New York City Strong news – New York, NY: Office of the Mayor reports 3.11.2020.

Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears live on MSNBC

March 11, 2020

Chris Jansing: Welcome back. And from what we’ve heard from you, you wanted us today to focus on the coronavirus outbreak, separating fact from fiction. And we’re joined now by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. We’re going to be asking him a lot of questions. Occasionally, we’ll be taking your questions as well. So, look, a lot of people have been made to feel powerless by this, right? It’s this invisible thing, it’s out there, and, except for what we’re told – wash your hands, be careful, follow the rules from the CDC – a lot of that is out of our control. It’s in the control of people like you. So, I want us to pull back the curtain. How are those decisions being made? Is it totally with medical personnel? Are there ever political considerations made? Does the buck stop with Bill de Blasio, with Mayor Cuomo, and so on?

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Governor Cuomo, yes.

Jansing: Governor Cuomo –

Mayor: Yes, the buck stops with us, and I’m going to pull back that curtain with you, but I want to disagree with your opening just a little.

Jansing: Okay.

Mayor: In fact, a couple days ago, I said one of the things that’s being missed here is how much, in fact, people are truly part of the solution, because, look, we don’t have all the facts about this disease, no one on earth does. But some of the things we’re learning tell us a lot that actually people can change the trajectory of this disease – smart hygiene, folks who are most vulnerable over 50 with those serious preexisting conditions, taking smart precautions, people changing their patterns to avoid those most crowded areas – not avoid everything, but avoid the situations where you’re literally pressed up against your fellow human being, like a crowded subway train. People have a lot more agency in this that is being recognized. And government can’t do it alone, it has to be a grassroots solution too – that’s not a cop out, that is a true statement of how you actually end something like this. Now, back to what we’re deciding and how we’re deciding it. It can’t be about politics, to say the least. It has to be about everything in our society, because the irony – and our health care professionals will say this, my Health Commissioner, the head of my Health and Hospitals system, our public hospitals and clinics, everyone who’s in the room with me making these decisions recognizes there’s a danger of unintended consequences. If we go too far, we shut down too much, we’ll lose the personnel who do all the work that keep people safe and healthy. We’ll lose people’s livelihoods. So, we have to strike a balance and I think the key thing is to inform people, give them some power in the equation, and then take the actions we need to issue by issue, case by case.

Schools are a great example. Some places are closing schools en masse – we think that’s a mistake, because so many parents are depending on the schools, not just for education, for a safe place for the kids, for food for their kids. They don’t have an alternative. What we’ve decided with the State is, if a school has a problem, close it briefly, clean it, get anybody who might’ve been exposed directly out in quarantine, notify parents with kids with preexisting conditions that they may want to hold their kids back, but the rest of the school can continue on and that’s the kind of balance we have to strike.

Joshua Johnson: In terms of striking that balance, how do you think about that in terms of the fact that New York is New York? I mean, we have a half-marathon that was supposed to happen this weekend, that is off; Broadway is lowering some of its ticket prices to try to kind of encourage people to come out and see shows; we know that the world’s top grossing music festival, Coachella, out near Palm Springs is called off there. The number of big events have been called off in large venues – it’s kind of impossible in New York to fully social distance, I mean other than the proximity we’re sitting in now because we’re on television. I mean, you ride the subway, you’ll walk around New York, there’s kind of no way to get more than arms-length from someone else. It seems like a unique set of problems for this city in particular –

Jansing: Yeah, is that, for example, why you have not canceled the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, even though so many other places have?

Mayor: First of all, what we’re looking at with that parade is the whole picture, again. It’s an outdoor event – outdoor events are inherently safer than crowded, small space indoor events. We’re working on a plan now – and I hope we can shape this up and articulate it clearly – that we want – it’s not that people can’t go to dinner together, it’s not that people can’t go to school together. It’s creating the smart kind of balance, not crowding too many people into two small a space who are the most vulnerable people. What do we know about this disease? Consistently, here in America we’re seeing it, here in New York we’re seeing it. It is much less a problem for younger people than older people, much less a problem for healthy people than folks with those preexisting conditions. To shut down the lives of everyone healthy is a mistake. But to create some smart balance, and particularly to protect those most vulnerable, is smart. We’re going to be working with the folks who organize the St. Patrick’s Parade to make a decision soon, and certainly well before the parade happens. But when you look at everything out there – you’re right, it’s a crowded city, there are special conditions. I think the thing to think about is, we’re not trying to shut down human life in this city. We are not anywhere near that point and I think there are huge unintended consequences, starting with for people’s livelihoods through which they pay the rent and get food and everything else that we don’t want a trip that wire the wrong way. But we can start to create more and more balance, more and more opportunities for people to be safer. That’s what – and the last thing I have to say, transmissibility, this word I learned this week. So, how do you actually get – what our health care professionals are saying consistently is there’s a debate over surfaces. They don’t believe surfaces are the central concern. They believe it is person to person transfer. God forbid, I sneezed now at you, and did not do this like I’m supposed to, and you had this direct liquid – I’m being very graphic, forgive me – right into your mouth, your nose, your eyes, and I happened to be infected, that is a way you might get infected. Maybe you wouldn’t – you’re young and healthy, maybe you wouldn’t. But it is direct transmission, it’s not I was on the other side of the room. It’s, I have to be right up close. That’s what we understand at this point.

Johnson: We’ve got a question from a viewer who lives in New York, who had kind of a specific question about his life here in New York City. Barry asked, I’m 70 years old – 7-0 years old in New York City – I had prostate surgery a few months ago and I’m feeling well now. I’m scheduled for jury duty in April. I’ve already postponed once, so I can’t do it again. Is it safe and wise to sit in a crowded jury pool rule for hours, several days in a row? Should people my age be allowed to defer jury duty until this virus passes?

