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How Omicron ruined new mayors’ honeymoons


BOSTON — Michelle Wu wakes up almost each morning to protesters outdoors her dwelling demanding the new Boston mayor name off her vaccine mandate for metropolis employees.

In Atlanta, Omicron-fueled staffing shortages are wreaking havoc on every part from Mayor Andre Dickens’ public-safety plans to residents’ trash pickup. In Cincinnati, Mayor Aftab Pureval and his group are scrambling to safe extra Covid-19 assessments as already strained metropolis hospitals close to capability.

With Omicron sending Covid circumstances and hospitalizations skyrocketing, new mayors throughout America’s main cities have needed to kiss their honeymoon intervals goodbye.

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“We stepped right into a disaster on day one,” Pureval, a 39-year-old former county clerk of courts, stated in an interview. “We’re all fingers on deck.”

The Omicron surge didn’t simply upend mayors’ inaugural fetes. It’s overtaken their first days and weeks in workplace, jeopardizing their approval scores earlier than they get an opportunity to push their agendas. And for Democrats, who run most of America’s massive cities, any perceived missteps or overreaches may mirror poorly on the social gathering heading right into a midterm 12 months the place conservatives are already working in opposition to Covid restrictions and President Joe Biden is slipping within the polls.

Mayors are filling up coronavirus process forces simply as shortly as their cupboards. They’re signing government orders for masks mandates whereas juggling plans for new police precincts and clearing snow from metropolis streets. They usually’re battling to maintain colleges open within the face of Covid-induced staffing shortages and pupil absences.

“I didn’t anticipate that a lot of my first week and a half can be dedicated to Covid and to this surge,” Pureval stated. “And I don’t suppose any incoming mayor anticipated that, both.”

Positivity charges hit document highs in Cincinnati this month. In Boston, Covid circumstances spiked so quickly the town wanted to make use of a much bigger graph. Instances and hospitalizations have soared in Seattle and Atlanta and loads of locations in between. Even because the Omicron wave begins to recede in New York and different cities it hit first, it has left a path of shattered data in its wake.


And as pandemic fatigue sweeps the nation simply as shortly because the virus, mayors haven’t been resistant to backlash that each Democrats and Republicans blame on misinformation and the trickle-down results of partisan nationwide politics. A protester disrupted Dickens’ inauguration earlier this month by yelling at him to take off his masks. New York Metropolis Mayor Eric Adams has drawn criticism from each the left and the suitable over the town’s Covid restrictions. Republican Fort Price, Texas, Mayor Mattie Parker stated her pleas for individuals to get vaccinated have been met with conspiracy theories.

Wu’s hecklers, a few of whom are first responders who work for the town, have taunted Boston’s first elected feminine mayor and first Asian American mayor with chants of “Disgrace on Wu” and slapped racist and misogynistic slurs on signs they bring about to her occasions. On her thirty seventh birthday final week, they stood on the road outdoors her home in a densely populated neighborhood and shouted: “Glad birthday, Hitler.”

Moving into the surge

It didn’t begin off so vitriolic for Wu, a Democrat who took over from an appearing mayor in mid-November, a few month earlier than Boston confirmed its first Omicron case. Her early days have been extra centered on increasing a fare-free bus pilot program and connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with housing and substance-use remedy applications.

However, by mid-December, Covid infections had spiked — up 89 p.c in two weeks — and Wu handed down a proof-of-vaccination requirement for eating places, gyms and leisure venues. She additionally tightened the vaccine mandate for metropolis employees by eliminating their weekly testing possibility.

Her announcement was almost drowned out by a number of dozen protesters, together with a Republican candidate for governor. Town’s non-emergency hotline has been flooded with “hateful calls and messages,” Wu stated.

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After a number of extra protests and a failed court challenge from a trio of public security unions, the vaccine mandates for companies and metropolis employees went into impact over the weekend, although the latter won’t be enforced for a number of extra days. Democratic metropolis and state leaders have rallied round Wu amid the backlash and praised her efforts to cease the unfold.

“It’s actually a reminder of how a lot our day-to-day interactions in our communities and neighborhoods actually are formed by this second of division in nationwide politics,” Wu stated in an interview. “It jogs my memory day by day once I step outdoors to protests which are grounded in misinformation and conspiracy theories that we want sturdy insurance policies to counter this.”

In New York, Adams is caught between progressives knocking his push to have workplace employees return to their desks in midtown Manhattan, and Republicans who’re demanding he overturn former mayor Invoice de Blasio’s private-sector vaccine mandates.

After Covid compelled Adams to swap his massive inauguration plans for a short swearing-in ceremony on the Occasions Sq. New Years Eve ball drop, the new mayor vowed on his first day that the virus wouldn’t shut down his metropolis once more.

“That is 2022, not 2020,” Adams stated in his first handle to New Yorkers. “With vaccines, testing and coverings, we have now the instruments now to stay with this virus and keep wholesome if all of us do our half to maintain one another secure.”

Adams pledged to maintain children in colleges whilst districts throughout the nation shuttered or went distant as infections swirled amongst college students and workers. However excessive pupil absentee charges have now pushed Adams to consider a remote option for college students who’re sick or required to quarantine. And highschool college students have staged walkouts to push for an online-learning possibility.


