And today I'll speak to two of them: the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed; and the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser.
And I'd like to welcome Mayor Bowser. A Democrat, she was first elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018. Mayor Bowser, thanks so much for joining me.
MAYOR BOWSER: Thanks, Bob. Thanks for having me.
MR. COSTA: These are tough times, Mayor, as you know. What is the latest in Washington in terms of the number of cases and the death toll?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, sadly, we have lost 115 Washingtonians to COVID-19, and we see just over 3,000 cases in Washington, D.C. And when you go to our surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia, many, many more cases. So, we are very focused on how we will continue to flatten the curve in D.C. And as saddened as we are by having lost lives, we know it could be a lot worse. Our early models had us being many thousand cases more than we are today, and we know the sacrifices people are making are helping us to flatten the curve.
MR. COSTA: When do you expect Washington, D.C. to peak?
MAYOR BOWSER: We think that we could peak in mid to late May with cases and hospitalizations coming thereafter.
MR. COSTA: So, as you look at that timeline, what is your biggest concern right now in terms of the spread of the virus as you look at the map of your city?
MAYOR BOWSER: We are very concerned, Bob, about our vulnerable populations. What we know is that this disease is violently attacking our vulnerable populations. So, when we look at our elder care facilities and other congregant settings, like one of our hospitals, congregate settings that house people with disabilities, our detention center, we remain very concerned about how to contain the virus in those settings.
But we are also very concerned about African-Americans in Washington, D.C. One of the most shocking numbers to come out of this is that of our deaths, they are 80 percent of them are occurring in the African-American community. That is about 48 percent of D.C. population.
MR. COSTA: Let's pause there for a second, Mayor. What can be done policy wise in your city as mayor to deal with the racial disparity issue?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, we're going to very focused on that. I announced today that we will have a Reopen D.C. Advisory Committee, and part of its charge is to look at disparities. We know, however, that these disparities just didn't pop up during this pandemic, that they're decades and indeed generations in the making.
And they're not all health-related. There are building blocks to health that as a society we must focus on. How will we expand opportunity? How will we be very focused on environmental justice so that we don't have such a disproportionate impact of asthma on African-American children? How will we have safe housing? And how will we make sure our educational and job opportunities are more equally distributed?
MR. COSTA: You also mentioned detention centers a second ago. What's being done to make the prisons safer in Washington?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, we have a jail. Most of our--part of what your listeners will know is that Washington, D.C. is totally unique in our system in America. We're a city/county/state all at once, and our federal prisoners right now are out in the states all over the country.
But we have a jail. And when we started this pandemic, we had about 1,800 people at D.C. jail because of many practices we're below 1,500 people at D.C. jail, but still we have positive cases. And we're working very closely with our team. We're working very closely to make sure we contain it and quarantine folks who have been affected and try to stop the spread.
MR. COSTA: Mayor, summer is just around the corner. No one loves D.C. summer as much as me. I'm sure you love it.
MAYOR BOWSER: No, I love it more.
MR. COSTA: Well, you are mayor so I'll give you that. But how are you going to enforce, if at all, social distancing? I know you remarked this week a lot of people have been walking around even though stay-at-home orders are in place. What are you going to do, if anything, to enforce social distancing in Washington?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, our residents have been very much complying with our orders. We have used our police department and the National Guard to give people reminders and nudging along, especially in public places. I think you're right to be concerned, as we are, about people having social distancing fatigue. They want to see their friends. They want to see their family. But we continue to remind them the best thing that we can do to be prepared for the medical surge is to keep the number of cases and the number of very sick people down, and that's why we have to continue to do it.
But we are making plans for summer, because I want, if at all possible, to have some opportunities for in-person learning for our students. Our committee will be focused on what we will be able to do with camps, if anything, this summer, as well as how can we give people more recreational opportunities as the summer months approach. But we want to get back to business, too, and part of that is being able to keep our cases down.
MR. COSTA: Mayor, speaking of schools, we got a lot of notes from readers and viewers who are in Washington, D.C. One of them came from a woman named Sarah Schuer [phonetic] from Washington. She writes: Mayor Bowser, you've mandated that the academic year will end early this year. Is it possible that schools will open for a summer session to make up for lost time? She says she's the parent of a first grader at a D.C. public school.
MAYOR BOWSER: We have actually two open items that are largely dependent on how we are doing as summer approaches with COVID-19, if we've been able to see our cases go down and if we're able to bring back some students for in-person learning. So, we are still planning for either a remote or in-person summer school, and we are also planning to be able to start our school year early if we're able to have in-person sessions. So, by mid-May we're going to let all of our parents know what's possible for summer learning and what's possible for an early start to next year.
MR. COSTA: Oh, so you will make a decision about next fall by mid-May?
