Mar 18, 2020 - Health

Cities and counties take charge to combat coronavirus

Illustration of the White House and the Capitol Building in darkness next to a city hall with all the lights on

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Local leaders have seized the reins during the novel coronavirus outbreak, amid frustrations that the federal government's efforts have fallen short.

The big picture: Governors and mayors have been the ones dictating the pace of the response — closing schools, banning large gatherings and updating their residents. But cities also say they need more money from the federal government, and more help understanding how they're allowed to use the money they have.

Driving the news: The U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday requested $250 billion in flexible, emergency assistance to cities.

  • Congress provided $950 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support state and local public health authorities, half of which was supposed to be delivered to the states within 30 days.
  • President Trump also invoked the Stafford Act to make more money available to state and local governments.

But it's unclear how that money is being dispersed to localities.

  • Counties, which operate 1,900 public health departments, don't have enough guidance on what expenses are eligible, said Matthew Chase, executive director of the National Association of Counties.
  • "We need clarity on what the rules of the road are," Chase said, such as whether first responders will be eligible for hazard pay.
  • King County, in Washington state, for example — the site of a large concentration of coronavirus cases — is anticipating nearly $100 million in extra costs without knowing whether they'll receive federal reimbursements.
"It's safe to say we are in very uncharted territory but we are improvising and working together to get through this. Now more than ever we need a strong federal, state and local partnership to address this crisis."
— Mary Ann Borgeson, commissioner of Douglas County in Nebraska

Between the lines: Americans are putting a lot of faith in their local governments during this outbreak, according to the debut installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index, out Wednesday.

  • The CDC is the most trusted institution for accurate information about the virus, at 84%.
  • 70% trust state government, 67% trust their local government.
  • Meanwhile, just 53% trust the federal government.
  • Many mayors and local public health officials are holding daily, live-streamed briefings to share updates about confirmed cases, school and business closures and other mitigation efforts.

What to watch: Local leaders are also trying to make sure Washington, D.C. understands the full extent of their public health and economic challenges as Americans' anxieties rise.

  • "We have to take that angst and turn it into organizing," said Ithaca, N.Y., Mayor Svante Myrick. "Decisions are being made right now in D.C. and unless we tell them what we need, They're going to make the decisions for us."
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