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Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney On The City's Coronavirus Response


The United States is now at the center of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,000 people have died. Almost 120,000 are infected. That number is expected to skyrocket in the next two weeks because the U.S. has been slow to test, track and prepare for the spread of this virus. We'll go now to Philadelphia, where there are over 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. And at least five people have died. The city is under strict instructions to stay home. Parts of Temple University, including an arena, are being converted to emergency use to isolate and treat the ill. Jim Kenney is the mayor of Philadelphia, and he's with us. Good morning.

JIM KENNEY: Good morning. How are you today?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I am well. Mayor, have you had to use the spaces at Temple yet?

KENNEY: Not yet. We're preparing for what we think will be a surge similar to what happened in New York. We won't have the numbers that New York has, obviously, because our population is less. But we want to make sure we have space available for people who are perhaps not infected with the virus but need hospitalization for other reasons. We can move them into the Temple location and free up the more critical beds for people who are suffering with the virus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have the gear, the personal protective equipment for health care providers, ventilators for the very sick? How prepared are you?

KENNEY: We don't have what we need. We are scurrying around to find what we need. We have people like Michael Rubin, who is one of the co-owners of the 76ers. His company Fanatics is actually using baseball uniforms to make masks and gowns because we're - you know, obviously, the baseball season has been delayed, and we're looking at other manufacturing opportunities in our city for people to make masks and other things, other PPE that we need to get to our first - to get to our hospital personnel and to get our first responders. Obviously, no one was expecting this. And, you know, we're doing our best to get the equipment together we need.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how much help have you gotten from the federal government?

KENNEY: We don't know yet. We're going to see what happens as we move forward. We're spending a lot of money that we would've been spending on education and job training and other types of - street paving and other things. Hopefully, we'll be reimbursed to a certain degree by the federal government. And we're waiting to see how that happens. But we really had no choice. We had to spend the money upfront in order for us to take care of and protect our citizens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I will ask about Hahnemann Hospital. It's closed. The city wasn't able to come to an agreement with its owner to rent it. So you'd have surge capacity there to deal with this crisis. So Temple then offered its spaces. Is that the best outcome?

KENNEY: Yeah, Temple stepped up big time. I mean, Temple's a - makes me very emotional to think about how Temple just stepped up when we asked them for the first time. And we had to go back and forth and dig around with a multi-millionaire owner who wanted to maximize his profits - a million dollars a month to let us use the hospitals. So we decided rather than continue to go back and forth with him, we moved on. This is not a normal real estate transaction. This is a terrible crisis that we're dealing with, and you would hope that people with great means would be more understanding. But apparently, it's not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is finding and securing those spaces something that should be coordinated maybe at the state or the federal level?

KENNEY: You know, obviously, I really don't want to blame anybody for anything because we never expected this to happen. I mean, the last time something like this happened was 1918. And perhaps in hindsight, we as a nation should have been more prepared. But we are where we are. And we're going to do our best to make the best of it. Again, we've had four, I think - you said five deaths. I thought it was four, but you may have updated numbers. But five deaths, 71 people hospitalized and 800 affected. We know that's going to go up. And we just want to be prepared. And the other thing is people need to really be mature about this. They need to stay home. They need to stop congregating. They need to stop, you know, going out in large groups. And what we're doing - I mean, obviously we're not a totalitarian country like China. We can't force people to stay in their homes, but we urge them to do so. And hopefully, they'll be cooperative.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia. Mayor, thank you so much.

KENNEY: Thank you. Good luck, everybody. We'll get through this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I hope so. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.