Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - online town hall on 8 July 2020
Opening remarks on New York State's reopening plan (Randy Abreu)
RANDY ABREU: Oh, hey everyone, didn't even see you there. I'm sorry to keep you waiting. We apologize for the delay. Alexandria - the Honorable congresswoman - Ocasio-Cortez is having some technical difficulties and will be joining us shortly.
My name is Randy Abreu. I work on the policy team here on Team AOC, and I'm happy to be here and do "Coffee and Conversation" with all of you. So I'm here in the Bronx, New York, and we're looking around. Things are reopening all across New York State, all across New York City, and we were thinking well, what's going on, what are these, what's reopening, when are things reopening, what are certain health conditions that are still happening that we should be aware of. So we started asking questions and realized the community is asking a lot of the same questions so we hope to engage you all in a Coffee and Conversation on New York's reopening quote-unquote "New York Forward". And that's what today's episode of coffee and conversation is going to be about.
We have amazing guests who are coming on into this conversation to talk about the community impact, the health impact, and of course we have you - the audience - always always on, available to ask questions and we invite you to call in and join us.
So just to get this conversation started and rolling, in April, just a few months ago, New York State developed a plan to reopen non-essential businesses. This reopening plan is called "New York Forward" and it divides the state, New York state, into ten regions. All across in New York City itself, the five boroughs, it's one region. There's ten regions across New York State, and New York Forward lays out a gradual reopening plan in four phases based on these regions meeting health metrics.
So Governor Cuomo really thought - and his team really thought this out and then thought forward (no pun intended) on how New York will reopen. And we can do these in two weeks increments, and make sure that so long as this region is meeting health metrics and - you will get to the metrics - and so long as they're meeting the metrics they should be able to reopen, we should be able to get certain industries back open and certain businesses back open for the communities.
So I know what you're thinking, what are these health metrics, how does a region open up. So let's say I'm Long Island, Nassau Suffolk county region. There are seven health metrics that every region is looking at and monitoring right now. There are leaders in your region - don't worry this isn't just happening arbitrarily - and there are leaders from in your region right now monitoring and getting this data and presenting it to the governor's office, and they're being cleared for reopening.
So let's let's count through these seven really cool health metrics. (It's espresso what I got today.) Number one, a decline in total hospitalizations, so there's a decline in hospitalizations that's number one. Number two, a decline in deaths, number of people that are dying over a certain number day period. Number three, new hospitalizations so new hospitalizations compared to existing and total. Number four is, what is the total hospital bed capacity. We're looking to see if your region has at least 30 percent bed capacity entirely throughout the hospital. The fifth metric is, let's look at the ICU capacity and the PPE capacity, are you hitting certain metrics there as well. And then six and seven, we're looking at diagnostic testing and contact tracing. So back home in our communities, are there enough local resources and clinics to be able to distribute enough tests and are there enough contact tracers, enough people employed in your community to go out and identify maybe who has it, where it could have originated, and where there may be potential outbreaks in the future.
And these metrics - as we said - are being calculated and are being presented moving forward, to the State and the Governor for reopening. So really quick before we go into our amazing panelists who will give all of this in much more detail, and say much better than I can, what are the the phases? So we know now there's seven metrics that every region is looking to monitor, and there's ten regions across New York State. There's industry, small businesses, will different types get to reopen as we enter a certain phase?
So you may remember Phase 1, maybe felt so long ago, New York City entered Phase 1 a month ago, June 8th. It's a happy month one month anniversary, New York City entering Phase 1. Fun fact: two days ago New York City entered Phase 3 but let's get into the phases. we're getting ahead of ourselves here. So Phase 1, what was able to reopen across all of New York State in Phase 1? Every region in New York State has gone through Phase 1 and Phase 2, and now that New York City is in we're all in Phase 3 at least - some are in Phase 4.
So in Phase 1 the construction industry - so shout out to the trades there - they can reopen. We know that was a tough pain point they were in during the COVID shut down. The agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting - a lot of folks upstate New York - Catskills, Western New York - that's big up there. That's industry and that's livelihood, so it's important that they reopened a month ago at least, and about a month and a half some of them.
Certain manufacturing and wholesale trades were able to reopen, so we're looking more at this industry - what really moves, keeps things moving in our capitalist economy. And then here we go, things were good, we're monitoring, things opened up, some construction reopened, some retails reopened, agriculture reopened. We're monitoring for two weeks - those metrics, remember the seven metrics - and those leaders in the communities are reporting back those seven metrics over this two-week period and if you're you're hitting those metrics as laid out by the state in the New York Forward plan you enter Phase 2.
So Phase 2 was amazing for offices, real estate, in-store retail - you saw a lot of store reopen in New York City - folks have to stand outside and a certain capacity of the stores but you know I'm - Fordham Road shout-out, Fordham Road - I'm seeing a lot of businesses reopen and it seems to be doing good for them and they're happy about it. Retail, rentals, repair and cleaning industries Phase 2 - shout out to the barber shops and the hair salons and the nail shop workers. Everyone was able to go back to work in a certain limited capacity, and they're back to work.
