COVID-19 Crisis Leadership Essentials for Mayors

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Throughout the spring of 2020, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, held eleven sessions on crisis leadership for city leaders responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over those harrowing weeks, as city leaders scrambled to protect their community members from the disease and provide services to the ill, the bereaved, and the vulnerable, these sessions offered mayors the opportunity to get answers to their most pressing questions about the pandemic and how to mitigate not just the spread of the virus, but also the economic and social fallout of measures taken to contain it.

Insights and Guidance from 11 Sessions on Crisis Leadership

For each session of the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative, faculty and staff at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative worked with professors from the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School to plan a lesson focusing on a particular aspect of crisis leadership: from problem-solving processes and communications to collaboration, fiscal management, and supporting mental health. After each session, a summary of key insights and expert guidance went out via email to participants.

These documents are compiled here for easy reference. For city leaders who missed the first round of sessions—and those looking to refresh their memories—we hope that this compendium of tips, practices, and considerations will prove a valuable tool. The public is relying on local leaders to navigate this crisis—to respond wisely, lead a safe and strong recovery, and rebuild communities in ways that make cities stronger, more sustainable, more resilient, and safe for all.

Answers to Mayors’ Top Questions

Over the eleven weeks of the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative, staff and research fellows at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative worked to produce and maintain a database of answers to the questions mayors posed to public health and crisis leadership experts during the sessions. The questions and answers included were time-stamped, edited for clarity, and reviewed and verified by the experts who led the sessions according to their best judgments and understanding at the time the questions were raised.

In this compilation, the top questions and answers that emerged over the course of the initiative are edited and organized under the headings “Getting Oriented and Getting Organized,” “Communicating in a Crisis,” “Mitigating Impact,” “Protecting Vulnerable Populations,” “Metrics for Responding and Reopening,” and “Planning for a Resilient Recovery.” These questions and answers serve as both a partial historical record of what mayors wanted to know in a moment of unprecedented upheaval and an informal guide to pandemic response in cities across the United States and beyond.