Mayors blame federal, state officials for mixed messaging as coronavirus cases surge
The mayors of cities seeing massive spikes in coronavirus cases pushed back Sunday on optimistic projections about the pandemic, saying mixed messages at different levels of government led to confusion among residents, many of whom began to believe the crisis was over and it was safe to return to pre-pandemic norms.
They said the aggressive reopening timelines pursued by state officials in Texas, Florida and Arizona allowed people to crowd into newly-reopened bars, restaurants and other venues where coronavirus is easily spread. At the same time, state officials were preventing local leaders from implementing more restrictive policies at the city or county level than those in place statewide.
And they placed some blame at the feet of President Trump, who has been reluctant to wear a mask and has projected confidence that the pandemic will soon be over, including saying that 99 percent of cases of the virus were “totally harmless.”
“President Trump was in my community, chose not to wear a mask, and he’s having large events while I am trying to push people that you need to stay at home and that events with more than 10 people are dangerous per the Centers for Disease Control,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego (D) said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D) also hit the White House for “ambiguous” messaging.
“It makes me angry,” Adler said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “You know, I understand he has a tough job, but it is dangerous not to be sending a clear message to Americans.”
“When they start hearing that kind of ambiguous message coming out of Washington, there are more and more people that won’t wear masks, that won’t social distance, that won’t do what it takes to keep a community safe,” he added.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) also pushed back on the “harmless” comment, saying the city’s hospitals were in danger of being overwhelmed.
“If we don’t get our hands around this virus quickly, our hospitals could be in serious, serious trouble,” Turner said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “The major problem is staffing … we can always provide additional beds, but we need the people, the nurses and everybody else in the medical profession to staff those beds.”
Arizona and Texas have both seen major surges in coronavirus infections in recent weeks. Arizona currently has the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases per capita nationwide and Texas broke its own record for new coronavirus cases Saturday, reporting 8,258 new cases and 33 new deaths. The state has reported a total of 191,790 cases.
It’s not just messaging coming from the White House that’s confusing residents, several local leaders said. Policies put in place by governors have also led to a false sense of security and, in turn, caused cases to spike, they alleged.
“We opened way too early in Arizona,” Gallego said.
“Our 20 to 44-year-olds, which is my own demographic, really led the explosion, and we’ve seen such growth in that area. We’re seeing a lot of people go to large family gatherings and infect their family members.”
She added, “I think when nightclubs were open, it sent the signal that we had, again, defeated COVID and, obviously, that is not the case.”
In Texas, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D) called for the state to resume a stay-at-home order and said one of the greatest challenges in dealing with the outbreak has been the “mixed messages from different levels of government.”
Last week Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) took a step back in the state’s reopening and ordered all bars to close. He also instituted a statewide face mask requirement.
Hidalgo, the chief administrator for the county, which contains Houston, said on ABC’s “This Week” she’s grateful for the new measures, but “as long as we’re doing as little as possible and hoping for the best, we’re always going to be chasing this thing. We’re always going to be behind and the virus will always outrun us.”
And in Florida, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R), himself a survivor of the virus, said on ABC’s “This Week” that “[i]t’s clear that the growth is exponential at this point,” saying the increase backed up his decision to make Miami the last major city in Florida to reopen.
“I was criticized for waiting so long,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that the fact that when we reopened, people started socializing as if the virus didn’t exist.”
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R) placed more blame on county residents themselves, saying they had “let their guard down” and also blaming the protests that have erupted throughout the U.S. since the death of George Floyd, although the sites of the biggest protests in New York, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. have not seen similar spikes.
“We saw a rapid rise in young people being positive for COVID-19 around mid-June, and I think that had a lot to do with probably socializing, young people going to parties, maybe graduation parties at home,” Gimenez said.
Florida on Saturday reported 11,458 new coronavirus cases, breaking its previous record from that Thursday. Last week Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered bars closed across the state.