New York City

Coronavirus will overwhelm us unless New Yorkers help government fight it, de Blasio says

March 12, 2020 Mary Frost
Mayor Bill de Blasio shows reporters a novel coronavirus safety tips sheet at Wednesday’s press conference. Left is NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, and right is Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, deputy mayor for Health & Human Services. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

The government alone is not going to solve the city’s novel coronavirus problems, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday. Rather, it’s the actions taken by the city’s residents that are going to either slow this thing down or let it run wild.

For the most part, New Yorkers have been heeding health experts’ advice — washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, coughing into their elbows and avoiding crowds. But as the numbers of sick increase — and they will — people have to realize that much of the defense is in their own hands, de Blasio said.

The city has been preparing nonstop for five weeks for the massive battle ahead, and New York City’s health care system is the best in the country, the mayor asserted.

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“And New Yorkers are the most resilient people in the country, maybe the world. But this is not just a crisis where government takes over,” he said.

Rather, he said, people must take care of their own personal hygiene, be extra careful if they have health conditions like diabetes or heart disease and honor quarantines. “This will affect the disease’s trajectory and give us a stronger hand,” he said.

De Blasio scoffed at the idea of having city personnel on the subway platforms checking people for fevers before they board trains.

“If you’re sick with a fever and cough, stay home. You don’t need to have someone on the subway platform to tell you if you have a fever. If you don’t have a thermometer, buy a thermometer! The government is not going to do it for you. The people have to participate,” he said.

As much as the city has been training and stocking up, “What about the entire rest of civilization? Don’t forget there are other health challenges. Police still have to fight crimes. And people’s livelihoods — it’s dangerous when people don’t have jobs or food. Then there’s the children. Imagine school closed for a month, kids who don’t get meals.”


De Blasio said that reporters sometimes seem to be pushing for big moves, such as the city shutting down schools.

“We can shut down all sorts of things. But we’re not using emergency powers until we have all the evidence,” he said.

There were 62 confirmed cases as of Thursday morning, well over double Monday’s total, de Blasio said. NYC Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot estimates the outbreak will last at least six months, into September.

“We want people to see that,” de Blasio said. “We want to acclimate them and help them understand the battle ahead. I’d like to believe that at the end of six months or so we’ll be coming out of it.”

From left: Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, deputy mayor for Health & Human Services, Deanne Criswell, commissioner of Emergency Services, and Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
From left: Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, deputy mayor for Health & Human Services, Deanne Criswell, commissioner of Emergency Services, and Bitta Mostofi, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

What you can do

The mayor and Dr. Barbot offered these tips:

– Stay away from crowds. Try to change your hours of commute or work from home.

– Wash your hands as much as possible, and use hand sanitizer (60 percent alcohol or more) when you can’t use soap.

– Cough into your elbow or a tissue.

– If you feel sick and have symptoms that include fever and coughing or shortness of breath, stay home.

– Don’t go to work or school even if the symptoms are mild.

– If you don’t get any better after 48 hours, call your doctor or other health care provider.

– Your health care provider should give you a test called BioFire, which checks for 26 common diseases. If you have one of these, your doctor will treat for that.

– If you don’t have any of these usual diseases, “Then we want you tested” for COVID-19, de Blasio said — especially if you’ve just returned to the country, or have a direct nexus to someone with COVID-19 and the disease’s symptoms.

– After initial delays caused by the CDC, plenty of COVID-19 tests — 5,000 a week — will be available by the end of the week in New York City. New commercial labs are coming online. No one should skip going to the doctor if they can’t afford health care. You won’t be charged a co-pay if you have private insurance, and the city will help you get the city’s insurance if you don’t have any.


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