Women of Color Mayors Leading Community COVID-19 Responses

The United States’ response to the Coronavirus has fluctuated throughout the first two months of COVID-19 pandemic panic. The need for businesses to reopen their doors and quality of life to return to a somewhat normal state, has local leaders torn between the economy and humanity. City Mayors like Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, Atlanta’s Keisha Lance Bottoms, San Francisco’s London Breed, and Mayor Muriel Bowser are prominent women of color in leadership with the challenges of COVID-19 on their plates.


Mayor London Breed | San Francisco

London Breed was elected Mayor of San Francisco in 2019, becoming the city’s first black female ever. When discussions of the coronavirus emerged in December 2019, she and her team of decision-makers and health experts took to the edge of their seats in case the virus reached the United States. Ultimately, Breed declared a state of emergency on February 25th despite knowledge of having zero confirmed coronavirus cases at the time. 

“That’s when we got into an in-depth conversation about what was happening in the rest of the world and what would happen if it stuck here in San Francisco,” said Breed in a local news interview. She recalls sizing up potential solutions in case the virus got out of hand. “I remember thinking how we have all these medical facilities, UC San Francisco, California Pacific Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco General, and what I’m hearing is that if there is an outbreak and we take no steps to protect this city, there is a real possibility that we will have to turn people away becasue we will not have enough ventilators or ICU beds to help support people when they need it. This is serious.”

Alarmed by the rate that COVID-19 was spreading, Breed banned large gatherings of more than 1000 people, ruling out concerts, sporting events, and other important happenings. By the end of April, however, the city of San Francisco had recorded 35 coronavirus related deaths and then took more drastic measures to extend the lockdown despite frustrations from citizens. Mayor Breed also helped establish a, first-of-its-kind, $10M emergency disaster relief fund for small businesses to keep her local economy above water. 


Mayor Lori Lightfoot | Chicago

Lori Lightfoot was elected Mayor of Chicago, also in 2019, becoming the city’s first black, openly gay woman of a major city in the United States. Despite the oddly popular social media memes of her circulating, Mayor Lightfoot has been working diligently to make efforts against COVID-19, especially in the Latino and African American communities. A month ago, Chicago Latinos accounted for 14% of coronavirus cases and 19% of fatalities. To date, however, the community accounts for 37% of cases and 25% of coronavirus related deaths, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s records. 

“In moments of crisis, I tend to think about being in the eye of the storm. In the eye of a hurricane, there’s incredible calm. I have been very, very conscious about what I need to do to keep residents of the city hopeful in the midst of a lot of fear,” said Lightfoot at a local press conference. 

In efforts to let the minority community know they are supported, Mayor Lightfoot assigned the Racial Equality Rapid Response Team the task to focus on communities on the Southwest and Northwest sides, areas that are seeing the largest spike in coronavirus cases. “This team would be tailoring resources for multilingual communications like door hangers, informational postcards, and reaching out to partners and workforce leaders in those communities,” said Lightfoot. To date, the state of Illinois has 68,232 confirmed cases and 2,974 fatalities with 361,260 total tests performed, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s records.


Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms | Atlanta

Keisha Lance Bottoms was elected Mayor of Atlanta in 2017, but previously served on the Atlanta City Council in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. She is the overseer of a Democratic Metropolis smack dab in the middle of the Republican State of Georgia. When the COVID-19 scare became a reality in early February,
Mayor Bottoms quickly sounded the alarm because it was just a matter of time before it hit her beloved Atlanta. 

Although the city of Atlanta, itself, has tilted left for decades, Mayor Bottoms is finding challenges with newly elected Republican Governor Brian Kemp to maintain the community’s safety during this pandemic. 

“We’ve got to be prepared for this regardless of what the federal preparations and the state preparations will be. We’ve got to make sure that, as a city, we are prepared,” said Bottoms in a press conference. “We are going to assume we won’t have help from anywhere, and we’re going to operate this as if we’ve got to navigate it ourselves,” she added.

Today, Mayor Bottoms still urges residents to abide by the suggestions of scientists and health officials to stay indoors until the contagion gets under control. With the financial threat to an already declining economy, businesses are somewhat itching to reopen to maintain the money flow. Her approach is a complete counter to Governor Kemp’s “open Georgia” approach, however. She doesn’t believe, at all, that reopening Atlanta businesses will help flatten the curve, and in turn, will prolong the effects of the deadly virus. “I don’t think this is a partisan issue. I think it’s just poor leadership,” she said. 


Mayor Muriel Bowser | Washington, DC

Mayor Bowser has over 20 years in government. On November 6, 2018, Mayor Bowser became the first woman ever re-elected as the Mayor of Washington, DC as well as the first mayor to earn a second term in 16 years.

Even as Virginia’s governor looks to loses stay-at-home orders and Ocean City, Maryland moves forward with plans to reopen beaches, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will hold up restrictions until DC has two weeks of declines, which is in line with the federal government’s recommendations

“I don’t know where Virginia is going to land next week,” Bowser told CNN. “What’s important to us in Washington, D.C., is the National Capital Region. It would not be good for Virginia nor the entire region if all the D.C. residents and Marylanders flocked to Virginia.”

Mayor Bowser has worked extensively to held DC residents during COVID-19. On May 1st, she announced an expansion of financial relief options for DC residents who were struggling to pay private education loans due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency.




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