Outdoor and take-out delivery food service, officially in Phase 2. In June 2nd of this year, last month, places of worship which are included in Phase 2 were able to reopen at up to 25% capacity.
So then, just moving into Phase 3 - which New York City just got into - and that means all of our restaurants and food services can reopen. Now upstate New York, they can dine indoors. The governor announced a couple days ago that the outbreaks throughout the rest of the country are concerning, and so for New York City even though we are in Phase 3 restaurants can't do indoor dining yet. You'll still see those tables on outside, which are kind of exciting for New York now. And looking at personal care, and gatherings of up to 25 people, are now allowed throughout New York City because we're in Phase 3.
And we want to get into Phase 4 - so all of New York State, pretty sure all of New York State at this point except for New York City has entered Phase 4. So we're now in a monitoring phase, so let's keep protecting New York City so we can enter Phase 4 which means we can reopen some low-risk outdoor and indoor art, entertainment and recreation. I know for the kids - think of the children - for them it means a lot to be able to do that throughout the city this summer.
Some media production - I know a lot of you were working on those low-budget documentaries and you might want to get back to work. There's professional sports with no fans, but come on New York 14, the Honorable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has the pleasure of representing die-hard Mets and Yankee fans who probably want to see their teams get back to action really soon. And gatherings - you remember how Phase 3 we can now have gatherings of up to 25 - well if we get into Phase 4 it's gatherings of up to 50 are allowed, so the block party might be back on.
We talked about some interesting dates and how we're moving in - you know a month ago New York City finally got into Phase 1, it wasn't until June 22nd that we got into Phase 2 and July 1st just a week ago beaches reopened. It's been an interesting month, it's good to take a step and think about, just take a pause and think about what has happened and just two days ago New York City answered Phase 3. So far there's two week intervals, we're in that two-week period now, so if things go well we'll get there.
And it's important to remember that we need to continue physical distance and wearing masks. We gotta wear them, it's our civic duty I think, and we wear them to protect others. I wear them all the time - stay away from me I have a mask on - because of my grandma - I want to protect - we're doing it to protect them, awesome. And we're doing it to protect ourselves. A lot of us at this point probably know, it's coming back around. Sometimes Fauci says we're still in the first wave and a lot of things are happening, so please continue to wear masks, continue to wash your hands.
There's a doctor coming on who will tell you this officially, so don't just take it from me. And importantly too, before we get into our amazing guests for our last run down this evening, today Mayor de Blasio announced tentative plans to have in-person K through 12 school in the fall. But under this plan a student would only attend three days a week to allow for fewer students in a classroom at a time. So very interesting proposal from de Blasio, we are very excited to see how this progresses and how the governor responds to make sure we're all on the same page throughout the state and the tri-state area, certainty is always great.
Without further ado we may be ready to get our first caller. We have our first caller on the line. Well while we get that caller on the line I'll just tell you some more good information. Shout out to our small businesses in the community, let's give you a rundown update of our small businesses in our community and what's going on for you. A lot of stuff has happened, these reopening really apply to you, the small businesses.
So just three quick things we could talk about. So businesses can check online to see what phase they're in, it's the New York Forward plan is what lets you know what industries can reopen. But importantly, all businesses that we just talked about that are reopening need to have a business safety plan up and pasted in their place of business. And you can find this online, it's very easy to find, very easy to fill out, it's the rules, it's compliance. You don't want to get - your business is so important to all of us, so if you just go online and search "New York Forward Safety Plan Template" you'll find it. New York Forward Safety Plan Template, that's what you want to do if you haven't reopened yet and you want to reopen your business, a shout out for the small businesses. Make sure you have your business safety plan, print it out and post it.
Now let's talk about some funds, some loans, some economic opportunities and a lot of talk - oh wow I'm talking about PPP and the Congresswoman shows up. Well though everyone, PPP is still on, you can still get that and New York State does have its own small business loan program for - also small landlords - so check out the New York Forward Loan Fund, New York Forward Loan Fund.
Now I have the great honor to introduce the Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has joined us tonight who will have...
REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Hey everyone, hey and thank you for the rundown Randy, we really all appreciate it.
RANDY ABREU: No problem, thanks.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Alright, so I think next we're having on Vanessa as a guest, so Vanessa why don't you take the floor?
VANESSA (SUNNYSIDE): Hi, hello everyone, my name is Vanessa, I mean can I speak now?
RANDY ABREU: Yes, please.
[14:55] Pandemic's impact on her small business (Vanessa)
VANESSA (SUNNYSIDE): Okay my name is Vanessa as I said before. I own a small business, a restaurant to be specific in Sunnyside, Queens. This is a family business, even when I say mine my family works with me, we depend on this business. I'm a single mom too, so we couldn't - we didn't - close the businesses because you know the landlord they cannot wait, the bills cannot wait so we just decided to keep going.