Jansing: Mr. Mayor, the jury duty question is fantastic.

Mayor: Yeah, it is. You know, that one – I’m not a doctor, but I’ll give you the common sense answer. So, over 70 – now, the five preexisting conditions, to be fair, are cancer, diabetes, serious lung disease, serious heart disease and compromised immune system. So, obviously, I’d want to know how he’s doing with his condition and are there any other factors. But based on that, right away, I’d say I’d be cautious. I would like that to be someone who’s not in too close quarters with too many people he doesn’t need to be. And, Lord knows, that postponing jury duty is not going to harm our society. To me, that would be a common sense – let’s take a break on that.

Johnson: So, he should just call the court and be like, hey –

Mayor: Yeah, he’ll serve when the right time comes. Look, our Health Commissioner said out loud – I give her a lot credit for it – Dr. Oxiris Barbot – they asked her how long do you think – her best guess today is this is until September – six months – and then resume something more like normalcy. So, this is not – you know, we are going to get through this as a city, as a nation. We will get through this. People should make smart decisions – over 70, that is where you take additional precautions.

Jansing: What have you learned from what has happened elsewhere that will make people feel more confident. For example, Germany has had over a thousand cases, only three deaths so far. There are lots of countries that have a much smaller population than just New York City. Yesterday, in this hour, I talked to the Mayor of Seattle, she had just been at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. They obviously are some people who have learned some things, unfortunately, being on the front edge of this. How much are you talking to each other? How much are you learning? And what can you say to folks about – especially people who have not had a lot of cases where they are and want to think, oh geez, maybe by the time it gets to me we’ll have figured out some stuff?

Mayor: Yeah, the constant communication between – we have a Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Health Commissioner, head of our hospital system, and our Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control. Those four key professionals, you know, decades and decades of experience between them, they’re checking with World Health Organization, CDC, NIH, State health department, constant dialogue, constantly reviewing literature, new information coming in all the time. So, everyone’s taken that process very seriously while accepting that we will not know enough quickly enough about this brand new disease. But to your question about do’s and don’ts from other places – look, the places that have taken it hardest were way out of position from the beginning. The crisis was well upon them before there was any position, any opportunity to brace for contact and prepare. Italy went from nothing to full-blown crisis in a matter of days, really. China, they were in crisis, and, bluntly, the government wouldn’t tell people the truth and the crisis exacerbated. You’ve seen better response in South Korea after a tough start. The German case is a great one. I think what we’re gleaning from these things is the stronger your public health system, the more transparency, the better. We’re in a very good place on that. We’ve been very transparent from the beginning. We have the strongest public health system in America. Lots of testing, but testing the right people – test symptomatic people, test people with a travel nexus, test people with a nexus to an existing case. Not whoever walks off the street – geez, I want a test. In fact, what our doctors say is, if you have those symptoms immediately isolate, stay home, don’t go to work, don’t go to school. If it persists or gets worse, get to your doctor. The doctor does a test called BioFire – this is something I didn’t know before this week either. It is the standard test. I think it’s for 29, if I remembering, very typical normal diseases that we’ve known for a long time. That, in a matter of hours, will tell a doctor if it’s not coronavirus and something more “traditional.” If it’s not that, it’s not one of those diseases, and it’s serious symptoms, even without the travel nexus and all those are folks we want to get tested for coronavirus.

Johnson: I know we got to let you go soon, but what about more draconian measures? At what point, for example, do you decide we’re going to shut down the subway?

Mayor: Anything is conceivable, but there’s a little too much rush to judgment. I really believe this to the buck stops question.

Jansing: Though, I think people want to know that there’s a plan in place. There’s a feeling that in some other countries, for sure, in the federal government – at the federal government level, these were not in place. Where are the tests, for example? So, they want to know, are all contingencies being prepared?

Johnson: Well, and frankly, on top of that, I mean, if any city knows how to deal with a disaster, unfortunately, yes, it’s New York. So, I think in a post-9/11 New York, I would imagine that somewhere on the shelf there’s a plan that’s like, if X happened, we will shut down the subway –

Mayor: Break the glass and all –

Johnson: Right, something like that.

Mayor: So, here’s what we have. You’re right – 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, we’ve been through extraordinary crises. We have unquestionably the biggest, best police force in the country, best fire department, best public health department, huge numbers of personnel, huge amount of resources. We are now sent doing scenarios for each of these when you have to shut down each piece of your city. But I don’t want people to hear that and think, oh great, that’s inevitable. It is not inevitable. And I don’t want people altering their lives so much that we cause a different crisis, which is so much degradation of every-day life and of our economic life that people don’t have a livelihood, that people don’t have any place to go who need a place to go. You know, we have to understand – I am not belittling 46 cases, but I’m reminding you, there’s 8.6 million people – hell of a lot more cases of many other diseases that we take seriously right now. So, the idea is, strike some balance, constantly monitor the information, make adjustments. But those big plans, of course we’re starting to draw up – we have some on the shelf and we’re refining them for this situation. We could do a lot of that with the push of a button. I have emergency powers that, if I invoke, can shut down a whole lot of stuff quickly, but I hope to not have to use it for everyone’s benefit.

Johnson: I am one month into living here –

Mayor: Welcome.

Jansing: I’m 21 years –

Mayor: Lots of excitement.

Johnson: We’re on the edges of the spectrum in terms of residence. But we appreciate you helping not just this city, but other cities kind of think through how this might be going forward. And Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you very much.

Jansing: Yeah, come back because I think the questions aren’t going to go away.

Mayor: And I appreciate all these good questions you’re asking for everyone else.

Johnson: I can’t shake your hand –

Mayor: But you can do this.

Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

Jansing: Thank you so much.

Mayor: Alright. Take care.