Mayor Bill de Blasio on New York City’s battle against COVID-19

De Blasio spoke to “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang about the military personnel who came to help the city in crisis, the decision to shutter schools and how the city will reopen.
5:09 | 07/04/20

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Transcript for Mayor Bill de Blasio on New York City’s battle against COVID-19
Talk about the sacrifice of the folks who are here. They answered the call of duty to serve their country in this capacity, away from their family members. I talked to a lot of the military personnel as they arrived, and I tried to go and greet them a number of times when they got here. And I heard the stories of them having to leave their families to go to the American front, to go to the front in New York City and save lives, and I felt for and this is not wartime in the traditional sense, but it sure felt like wartime, because we were losing thousands of American lives and we needed the best in our country to come and save us. But the spirit of service from the men and women from the army, the Navy, the air force who came here was unbelievable. How does New York think these military folks who came in from all over? It's been a beautiful experience to see the gratitude direct toward the men and women of the armed forces and first and foremost by every day new yorkers who applaud them and understand they came at the absolute crucial moment and helped to save us. But the gratitude from their fellow health workers is even deeper. And sometimes I would gather with them and ask them to say, and you'd hear them call the roll of states they came from, and it's stirring. People from Alaska, California, Michigan and Kentucky and Florida and just this feeling of one country actually working together. Well, it's interesting you say that. There is a feeling of patriotism. That comes from all of this. In the midst of what I would argue is a country that's divided in many ways. Yeah, it's obviously a country that's divided in terms of partisan politics and elections, but I don't think it's a country as divided in terms of the way we live and what we aspire to and what we feel about each other. I have seen Americans step up for Americans. And think of ourselves of all in one big boat together. That's the spirit I saw with these folks who came in from all over to save one corner of America in its hour of need. The idea of combat medics is obviously a federal effort. Yes. But in other spheres, do you believe the federal government did enough to help big cities like New York? No. Not even close. Look, I thought the example of the combat medics coming to help us was so powerful and an example of what we wish we'd seen a lot more of. We asked the federal government to do a much bigger enlistment effort to get medical personnel from all over the country, including civilian personnel to come to New York or anyplace else hard hit. That never happened. We asked the government to use the defense production act when we were running out of ventilators and ppes. It was only used sparingly. The federal government never even came close to addressing this crisis, and that's the legacy here, and even to this day, the only reason we have more testing is because we went and figured out how to do it ourselves, including even building the test kits in new York City which had never been done before. Your critics say you didn't shut down schools fast enough. We were dealing with information every day. I got different information every day, ever changing, different views from different health care leader, and I knew I had 1.1 million kids and their future in my hands. And I'll tell you something. A lot of health care leaders were worried if we shut schools their workforce couldn't come to work. And our hospitals would be threatened. So these were all the factors, but I made the decision to shut them down, and it was a painful one, but I made that decision. In retrospect, do you wish you had shut them down earlier? I wish we had known so much I wish we had testing. I wish we had a lot of the facts we have today. But once we shut them down there were some clamoring to reopen. And I said there's no way. The way people have confidence in going to school is if they see very few cases. They see more and more people being tested. They see a really believable approach to keeping each school safe. Now I'd love a vaccine, but I don't think we're going to have a vaccine by September, but die think you're going to see a lot of workplaces that have proven can you have a safe, smart atmosphere, and that will show us what it will look like to have school come back as well. Do you worry about a lot of new yorkers abandoning the city post-covid? No, I think there's been a heroic fight and a lot of people admire it. People are proud, and they're new yorkers, and they're not going anywhere. I think some people left temporarily, out of concern, out of fear. I don't blame them. But I think a lot of them will come back. And always after every crisis we've seen a whole new generation of people come into New York City. That was true after 9/11, after hurricane sandy. The place just keeps regenerating.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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