But unfortunately we needed to let our team go home because of the situation - our space is very small - so we cannot have another worker here with us. Our catering business went totally down, that means more than 68 percent of our income. Now with the outdoor seating we needed to do an extra - we needed to spend more money to fix the area outside - even when it's not enough, because as I said before this space is limited, my storefront is only 11 feet long and I can just fit two tables outside.
My biggest fear right now, with all this going on, is closing my business. I mean, this is what puts bread on my table and on my families table, and it's very, very hard during this time for us to keep going. Even when - my role in the business is the marketing, to make the business grow, right now my mind is just busy operating the business and trying to keep the ship floating. You know it is very, very hard, and I'm very worried about all that is going on because I don't know even if we are in Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, any of the different phases makes a difference for me in my personal case.
I'm not speaking for any other person or any other business owner, but I know that this is hard for everyone, we are all in this together, though. We don't know, they said that this is going to be until September, and what's gonna happen after that? I mean if people, if they're eating outside right now in September, are they going to be able to come in?
So people [...] afraid about the contact, wearing the gloves, the mask, I mean it is a lot, it is too much for people. Everyone is scared about everything, and I'm just waiting to bring all of my workers, all of my team, to work again. I've lost more than seven employees because of this. So at this point, as I said before, my biggest fear is to close because after this I don't really know what we are going to do with our business.
I'm not thinking about creating new dishes, bringing more people to the business, because how are we going to bring more people if we are going through all this, and it's very very stressful. Even the SBA, they're not giving the funds to the right people. I mean these are the people that need the funds - family people, working people - they're giving the money to the larger corporations and I just think that we were supposed to receive everything the same. Not the same funding but the help, it has to be for everyone.
RANDY ABREU: Wow, Vanessa thank you so much. Can you tell us again where you're - the name of your business and where is it?
VANESSA (SUNNYSIDE): Yes, of course, it is Firefly New York, we are located in Sunnyside, 4512 43rd Avenue, we are on Instagram @fireflynewyork and we will be happy to see you guys, it will be very, very nice to see you all here, taste our flavor and it is a pleasure to me to have you here Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I met you when you were starting and I'm very proud to be here with you today.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Of course and thank you so so much for sharing with us your story Vanessa and I think you're just such a perfect example of the family businesses that we all seek to support here in our community. You know this is not about providing millions and millions of dollars to these big box stores in these chains, but really around family businesses and the small businesses that keep our community alive. And I know that so many people are so excited about Firefly and Sunnyside, and they love so much everything that you all are doing and even... you know up to this point you're a small burgeoning business and - oh is that your daughter?
VANESSA (SUNNYSIDE): Yes, si, Alexandra is her name.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Hello Alexandra, and you know I'm sure you have kind of a budding entrepreneurial daughter. That is, growing up you know my father owned his own business in the Bronx and it was so special for me as a little girl to grow up and to be able to go to work with my dad and to see that you can kind of own your own path in life as well. And that's so important, and it's so special, and it's so special that our community supports that so long as we're all being safe and supporting each other.
You know I think it's... Firefly and you guys just started too so recently. I know it doesn't always feel like super recent, we're talking about one, two years but for a restaurant that's a baby, that's a baby restaurant and it's so important that our community comes around to support each other and the workers and the families that are all part of businesses like these, so thank you so so much Vanessa, we really appreciate it.
VANESSA (SUNNYSIDE): Thank you Alexandria, it is a pleasure for me to be part of this community and I just wanted to say thank you to all the neighborhood because since everything, since all this started, everyone is being very, very super supportive and I'm really thankful for all. Have a good night.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you, thank you so much. Alright, Randy are we ready to move on to our next guest?
RANDY ABREU: Oh yeah, the doctor is in the house, Dr. Amesh Adalja.
[21:20] Dr. Amesh Adalja answers questions about COVID
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Great, and so for everyone who's tuning in Dr. Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. His work is focused on emerging infectious disease, pandemic preparedness and biosecurity. Dr. Adalja is also a practicing infectious disease, critical care and emergency medicine physician. And so welcome, welcome Dr. Adalja.
DR. AMESH ADALJA: Thank you for having me, it's really an honor to be invited.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh no, of course. So you know, we get questions all the time about COVID, about best practices, about testing, about antibodies, and I think one of the things that's important is that we continue to have these conversations because our understanding of the science of this disease also evolves with time. You know when COVID first started breaking out we did not have the understanding of aerosol infection vs surface infection, and transmission, etc. and so I think there's there's just a lot of questions about that. So can you give us an idea about some of the latest things that we're learning from studies and from just the general scientific community in terms of incubation, and antibodies, transmission, etc. are there anything - are there any factors that we're learning about recently that perhaps we didn't know before at the beginning of this crisis?
