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American University President Sylvia Mathews Burwell Speaks to 296 City Leaders at Fifth Virtual Convening to Aid COVID-19 Social and Economic Recovery

Burwell Addresses the Need for Enhanced Preparedness and a Pandemic National Strategy   

Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Continue Virtual Convenings for Local Leaders  

New York, NY: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, President of American University and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, yesterday addressed 296 city leaders, including 109 mayors, from 208 cities at the fifth session of the Leading Social and Economic Recovery Series, the latest offering for cities as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies COVID-19 Local Response Initiative.

The Leading Social and Economic Recovery Series virtually convenes global city leaders monthly through the end of the year. The sessions focus on equitable recovery, building and maintaining resident trust, crisis budgeting and fiscal recovery, and supporting city workforces during a period of profound change and uncertainty.

Burwell began by acknowledging how mayors are on the front lines of the pandemic and have confronted the most challenging aspects of it. She noted one of the keys to helping manage a crisis such as COVID is preparedness. “We must prepare for pandemics like we do for other major national security and economic security threats, and [preparation] should occur at all levels, international federal, state, and local. We must invest in the resources and create the structures to help us handle these crises.”

Referencing a report from a Council on Foreign Relations Independent Task Force that she co-chaired, which described the national response to the pandemic as deeply flawed, Burwell underscored how state and local officials needed more support and resources. “The lack of a national strategy implemented in collaboration with state and local officials has contributed to more cases of COVID-19, more deaths, and more economic hardship in the U.S. We need a national testing strategy that includes surveillance testing and is complemented with a national contact tracing strategy and an approach to isolation.”

Burwell also commented on the inequities COVID has exposed among minority communities in America. “I want to mention the disparity of impact occurring during this pandemic in the United States, particularly with our communities of color. As we work through the pandemic, there are steps we can take to address some of these inequities right now. We’ll need to do the hard work of addressing the underlying health inequities that existed before COVID.”

Burwell was joined by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Jorrit de Jong, Faculty Director of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and Faculty Co-Chair of the program; Raj Chetty, Professor of Economics at Harvard University; Dr. Ana María Rule, PhD, MHS, Assistant Professor and Director, Exposure Assessment Laboratories at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

Bloomberg Philanthropies launched the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative in March to help cities combat the devastating impact of coronavirus on the wellbeing of residents and local economies. Working with the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the initiative provides mayors with the most up-to-date information on the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and leadership guidance from experts across Harvard.

Raj Chetty, the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University and Director of Opportunity Insights, urged mayors to prioritize public health and safety efforts that focus on containing and controlling the virus itself as a means to recovery.

“We will not see a full economic recovery until public health efforts are effective enough to restore consumer confidence,” Dr. Chetty said. “Until then, targeted assistance to low-income workers and households is needed to compensate for the unequal impact of COVID-19’s economic fallout.”

Since launching, hundreds of city leaders have joined the virtual convenings. While the aim of the first series was to provide cities with the tools to understand, respond and manage a dynamic public health crisis, the current series now addresses social and economic recovery.

The program has featured President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Chef José Andrés, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, General Colin Powell, Ambassador Susan Rice, and Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 570 cities and over 160 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3.3 billion. For more information, please visit or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and TikTok.

About the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative
The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is a collaboration between Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and Bloomberg Philanthropies to equip mayors and senior city officials to tackle complex challenges in their cities and improve the quality of life of their citizens. Launched in 2017, the Initiative has worked with over 1000 mayors and senior city officials in 350 cities worldwide. The Initiative has also advanced research and developed new curriculum and teaching tools to help city leaders solve real-world problems. For more information, please visit the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative or visit us on LinkedIn and Twitter.