ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren understands the most effective tool she has now is her megaphone.
Through her leadership role, she’s trying to get a message into every corner of the city: Social distancing will save lives.
She and Adam Chodak talked about that effort along with ways to lighten the burden for people and businesses alike during the COVID-19 outbreak.
In particular she’s directing a lot of people to the Financial Empowerment Center, which can connect people to vital resources. You can get more information here or you can call (585) 252- 7110.
Here’s the transcript of Adam’s interview with Mayor Warren:
Adam Chodak: So, Mayor, we’ll start off with this: general impression of how things are going in the city right now?
Lovely Warren: So right now according to my understanding from the county executive as well as the Commissioner of the Department of Health is that we are maintaining social distancing and staying home, but we are still very, very concerned because the numbers we are seeing today are basically from 2 weeks ago and the social tracking that’s being done online of people who are staying home, we’ve gone from an A grade to now a C and I’m concerned that once the weather continues to get a little bit warmer that people will be going outdoors and we’ll be having more gatherings and we have to make sure we maintain the social distance and basically most of of all stay home during this time.
AC: You decided to close certain aspects of recreation in the city because you were frustrated. You saw people going out, ignoring some of the social distancing warnings that were out there…
LW: This feeling that people were just getting cabin fever, so it’s going 3-4 weeks now and people wanted to get out, they wanted to socialize and there was sort of a mixed message here in the beginning where some people believed that, well, if I’m outside then I should be fine, but the issue is that this is a virus that is contracted person to person so touching, basketball, rugby, even tennis, touching the tennis ball and hitting it back and forth, all of those things you can pass this virus back and forth and so we wanted to make sure people understand that we are in charge of how this virus spreads. Everyone of us can do our part to make sure we do our part to keep our family members safe.
AC: Anecdotally, some people have come to me within the African-American community saying they feel concerned that because up until recently they hadn’t seen large numbers of black people being impacted and there was a perception this wasn’t impacting this particular minority community.
LW: Well, I can tell you that in the beginning many people believed that African-Americans could not contract this virus and that myth or methodology was out there for a number of weeks because it didn’t seem like African-Americans were getting this disease. Now we see the numbers coming from places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Michigan, North Carolina and we’re seeing that this virus is actually catastrophic to those communities and especially African-American males. If we do not maintain social distancing.
If we do not understand that this is a virus that can actually kill your loved one and you go to their home, you will give it to them even though you might be asymptomatic. I think that message was not provided in the very beginning and I think that’s something we have to change now.
AC: We’ve talked a lot about the impact this has on small businesses, big businesses, certain areas of society. What does this situation look like for those who are already in severe poverty?
LW: Oh, it’s devastating for those in severe poverty. Of course, we are providing meals daily at our R Centers as well as our City School District sites and we of course have seen the numbers go up in partnership with Foodlink and of course they’re delivering baskets and handing out boxes of food, but we also know that when it comes down to rent, when it comes down to RG&E, all those other bills are lining up right now and fortunately our government, the governor, senators and congress people have done a yeoman’s job with the CARES Act.
We’re hoping it’ll be enough depending on how long this pandemic lasts. For people who are in poverty, this is going to have a catastrophic affect on them and we don’t know how on the back end, we’ll be able to come out of this and take care of their families.
AC: I guess that gets to my next point. We do eventually have to look past this and I know that you’ve given some thought to that as well. What would you like to see as we exit this crisis?
LW: As we exit the crisis we of course want to make sure that people have the resources to maintain their lives every day so they’re not being evicted if they’re renting or lose their homes if they’re paying their mortgage and I believe that right now that we have solutions for much of that and I want to make sure they can continue to provide nutrition to their families and be able to access health care at the health care systems and we want them to be able to get back to work and we want to make sure small businesses can maintain.
You’ve seen that the city, the county, the state and the federal government have released a number of different programs to help small businesses and micro-businesses weather the storm and Rochester, our economy, we don’t have a number of large employers, but what we do have is a number of micro-, small and medium-sized employers so we want to make sure that we keep them going and give them the resources that they need to open back up and get back to work and employ their employees again. And that’s one thing that we think is very important. So there’s a three-pronged approach, take care of the people, take care of their health, but also take care of the businesses so people can get back to work.
AC: Are there any programs that you’d like to highlight when it comes to that?
LW: The Small Business Association has a program, the City of Rochester, we have a number of programs that we’ve started. Kiva Rochester, we started that before, they have relaxed many of the criteria. Our small business program through the neighborhood and business development as well REDCO, we opened that up I believe last Monday, we’ve had around 120 applicants and we’re processing those as quickly as possible.
I know the COMIDA has released some grants as well because we don’t necessarily, we heard from businesses who say I can’t take out a loan because I’m not making any money to pay it back so they wanted some grants they could utilize to keep people to work and part of the CARE Act is is if they were able to keep people employed then they could take 50% of the payroll and roll over and get some dollars for. It’s going to be a long process, but we believe that, we know that Rochesterians are a resilient people, we will overcome this and I think that’s the most important thing that we understand that today even though it’s very hard we are all working together so that tomorrow things can be better.
AC: Message for renters at this point?
LW: So right now we know the court system has been closed and people cannot be evicted. We are looking for programs through the CARES Act like ESG funding which would allow us as a community to develop a plan to help renters as well as landlords become whole and so we’re trying to figure out the criteria by which we could do that.
AC: You’re a mother of a young daughter. Any advice for parents who are now home trying to manage that situation?
LW: I would say find things for them to do. I would say spend time with your family. I think one thing that this virus has done is to make sure we all understand what’s important, right? And so all those things that we might have idolized like work or watching entertainment, all those things that we idolized, now we’re forced to take stock and take a step back and look at your home. And I would also say lean on your faith. Understand that you children didn’t ask to come here, we chose to bring them here and now that we are parents they need to understand what’s happening, they’re scared as well, they’re not at school with their peers, they’re not with their teacher and that experience is challenging, but do fun things with them.
My daughter and I have been doing science experiments, there’s coloring you can do, things that don’t cost a lot of money, things that you can do in your home together. Go out and take them for a bike ride or walk or something, just to get out of the house for a moment, but maintain social distancing while doing that. Most important is to let them know that you love them and that you’re all in this together and that we will get out of this together.
AC: Governor Cuomo said he wanted to see local law enforcement enforce social distancing. Would you want to see more enforcement of social distancing from police or where to do you want to see that at this point?
LW: What we are encouraging our offices to do in a community policing way, educate. If you see people not social distancing then you go up and say you have to be 6 feet away from each other and educate but not necessarily be punitive. The thing about this that people need to understand is that we’re all in this together and you have the power to make sure that you’re loved one lives, that’s literally the message here. We all have the power by doing our part and if everybody does what they’re supposed to do then we will all make it out of here and make it out of this situation in a better place.
If I have a role to play and you have a role to play, let’s be our brother’s and sister’s keeper and let’s not necessarily get punitive with this unless that’s the last resort. The last resort for me was to take down the basketball courts and the tennis nets, that’s the last resort because we want people to adhere to this because we want you to be safe and we want our community to be safe on the other side of this.
AC: Cooperation among leadership. How as that been since the start of the crisis?
LW: It has been a great partnership. I cannot only give the county executive and his team a lot of credit for keeping us informed as he is the leader on this issue because the county commissioner of health reports directly to the county executive, but he has kept every level of government informed. I can’t thank the governor enough for his daily briefings and calls and giving us daily updates on information, making sure that we have access to PPE for our employees, it has really worked well here in New York State for us to be able to get the resources that we need in order to keep our employees safe because government is an essential service.
So people are still out there picking up trash. Our police officers are still working. Our firefighters are still out there and we want them to also go out there and do their job and be safe and that’s because we have the great partnerships that we do here not only in Monroe County, but across the State of New York.
AC: Do you think the governor will look elsewhere if he has to pull ventilators from Upstate New York rather than here? You probably heard the county executive say we’re already in need of them in our community.
LW: I think that because the low numbers are in Upstate right now but eventually the way this virus has spread we want to make sure that we take care of home first. We recognize that NYC is having a tough time, yesterday, we learned that my uncle, my dad’s brother who is mentally handicapped, passed away from COVID down in NYC so we do know that this virus is taking NYC by storm and they need help but we also want to make sure we take care of Monroe County have the ventilators that we need here and I believe the governor is going to do that as a last resort depending on what we see happening across the community.
We want to thank the people who have volunteered to give ventilators to NYC at this point in time, but we also know that our numbers have grown with people being in ICU beds and we want to make sure that when people have to go to the hospital here that they have the ventilators they can be on.
AC: Nursing homes. We have a lot within the City of Rochester. We don’t get specific numbers of where deaths are in buildings, just region. What does the nursing home situation look like right now?
LW: We do know they have shut down the nursing homes to visitors, we do know of nursing homes where patients and staff have contracted the virus and I think they’re doing everything possible because that population is so vulnerable when it comes down to succumbing to this particular virus as well as as we’re seeing across the country African-Americans at alarming rates so we want to make sure we provide the employees and patients and families that we’re doing our best to work overtime to make sure that we have the up-to-date information and we’re keeping our citizens as safe as possible to listen to the 5 keys that they’ve outlined.
AC: Anything else that you’d like to add mayor?
LW: I just want people to know that I know that it’s very, very hard right now, but if we listen today we will see tomorrow.