AMESH ADALJA: Sure. This virus is something that is new to humans, this is something where the science has been changing basically on a day-to-day basis because we're learning things real-time. So what we know is, this is a respiratory virus primarily and it spreads through close contact with individuals six feet or so apart through respiratory droplets. That's the primary means by which it spreads, but there are other ways that it can spread as well. For example surfaces, they tend to be a secondary spreading mechanism meaning if you touch something that somebody else may have sneezed on or has touched, that's really not the main way that it's spreading, but it is one secondary means.
Now there's been a lot of controversy over this whole aerosol generation, and this is still a major scientific debate. We know that when we talk, we generate a little bit of particles that may be sustained and suspended in the air, but what the question has always been is this, does this spread like measles? And we know in New York City they had a major measles outbreak just about two years ago. Measles are something where you walk into an elevator after someone with measles has had it, and you can get infected.
We haven't necessarily seen that type of transmission with this virus, but it doesn't mean that you don't have any aerosol transmission. But I think it's a very minor form of transmission that's occurring, and again this is controversial and being debated. The bottom line really is it doesn't change the way we protect ourselves against this, or the way we treat this. That we know that if we stay six feet apart, if we wear face coverings as indicated, if we wash our hands a lot, that's the best way to protect ourselves.
Incubation period - it can be up to 14 days. That's the time after you get exposed before you get symptoms. Most people do get sick within about seven days or so, but there are some that last up to 14 days.
And the last thing you asked about was antibodies, but this is another thing that's very controversial. Antibodies do arise in people who've been infected, and it likely indicates past infection, but the big question is, is how protective are they from reinfection, and it takes some time to figure that out. We do what are called natural history studies where we follow people out for maybe a year or so and see when they get re-exposed do they get reinfected and we hypothesize - with good evidence, from other infectious disease - that likely once you've gotten this you, probably cannot get it again for a period of time.
But the key thing is not everybody makes antibodies, and we don't have a good way of measuring non-antibody based immunity, so this is all kind of evolving every day. And it is going to be complicated especially for the general public who's not engrossed in all of this back-and-forth of the scientific debate. But it's all changing and hopefully we'll get to a point where we can give people very solid answers to help them protect themselves.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Thank you, thank you so much, and I'm interested in your perspective - since every state is kind of pursuing these reopening plans along different timelines, along different standards - for you, how have you been navigating your life? You know obviously we have to go out wearing masks, we have to wear lots of hand sanitizer, how would you go about some of the daily activities that you would pursue in the state that's reopening? What would you personally choose to do or not do?
AMESH ADALJA: I tend to be a pretty risk tolerant person, so that's the first thing. Your risk tolerance is gonna weigh a lot on what you do and what you don't do, because we have natural differences between how much risk we can tolerate, and some of that is based on what your risk is for getting severe disease. So if you have a pre-existing condition, if you're older, you may be someone that's at more risk so you're going to be more cautious.
But the point is that people are gonna go out there and pursue their lives, and pursue their values, just like your prior guest talked about opening her restaurant. This is important, we need to actually encourage this, but you can do it safely by hand-washing, by wearing face coverings, by trying to stay six feet apart, looking at the guidance that's coming out from CDC and from your local health departments about how to operate these business safely.
Because we know that the economy - in the end - is people's lives, that's their livelihood, that's how they feed themselves, and that's how they pursue things that are important to them. So we can't really dogmatically say 'nothing, you can't do anything' because you have to realize that this virus is with us until we have a vaccine, so we've gotta find a way to make ourselves able to deal with this risk.
And it's hard, and it's not gonna be all very right-or-wrong answer, it's gonna be a lot of zones of grey here, and I think that's something that we haven't had to deal with as Americans for a long long time when it comes to an infectious disease risk. I think everybody has to realize no activities can be without this virus, but we can go forward with this if we actually are mindful and listen to the guidance that's out there, and try our best to avoid exposing ourselves, or becoming a transmission belt of this virus to somebody that might be more vulnerable.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, I think it's such an excellent point, and there are other countries that have shown that they've been able to get the spread of this disease under control. Japan I think is an excellent example where they - you know the country didn't really approach full economic total shut down, but also their mask wearing compliance is really really high. And so really those are the questions that we have to address, and that's kind of what I try to share with folks, is that making sure that you know going into a full economic shutdown can be an avoidable situation.
But we all need to chip in, we all need to make sure that we're wearing masks, that we're doing so responsibly, that we're not wearing them like this and we're not wearing them like this. I saw someone walking around with one - no joke - on his forehead today [laughs]. That it's not just about having a string around the back of your ear or your head, you have to make sure that you're wearing a mask and wearing one properly. And if we can all get to that threshold - what is it eighty percent or so - and then we can really pursue a significant reduction of transmission is that correct?
AMESH ADALJA: Yeah, the more compliance, or the more source control, we have of the people that are out there that are infected that don't know they are, the easier it is to actually get this under control. I think you made a great point, that the shutdowns didn't have to be this way. There were other approaches like Taiwan, like Japan, you have to realize that we really did bad as a country in January and February and March when we squandered all of this time; we should have been preparing our hospitals, getting our personal protective equipment in order, making sure diagnostic testing was scaled up.
