Cities Around the World Respond to COVID-19

May 15, 2020
Global Planning


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been moderating a weekly Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Response webinar series for mayors and COVID-19 leaders in over 70 cities around the globe. Convened by Vital Strategies, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the World Health Organization, these webinars provide expert guidance to city leaders and a forum for them to exchange their ideas and experiences.

From Accra to Amman, from Colombo to Freetown, from Helsinki to Chicago, from London to Dakar, cities and city governments are at the forefront of the response to the pandemic. I’ve learned over the past few weeks that although the resources to address problems are different, many problems that cities are facing are similar. A few of the issues that have emerged include:

  • Respecting human rights even as a pandemic requires suspending some of those rights.
  • Protecting migrants and homeless populations now made more visible and more vulnerable.
  • Balancing strategies for protecting incarcerated populations with concerns for public safety.
  • Securing access to food, especially for those most vulnerable.
  • Ensuring support for those experiencing mental health issues or domestic violence exacerbated by physical distancing measures.

One of the critical issues that attendees return to is countering misinformation: whether on social media, from other government officials, or from organized groups protesting physical distancing measures. While many of the mayors and other COVID-19 leads have held daily public briefings, developed sophisticated social media campaigns of their own, and reached out to key leaders to urge them to speak out, destructive misinformation has greatly complicated the response.

The other issue, of course, is how and when to loosen physical distancing measures, and what will happen when they need to be tightened. Guided by the Adaptive Response Framework, we’ve been brainstorming strategies to mitigate risks as cities start to relax physical distancing measures. Just getting to that point is difficult, but preparing the public for reintroducing these measures if outbreaks occur is also critical. Similarly challenging is compiling the data that will allow us to monitor the course of the pandemic in many cities, particularly in low-resource settings, and to make decisions that prioritize societal benefit.

For more information and guidance for cities responding to the COVID-19 epidemic, visit Webinars for the city COVID-19 leads can be accessed there as well.



Diana Silver

Diana Silver, PhD, MPH
Associate Professor of Public Health Policy and Management