As more cases of COVID-19, the Coronavirus, are identified in the United States, local leaders must answer the question about their own role in responding to the outbreak. The good news is that cities, towns and villages have longstanding emergency protocols for public health emergencies such as this and now is the time to show leadership.
Here are three things to prioritize with your local response:
1. Keep Calm and Clearly Communicate Information to Residents
Historically, the United States public health system is adept at responding to global outbreaks and has done so successfully in the past with SARS, Zika, H1N1 and Ebola, just to name a few. There is no reason to think that Coronavirus will be any different. A key message to your communities must be: prepare but don’t panic.
Local leaders must ensure that accurate, timely information is communicated to your residents about your emergency response plans, how residents should be preparing at home and how/when they should seek medical care. Included in that coordination is ensuring that schools are relaying accurate information to parents and families, including messaging that might be helpful for children to understand.
Relying on official sources to guide your efforts, such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is critical. Utilize social media, community organizations and official government channels to share health and hygiene recommendations with your residents as well as other pertinent local information.
2. Ensure Coordination Between Local/State Health Departments
While local leaders are on the front lines of the response efforts, effective coordination with state and federal health departments is critical. Ensure that your local health department is in regular communication with the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Be sure to identify where more federal funds will be needed to support the local response and communicate that information clearly to all partners, including your federal elected representatives.
3. Take Care of Your Team
As employers, cities, towns and villages must also be examining their own sick leave and telework policies so city employees can stay home when they are sick and remain there until they are fever free for 24 hours. City offices and agencies should utilize CDC workplace posters and fact sheets to help share proper prevention protocol, including handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol (if soap and water are not available).
Cities should be prepared with staffing contingency plans for absenteeism due to the virus. And, don’t forget about your first responders – ensure that they have the latest information and protection to remain on the front lines!
Information on COVID-19 changes rapidly and staying on top of information can be daunting. NLC will be hosting a conference call with representatives from the Administration after Congressional City Conference (March 8-11) to provide updated information to local leaders. Stay tuned for more information on that call. In the meantime, we hope to see you in DC next week, where we will hear firsthand from the Administration.
About the authors: Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the Legislative Director for Human Development at the National League of Cities. Follow Stephanie on Twitter @martinezruckman.