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Coronavirus: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus continues to grow across the country. Many of those cases are concentrated in Washington state, and that's where we're broadcasting from today. At least 16 patients with the virus have died here in Washington. That's out of a total of 19 nationwide. Most cases have been confirmed in the Seattle region.

And last night, we were able to reach Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan for a conversation in the middle of this public health emergency. She met with Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week, where she emphasized the need to expand testing capabilities. She explained why that's critical.

JENNY DURKAN: We can't make good policy decisions, and our health care providers can't make good health care decisions if we don't know the extent of this disease. So we need to scale that testing very quickly. And I am hopeful that that will happen. If it doesn't happen, it will continue to hamper our response.

MARTIN: And as you ramp up testing, is it reasonable to assume that you're going to be dealing with another potential influx of patients? And if so, what's the plan for that?

DURKAN: I think that that is the - that's the next stage that we're planning for here and working with both the State Department of Health, the King County Public Health and our hospital network to really have good epidemiological modeling that can tell us what we can expect in the short term, the medium term and the long term.

You know, when I met with the vice president, we had some very specific asks for him. No. 1 was the testing, but very close second and third was, we have a number of things that we need locally from the national stockpile to make sure that we don't run out of the number of masks, gowns and respirators that we need. We also may need some help from disaster medical assistance teams, which are teams that can fly in and help the health care providers if they get depleted.

But we also asked for - we're going to need some very immediate economic relief. It is already having impacts on our small businesses and our workers. When our large corporations make the very prudent decision that they want workers to work from home, that has an impact on every small business located in and around those businesses.

MARTIN: So that leads me to ask about people who are even kind of more vulnerable, which is people who don't have homes. Is there a plan for people who are experiencing homelessness and people who don't have insurance?

DURKAN: Yes. We've been working very closely with state and local and the county officials to have a tiered system response for people experiencing homelessness. The county has purchased and will be standing up multiple locations if we need to quarantine or isolate people who have - are experiencing homelessness. And then we're talking to both the federal and state governments to say if we need some larger-scale response. Just like you would do it in a hurricane, we're going to need it in this.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Mayor, I'm thinking that other mayors are going to be - perhaps will be soon in the situation that you are now in. Do you have any advice for them?

DURKAN: Yes. In fact, we've - we're trying to put together some of the best lessons we've learned - everything from changing the script that our 911 operators use when someone calls to ask certain questions we weren't asking so that if a fireman or a fire personnel or police respond, they know whether they have to mask up or not. Everything from that to work policy and leave policy to remote work - we're trying to devise a toolkit to give to other mayors and cities so that they don't have to start from ground zero.

MARTIN: That's Jenny Durkan. She's the mayor of Seattle.

Mayor Durkan, thank you so much for talking with us today.

DURKAN: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And we should add that earlier today, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said that 2.1 million tests will be shipped to labs around the country next week that will allow 850,000 patients to be tested by the end of next week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.