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Cambridge Mayor Siddiqui Talks COVID-19 Response at Fast Forum

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui spoke about the challenges of leading through a crisis — as well as the supportive response of the City of Cambridge — in a virtual forum at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics Thursday.
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui spoke about the challenges of leading through a crisis — as well as the supportive response of the City of Cambridge — in a virtual forum at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics Thursday. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Maria G. Gonzalez and Sixiao Yu, Crimson Staff Writers

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui spoke about the challenges of leading through a crisis — as well as the “supportive” response of the City of Cambridge — in a virtual forum at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics Thursday.

Moderated by Belfer Center Executive Director Aditi Kumar, the event concluded the IOP’s Fast Forums series, a virtual continuation of its usual JFK Jr. Forum programming; other recent events featured former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and activist LaTosha Brown.

During the forum, Siddiqui said partnerships with Cambridge’s biotechnology industry have been important to addressing the outbreak in the city. Biogen and Takeda — biotech companies based in Cambridge — donated $1 million and $2 million, respectively, to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.

The fund, which currently totals more than $3.6 million, provides emergency assistance to individuals, families, and small businesses in Cambridge who are experiencing financial hardship amid the pandemic.

Siddiqui added that research conducted by biotech companies also has the potential to benefit people outside of Cambridge.

“Some of these companies are actually doing a lot of COVID-19 related work that's not going to only help Cambridge, but hopefully the rest of the world,” she said.

Moderna, a Cambridge-based biotech company that focuses on mRNA in drug discovery and development, is working on a potential vaccine against the coronavirus. The Broad Institute — which previously partnered with the city’s health department to test all residents and workers in Cambridge nursing homes — is currently developing new diagnostic approaches that could augment the scale of coronavirus testing.

Small businesses in Cambridge have been hit hard due to coronavirus-driven shutdowns, especially around Harvard Square, where business after business would “shutter even before COVID-19,” according to moderator Kumar.

When asked how the city is supporting those local businesses, Siddiqui cited multiple grant programs and a newly developed small business advisory group that would help with planning and reopening. However, she said these resources are “simply not enough.”

“How do we make it as easy as possible for these businesses to come back?” Siddiqui said. “It’s something that we are thinking about, and we have to be really nimble and flexible if we want our mainstream back.”

During the audience question-and-answer portion of the event, Siddiqui spoke about the plethora of resources available in Cambridge compared to other cities that makes it “almost easier” to do her job.

“We need Chromebooks. We need hotspots. We got everything ordered. We got immediate emergency meals plan in place — there's these things that we've been able to do very quickly,” she said. “I think it's all in the caveat of Cambridge is a very well-resourced city, so we have it much easier than our gateway cities.”

— Staff writer Sixiao Yu can be reached at sixiao.yu@thecrimson.com.

—Staff Writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at maria.gonzalez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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