But we failed, and that's why governors were left with this very blunt tool, and it really was, it is a harmful tool, but that's all they could use because they didn't know who was infected, who wasn't infected and they were scared. And it didn't have to be that way.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Now there's also - I get a lot of questions about this idea or notion of a second wave in the fall or the winter. And can you provide or shed any light about any, you know, the most recent understanding of what that may be, what it may look like, why people think a second wave would happen, why would something like this happen in waves, and what can a family do to prepare?
AMESH ADALJA: Sure, so this is the seventh human coronavirus that we've discovered, and four of them are really seasonal. They have stark seasonality where they peak in the fall and the winter and the spring, and then they kind of go away in the summer. And that's why we believe this coronavirus will behave like that, so that means when we get into the cold months, when the flu season starts, we have to be expecting an acceleration of transmission of this virus. And that's going to be challenging, because they're going to be competing for the same resources as influenza patients. They're going to be competing for beds and ICUs and personal protective equipment in hospitals and it could be very, very challenging.
So we have to make sure that we get it right, we cannot afford to keep making the same mistake over and over again in this country. And the thing is, to get ready for this you're gonna have to remember that the flu is something that's preventable - we have a vaccine - so everyone should get a flu vaccine next year, that this is what we want to do to keep people out of the hospital with flu so we have room to take care of the coronavirus patients.
And then you're going to have to really stay tuned to what's going on in your local region, what is your health department saying, what are the cases looking like, what is hospital capacity like. All of that's going to be really important as we go into the fall, and this virus likely intensifies because it has some seasonality to it, and those conditions may accelerate its transmission like with other coronaviruses.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, and I think that's that's an excellent point as well because I think for a lot of our common understanding we need to remove it - you know there are two parts here. There is the mortality that is the natural mortality of the disease and the severity of the disease, but then there's also the mortality and severity that are due to resource issues, and that's really what we're talking about when we hit this moment of full economic shutdown. It's because our hospitals largely were becoming overwhelmed.
And of course in addition to the epidemiology of the disease, and the spread of the disease, but a lot of this is also about a resource overwhelm issue where we literally just do not have the ICU beds. And if you have ten people who are at risk of passing away unless they have a severe ICU intervention or ventilator intervention, but you only have beds for three of those ten people, then we are increasing the mortality rates of these disease due to human and policy decisions that compound on top of the kind of natural riskiness and danger of COVID as it is. And so that's why our actions really matter, that's why wearing a mask matters, that's why making sure that we're being safe really matters.
I suppose my last question would be, there's a lot of people - it's summertime, people want to go to the beach, they want to do all of these things. What would you say to folks who either don't know what to do regarding travel, or visiting family, or what measures they could take if they are in a high-risk situation.
AMESH ADALJA: Sure, so this is also something that doesn't have a one-size-fits-all answer, you've got to look at your personal risk tolerance, what your risk factors are for severe disease, and see can you do this activity in a safer way? It's very easy for you to wear a face covering like a mask or a face shield, it's easy for you to wash your hands, you can try and avoid places that are very crowded. You can just try to schedule things around that. If something is gonna be unavoidable, and when it is that way you've got to be very meticulous with washing your hands a lot, not touching your face, trying to stay away from people.
If you're doing group activities make sure nobody is sick, make sure you ask people that. Some people don't realize - it's some mild symptoms they might have - could be consistent with coronavirus. But again it's going to be very, very hard because that everything is going to have some level of risk, and I think it's very challenging to try and navigate this. And it's going to be lots of people are gonna maybe make mistakes, they may end up going to something and getting themselves exposed, and then they're gonna be very nervous, and that's gonna be the norm.
I think this is such a strange time for most Americans because of this, and we're going to have to navigate this and come up with our own kind of risk calculus of what's safe, what's not safe, how important is the activity that we're doing. And I think that's gonna be really hard. It's not going to be me as a doctor being able to say yes do this, don't do that, all I can do is try and reduce the harm of the virus by telling you what measures you can and can't take. But ultimately it's gonna boil down to individual decisions, and it's gonna be difficult.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, well thank you so so much Dr. Adalja for offering all of your input and your expertise, and sharing that with the community, so thank you so very much.
AMESH ADALJA: Thank you, it's really an honor.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think we're gonna be moving on to community questions. So, I'm not sure if we're ready to move forward with that, sorry y'all, it's been kind of a crazy day, so I'm doing this from my phone. But if we have any questions feel free to go ahead, Ariel do we have any?
ARIEL: Hi Congresswoman, sorry, our first question is from Denise from Pelham Parkway.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Great. Hey, Denise, are you on?
DENISE (PELHAM PARKWAY): Yes, I'm here.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Great, great. What's your question?