MAYOR BOWSER: We may be in a position to do that.
MR. COSTA: Look at the economy in D.C. I was walking around last night. It's really suffered. And more than 139,000--100,000--people in Maryland, Virginia and the District have filed unemployment claims for the week ending April 18. Which industry, in your view, is most at risk right now in your city?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, we think that the industries that were hit first and maybe come back last have to do with large gatherings. So, we had to close down our convention business at our convention center. Our bars and restaurants, our theaters and entertainment venues all were hit hard and hit first. And we think that they will still have some of the strictest social distancing measures for the longest. So, when we think about a vibrant city like ours is that we are the District of champions, the World Series Champions, we have great arts and entertainment and a wonderful food scene. These businesses have been shuttered now for almost six weeks, and the workers have been terribly affected. And you talk about unemployment. More than 70,000 people have filed for D.C. unemployment.
MR. COSTA: Unlike every other mayor in the nation, you are not working in coordination with a governor. There is no governor for Washington. You are isolated, in some way. So, who do you turn to day to day? You've mentioned regional governors. Is that who you're talking with every day? Who is in your inner circle as you make decisions about reopening and other issues related to the pandemic?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, I have a wonderful team. And because we're unique and our unique status, I am the mayor, the county executive, and the governor, and that has its benefits, but it also has its problems. And the biggest problem that we have in this response is the Congress has not allocated us the money that we are owed.
In CARES 1, the minimum state allocation was $1.25 billion, and that is what the District needs. We were allocated $498 million as if we were a territory. D.C. residents are not territory residents. We pay full taxes, just like every American. And we will continue to work with our congresswoman, the Congress as a whole, and the administration to make sure that that is rectified in the next bill.
MR. COSTA: I know that you and the congresswoman have both been disappointed about that level of funding. But what specifically does Washington, D.C. need in that next round, the so-called phase four negotiation?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, that is first and foremost what we need. We need to be made whole. We were shortchanged by $750 million. That is not small change. In this situation, that every jurisdiction is in, with declining revenues coming in to our jurisdictions, and the responsibility for responding to COVID, we're talking about medical surge, where we have to fund additional hospital beds and staffing. We're talking about people being out of work and needing additional food assistance. We're talking about how to procure PPE on our own. All of those things will require millions and millions of dollars of response.
MR. COSTA: And beyond the congresswoman, do you have an ally in Speaker Pelosi? Do you feel like someone is going to get it done for you in Congress?
MAYOR BOWSER: We have many allies, and we are fortunate for that. But we know oftentimes that their first priority is their own jurisdiction and their own state. I have had just wonderful conversations with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer. Senator Van Hollen has been incredible. Senator Blunt on the other side of the aisle has also been incredible for us. And they are each committed to making sure this happens.
MR. COSTA: Just a final question here. D.C. has so many federal employees. Would you like to see telework continue in Washington for federal employees through the end of the summer, through the fall?
MAYOR BOWSER: Actually, with the governors in the capital region, Governor Hogan and Governor Northam, I sent a letter, we sent a letter to OPM today to just request that they pay attention to telework in our region. You know the White House Coronavirus Task Force has set up the phases of reopening, and part of their focus is on as many people teleworking through these phases as possible. So, we just wanted to highlight to OPM that we are in line with that thinking, and that should be the position of OPM for the capital region.
MR. COSTA: But any feeling on how long that should be, that telework period?
MAYOR BOWSER: Well, I think we agreed that we should work through phase one and phase two of reopening, and I don't know when we will hit all of those phases. But having people come back to work in phases we think is very smart for containing the virus.
MR. COSTA: Well, that's all the time we have with you, Mayor Bowser. Thank you for joining us, and best of luck as you confront this pandemic.
MAYOR BOWSER: Thank you. Thanks, Bob.
MR. COSTA: And after this video, I will speak with San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Stick with us.
MR. COSTA: Welcome back if you were with us for the conversation with Mayor Bowser. To those of you just tuning in, I'm Bob Costa, national political reporter here at The Washington Post.
We are now going to continue our focus today on mayors with San Francisco's Mayor London Breed, a Democrat. She is the 45th mayor in the city's history, and she previously served on the city's Board of Supervisors.
Mayor Breed, welcome to Washington Post Live.
MAYOR BREED: Thank you.
MR. COSTA: Your city was one of the first that had to deal with this outbreak. It was one of the first to declare an emergency, and one of the first to institute stay-at-home orders. Where do things stand today?
MAYOR BREED: Well, right now we have 1,302 cases in San Francisco, with sadly 21 people who lost their lives to this virus. And it has been of course very challenging, but we see the numbers go up but we don't see the drastic increases that we anticipated. Our hospitals are prepared for a surge, and we are grateful that that has not occurred at this time. So, we're just hopeful about the future and what that will mean.