In Cincinnati, the place Covid circumstances and hospitalizations are actually swelling, Pureval has expanded testing and is asking on Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine for extra. The Democrat’s Covid process pressure — a bunch of hospital chief executives, county elected officers and well being departments — meets every day to debate infections, hospitalizations and testing. He additionally enacted a masks mandate for metropolis services and workers, however has stopped in need of the citywide masks mandates handed down by a few of his counterparts in different cities.

Not every part is about Covid. Pureval has additionally welcomed a new metropolis supervisor and is rolling out housing reforms.

“However there’s little question that a big chunk of my bandwidth is being dedicated to managing this present Covid disaster,” Pureval stated.

‘You couldn’t have seen’ what was coming

The appearance of vaccines final winter meant that Covid, for a time, took considerably of a backseat on the marketing campaign path. Some candidates nonetheless carried round their masks, however the photographs provided a new sense of security — and provided a stretch of marketing campaign season that felt nearly regular once more.

The summer season Delta surge introduced renewed precautions and a few discuss of masks and vaccine mandates. However mayoral hopefuls in Boston continued to be pressed on how they’d deal with the dual homelessness and housing crises in a struggling pocket of the town. The rise in homicides and shootings thrust public security and violent-crime discount to the forefront of contests from Atlanta, to New York, to Seattle.

“On the marketing campaign path, you couldn’t have seen what mid-December and now January was going to be like,” Dickens, the Atlanta mayor, stated in an interview. “No matter we stated about rounding the nook and nearly dwelling free, effectively, one thing else occurred — and it’s known as Omicron.”

Dickens was no stranger to battling the virus by the point he took workplace in early January. He’d contracted a gentle breakthrough case just some days earlier than Christmas.

By the point he was sworn in, Dickens had examined adverse however infections have been sweeping via metropolis employees in Atlanta. He prolonged the citywide masks mandate for indoor public areas signed by his predecessor, fellow Democrat Keisha Lance Bottoms, and is providing monetary incentives to metropolis workers to get vaccinated.

Dickens vowed in his inaugural handle that his administration can be “laser-focused on lowering crime” in its first 100 days. He unveiled a new police precinct in Buckhead, a extra prosperous neighborhood the place some residents are threatening to secede from Atlanta.

However the virus continues to problem fundamental metropolis providers.

“I’m attempting to ensure that we accumulate rubbish, recycling, yard waste,” Dickens stated. “However 196 sanitation division employees have been out [earlier this month] with Covid.”

Comparable issues persist in most corners of the nation. In Florida, St. Petersburg’s Ken Welch began his tenure remotely after the vaccinated-and-boosted mayor-elect tested positive three days before his inauguration. Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb shaped a process pressure and vowed to deal with the town’s lagging vaccination fee “head on.” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell forwent a public inauguration and quickly prolonged his metropolis’s eviction moratorium.

Parker, who took over as mayor of Fort Price in June, battled a breakthrough case in October. She’s now combating her second Covid surge in workplace — and is working right into a wall of misinformation and mistrust she says isn’t helped by blended messaging from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention on masks and isolation intervals.

“It’s such as you’re damned should you do, damned should you don’t,” Parker stated in an interview. “I hope People in all of their respective cities may give mayors and elected officers some grace. … Many people are attempting to navigate totally different opinions from the federal authorities or state management.”

New mayors aren’t going via this trial by hearth alone. Pureval teamed up with Bibb for a digital joint press convention days after they each took workplace. Mayors have traded cellphone numbers at occasions and mingled with one another — and Biden — on the White Home. They usually’ve joined common calls with different big-city mayors that, for almost two years, have served as each an data hotline and a lifeline for metropolis leaders remoted and overwhelmed within the pandemic’s darkest days.

“I really feel for them,” Dan Pope, the third-term Republican mayor of Lubbock, Texas, stated. “There’s nothing, I don’t consider, that may put together you for the cellphone calls and emails that you just get from scared constituents, mothers and grandmothers which are involved about their children going to highschool.”

Pope suggested the newcomers to lean on their public well being consultants and hospital leaders. Many are additionally bringing expertise with the virus and inside their metropolis halls to their new gigs. Wu and Dickens have been each metropolis council members up till their inaugurations. Harrell had served on Seattle’s council till 2019. Adams was a borough president in New York. Parker was former Fort Price Mayor Betsy Worth’s chief of workers.

“There may be a bonus for them,” Pope stated of his new counterparts. “They’ve gotten to observe almost two years value of public coverage and well being coverage, and the best way we’ve reacted as a rustic, and as states and cities, to Covid.”

New mayors know their crash course in Covid administration isn’t more likely to finish quickly. Entry to testing stays a problem. Whilst circumstances seem on the decline within the Northeast, they’re nonetheless spiking elsewhere. Hospitalizations and deaths will lag behind.

“It’s a working honeymoon,” Dickens stated of his first weeks in workplace. “I didn’t get a trip.”

Julia Marsh contributed to this report.

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