Mar 18, 2020

Axios Cities

By Kim Hart
Kim Hart

Thanks for reading. I hope you and yours are staying safe and healthy.

  • As our days are filled with stressful news about the coronavirus, I'd like to highlight stories of success and resilience. What's working in your neck of the woods? How have your communities pulled together?
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  • Today's edition is 1,297 words, a 5-minute read.

💡Axios will be hosting a live virtual event Thursday, March 19, on the coronavirus and pandemic preparedness. Join us at 9am ET live for this in-depth discussion that will cover the impact of the crisis. Register here.

Situational awareness: The White House has proposed a $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.

1 big thing: Cities and counties take charge to combat COVID-19

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Local leaders have seized the reins during the 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 is 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, on a call with reporters Wednesday.
  • "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 it'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 today.

  • 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, New York, 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."
2. Protecting the homeless from the coronavirus

Puerta del Sol square in Madrid on Monday. Photo: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

People experiencing homelessness don't have access to the recommended precautions to stave off the coronavirus.

  • They often don't have access to places to wash their hands, many sleep outside in crowded encampments, and social distancing is next to impossible in crowded shelters.
  • The population living outside tends to be older and to have pre-existing health conditions.
  • If they do get sick, they're more likely to end up in intensive care, said Samantha Batko, a research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

Why it matters: "People sleeping outside in crowded and unclean situations could rapidly expand the spread of the disease," Batko said. "We have to rapidly expand shelter capacity."

What's happening: Half of the country's unsheltered homeless population lives in California, which is taking aggressive steps. Gov. Gavin Newsom is securing empty hotel and motel rooms for shelter.

  • San Francisco has rented RVs to isolate people who end up with the virus but don't need hospitalization. Along with Los Angeles, the city has placed sanitation stations at encampments.
  • In Washington state, King County purchased a former Econo Lodge in Kent to use as a quarantine site. But the decision came under fire when a homeless person waiting for results of a COVID-19 test left the premises and boarded a bus.
  • Other municipalities are considering leasing vacant buildings for temporary shelters, so people with symptoms can be isolated from others who have nowhere else to go. San Diego is working with local universities to use empty dorms for this purpose.
  • LA and others are handing out hygiene packs with hand sanitizer and soap.

The catch: Despite outreach efforts, homeless programs rely on funding, supplies and volunteers, all of which are in short supply.

3: Map: The latest in the U.S.
Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Check out our Coronavirus Dashboard for quick access to the latest news.

4. Rural residents at risk

Jen Lingo, R.N., walks a resident of the assisted living center in Dayton General Hospital back to her room. Dayton, a small town in rural southeast Washington, has an aging population, had its first positive test for Coronavirus and is waiting on results of more tests. Photo: Nick Otto for the Washington Post

The coronavirus can spread faster in densely populated cities than in rural areas, but rural America has a higher-risk population and fewer safety-net programs for people who get sick.

By the numbers:

  • Rural residents are, overall, older than urban dwellers and are therefore more susceptible to this virus. Per Census Bureau data, 17.5% of the rural population is 65 or older.
  • Rural workers are less likely to have paid sick leave benefits. Just over half of those working in service jobs, construction and farming have paid sick leave, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Remote work is not possible in the majority of rural America due to the lack of high-speed broadband. One-third of rural residents don't have fixed broadband service, per Federal Communications Commission data.

The biggest problem, though, is the spotty access to health care. More than 100 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to a Health Affairs study.

  • Even if they did have access to good doctors, many would forgo treatment because they lack health insurance.

Don't forget: Large portions of rural America are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession in the late 2000s, so it will be even harder for them to rebound from another economic downtown.

What's needed: "To assist vulnerable communities, policymakers should provide resources to the existing institutions in these areas, such as community centers, places of worship, and schools," wrote Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, in a recent analysis. "We must provide access to diagnosis, medical treatment, and eventually vaccines without cost."

5. Chinatowns felt the pressure even before wider shutdowns

People walk the streets of Soho and Chinatown wearing face masks in London. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Even before cities began shutting down restaurants and bars, Chinatown neighborhoods around the world were among the first to see a significant slowdown in business — mostly due to consumers' misguided fears about a virus that originated thousands of miles away.

"There's a second virus, which is xenophobia," Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership Local Development Corporation in New York City, told WNYC last week.

  • Based on trash cans — which are WiFi-connected and can sense garbage volume — as a gauge for activity, Chen estimates foot traffic was down 40%–80%.

Details: In Houston, a false rumor in January about an infected worker in Chinatown caused business to plunge by more than 50%, the owners of Mala Sichuan Bistro told the Houston Chronicle. Members of the kitchen staff have already been laid off.

  • Restaurants in Oakland's Chinatown have cut back hours or temporarily shut down. One owner told San Francisco's CBS affiliate that business was down 90% at dinnertime.
  • Businesses that are staying open barely make enough to pay their utility bills, the station reported.

The big picture: Chinatown businesses felt the pain early, and now the rapid economic slowdown is a serious threat to small businesses and restaurants everywhere.

6. Urban files

Hundreds of people line up to enter a Costco store in Novato, California. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Pollution plummeted in Italy after coronavirus shut the country down (Washington Post)

COVID-19 could stress mass transit budgets (Marketplace)

San Francisco's shelter-in-place order shows U.S. what's to come (Bloomberg)

No part of the U.S. has enough hospital beds for a coronavirus crisis (Axios)

The places a COVID-19 recession will hit hardest (Brookings Institution)

States band together vs. coronavirus (Pew Stateline)

Mike Bloomberg pledges $40 million to fight coronavirus around the world (ABC News)

Pandemic provides defining moment for government leaders (Governing)

7. 1 ❤️ thing: Wedding in the park

April Moses and Dorman Page had planned to get hitched in Las Vegas this week, but the COVID-19 health crisis forced them to cancel their trip, the Detroit Free Press reports.

  • So they looked for alternatives closer to home. The local municipal center wasn't holding wedding services due to the coronavirus, so Moses Googled "wedding officiants" — and found one willing to perform the ceremony at a nearby park.
  • “I’d rather be his wife during this crazy time where me and him can actually live as a married couple and enjoy life together with all this craziness,” she said.
Kim Hart

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