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Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, coronavirus
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Seattle Mayor Durkan: US health system ‘wasn’t ready’ for coronavirus outbreak

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks at a press conference on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Sitting down with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Mayor Jenny Durkan detailed Seattle’s experience operating on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis.

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As the pandemic began to ramp up in Western Washington, things were difficult for cities like Seattle, which, according to Durkan, were failed by the federal government in a number of ways.

“The public health system wasn’t ready for this,” she noted. “There’s no question that our country was not set up for a pandemic of this size.”

Those missteps were especially prevalent in early testing for the virus, or as Durkan points out, a lack there of.

“(The federal government was) not able to stand up testing quickly enough, and the criteria for who they would test was too limited,” said Durkan.

Without that early testing, the virus was able to spread silently across the region for weeks. By the time cases started to appear, it was too late to truly contain it.

“We think we acted really quickly. Within a week or two weeks, we were taking important steps, but we needed to act yesterday,” said Durkan.

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As the outbreak continues, she points to a continued need for more testing infrastructure, something city governments simply don’t have the capacity to stand up on their own.

More than that, she hopes that other parts of the country where the virus is still beginning to spread will learn from what happened in Washington.

“No city is going to be able to stand up enough testing without the help of the federal government. I just don’t believe that’s going to be able to happen,” Durkan described. “Fortunately, I believe the rest of the nation will benefit from the federal government’s failures in the Pacific Northwest.”

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