The Atlantic Politics Daily: The Other Way American Cities Will Suffer

What happens is local governments go bankrupt during the pandemic? Plus: How the new coronavirus behaves in air (the answer is very complicated).

It’s Wednesday, April 1. Nevada and Florida announced stay-at-home guidelines today, with the White House now projecting anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., even with social distancing and mitigation efforts.

In today’s newsletter: How American cities will suffer, even with a $2-trillion dollar federal relief plan. Plus: Why everyone is confused about the effectiveness of wearing face masks outside.


(Getty Images / The Atlantic)

How will cities avoid bankruptcy?

Major cities such as New Orleans, New York, and Los Angeles are already stretched thin to mitigate the COVID-19 public health catastrophe. Medical professionals continue to warn about personal protective equipment shortages, ventilator shortages, even medical workforce shortages. Large cities are redirecting financial resources to prepare for a surge of hospitalizations.

The threat of a devastating economic recession—and the memory of the 2009 financial crash—looms over smaller cities and municipalities that have started to calculate the fiscal stresses they’ll face in the coming year, my colleague Adam Harris reports:

Cities and counties are looking for ways to cut their budgets as tax revenue and economic activity decline and medical costs soar. The $3.8 trillion municipal-bond market—loans used for things like building schools, hospitals, and golf courses—has essentially frozen.

Municipalities need to balance their budgets, meaning possible cuts also to the social programs many of their residents rely on for survival. Furthermore, the gap between more well-resourced institutions and those struggling to prepare is stark. One physician told our staff writer Franklin Foer:

You know, my dad is an anesthesiologist in Virginia, in a community hospital. My father called me, a primary-care doctor, to ask me to help get him our best anesthesia protocols for putting breathing tubes in patients, and how to do that safely. And I was able to, and it was marvelous to see what our anesthesiologists at Mass General had put together, but it was concerning to me that he needed to call me, a primary-care doctor, to try to get that help. That was an alarm for me.

Read their full interview.

The $2-trillion relief bill that Congress passed last week allotted hundreds of billions of dollars to help communities, but that might not be enough. Even the most affluent communities, which have a financial cushion now, may not be on as steady footing if the pandemic stretches on.

Politics Daily readers: Are you applying for an emergency small-business loan, or know someone who is? Our economics reporters would like to hear about the experience. Write to us by replying directly to this newsletter, or emailing us here. Include your name as well as the name, size, and location of your enterprise.

—Christian Paz


+ If the virus is airborne, should I wear a mask whenever I go outside? Ed Yong reports on the complex question of how the new coronavirus behaves in air (and how long it stays infectious without a human to cling to).

+ Many people will die from the new coronavirus. We may never know the exact number. Elaine Godfrey talked to John Mutter, an environmental-science professor at Columbia University, on the challenge of counting the dead: “How do you count somebody who died of a heart attack during a natural disaster? Do you call it a disaster death or a heart-attack death? There’s no rules.”

+ As more people lose their lives during the pandemic, the total anonymity of some vulnerable communities renders one important question impossible to answer: When help comes, who’s actually being helped?

+ President Trump has a penchant for firing members of his administration. As the country is ravaged by COVID-19, there’s absolutely one who can’t go, one law professor argues: Protect Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

You can keep up with The Atlantic’s most crucial coronavirus coverage here.


Today’s newsletter was written by Christian Paz and Kaila Philo, Politics fellows. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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