It has given us an opportunity to focus on contact tracing so that we can identify people who have contracted the virus, and then not only who they live with in their inner circle, but start to make those phone calls and go back to places that they might have been in order to determine whether or not someone they've been in contact actually has the virus, whether they exhibit symptoms or not. So, we are able to move in a different direction, which I think is great, but we want to be optimistic about the possibility of moving too fast with reopening, but we also believe that we need to begin on that path with some of our residents.
MR. COSTA: When do you expect your city to reopen?
MAYOR BREED: Well, it's hard to say. I think that what's going to happen, as we get more test kits--because we definitely need them--as we focus on contract tracing, as we maintain our hospital capacity, it is going to be necessary to make sure that if we open, we take steps at opening. For example, all industries would not be able to open right away unless we have certain guidelines that we're putting together.
I set up an economic recovery taskforce of various industries, and the goal is to help to develop guidelines with these industries and to work with our Department of Public Health so that we could slowly begin to see our restaurants, our hair places, and other functions of our city open. Because it's not just about access to services, it's about the livelihood of the people in these industries. But we also have to be very careful that we don't jump the gun.
MR. COSTA: To that point about not jumping the gun, we got a note from a man named Brendan Star [phonetic]. He a resident of your city in San Francisco. He asked: "Mayor Breed, how will the city be different once it's safe to return to quote normal life?" What does the new normal look like? How do you see that?
MAYOR BREED: Well, yeah, unfortunately, the new normal is, for example, we're used to maybe going into a restaurant and being a lot closer in terms of our tables with one another. That will change. Even getting a haircut may require the wearing of a mask and gloves, and the capacity at some of these locations are going to be different.
Large-scale events. When you think about the symphony, or the Warriors, or various large-scale events and how close the seats are, those kinds of things need to be evaluated. And this is a part of the economic recovery taskforce plan, is as we open, especially in the absence of a vaccine, we need to still take certain precautions, but we're going to need to gradually start moving in that direction. There is, you know, the possibility to look at, you know, dog parks for example. We closed dog parks, and maybe we can reopen dog parks with certain guidelines.
So, we're evaluating what we've closed. Construction in our city has pretty much halted, and so we're looking at ways to start to bring back construction with guidelines in place. So it's going to change life as we know it, but we're hoping that we're able to allow people to get back to things that they want to do, but more importantly we need to open up our economy in a responsible way so that we don't see a significant surge that we're definitely not prepared for.
MR. COSTA: And to do that, you're going to turn to this advisory board you just talked about. But one thing I was wondering was, regionally, you're surrounded by Silicon Valley, by tech companies. Have they done enough, in your view, to be supportive of San Francisco?
MAYOR BREED: Well, we set up a fund where we've raised over $10 million from organizations like Twilio and Salesforce and some of the companies in our city who've been very generous not just with their resources but with their technology. The contact tracing application is a tech tool that is being used, and some of these companies are working with us in order to provide the technology to manage what we're doing every single day.
There is of course always more that anyone can do to help in this pandemic, and the tech industry is located throughout the Bay Area, and so they've been actively engaged in not only San Francisco but San Jose and Oakland and other places. And I do think that it's going to be critical to the success of our ability to address this, how we communicate, technology plays a critical role in getting us back to opening our city and being able to communicate with people fairly quickly.
MR. COSTA: You said there's always more they can do. What's one thing that companies could do to help San Francisco?
MAYOR BREED: I think that part of it is, number one, of course contribute to causes that are important, especially food insecurity, things like Meals on Wheels and our food banks and other places like that. Their employees can also volunteer to help at those particular locations.
But more importantly, they have the technology necessary to provide a resource. So, when they see that there is an absence of something, you know, to step in and to use their critical thinkers to produce something that's helpful. For example, Jeff Lawson and the company Twilio, they just came up with an idea around the food that the restaurants actually purchase from some of the growers in other places, they developed a tool and started working together to contact those growers to work with those restaurants, and they raised the money to pay the restaurants so that they can purchase those goods and provide those to low-income families. So that is really--the tools and the resources and getting creative is what I think is going to be critical to helping not only San Francisco but the rest of the country get back to where we were.
MR. COSTA: I saw a report earlier this week that Latinos are getting hard hit in San Francisco in a way that is alarming to you and others who are leading the city. What are you seeing in terms of racial disparity on the ground?
MAYOR BREED: Well, we have seen the disparity with our Latino community, and I do think that it's important that we, you know, talk about specifically what we've done from the beginning. We set up an emergency operation center back in January of this year to monitor the situation, and from the very beginning the Office of Racial Equality, and focusing on outreach and the work that we do from an equity lens, was at the forefront of what we've done. And low-income communities and our public housing settings with our immigrant communities, we wanted to make sure that we provided testing to people who are not necessarily documented but also who may not have insurance. We didn't want any of these things to be a barrier if you are sick and you need to be tested.