Questions from constituents
[35:00] How does AOC plan on helping ensure schools are ready to reopen in September? (Denise)
DENISE (PELHAM PARKWAY): Wow, I wasn't expecting to be the first question [laughs]. My question is, well I'm a school teacher actually, in the Bronx, and earlier today there were two press conferences, from the White House and there was also one from Cuomo. Now many of my co-workers are concerned about schools opening and them having enough PPEs, enough cleaning products. I happen to work in a very large school and a lot of teachers are concerned. How can the Congresswoman supply, or help supply, the schools with the resources they need to ensure that they're open safely?
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, thank you so so much for your question, it's a really important one. And you know so many of us parents, community members, people who have children in their lives, it's a really complicated time for all of us because we're all dealing with this question of are schools reopening? If they are, how are they reopening, how are we making sure that everybody's safe?
And I think one of the main issues that we have too, is that this is a systemic issue. You know I think that there - on one hand there is a lot of pressure to reopen schools because parents don't feel like - and in many cases cannot - maintain the load of having to work and raise children at the same time. But that is - like we were just talking about - that is a resource strain and issue. What we should be doing is making these decisions from a public health perspective. What is going to keep our kids safe, our families safe, our teachers safe, and our school staff safe.
And so you know what we're seeing is that these decisions - I'm just gonna keep it real with everybody - Mom and Dad, the governor and the mayor, are fighting again so there's a little bit of confusion about New York City Public Schools in particular. But the governor asserted today his decision-making and his power, and in making that decision as it comes to New York City Public Schools.
Now, so what happens if schools do reopen on a limited basis or a full basis, what happens? Well first of all, we need to make sure that this decision is coming from a public health perspective that really centers the people who would most be at risk from that decision, which in my opinion would be the school staff and teachers. That would be any school staff that would be there in person, would of course be exposed to very high levels of risk along with any household that would be at risk by sending their child in - if they have, for example, immunocompromised children, or if they have family members that are older or compromised. We need to make sure that the decision around reopening is made around their safety and transmission in mind.
So when it comes to PPE what can we do? I'm very thankful that our campaign and my office, particularly in addition to partnering with as you know state senators, City Council members, State Assembly members in our community, we've been personally raising for PPE and and other materials that are needed to make sure that we keep people safe in the community. And I can tell you, and I'm prepared to make the commitment right now, that if any of our schools are short on PPE for teachers that I will personally - and I will make sure that you know that our movement will personally - get involved in providing as much PPE as we can.
But that being said, schools should not be reliant - just like so many other schools supplies - we should not be relying on charity to make sure that teachers and school staff have the critical supplies that they need to do their job. And so if some schools fall through the gaps in this policy decision-making, I'm willing to make the commitment right here and right now that we're willing to step up and try to get as much PPE for you all as possible. But the point is that it shouldn't come to that, these need to be...
You know when it comes to decisions about reopening, as I said, the State - and the City if they aren't - if the State does not have the amount of PPE necessary to make sure that every teacher - or any member of school staff period - is protected, then they should not reopen schools. That's my opinion. If you cannot provide masks, if you cannot provide PPE in order to facilitate a school operating, then we have no business reopening schools, because we shouldn't be putting our school staff and teachers' lives in the hands of a charity cause because that's inappropriate and it's wrong.
So we have to make sure that the State has enough PPE, not just to reopen schools but indefinitely to make sure that we have enough PPE for at least a year, and then at least for the entire school year if that's possible. At a minimum I'd say to carry us through the winter. And so we need to make sure that we're stocked up on PPE, we need to make sure that these decisions are being made.
I appreciate also the difficulty - even from a leadership perspective - of making this decision. Of course the core problem that we have is the ambiguity, and we want and we need answers on schools reopening right now, but it's going to be very hard to be making these reopening decisions based on a projection of growth. And so I think unfortunately on one hand we have to be flexible. We want to plan for schools to reopen, but we also need to prepare for the possibility that if two days before schools are set to reopen, if public health officials say we cannot do this, that we have to be willing to pull the rug on that.
Now at the beginning of this whole thing, in the beginning of my response, I mentioned a core factor in pressuring reopening, and that has to do with parenting and child care. And that, ultimately, I think is the thing that we need to really address. We need to make sure that we guarantee the continued expansion of unemployment insurance.
But on top of that - this is one of the reasons why I supported something that was known as the Paycheck Guarantee Act which what it does is that it essentially allows employers guaranteed paychecks for any and all employees that are either laid off, or cannot do their jobs because (for example) they're taking care of their children and schools are closed. And so the thing that's so important is addressing that pressure, because the reason that there is so much pressure and energy around schools reopening is because of the economic impossibility of this situation for working parents. And so if we can address just the impossible situation that working parents are in when it comes to childcare and doing your job, then we can really reduce the pressure on reopening schools according to a timeline of convenience as opposed to a timeline of public health.
And so those are the things that we really need to address, which is why on the federal level I support the Paycheck Guarantee Act in addition to continued stimulus payments, and making sure that we have preserve the additional $600 in PUA the pandemic unemployment assistance; that we extend that frankly until indefinitely - attach it to the spread of the disease. So that to me is the key issues, because these economic policies, paycheck guarantee, unemployment and continued stimulus checks are going to reduce the pressure on working families and feeling like we have to put all these kids back in school. Because we shouldn't be making these decisions out of economic despair and desperation, we should be making these decisions based on what is healthiest, and what is appropriate from a public health perspective.
