You are here: Home / Report: How Pennsylvania's Municipalities and Local Officials Confront the Coronavirus

Report: How Pennsylvania's Municipalities and Local Officials Confront the Coronavirus

A public report by Selena E. Ortiz, Gary J. Adler, Jr., and Eric Plutzer

This report is based on the 2020 Pennsylvania Coronavirus Local Preparedness and Collaboration Surveya representative survey of senior elected municipality leaders (mayors, presidents, chairpersons, supervisors, councilmembers, commissioners) and executive appointed staff (manager, secretaries) in all Pennsylvania municipalities, except Philadelphia. A total of 1386 officials from 906 municipalities completed the survey from May 1-11, 2020. The response rate was 22.5%.

Read the report

Key Findings

  • The state’s response. A majority (58%) of local officials thought the state’s response to the outbreak was excellent or good.
  • State-local coordination. Local officials were split on whether the state was coordinating well with local municipalities. Some local officials thought the state should have more direct communication with municipalities, clearer criteria for reopening, improved guidance for how municipalities should function in a crisis.
  • Communication difficulties. Nearly half of local officials felt unprepared to communicate with their residents about the coronavirus and efforts to address the coronavirus.
  • Local concerns. Local officials were extremely concerned about near-term unemployment (45%) and business failure (44%). Looking to the next six months, they were extremely concerned about unemployment (33%) and voting problems (21%) in their municipalities.
  • Slow reopening. The large majority of local officials did not want schools (86%), restaurants and bars (85%), or houses of worship (79%) to reopen immediately.
  • Insufficient testing and tracing. Only a small minority of municipalities (16%) reported that the capacity for coronavirus testing and contact tracing in their municipality was adequate.
  • Decent fiscal outlook for some. The large majority of municipalities did not plan to raise taxes (76%), increase fees (78%), or furlough more employees in the next six months (77%). 
  • Officials’ disease prevention behaviors. Most local officials were adhering to state and CDC guidelines in their personal behavior.

Key Policy Recommendations

  • Provide accessible and relevant data. Most municipalities lack robust municipal or county health departments that can disseminate and interpret local coronavirus information. Local officials want to be provided with targeted data about coronavirus infections in their communities that is easy to access and interpret. 
  • Make available effective messaging tools. Local officials may be the only government representative that residents will be able to engage with. Municipalities need better communication tools to immediately share the state’s recommendations and actions with local residents.
  • Provide a forum to highlight local efforts to combat the coronavirus. Local officials are crucial policy actors for effectively confronting the coronavirus. The efforts taken by municipalities and local officials to safeguard the health of the community should be publicized.
  • Create opportunities to directly engage and communicate with local officials. Local officials are concerned about the capacity to conduct contact tracing and testing in their communities, but many also believe that coronavirus will never become a serious problem. Inviting local officials to have a seat at the table will help to cultivate trust and collaborative efforts to effectively combat the coronavirus.  
  • Develop tailored emergency preparedness plans that can be readily implemented. Relying on other municipalities can lead to frustration and inaction. Local officials need templates to develop plans that can be adjusted to a municipality’s size.
  • Develop guidelines on how to conduct local government operations. The essential duties carried out by local governments directly affect their residents. Local officials need clear protocols and instructions about how to perform regular municipal functions during a disaster. 
  • Provide specific resources. Local officials struggled to obtain PPE, thermometers, and sanitizer for frontline workers and municipal employees. Municipalities need assistance in securing basic, necessary supplies in a pandemic.

Read the report