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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on the Brian Lehrer Show

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September 17, 2021

Brian Lehrer: It’s the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC. Good morning, again, everyone. And if Mayor Bill de Blasio thought that his last four months in office might offer a comfortable enough glide path to saying goodbye to City Hall, well, no, things are intense as ever right now with what many people are calling a true humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island, city workers taking him to court over vaccine privileges and protesting back to the office requirements, school reopenings in the complicated face of the Delta COVID variant and more. So, with that as prelude it’s time now for our Friday Ask the Mayor call in, my questions and yours for Mayor Bill de Blasio 6-4-6-4-3-5-7-2-8-0, or tweet your question using the hashtag, #AskTheMayor, #AskTheMayor. Good morning, Mr. Mayor, welcome back to WNYC. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Well, good morning, Brian, and despite your cheery opening, and that we have real problems and real challenges, but I also want to really – I want to break some news with you right now, and I want to put it in the context of what you just said about schools as well. Yeah, we have a huge challenge bringing the nation’s largest school system online after a year-and-a-half, but it’s happened. It has happened this week really with extraordinary success thanks to all the folks who work in our schools, but here’s the breaking news, as of today, we have now passed a major, major milestone, adults in New York City. Now we have passed the 80 percent level, this is a level that a lot of folks in the medical community say is crucial. 80 percent of all adults in New York City have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. This is a big deal and I hope New Yorkers appreciate that this is because New Yorkers came forward because we mounted the biggest vaccination effort in the city’s history. Everything else that we have to deal with, all the challenges you mentioned, are COVID based in many ways. This is how we end the COVID era. So over 80 percent as of today in New York City. 

Lehrer: Absolutely good news to be able to state that number. I guess the epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists debate what herd immunity actually is, which would mean the virus would actually more or less disappear from the community, from the city in this case, and unfortunately those estimates seem to keep going up and up and up, and now I think they say it’s over 90 percent. 

Mayor: Look, I think you’re right to say that’s an ongoing debate because COVID is still very, very new. We have to always keep in mind that think about vaccination as the most powerful way to inhibit COVID, obviously exposure also has an impact in terms of COVID’s ability to spread to new people. But overall, what we’re seeing here is, the reason for now a month and more the COVID numbers have plateaued or gone down, the reason the hospitalization rate in particular has gone down markedly is because of a massive level of vaccination. And I think what’s important to recognize is there’s a surge happening right now. The mandates whether it’s indoor dining and entertainment, fitness, or whether it’s for public employees are causing a lot more people to get vaccinated. Clearly the incentives have had an impact. So, we expect a lot more vaccinations in the coming next few weeks, particularly among younger people. Also, really important to note on that age range, 12 to 17, we’re almost up to 70 percent now, and that has happened in really, really fast time because that’s the most recent group that’s been allowed to be vaccinated, and further we expect the five to 11-year-olds to be ready to be vaccinated as early as November. So, big challenges, but I think it’s important for New Yorkers to recognize we could literally end the COVID era and make COVID in effect the equivalent of what we deal with each year with the flu. We could do that as early as next year if we continue this success with vaccination. 

Lehrer: And there are also differences by neighborhood, which is probably worth mentioning uptown – 

Mayor: Although it’s changing – changing rapidly –I’m sorry, one quick interruption you will want to hear –  

Lehrer: Go ahead, sorry. Go ahead. 

Mayor: Right now, according to the Department of Health, the level of vaccination among Latino New Yorkers has surpassed the level of vaccination among Caucasian New Yorkers – 

Lehrer: I saw that, it’s good news.  

Mayor: That is a huge turnaround and really good news. We have more to do in the African American community for sure, but we also know these mandates are reaching a lot of African American New Yorkers, many of whom are in public service or work in the sectors where the mandates are in place, and we see people coming in, in much higher numbers now. So, a lot to do, but if we succeed at ending the COVID era, then all the other challenges that you started with immediately get mitigated in a very big way. 

Lehrer: Upper Manhattan ZIP codes, 10034, 10040, according to Patch today, still nearing four percent positivity rates despite them being heavily Latino and white neighborhoods and getting higher vaccination rates. So, work in progress, but absolutely hear you on the milestone at 80 percent and the milestone of Latino vaccination rates equally and surpassing white vaccination rates if that’s a true stat. Here’s how the New York Times article – 

Mayor: It’s from Department of Health. I don’t think people are questioning their stats. 

Lehrer: Yes, no, no, I don’t mean to question. Thank you. Here’s how a New York Times article about Rikers started on Wednesday, and give me a minute on this, because I think a lot of people who don’t have some of their own people in jail feel disconnected from the story and maybe don’t pay so much attention, but it’s intense. Time says New York City’s notorious Rikers Island Jail Complex has long had a reputation for brutal conditions, but in recent months the situation has spun out of control. Ten people incarcerated at Rikers have died this year, at least five by suicide, the largest death toll at the jail in years. Gangs and other detainees are ushering other incarcerated people to and from their dorms, relatives of those in prison their fear for their loved ones lives later. The article quotes lawmakers who have visited Rikers recently calling it a humanitarian crisis. So, first question on this, do you agree it’s a humanitarian crisis? 

Mayor: I agree it’s a profound problem, and it has to be addressed. And we have some breaking news on that too, which we’ve just heard. Now I’ve had a series of conversations with Governor Hochul and I want to thank her we’re just getting the news that she is acting to help us get a number of people out of Rikers immediately. It looks like initially that could be several hundred people, which is tremendously helpful. We’ve got to…

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