So I know that was a really long answer, but that's my take on the whole issue in terms of New York City public schools, so thank you.
ARIEL: All right, our next caller is Zoraida from Woodside.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's who? Zoraida, how are you.
[44:50] What do they see being the vision when we do reopen as far as mass transportation is concerned? (Zoraida)
ZORAIDA (WOODSIDE): Hi Congresswoman, it's a pleasure to speak with you. I met with you about a year and a half ago when you were in Queens, and I'm really glad to have the opportunity to speak with you. I work in Manhattan and I live in Woodside, and my question is more revolving what the expectation and the City's plan, or what plans are in place, to help with social distancing once we're in let's say Phase 4, and we are back on the subway system.
As a subway rider who spends an hour and a half every day traveling to and from the city that is my main concern, and I also have a high risk mother that I take care of at home. What do you see as a vision? I don't know if the doctor might have maybe some guidance, or can give an idea of what we can expect as a city once folks are back in the full swing of things and the trains become crowded again.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: This is such an excellent question, and you know it is one that I think a lot of us are thinking about. I was on the subway yesterday, I visited the dentist and I was on my way home and so I was taking the subway. You know when I was taking the subway yesterday I felt comfortable, but it was because of exactly what you're talking about, because the subway car was not crazy packed, people were able to kind of relatively distance themselves, you know it may not have been six feet but there's still enough distance where you feel a little more comfortable. So things feel tenuously okay, everyone was wearing a mask on the subway car that I was riding, and so I felt definitely a lot more safe and I felt better about that.
But then the question comes as these phases slowly start to reopen, the subway is the lifeblood of our city transportation-wise, and if these subways get really really packed as especially the subway lines in our district do. In the Bronx we have the 6 train that runs in our district, the 5 train that gets close to Allerton - both of those subway lines can get very packed. I don't have to tell anyone about the 7 train that can get extremely packed, Astoria trains, and the N and the Q and the R and I mean so many of the subway lines that run through our district. Or adjacent, or close to our district, can really really be tough, and so as these subway lines get really jammed of course what we're realizing is that a lot of what we've been proposing already are kind of built-in solutions to this problem.
The question really comes to the state level of what's going to happen, and because here's really what we need to do: we need to increase the frequency of trains because the only way that you're going to get more distancing is if you have trains running as frequently as possible, then you can get less people on per train. So we need to make sure that we are increasing the volume of trains. We have to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to avoid service shutdowns, which drive people into other lines, which overcrowd them. And we know especially during summertime and early fall, you know that can happen quite a lot. And we also need to make sure that while people are on these trains, as you get these trains that get more people on them, that we are maintaining compliance with mask-wearing as much as possible because all it takes to get someone sick is just one person who's carrying COVID to not wear a mask - even if that person doesn't know that they're carrying it.
So while I think it's great that we are continuing sanitizing these trains, what we really need is do what I think a lot of transportation activists have been asking for for a very long period of time, is dramatically reinvesting in the MTA so that we can increase frequency of service, so that we can also make sure that we're increasing frequency of service on buses as well, so that people can choose alternative modes of transportation. So you can take the subway, but yes you can also take the bus.
I think that the Open Streets Program has been very successful, and that we should try to preserve it as much as possible because it allows people to distance if they also choose other forms of public transit. So for example I see in our community a lot of people are starting to opt into biking more places, and that doesn't mean that you have to bike or that anyone else has to bike, but for every person in our community that does choose to bike or use an alternative mode of transportation that's one less person that's cramming onto the subway or to the MTA.
And so really I think a lot of this is an infrastructure question, but in terms of staying safe I think just as Dr. Adalja mentioned we need to make sure that mask compliance - especially on the subway which is an enclosed space - is really really high. And we also need to make sure that that if your risk tolerance is lower because you - not even from a personality perspective but if your risk tolerance is lower because you are caring for a parent, or you yourself may be immunocompromised, or you are living with someone who may be immunocompromised, that we make sure that mask wearing is really really high and that we make sure that we're sanitizing everything everything everything that you take on the subway with you. As he said, surface transmission is definitely lower than being within six feet of another person, but it still is a factor. So if you take something onto the subway I would also say - and let's say you're carrying groceries home or something like that - it might be good to just give it a wipe down in order to prevent any potential surface transmission as well.
ARIEL: Alright, it looks like we might have time for another question. Up next, we have Tony from Astoria.
TONY (ASTORIA) Hello.
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Hi Tony, how are you?
TONY (ASTORIA) Can you hear me?
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Yeah, I can hear you.
[51:55] Do you think it would be a good idea to have restaurants set up open air food spots? (Tony)
TONY (ASTORIA) Hello, it's nice to speak to you. My name is Tony, I'm living in Astoria right now but I'm from Connecticut. So without further ado, my question is that since indoor dining and bars are not fully operational yet, I'm brainstorming alternative ways to prop up local businesses. What are your thoughts on having a quote-unquote block-style of events like the Smorgasburg or the Queens Night Market where street or a parking lot or even a park is blocked off, so that the restaurants and vendors can sell their goods with proper social distancing and masks of course?
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well honestly, first of all thank you so much for this question because a lot of it is a question of how can we make sure that we are supporting local businesses and small businesses in this time. And you know one of the fastest ways - if anyone's watching and they're a regular, or they want to support a local business - you know just one of the easiest immediate ways that you can do is to buy a gift certificate for that business. You can even buy a gift certificate for yourself.
As someone who spent many years working in a restaurant, let me tell you a little bit about gift certificates. I won't go into too much, but what it does is that it gives someone reliable cash flow and it gives a small business reliable cash flow. So for example, when I worked at a restaurant if I had a regular that would come in once a week it's one thing if you know that that regular comes in once a week and pays every single time. Let's say you're a regular let's say you regularly get takeout from a local small business. It can actually be more helpful for that small business, if you can swing it, if it's something that's possible in your budget, to buy a gift card almost for the month and say you know what I'm going to spend $100 at this place in the next month or two. And if you just give them that $100 up front in terms of a gift card, and then use your gift card when you buy food, it gives that person that cash flow upfront and so that small business has more liquidity.
Now when it comes to like a Queen's Night Market style event, first of all I really miss the Queen's Night Market so I can't wait till we get back to something like that. The first thing I would always say is to make sure that we're listening to public health officials, but I do think that there's a world where an event - if you have enough space - could be possible, and if you're able to facilitate social distancing in an event like that. Now the great thing about Queens Night Market is that it's in Flushing Meadows Park, and so that gives you a lot of opportunity. Like if we expand the footprint of an event like that. I do think that Flushing Meadows Park has the capacity to social distance, you can make sure that those tents are very far from one another, but that in and of itself is a logistical and public health question.
But it may very well be doable, if you can realistically create social distancing, even if it's like a takeout situation, or if you're able to spray those circles in the grass so people can remain socially distanced like they're doing in San Francisco and other places across the country, in the City. And so my recommendation would be there are a lot of areas just like we're seeing with green markets in Jackson Heights and Parkchester across the district where outdoor events have been doable, and with enough mask-wearing they are not leading to transmission or any spikes in transmission.
So I think that at first pass I think it's an idea that's worth doing some due diligence on, and I certainly know a lot of people miss the Night Markets, and they're one of the best parts of summer in the district in my opinion. We all have a lot of great memories there, so I think it's a great question and it's certainly something to look into. Thank you.
ARIEL: That's awesome. I think given the time it might make sense to talk a little bit about the census.
[56:40] Closing remarks on the 2020 Census (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)
ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Oh yes, absolutely. So, okay everybody, we need to make sure that we fill out the census. Have you filled out your census yet? If you haven't, that's okay, no shame here, no judgment here, just go to my2020census.gov and fill it out.
It's a ten question survey and if you lost the paper that the census sends you, if you don't have it, you don't need to worry about that either. The only difference between self-reporting - you just hop on the website and just do it from scratch - and using the the paper that was sent to you - the paper has a little code and you type in that code and fill out the the questionnaire either online or not. But if you don't have the code it's no problem, the only thing that you need to do is add your address if you don't have the code, that's the only difference.
And you don't have to worry, the census is completely confidential. If you have, especially now, if you have like a weird housing situation, if you don't know if your apartment is legal, if you're afraid that you owe money or back taxes, or literally any situation, if you're undocumented - you are protected. Your information is not shared, it cannot be used to backtrack to you. The Census Bureau anonymizes this information for public health and public resource distribution.
And I cannot tell you how important it is - especially in our community. All of us, every single zip code in our district has room for improvement on the census but when I look at Corona in particular, Corona is one of the most crowded school districts in the city if not the country and it is not a coincidence that Corona also has some of the lowest census turn-in rates in our entire district.
And it's probably a little bit of a red zone, a little flagged community in the city as well, and so what happens is that we can't fund kids and we cannot fund families that we do not know are there. If you send your child to a school where there's 25, 30 kids in the classroom, we can't get more teachers to that school if your children don't essentially exist in the eyes of the census. That's why it's so important that we fill out the census.
Again, it is for every single human being to be counted, the questions are not very probing, it's ten questions, it takes ten minutes max. You can do it right now, just go to my2020census.gov, fill it out, put in your address if you don't have a code. If you do have a code you don't need to put in your address and either way it's completely confidential. And it's so important because it determines the resources that your neighborhood is going to get for the next ten years. So don't allow us to be under resourced. If you have filled it out, ask your friends if they have filled it out, and make sure that everyone you know fills out the census this year.
So thank you so much. All right, I think we're wrapping up, bye everyone.