And so, I think the good news is that people are not afraid to get tested and use the resources we have available, and they know what is available. But the sad reality is just what you're seeing in the numbers in terms of the disparity with the Latino community and the work that we need to continue to do to make sure, because many of the folks work in the service industries, some are still really in need. They're essential service workers, and so making sure that people get tested or that they stay home.
And I think the challenge, too, is the disparity around people who are in poverty, where they feel that even if they are sick, they have to go to work, and where else are they going to get money from? And that's why we created Give to SF to provide resources for food insecurity to help people pay their rent, to help with our small businesses and their employees, because we don't want anything to be a barrier to making sure that people can take care of themselves, and so we're grateful for that and we know that there's still more work that we're going to continue to do on the ground.
MR. COSTA: Speaking of that work that still needs to be done, let's finish there with the issue of homelessness. We've seen outbreaks at different shelters in your city. It's a great city. I miss going to San Francisco. But homelessness is a major problem in how they deal with this pandemic. What are your options as Mayor? Could you try to move them to vacant hotel rooms? What can you do with the homeless?
MAYOR BREED: So first of all, there's only been an outbreak at one of our shelters in San Francisco.
Secondly, you know, San Francisco has about 5 percent of the homeless population in the entire state of California, and we have been able to, throughout California, acquire over--a little bit over 4,000 hotel rooms. We have already moved almost a thousand people into hotel rooms that are homeless, which is about 25 percent of the hotels for homeless people in this state. So, we're moving at as rapid a pace as we can, and it does require, in the age of social distancing, logistics that we have not necessarily experienced before.
The challenges with homelessness, especially people who suffer from substance use disorder and mental illness, those don't just go away. It's already challenging in some cases to work with this population on any normal day. But now in the midst of a pandemic, when we are asking people to socially distance themselves and then we're trying to help a population that in some case may refuse to wear a mask or follow the directions of standing in line at six feet apart, or when we're moving people from the shelter to the hotel rooms and not riding more than one person in the elevator, the challenges that continue to exist make the logistics and the management of serving this population really tough for us.
But it doesn't mean that we're going to give up. I mean, the fact is, as I said, getting almost a thousand homeless people into hotel rooms, I'd like to know any other city that's already been able to accomplish that. Because we are working hard. We have dedicated people who work for our nonprofits. And city employees who are disaster service workers who may work as librarians or work in rec and park facilities and others places, they don't necessarily work with the homeless population, but they are being trained to help us and to work in these hotels so we can increase our capacity.
So, it is really tough, and we are working on it every single day. We've moved families. We've moved those who are over the age of 60 and those with underlaying health conditions, not just in our shelters but also people who are on the streets. We are seeking them out to get them into hotel rooms. But the management of those systems and the logistics continue to be a challenge for us.
MR. COSTA: And just one quick follow-up to that to close. Are you facing a budget shortfall, and do you need more money from Washington--I asked Mayor Bowser about this as well--more money in the phase four legislation coming up in Washington, D.C.?
MAYOR BREED: Well, San Francisco, our controller projected that our budget shortfall will be anywhere between $1.1 and $1.7 billion. And we definitely need more assistance. For example, FEMA has approved paying for 75 percent of these hotel rooms if they're occupied for someone who is either COVID positive, 65 or older, or have an underlying health condition. Well, you know, our aging population, especially homeless people, in their 50s are struggling. So, we lowered our own age limit, and we know we're going to have to eat the cost of that.
Tourism is important in San Francisco, and it's not just going to come back after we start to open the doors. The conventions, the visitors, the things that naturally occur that generate the revenue for our city, it's not just going to come back overnight. And our small businesses are struggling. They're not going to be able to pay the city taxes they typically pay the city.
So, yes, we need more help from Washington, but we especially need more help from Washington to help still with PPE, to help with this medical challenge, and to support the people who are most vulnerable and our small business community. I don't think that it's a lot to ask to get these resources directly in the hands of the people right now who need it the most and to work with cities on our economic recovery in the long term.
MR. COSTA: That's all the time we have today. Mayor Breed, thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck as you deal with all of this in San Francisco.
MAYOR BREED: Thank you.
MR. COSTA: And thank you all for joining us. I hope you'll join my colleague at the Post, Jonathan Capehart, tomorrow, Friday, at noon Eastern. He will interview Jennifer Garner and Save the Children Action Network President Mark Shriver. But for now, I'm Bob Costa with Washington Post Live. Stay safe, and we will see you next time.
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