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San Francisco mayor says ‘drastic steps’ by federal government needed to address crisis

On Monday, nearly 7 million people in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area were ordered by city and county officials to stay home to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The city’s Democratic mayor, London Breed, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss the public health considerations that went into that decision and how she is working to support businesses as they subsequently lose income.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that he will decide in the next 48 hours if he will order his city's 8.6 million residents to shelter in place, in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

    Amna Nawaz speaks to a mayor whose city is already living under lockdown.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Nearly seven million people in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area were ordered to stay inside by city and county officials in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

    San Francisco Mayor London Breed is one of the officials who made that decision yesterday. She's a Democrat, and she joins me now.

    Mayor Breed, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    I want to ask you about what drove this decision. Two weeks ago, you had your first confirmed case in San Francisco. The latest numbers I saw yesterday were about 40 confirmed cases. Why is this drastic a step necessary now?

  • London Breed:

    Well, I want to be clear that, in every decision we made here in San Francisco, even beginning with our emergency declaration on February 25, had everything to do with the information we had from public health experts.

    In San Francisco, we have an incredible Department of Public Health. They have been working with a number of our county health officers throughout the region. And they have provided information that led to this decision.

    It was important to do it to protect public health. We see that there are more cases, but we also understand that, with the limited number of test kits, the challenges with protective gear and other things that we are lacking, we need to make sure that we are protecting public health, that we are making the right decision, so that, when people are sick and when they need to be hospitalized, we are at a capacity that can handle the influx of people in our system.

    And part of what we did in providing this directive was to really interrupt and limit the number of people who are interacting with one another. This is why the social distancing order is so important. It really is about permitting — protecting people and preventing the transfer of this disease, and having it continue to really move forward at such an alarming rate.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask how this is going to work, though, because people have questions.

    Basically, you say residents can take a walk. They can exercise. They can take their pet out. But you're asking people not to leave their homes unless it is for a basic need.

    How do you enforce that? What should people expect to see? Will law enforcement be asking them why they're out and about? Do you arrest people who refuse to go indoors?

  • London Breed:

    Well, just to be clear, our goal is to get people to understand the significance of what we're dealing with and to comply.

    We are not here to be heavy-handed with what we're pushing, because we want people to understand and realize, this is a public health crisis. And what they are doing outside of what they absolutely need to do could endanger people's lives.

    People are walking around here in San Francisco who may not even be aware that they are infected with the virus. And that could maybe transmit to someone who may have a respiratory issue, someone who is elderly, and who are at risk of death.

    And I think that what's important is to understand that we are here to provide the information to the public, to try and get the public to comply with our directive, to use common sense, and to think about this as a situation where what you are doing could potentially compromise public safety and public health.

    And so we are asking people to comply and to be good citizens of our city.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Mayor Breed, last time we met, about two weeks ago in San Francisco, you said you were taking all these steps to get ahead of the spread.

    And you had concerns about the amount of protective equip that you said you needed, all the resources for those front-line health care workers for a surge, an influx of patients that you know are coming.

    Do you have right now everything you need to meet the needs of those health care workers?

  • London Breed:

    To be clear, we do not have everything we need. We are working with the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, trying to be as cooperative as possible, but also being very aggressive about what our needs are.

    Two weeks ago, I sent a letter to the vice president, who is in charge of this task force, to help address these issues, expressing the need for more protective gear for health care workers, and also just really a lot more assistance, a lot more support in our city and in our region, because this is not just something that's impacting San Francisco.

    It's impacting our entire country. And we need to make sure that we're prepared for any situation. And we could meet the needs of our residents, and we can keep people healthy and safe.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, you mentioned the federal government's response. And last time we spoke, you were very critical of their response. You said there had been a failure to respond adequately and that you weren't getting answers to the questions.

    What do you make of the federal government's response and the White House sort of ramping up their response in the last week?

  • London Breed:

    I think it's — the ramp-up is — it definitely is needed. But we also need to go even further. We need what we need when we need it. And we need support and we need resources now.

    And I'm hopeful, now that it seems to be really hitting home with the White House, that they are going to take the drastic steps necessary to help cities throughout this country address this real challenge.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The steps that you're announcing with this shelter in place are undoubtedly going to have an economic hit on your city and the surrounding areas.

    And I talked to one small business owner who said, look, I have bills, I have a family, I have rent. None of those go away. And he's very concerned about what's going to come after this.

    What is your message to him?

  • London Breed:

    And my message is, I understand, but public health has to be put first.

    And the good news in San Francisco is, we have already put a number of steps into place so that we can help support especially people who are small businesses owners. So, we are putting in some policies now to help ease the burden in the future, but we know there are going to be tremendous financial impacts on our city, and we are going to have to deal with that.

    But we are trying to put forth policies now to lessen the burden.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, joining us tonight.

    Thanks for your time, Madam Mayor.

  • London Breed:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And please join us on Thursday, when we are hosting a virtual town hall, "Confronting Coronavirus," at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 central on all PBS stations, and streaming on the PBS app and on the "PBS NewsHour" social channels, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.

    Please watch to hear some of your questions answered by people on the front lines of the crisis.

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