises an important question of something we need to reconsider that we should reconsider. So I'd say we need to reconsider that. Look, we, as you know, Gersh, reduced the use of tourists helicopters.

It got to a place where I thought it was really unacceptable. We cut back altered routes. Did a lot more to regulate. Some of that regulation can only be done on a federal level. But using our power, we did reduce what the impact of that industry was. But I think you're raising a very important point. What makes sense going forward? It's a time of redefinition. So we are going to give that another look, and evaluate whether we should keep doing things that way or do something differently. And I appreciate the question.

OK, everyone, as we conclude today, I want to tell you, this recovery-- 2021 is going to be the recovery year for New York City. It's going to be a recovery for all of us. And I want to use an analogy which I think will help us through this recovery, which is to think about the famous phrase, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." We're in the middle of a marathon here. We've been going a long way. Yes, we're tired. Of course we're tired. But like a great marathoner, New Yorkers have kept going, and been smart, and been persistent, and been strong. And we keep going no matter what.

Now, so long as you are focused and determined as a marathoner, you're going to get there. And that's what we're doing and what we're seeing today is a recovery starting to grow. The announcement we made today about JFK airport, huge step forward for our recovery and for making sure that jobs and opportunity go to working people in the communities around the airport.

The announcement made today, a new Recovery Czar, a leader who's going to help bring all the strands together, put this recovery into a higher gear. These other things that are going to help all New Yorkers as we move forward. But what it really comes down to is the heart and soul of New Yorkers.

Some people like to talk about the actions of the wealthy few, and what that will mean for the future of New York City. I like to talk about working people, and what your actions will mean for the future in New York City. You sustained New York City through this crisis and every other challenge we've ever had. And you're going to bring New York City back. So yeah, it's a marathon. But like every marathon, there's an end in sight. There's a finish line. And we look forward to breaking that tape together and moving this city forward. Thanks, everybody.