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Mayor: Albany Weathering COVID-19

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
Dave Lucas
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the city faces unique challenges during the pandemic, but operations are continuing.
Cities nationwide are struggling to stay afloat, seeing their finances turned upside down, and Albany is no exception. Already the virus has led to the cancellation of Tulip Festival and the Freihofer's Run For Women. Both events bring thousands to Albany. The second-term Democratic mayor is hopeful that federal funding will offset some of the red ink.

Sheehan says her focus throughout the COVID-19 crisis has been to ensure the uniterrupted flow of essential city services with a smaller workforce.

"...focusing on having essential employees out there working and trying to keep them safe. As well as making sure that we're still able to get people paid and to be able to deal with people's issues, whether it's meeting an emergency repair, to they've got to get a building permit, to what we are now looking forward to going back to which is being able to issue marriage licenses."

Credit Instagram [Screenshot]
Mayor Kathy Sheehan gives residents an update via Instagram.

With public gatherings off for the foreseeable future, the mayor is turning to platforms like Instagram and Facebook to keep city residents updated with new information during New York PAUSE.

"And then on Friday I do an update that I record every week that sort of describes what we accomplished during the week and what people can expect."

Sheehan says new mobile coronavirus testing sites are instrumental in counteracting the virus' effects on disadvantaged groups.

"Ensuring that we are getting tests for everybody who needs them and that we're getting testing in communities where there might not be access to cars, you know, when there was testing at Albany Med, you know, that's on a bus route and it was walk-up testing. So it provided the opportunity for really people from all over the city to be able to access that test site, our 100 bus goes to Albany Medical Center and so it didn't have the same limitations to accessibility that existed at the site that was at UAlbany. Now the site at UAlbany is great. It was very important. Really grateful that the governor set that up there, but it did raise the issue of accessibility for many of our residents in neighborhoods throughout the city."

The question as to whether schools will reopen across the city has Sheehan concerned. Governor Andrew Cuomo hasn’t made a determination on reopening schools, but Massachusetts and Vermont have already called off the rest of the school year, meaning classes will stay online.

"I think it'll be interesting to see what the governor does with respect to school. I think that there are many of us who want to find a way for our schools to reopen at least for the last couple of weeks of the school year so that our children can have some closure right? They went home thinking that they Would be back in two weeks and obviously this crisis grew very rapidly and I think that for a lot of our students being able to see their teachers again and see their friends again, if it can be done safely would be a huge benefit and I think that the governor is really looking at this through the lens of what the data shows us and so we can hope for what we want. But ultimately we have to look at the data. We have to look at what's happening.

From our standpoint of being able to test and do contact tracing and make decisions based on that not on the emotions, but certainly from the standpoint of our kids. It's a huge priority for me."

The mayor says she has instructed Albany's Recreation Department to focus on creating a plan that allows all programs to continue, albeit in different ways, to comply with social distancing protocol.

Sheehan says the city plans to continue its summer feeding program to provide breakfasts and lunches, although the meals might have to be delivered directly.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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