CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE


This pandemic is all encompassing. It will no doubt leave a scar on our national identity and, in some ways, permanently change our culture. That is why I believe it is important for you to know how, if your mayor, I would marshal our resources to address the Coronavirus threat.


Messaging

First and foremost, I would be in lockstep with our Governor from the start. I would push to have briefings as often as his schedule would allow during this crisis and mirror just about everything being done on the state level here in the city. I would declare a state of emergency in the city on the same day, and in concert with, the governor.

I would also push to have briefings with both legislative leaders, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones. Baltimore, being the largest city in this state, must act in unison with our state leaders to amplify the mitigation of this crisis, but also the impact of the solutions.

In a Smith administration, you could expect accessible, live, televised or streamed briefings every day – complete a sign language interpreter and robust media participation. It is essential that every reporter be allowed to ask every question in the name of transparency and safety. The Governor is doing a superb job by updating the entire state with daily press conferences and I would, again, make sure he and I are speaking in unison. Partisanship is petty, there will be no room for it in the response, and quite frankly, any response coming from my administration.

I would ask our media to take down, or deeply discount their paywalls, temporarily, in the interest of providing some of their expert coverage and information during this pandemic.

The Smith Administration would also delegate a task force to immediately identify and work with community partners to ensure some of our more underserved neighborhoods receive the proper education about the virus and the communal steps we all must take. It is an unfortunate reality that some parts of our city do not have access to internet, or even television. We all must understand the risk in order to beat it.

Economic Relief

On the state level, we would be working with our federal and state partners intimately in order to secure a financial package for Baltimore’s small businesses which are undoubtedly suffering. Whether that be help with interest free loans, a stimulus package for residents or forgiveness on certain monthly expenditures within the state and city purview, Baltimore City residents and businesses need to be represented in Annapolis during these discussions and I would insist my administration is at the forefront.

Locally, since we are having to press pause on our economy, then we must press pause on bills – parking ticketing would be suspended; water bill due dates extended, and I would explore moving the upcoming property tax deadline in July. People will be hurting; massive, and possibility unprecedented job loss is expected. We must create a grace period for our residents who need it.

As policy in any city-wide crisis, my administration would also immediately engage in talks with BGE and Comcast to ensure services stay on and connected. Similar to a grace period for city bills, residents will need some flexibility for these essential services.

Local Action: Health & Safety

A first order of business would be regular briefings with the big five medical institutions that serve Baltimore. I think it is imperative to be communicating and coordinating with the CEO’s or leaders of University of Maryland Medical System, Johns Hopkins, Mercy, MedStar and LifeBridge Health. 

While our world class hospitals prepare for a surge in patients, I would also task our health department with some crucial services:

  • Compile a list of all non-affiliated nurses, healthcare workers, home-care workers and other similar personnel, either active or retired, to volunteer or be recruited to serve our city.
  • We could then dispatch these workers to help upstaff our hospitals if needed, check on our senior population to provide medical care, food or companionship, or even tend to some of the positive, but less severe COVID-19 cases who were told to stay home. Our drug treatment centers will also need volunteers to assist that vulnerable population. This city’s hallmark is our world-class healthcare and I know we have the talent to meet this need.
  • Immediately begin identifying, locating and preparing to set up drive-through sites where the health department, in direct coordination with our health care institutions, can test citizens once supplies are made widely available in order to reduce the burden of our hospitals and state workers.

In addition to securing medical staff to help in this crisis, I would also work to recruit recent retirees or otherwise separated, in good standing first responders and essential government employees. The COVID-19 crisis will most certainly deplete our ranks and it is important to backup those who work to bring essential services to Baltimore. My administration would work to draft compensation packages of various lengths and signing bonuses upon completion of the term. These re-instated employees would not accrue a pension nor return to previous ranks. The goal is to build a well-informed supplemental staff to fill the void city government and emergency services will most assuredly, and are already seeing, as a result of this pandemic.

I would also work with the Maryland Food Bank, local nonprofits, and even some restaurants willing to donate prepared meals to help ensure the wide availability of food to those in need. While our food supply chain is still strong, we have known food deserts in this city; it is vital to make sure our seniors and less fortunate have access to healthy food while we work through this crisis.

I would ask the governor to detail some added law enforcement resources to Baltimore City. The state has activated the National Guard and put all Maryland law enforcement agencies on high alert. I welcome the presence of some of those resources here which will no doubt dramatically help amplify our local efforts. Their mere presence may also supplement our police force in not only enforcing the Governor’s increasingly necessary and strict restrictions on assembling in groups, but also in crime suppression as this city continues, on a daily basis, to demonstrate that need. Strategic deployment of our police resources is key as now, many of our high traffic shopping areas and stores are shuttered and may be vulnerable.

As protective gear finally becomes more available, and after our hospitals have been fully stocked, I would prioritize Baltimore Police, Fire, EMS and other first responders to receive the personal protective equipment (PPE) as they too, are often the first to interact with patients in need.   

The Smith Administration would also have daily contact with the Baltimore City Schools CEO to ensure that while schools are closed, students who need meals and other community support are receiving them. 

Crisis management would also be regional for my administration. I would work with all of our surrounding county executives and area mayors to coordinate where we can with our response. Baltimore City is not an island, regionally, we could make great strides with supplies, equipment and volunteers.

The fluidity of this crisis in unprecedented. It moves so fast from day to day, even minute by minute. The only consistency in a full and responsible response by city government is the promise that it will change; often. What I have detailed here is a good starting point on how I would respond immediately, but as your mayor, I would also surround myself with those who know what I don’t, and rely on the counsel of our leaders in applicable fields. We must adapt to the changing risk in order to flatten, and finally, get ahead of the curve.

Be well, 

– T.J. 

Listen to T.J. talk about how he would lead in crisis on WNST with host Nestor and former Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler: