In an online speech that lasted less than 15 minutes, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the city has so far avoided the worst of the coronavirus – but that the effects of the pandemic will last for years.
“Once we saw this global pandemic coming our way, we made the tough sacrifices together, to do what was necessary to keep our neighbors safe,” said Peduto, citing social-distancing efforts by the public as well as his own decision to cancel “our beloved St. Patrick’s Day Parade” and closing city playgrounds and other facilities.
Socially distanced and speaking from the nearly empty chamber where City Council meets, Peduto thanked city residents, public-sector employees and unions, and an “eds and meds” industry that he said “has long been at the heart of Pittsburgh, and that continues in the planning and preparation for the coronavirus.” He said that as of Wednesday, there were still 327 ICU beds available countywide, and 835 ventilators, which are used to treat those with the most advanced and dangerous symptoms of the illness.
“We have not experienced a surge that has overwhelmed our medical industry as many others have,” Peduto said.
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Shutting down businesses and social distancing “hasn’t been easy, but it has saved lives. And it’s no time to stop now.”
Peduto said little about how the city might begin to reopen once the immediate threat from the coronavirus passes. He did say city services would “hit the ground running” and suggested it was “[w]orking to allow swimming pools to reopen, safely, at some point this summer.” But he warned the way forward would not be easy.
“The planning for our new future includes coming to terms with dark days ahead for our city’s budget,” he said. “The financial picture is still bleak. There will be a shortfall of tens of millions of dollars this year.” And though the city has an $85 million reserve fund, “We will have heavy repercussions on our next five years. … Large cuts to spending will likely be necessary.”
Beyond that, he suggested that the city’s response to the coronavirus would involve doubling down on initiatives he had already begun, like addressing affordable housing shortages and racial disparities.
“We need to end the digital divide,” he said, alluding to a lack of internet access in poor neighborhoods which is complicating efforts to teach students remotely. “It is obvious that a laptop in a student’s hand are as basic as pens and pencils were.”
And he touched on his “ONE Pittsburgh” initiative, a plan to get tax-exempt employers and other corporate titans to contribute to longstanding social needs. “At no point will the need be greater for the major nonprofits, the foundations, and our corporate community to come together collectively to guarantee a Pittsburgh for all,” he said.
But he concluded on a more upbeat note. Pittsburgh had withstood challenges before, he said, apparently referring to the collapse of its steel industry in the 1980s. “No city is more resilient or better poised to recover than Pittsburgh,” he said. “We will become better and stronger than ever, just as we have when generational crises have rocked us in the past. We’ve been knocked to our knees before and always find a way to stand back up.”